Sunday’s game at Seattle isn’t the kind of blood-sport matchup that the Vikings have with their division rivals, but, in the case of one player, it’s going to be a bittersweet reunion.
The Vikings’ reluctance to sign Sidney Rice to a long-term contract prior to the 2010 season may have been part of the unraveling of the organization, which bottomed out in 2011 with a 3-13 record coming off a 6-10 record in 2010.
The day after Brett Favre announced he was coming back to finish what he started in 2009, Rice opted to have hip surgery. Many blamed his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, for delaying the hip surgery until the Vikings came to the negotiating table. As the Vikings were mired woefully behind both the Packers and Bears in 2010, Favre admitted he may have had second thoughts about coming back had he known Rice wasn’t going to be in the mix.
Sunday, for the first time since he left Minnesota for a five-year, $41 million contract in Seattle, Rice will face his former teammates. He said Wednesday that, after checking the Vikings roster, there are going to be plenty of familiar faces looking to put a hurt on him with bad intentions, rather than the kid-gloves hits in practice.
“It’s going to be exciting going against those guys,” Rice said. “I looked at the scouting report today and I counted out nine of the 11 starters on defense (were players) I played with while I was there.
“It’s going to be fun,” Rice added. “I know how those guys play. (There are) lots of smart, athletic guys over there on that side of the ball. Us, as receivers, we have to be ready.”
Rice explained that his decision to sign with Seattle wasn’t because of a lack of effort from head coach Leslie Frazier or wide receivers coach George Stewart, but, when it came to those actually signing paychecks, Rice’s injury history made the Vikings reluctant to commit the kind of guaranteed money Seattle was willing to pay. In the end, he had 41 million reasons to leave Minnesota for the Northwest.
“They made a strong effort to keep me there,” Rice said. “I talked to Coach Frazier a few times throughout the process and Coach Stewart as well. We just couldn’t come to terms and I decided to choose Seattle. I had an offensive coordinator (Darrell Bevell) I had been with for the previous four years. I knew the playbook and that was one of the big reasons.”
While his first season in Seattle was much of the same as it was with the Vikings – he played nine games and missed seven – he has been healthy this year and has emerged as Russell Wilson’s primary passing target. Rice believes he is as healthy as he was when he became Favre’s security blanket in 2009.
“(I’m feeling) the best I’ve felt in a while, besides a couple little nagging injuries. But it’s nothing serious. My body’s feeling real well. (I’m) just happy to be back out on the field and able to go every game.”
Just as Steve Hutchinson went from beloved local star to hated enemy in Seattle, Rice isn’t likely to get a lot of love from Vikings fans Sunday, especially if he has a big day. But his recollections of Minnesota are much more favorable, and although things didn’t end on an ideal basis, Rice has nothing but happy memories of his time in purple and gold.
“I had a wonderful time when I was there,” Rice said. “A lot of great teammates, a lot of the guys that I still talk to and the coaches as well. I had a great four years. I enjoyed every minute of it and it’s going to be fun matching up with those guys and seeing those guys play on the same field.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.