To appreciate how Leslie Frazier won his first game as an NFL head coach, let's start with how he spent his last game as an NFL player. Frazier was a 26-year-old starting cornerback for the Bears in Super Bowl XX when, while returning a punt in the first half, he blew out his left knee on the Superdome turf. On the night of his team's greatest triumph—a 46--10 throttling of the Patriots—Frazier's playing career was over. He learned that the NFL was not promised to anyone and that every moment in a helmet and pads is to be cherished.
It was a note Frazier struck on Sunday when he addressed the Vikings before kickoff at FedEx Field, fresh off a tumultuous week in which Brad Childress was fired and Frazier was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach. "Don't lose sight that we are blessed to be in this position," Frazier told his players. "This is something we have dreamed about since we were six and seven years old."
With Frazier under the headset, the Vikings (4--7) responded with the kind of effort that has been nonexistent for most of the season. They made big plays on both sides of the ball, committed no turnovers and won 17--13, their first victory on the road in 2010. When Brett Favre kneeled to ice the game in the final seconds, the sideline erupted as if it were a playoff win. Favre jogged over to give Frazier the game ball, but afterward the coach announced that game balls would be given to team ownership and every player on the roster. Said veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, "It feels like a new season."
Frazier, 51, joins 44-year-old Jason Garrett of Dallas as coaches trying to win permanent jobs in a condensed and unsettled time. The sound bites coming from the two have been strikingly similar: Narrow your focus, embrace the precious present. Both men had been considered head coaching material for years (though Frazier had been turned down seven times for top jobs), and their early returns have been positive. "When he talks, guys' ears are pinned up," All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson says of Frazier. "It's a feeling of being sure about the words that are coming out of his mouth and trusting them."
Added offensive lineman Ryan Cook, "He understands the demeanor of the locker room, and he can translate his playing experience to his coaching. He lets the players know the things he wants to accomplish with a calm, collected aura."
Frazier said he slept soundly the night before the game against the Redskins, believing his players were prepared to play. If the Vikings continue to embrace the present, it will be Frazier leading them into the future.
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Photograph by SIMON BRUTY
LES IS MORE Madieu Williams (20) and his teammates warmed to Frazier (inset) in the locker room and on the field.
SIMON BRUTY (FRAZIER)
[See caption above]