It was not a bad or even a strange idea for Sports Illustrated to have Greg Bishop spend four months of the NFL season with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings nearly made the Super Bowl in 2017 on the strength of the NFL’s best defense, then went on to swap out Case Keenum for alarmingly remedial grillmaster and far superior passer Kirk Cousins under center and hire a new offensive coordinator away from the Super Bowl champion Eagles; all the usual caveats apply in the usual ways, but the team seemed a likelier bet to continue to improve than instantaneously turn back into the dang Minnesota Vikings whenever the piece was assigned. So yeah, sure, absolutely send one of your NFL writers to Minnesota to write about the amenity-laden new training facility and the exotic concoctions on offer at its bespoke juice bar, and about the coach grousing coachily about all those things.
If the Vikings hadn’t spent the entire season developing and nurturing a miserable team-wide sinus headache, Sports Illustrated might have had the story it wanted—a long and deeply detailed portrait of a Super Bowl contender, publishing just as the postseason began. The Vikings are still the Vikings, though, and so made a sharp turn into The Total Sinus Headache Experience. This meant that Sports Illustrated instead had a very long and deeply detailed story about an extremely frustrating 8-7-1 team that didn’t make the playoffs. But while the Vikings team itself wasn’t especially interesting or especially good—the words “Kirk Cousins yelled at Adam Thielen on the sideline” are classified by the FDA as a pharmaceutical-grade sedative—the story contains a number of enlightening and entertaining tidbits. Everson Griffen enjoys the turmeric shots from the juice bar! Mike Zimmer had an Olympic cross-country skier come in to talk to the team about Finishing! There’s a story behind that photo of Linval Joseph in shades sucking on an oxygen tank!
So far, so Decently Interesting Story About An NFL Team. As usual, the real heat—the real sticky Weird Football Man Shit—comes from the decision-makers. Zimmer, unsurprisingly, comes off as a total coachy barnacle, all flinty and dyspeptic and prone to sleeping on the Murphy bed in his office so as to better devour reams of tape. But it’s GM Rick Spielman, over the course of one brief but action-packed paragraph, who most thoroughly reveals himself to be a true madman.
Spielman follows the same routine before every Vikings home game, and this week against the Cardinals is no different. This is a how a general manager survives 13 NFL seasons, by tempering his anxiety and finding order in the chaos. He wakes up at 5 a.m. He takes his dogs for a walk, following the same route. He eats the same breakfast sandwich: fried egg, bacon and peanut butter on a wheat round. He shaves the left side of his face, then the right. He puts his shoes and socks on before his pants, leaves his house at the same time so he can arrive at the stadium at eight, follows the same route, stops at the same gas station, uses the same pump and makes sure always to end his purchase on a zero.
Yes, yes, all people have routines and all NFL executives exhibit at least two behaviors commonly associated with psychopathy. True enough. But look past that disturbing but possibly edible breakfast sandwich and gratuitously early wake-up time and the let’s say ambitious attempt to make the dude’s shaving preferences into a personality trait. Forget the bit in the next paragraph, where Bishop notes in passing that Spielman listens to Steely Dan in his earbuds like some business-casual version of fucking Tom Noonan in Manhunter. Look closer.
He puts his shoes and socks on before his pants, leaves his house at the same time so he can arrive at the stadium at eight, follows the same route, stops at the same gas station, uses the same pump and makes sure always to end his purchase on a zero.
He puts his shoes and socks on before his pants
He puts his shoes and socks on before his pants
Now, there are ways to do this. Wide-leg executive khakis, shoes that are not boots, pointed toes, et cetera. But there is no real reason to do this. Even by the standards of NFL executives—a community that consists more or less entirely of grim dullards and boardroom warlocks and unbalanced windbreaker aficionados, all of them in a constant competition to get fewer hours of sleep per night than their peers—putting your pants on after your shoes is worrying behavior. There is a concerning lack of full-length photos of Spielman on the photo wires, but the ones we have look normal enough:
...until you think about the dude stepping into his Jos. A. Bank fit with his damn wingtips on.
Had Greg Bishop been writing this story for an editor at this website, he would have been directed to make it entirely about Spielman putting his pants on like a total goofus. That was not the case, sadly, but hopefully this disturbing report will move forward the broader national conversation on what the deal is with these guys.