Mike Zimmer was already smiling more than usual Youth Billy Price Jersey , sporting a relaxed look of satisfaction rarely revealed in public during the NFL season, when he really let his guard down a few minutes into his postgame news conference deep inside Minnesota’s still-buzzing stadium.
”Hey, let’s open these things up!” Zimmer blurted out mid-sentence, prodding a Vikings official to push the button that removes the window shades and allows the premium ticket-holders in an adjacent lounge to peer in the room.
His wish to interact with the customers who cheered the Vikings on to a last-play divisional round victory was granted.
Zimmer then proceeded to slowly and rhythmically clap above his head, dignifying the ritual ”Skol” chant performed by the purple-clad fans at each game honoring the area’s Scandinavian heritage and the team’s nickname.
”You deserve it!” Zimmer said, again interrupting his own answer to acknowledge the crowd.
From peers around the league to players in the locker room to people up and down the organization, there’s a strong sentiment that Zimmer has earned this, too, pulling within one win of a Super Bowl appearance.
The way the Vikings finished their 29-24 victory over New Orleans on a last-chance 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs suggested they’re on some kind of charmed path, an uncharted territory for this championship-deprived franchise. Zimmer, for his part, has experienced his own share of painful setbacks.
”I just think he was so proud of us,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. ”Proud of us for fighting until there were zeros on the clock.”
Zimmer is only here, preparing the Vikings for the NFC title game in Philadelphia on Sunday, because he himself resisted the urge to quit.
After being passed over for so many head coach vacancies during a six-year run as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, Zimmer nearly canceled a second interview in Minnesota in 2014 after a different team that considered him chose a different candidate. He ignored the discouragement in his head, instead accepting the offer to become the ninth head coach in team history at age 57.
”Sometimes you wonder, but I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Zimmer said at his introductory news conference at team headquarters. ”I feel like I was destined to do this.”
That first season, the Vikings improved by two wins to finish 7-9 with rookie Teddy Bridgewater forced into action ahead of schedule at quarterback and running back Adrian Peterson absent for all but one game because of the child abuse case and subsequent NFL discipline dispute he was involved in. In 2015 John Gibson Jersey , they went 11-5 and ended Green Bay’s four-year hold on the NFC North title.
The potholes in the road were waiting, though.
Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field-goal try went wide left at the end of the one-point wild-card round loss at home to Seattle.
The 5-0 start in 2016 was washed away by a torrent of season-ending injuries, including Bridgewater, Peterson and several offensive linemen.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned the day after Zimmer had the first of eight eye surgeries to address a torn retina. The third procedure forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career .
The first quarter of the 2017 season brought knee injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.
The Vikings didn’t blink, though, particularly with the experience of 2016 so fresh. Case Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.
All of these on-field hurdles have paled next to the pain Zimmer has endured in his personal life. His wife, Vikki, died suddenly in 2009. His father and former high school coach, Bill, passed away during training camp in 2015.
Zimmer was hired by the Vikings because of his acumen as a defensive strategist and teacher, having started his 24-year NFL career as the defensive backs coach for Dallas before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2000.
Calling plays has been his forte, a responsibility he has yet to give up despite his duty as the main man on the staff on game day, but his ability to mold a disciplined, selfless unit from a collection of alpha males and high draft picks helped the Vikings’ defense rank first in the league in 2017 in both fewest yards and points allowed.
Beneath the gruff exterior is a deep affection for his players, an emotion that has caused his voice to crack and his eyes to well up several times over the years in various public discussions of their development or character.
He’s a football coach just like his father, though, and the critical eye and demanding approach are always quick to come out.
”We can’t make these mistakes in playoff games or we’ll be going home,” Zimmer said on Monday Authentic Josh Manson Jersey , reflecting on the reality of the performance after the euphoria of the winning play had worn off.
Now the Vikings must go on the road to face a team with a 14-3 record just like theirs, the last and biggest obstacle looming before they can experience a Super Bowl.
”We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. ”They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”
PHOENIX — As the second half of the season commences, both Arizona and San Francisco have reasons to feel confident as they prepare for the third game of a three-game weekend series Sunday.
Both are nearing full health, and the NL West remains wide open as the Diamondbacks, Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are within 3 1/2 games of each other entering July.
Arizona survived a 2-15 stretch in May and is playing as well as it did in the early going, when it did not lose any of its first 12 series. The Giants have won nine of 11 after going 18-10 in June, their first winning month since June, 2016.
“I know that we got off to a great start and hit a little downturn and fought back,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said when asked about his takeaways from the first half.
“The obvious thing is, we are playing very good baseball now. We’ve grown and learned and become stronger and tougher because of the situation we walked through in May. They have never pointed their finger at anything or any anyone in an particular situation or moment.
“When it didn’t go well, they were accountable. They played united baseball. We’re right in the middle of a story that we continue to want to tell the way we are telling it.”
Arizona right-hander Zack Godley will oppose Giants left-hander Derek Holland in the final game of the series at Chase Field on Sunday afternoon. The Giants begin a three-game series in Colorado on Monday while the Diamondbacks will host a three-game series against St. Louis.
“Considering everything that is happened, we are right in the thick of things, which is where you want to be,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said.
“If you would have told me what we have to deal with – three starters out, (Joe) Panik out, (Evan) Longoria out. Sure, no question you take it. I think it is going to be tight in September. Hopefully we’re right there. That’s our plan.”
Right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija could made their next starts in the majors after prolonged absences due to injury, and Cueto would be particularly welcome. He was 3-0 with an 0.84 ERA in five starts while holding opponents to a .150 batting average before going on the disabled list because of shoulder soreness in the first week of May.
In the interim, Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez have pitched well. The Giants also have received only five starts from Madison Bumgarner Ondrej Kase Jersey , who opened the season on the disabled list before returning in early June.
Arizona outfielders A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza Jr. also are nearing a return from the disabled list after missing considerable time. The Diamondbacks also lost starters Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray for 58 days before returning.
Pollock and Souza Jr. are on rehab assignments for Triple-A Reno, and Pollock is likely to return before the All-Star break. Pollock was slashing .293/.349/.620 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and nine stolen bases in 43 games before suffering a fractured thumb trying to make a diving catch in center field in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss to Milwaukee on May 14.
“You think about what the (injury) losses are,” Lovullo said “It’s been a very interesting season. I think the most resilient teams are the ones that understand and accept what’s happening day by day, whether it is good or bad, and move on to the next day as quickly as possible.
“We are a resilient group. We can turn the page quickly, no matter what the results are.”
Godley, 9-5 with a 4.58 ERA, is one victory short of NL leaders Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Aaron Nola, in part because he has received 4.63 runs of support in his 16 starts. His 1.52 WHIP is 44th and last among qualified NL starters, and he has made seven quality starts.
Godley is 1-1 with a 6.10 ERA in two starts against the Giants this season and is 2-2 with a 6.97 ERA in six career appearances, four starts, against them. Godley has pitched his best at home this season, going 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA in six starts.
Holland (5-7, 4.24) is coming off arguably his best outing of the season, although he did not receive a decision in a 3-2 victory over Colorado. Holland gave up one run on six hits in a season-high 6 2/3 innings while striking out a season high eight. It was his longest appearance since he went eight innings against Seattle on May 21, 2017.
He is 0-1 in two starts against the Diamondbacks, both with Texas. Holland is 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA in nine road starts this season. He has never pitched in Chase Field.