Adam Thielen is the last Vikings player remaining in the visitor’s locker room at MetLife Stadium. It’s an hour after the conclusion of Minnesota’s 37–17 victory over the Jets, and the receiver, clad in a maroon suit with football-patterned socks peeking out form his loafers, now offers his cup of pickle juice—left in every Minnesota player’s locker after games, to assist with cramping—to a team staffer. Then he jokes with the longtime radio voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen, who had just congratulated Thielen on his historic day.
“I remember when you used to not know who I was,” Thielen says, laughing. “You didn’t know my name.”
This season Thielen—once labeled as the “scrappy overachiever” who beat long odds to play for the team he grew up rooting for—has made sure that every football fan in the country knows his name. Thielen is now, indisputably, one of the best receivers in the game, with his name rightfully up there with Julio and Antonio and A.J. and Odell. And he now has the NFL records to prove it: the receiver etched his name in the NFL history books, notching his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game to start the season. The total ties Charly Hennigan’s record, set all the way back in 1961 with the Houston Oilers—before the AFL-NFL merger, before the modern NFL era even began.
After all of his teammates have left the locker room to board the team bus, Thielen is asked to put into perspective how it feels to match a record that stood for 57 years.
“I didn’t even know that,” Thielen says. “I think when I’m done playing and can look back on it, it’ll be more special. But right now I’m trying to help this team win games.”
That Thielen has done, time and time again. In a sloppy, poorly played contest—with wind gusts upwards of 30 miles per hour, disrupting both teams’ offenses—the receiver helped Minnesota secure a much needed victory. After entering the year with Super Bowl aspirations the Vikings stumbled to begin the season, falling to the Bills and Rams, and tying the Packers, early. The win brought the team’s record back up to 4-2-1, and they again sit atop the NFC North standings.
On Sunday, where punts were the most prevalent play, the suspense of the Thielen Watch was really the only exciting element. The receiver entered the game as the league’s most productive pass catcher; extrapolating his numbers after six games onto a full season, he was on pace to break Marvin Harrison’s record for catches in a season (143) and was right off the pace for Calvin Johnson’s yards total (1,964). With nine catches for 110 yards and one touchdown on Sunday—giving him 67 catches and 812 yards on the year—Thielen remains firmly on that pace. Not that he cares.
“I could have done a lot better today,” he says—and the crazy thing is that he’s right. That’s how good Adam Thielen is.
On the Vikings first drive of the game, Thielen beat backup cornerback Daryl Roberts on a go route down the right sideline—the Jets top two corners, Buster Skrine and Trumaine Johnson, were out with injury—for a 34-yard touchdown. It was everything we have learned to expect from Thielen, one of the league’s best route runners. Originally labeled as a slow receiver, Thielen gained separation from Roberts immediately at the line of scrimmage, then leapt above the defensive back’s head, contorted his body in the air, and came down with the score. Yes, teammate Stefon Diggs—a star in his own right—has the ubiquitous Geico commercial where everything sticks to his hands, but it sure feels like it’s Thielen who cannot drop any pass that is thrown remotely near him.
After that play, offense was hard to come by for both teams—the first third down conversion for either team came in the third quarter, after 15 unsuccessful attempts—but Thielen continued to reel in catches. The Vikings second receiver finished with 34 yards and quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for only 241, so Thielen hitting the 100 mark again is difficult to believe. But at this point, his consistency is most impressive.
“The guy works so hard,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith says, “But I’d be lying if I said I was surprised [that Thielen had more than 100 receiving yards].”
During pre-game warm-ups, Thielen wore Bobby Boucher-themed cleats—blue and orange, with Mud Dogs on one side and Boucher’s face on the other—sent to him by Adidas to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the movie The Waterboy, which Thielen had watched just a few days ago. Boucher, the famous Adam Sandler character, may actually be an apt comparison for Thielen’s career. No, Thielen was not driving a lawnmower to his job as college football team’s water distribution engineer before leading the Mud Dogs to a Bourbon Bowl win. But he did settle for a $500 stipend to play DII ball after not getting a real scholarship offer, he did pay his own way to get into a regional NFL combine and he was playing both offense and defense on the Vikings’ scout team just five years ago.
But Thielen doesn’t think it’s weird to recall that time in his life now. “I don’t think anything has really changed,” he says, “other than people talking about me on Twitter.”
All throughout this week, with the record threatening to fall, the paeans to Thielen’s remarkable career path were written in publications across the country. The improbable journey, to be fair, is still astounding. The fact that he never caught more than six passes in a game in high school. The job interviews he had set up, in case his football career didn’t pan out. The college player who laughed at him when Thielen said he planned to play in the NFL.
But is the receiver tired of hearing those anecdotes?
“The story obviously gets old,” Thielen says, as he heads out into the cold New Jersey night. “But it’s still a good story.”