LANDOVER, Md. — All at once, the moment became bigger than he imagined.
It was bigger than everything he had to endure over the past 14.5 months, larger than the obstacles that once stood in his way and threatened his livelihood.
Most of all, it was greater than himself. This moment was about not only Teddy Bridgewater‘s return but also people who were there with him every step of the way.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback was active Sunday for the first time in 672 days (not including the 2016 preseason) when he served as Case Keenum‘s backup in the Vikings’ 38-30 win over the Washington Redskins.
An emotional Bridgewater was shown pregame wiping away tears on the bench. Being back on the sideline with his teammates and coaches was something he had wished for since he went down with a devastating knee injury in August 2016.
“It was definitely tears of joy, thinking about everything that I’ve had to overcome in these past couple months,” Bridgewater said.
The normalcy he sought presented itself in the form of being able to put on his pads and jersey, lace up his cleats and Velcro the straps of his gloves. After having the game taken away from him for so long, those little moments are things he doesn’t take for granted.
“Just running out of that locker room, being able to stand next to those guys on the sideline for the National Anthem, it just all boiled up,” he said. “I kind of screamed on the sideline after I said my prayer in the end zone. Then when I got on the sideline, I was like, ‘Man, this is really about to happen.'”
Bridgewater didn’t see the field on Sunday as Keenum led the Vikings to his fifth win as a starter when he threw a career-high four touchdowns and 304 yards passing. Despite throwing two interceptions in the second half, it wasn’t enough to make Zimmer want to turn to his backup. It was a move Bridgewater was OK with as he watched his team continue to score.
“All I kept saying was, ‘Hey, let’s just keep running it up so we can get up out of here,'” Bridgewater said. “It was great to watch the guys go out there and put up 38 points. It was great to cheer guys on.”
Bridgewater roamed the sideline throughout, often standing at the far end behind the Redskins’ defense to scout what Keenum was seeing from the pocket.
Keenum has often sought Bridgewater’s advice on how to manage situations in games since he arrived in the offseason. Having Bridgewater there to work through various scenarios was an added benefit.
“He’s a fan favorite. He’s my favorite, too,” Keenum said. “He’s another set of eyes on the defense and being able to talk about certain things, whether it’s protections, routes or coverages. He does a great job, and he’s a great team player.”
Bridgewater won’t let himself think about his next first just yet. Getting in a game will be another milestone to check off in his recovery, and while his goal is to play this season, his focus right now is on appreciating the present and how far he has come.
“It’s very important, but at the same time, I think I just have to approach each day with the mindset that I’m going to get better, whether it’s being a better teammate, getting better with my health, studying the game and things like that,” he said. “I have the mindset that if I play, I play. I’m going to give it my all. I won’t hold anything back. But right now, I’m cherishing this moment. It’s about the Vikings winning in Washington against a good team.”