Skip to main content

This task of game-plan installation can be tedious—sitting in the dark, listening to a coach drone on about route combos—but at least the Vikings’ receivers get live entertainment every Wednesday.

The meeting room’s lights dim. A play flashes onto the projection screen. From the front, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur ticks off the assignments—Quick slant for the Z, and so on. And then, says receivers coach Darrell Hazell, the “demonstrative gyrations” begin. Gyrations and comic book sound effects.

“I’m gonna run up and—EHH! AHH! POW!

Stefon Diggs bobs and bounces, feigning a cut in his second-row chair. He has always viewed the world as his football field, treating each sidewalk crack like the line of scrimmage, every stranger as another cornerback in press coverage. He swims around coaches outside the team’s Eden Prairie offices and loses friends at the mall running five-and-outs. Even tagging along with his mother, Stephanie, at her job as an Amtrak attendant, young Stefon would startle train passengers by stutter-stepping down the aisles. “I see them routes, I see me,” Diggs says. “I need to feel football.”

Across the Vikings’ meeting room, from the third row: “Then I’m gonna—DEH-DEH-DEH!

Adam Thielen jukes over an armrest. Like Diggs, it takes a little extra involvement for him to commit concepts to memory. Before Thielen’s first rookie camp, in 2013, he learned Minnesota’s entire playbook—for all three receiving positions, over a single weekend—by methodically diagramming routes on a dry-erase board, tracing his movements again and again with a marker. When Diggs arrived two years later, Thielen joined his fellow receivers in ribbing the new guy for his film-session spasms—until it dawned on Thielen that he was twitching the exact same way. “Sometimes we’ll look at each other,” he says. “We don’t say anything, but we know what the other is thinking, ‘I’m going to kill this guy because I’m going to—HAA! HAA! CHH!” (Diggs: “Adam makes the funniest noises.”)

“My brain processes [routes] weird, like Diggsy,” Thielen elaborates. “We’re visualizing, thinking: BOOM!

The duo’s 2017 success story reads like a buddy cop script—clearly a comedy. Diggs, 24, is a former five-star phenom from outside D.C., a camera darling with a flavor for F-bombs. Thielen, 27, was raised in northern Minnesota lake country (during a recent visit he offered this writer the use of his car while he was at a charity event—he’s that Minnesota), and after playing Division II ball almost became a dental equipment salesman. Occasionally he’ll let loose a goshdarnit or shoot.

Few receiving partners are casing and solving NFL secondaries better than these two, who’ve had 19 games of 80 or more yards over the past two years (12 by Thielen, seven by Diggs), third in the league. Which is a pretty big deal in these parts. When Diggs passed 900 yards in Week 16 last year, they became the franchise’s first 900-yard couple since Randy Moss and Cris Carter, in 2000. And if mentioning the new guys in the same breath as those Minnesota legends feels like heresy, consider Moss’s testimony: “Vikings fans have been waiting a long time for this moment to come back.”

Plugging that manpower into Shurmur’s rhythmic attack and pairing it with the league’s best defense, the Vikings earned a playoff bye for the first time since 2009—even with career backup Case Keenum at the helm following Sam Bradford’s Week 1 knee injury. Credit to Keenum: With the previous previous QB, Teddy Bridgewater, pacing the sidelines, ready to reclaim the job after recovering from his own knee injury, Keenum took an offense that finished 27th, 29th and 28th in total yards over the past three seasons and turned it into a top-11 unit.

Is all this enough for the horn-helmeted denizens of lakes Minnetonka and Minnewaska to start dreaming big? Can the Vikings become the first team to reach the Super Bowl at its home stadium and then end the franchise’s 57-year titleless drought?

Maybe such talk feels premature. Or perhaps Diggsy and Thielen, shimmying in their chairs, can turn this vision into reality too.

adam-thielen-stefon-diggs-minnesota-vikings-3.jpg

It’s a sleepy morning on a Twin Cities cul-de-sac, a few days before the Vikings’ Week 10 game at Washington. The doormat to the Thielen household informs guests IT’S FALL. LET’S PLAY SOME FOOTBALL. In the living room Thielen slumps into a recliner. Clomping around and wielding a plastic golf club is one-year-old Asher, wearing but a diaper and a baby T from ETS Elite Performance, the gym in which Adam and his wife, Caitlin, hold partial ownership. (Slogan: Commit. Overcome. Conquer.) As the couple happily notes, Asher was a bye-week baby, born shortly after Dad’s seven-catch, 127-yard breakout against the Texans last season. Perfect timing, except . . .