- It’s the Friday of game week during the playoff stretch for Minnesota’s All-Pro corner, which means practice, workouts, intense film study and, just as important as the rest, some family time.
EAGAN, MINN. — Xavier Rhodes is a two-time Pro Bowler and a reigning First Team All-Pro cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings. Before the Vikings beat the Dolphins 41-17 at home in Week 15, SI TV and The MMQB had an all-access pass to Rhodes on Friday as he prepared for the weekend.
Rhodes has battled a host of lower-body injuries the second half of the season but missed just one game. We followed him for his usual Friday regimen: extensive stretching, therapy, workouts and Pilates. We also fit in some bowling, haircut and film work on the Dolphins.
Here’s how an All-Pro corner with a one-year-old preps for a must-win game.
Rhodes’ home, Eagan, Minn.
Journey, Xavier Rhodes’ 13-month-old with long-time girlfriend Brittney Jordan, is getting her back teeth in. Xavier can tell because her jaws are getting swollen and she’s having a tough time going to sleep. Which means Xavier is having a tough time going to sleep. The night before, he tried to play her out, to no avail. Then she wanted to eat, so they ordered french fries. It wasn’t until 12:30 a.m. that Journey finally went down, and so Xavier didn’t fall asleep until 1.
You can tell Rhodes isn’t fully awake yet because his olive pajama pants are on inside-out. Five bottles of Dasani, a bottle of Revitalyte and a banana peel litter his nightstand and floor. A foam roller leans against the chair in Brittney’s sitting-area nook she calls her “retreat.” Rhodes wasn’t feeling too sore last night so he kept his Sleep Number bed on 55. When he’s really hurting, he softens the mattress to 45.
Brittney sees that Journey is moving around in her crib and gives Xavier the OK to say goodbye. The soft glow of Disney Junior plays in her room. He bends over the crib railing, and soon enough a good portion of his 214 pounds is being supported by the rail. One foot is off the ground. A second foot seemingly gets into the air. His Sprayground backpack is taken by gravity and hits him in the back of the head. Worse, it hits the mobile above the crib. The baby’s now up.
“She is not going to like me that I woke Journey up,” he says at the door to the garage. A second later, Journey wails.
“There we goooooo,” he says. “That went bad bad.”
TCO Performance Center
Rhodes knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but he can never find time for it. He usually has a chef come to his home on Mondays and cook meals for the week. He hasn’t done it much with the holidays, though, and Friday is his cheat day anyway. Rhodes gets something heavy—eggs and French toast—to tide him over until after practice.
He’s been at the facility for almost two hours by now. Rhodes started by getting some rehab on his groin, which has been more a product of a long NFL season than any one play. In Week 7 he suffered a sprain in his left foot against the Jets but played through it. That foot sprain then moved up to his left ankle, and he sat out the Week 8 game against the Saints.
In an effort to compensate for the ankle, Rhodes ended up hurting his right hamstring late in the Week 12 game with the Packers. Compensating again, Rhodes now has pain in his left hip and groin area two weeks later.
The day is long, and the previous night is already catching up to him. He needs a jolt. Less than a half-hour before practice, Rhodes jumps in the cold tub for about five minutes. Then he pops in and out of the hot tub. The contrast shocks his body. He’s ready.
Vikings locker room
Rhodes is taking full advantage of his cheat day. Practice is over, and he comes to his locker inhaling a plate of beef BBQ, rice, mac and cheese, collards and cornbread. He needs to hustle out of here to get to his 1 p.m. physical therapy appointment. The walk is just one-tenth of a mile and it’s a sunny 37 degrees out, but Rhodes, a Miami guy, is going to drive there.
His teammates notice the camera and microphone following him. The teasing begins. “Xay really a celebrity,” cornerback Trae Waynes says. Stefon Diggs, he of the Geico national commercial fame, literally runs away when Rhodes takes the camera his way. “Snitch!” someone shouts.
“You the police,” safety Jayron Kearse says to Rhodes.
TCO Training Haus
Before the Vikings’ 2016 opener against the Titans, Rhodes sprained his knee stretching during hot yoga. Seriously. Ever since, he’s taken the stretching out of his own hands and entrusted trainer Jon Graves.
Graves starts work on Rhodes’ left hip, before eventually moving to his foot and ankle. Rhodes tells him he’s been feeling stiffness in his ankle when he tries to break, and Graves brings over a shockwave therapy device to use. It sounds like a stun gun, and it apparently feels like it sometimes, too. “It’s not a spa treatment,” Rhodes says through a grimace.
For the last 15 minutes the two have held a healthy back and forth that has mostly been Rhodes lying about his high school athletic exploits. He swears he played high school basketball and covers the face of a 6’1”, 165-pound white guy on the roster to show it to Graves. He talks about the time he ran a 10.6 100-meter dash while pulling his hamstring midway through. Then he says he’s only dropped four would-be interceptions in his entire six-year career.
“Bro, you’ve had four hit your hands this year,” Graves says. Rhodes starts counting them up. One a few years ago, and he can think of three this year. “See what I’m saying,” Graves says. “They’re starting to come back.”
Rhodes is asked if he means for us to believe he’s had four dropped picks but three have happened in just the past few months. He laughs.
“That don’t sound right, huh?,” he says.
“Are your quads tight,” Denise Strenger asks Rhodes.
“Nah,” he says, lying on his back on a Pilates reformer board.
“Yeah, they are,” she says by just looking.
Rhodes and Strenger usually meet on Wednesdays, but today they link up after PT and an hour of stretching mostly with resistance bands. When they started working together, Rhodes could barely point his feet. His balance was all off.
“He’s gotten much better at being able to fire his glute and feel his core at the same time,” Strenger says, as Rhodes exhales on the reformer. “Right now he’s using his hamstrings and his core. Exhale. So those things have gotten really better. And getting him to release that lower back—exhale—so he can use his lower core for stability and quick movements, push and pull, quick stops, fast changes.”
He’s been stretching/exercising/getting worked on for three and a half hours. He hasn’t touched a weight all day today.
Xavier and Brittney got serious about bowling about three or four years ago. They have their own bowling balls, shoes and bags they bring with them here. They bowled about once a week until she got pregnant but have fallen off since. They’ve reserved lanes 31 and 32 this evening, and Brittney sets up her iPhone for Journey to watch Puppy Dog Pals in her stroller.
For this to just be a hobby, the couple is pretty good. Brittney bowls a 110 with two strikes. Xavier bowls a 157, just under his proclaimed average of 160. (No bumpers.)
During the sixth frame, Mary Krolick comes up to Rhodes. He had just knocked down eight pins, and you can tell he’s conflicted about whether to talk to her before or after picking up the spare. He decides after. She’s been a season-ticket holder about as long as the Vikings have been a franchise, she says, and she tells Rhodes to look for her on Sunday on the second level, 30-yard line, visitors’ side.
Krolick’s good bowling days are past her, but she comes here on Fridays to watch her daughter in a league. Rhodes assures her the Vikings are going to play better this week than last week in the loss to Seattle. She’s tickled.
“Wait till I tell my friend that I met you,” she cheers. “He’s going to be so jealous. That’s why I came down here!”
Rhodes has a standing Friday appointment with Mr. Jimmy, his barber. Jimmy Mills has been cutting hair for 32 years and came from Houston to Minnesota in 1992. Rhodes used to have a barber come over to his house, but he got caught taking photos and videos of the house as if he’d never been there before. He wasn’t invited back.
Former Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn hooked Rhodes up with Mr. Jimmy. But Mr. Jimmy doesn’t come inside, because he doesn’t need to. About 10 years ago Mills bought a Sprinter van and turned it into a mobile barbershop. He has a brick-and-mortar shop on Lake Street, but he uses the van for his VIP clients who don’t want to wait on a seat or be bothered by other customers.
“When I put this together and hit the ground, Minnesota wasn’t quite ready for me. I had a little pressure from the state for a minute, but they left me alone and let me do my thing,” Mr. Jimmy says with typical barber bravado. “I think you’ve got to be innovative and creative to get ahead of the game. I’m an old-school barber, but I’m a leader in the new school. They got some catching up to do.
“I’m old school in that I have old-school ways. We’ve got running water and everything in here. We keep it all the way about the craft. You’ve got a lot of artwork in today’s barber game. They’re doing paint jobs and everything. I’m just an old-school barber.”
But the mood in the van isn’t right. They haven’t been able to have their usual shop talk as Mr. Jimmy gives Rhodes a taper. They usually catch up while some R&B plays. But the film crew can’t have the copyrighted music playing in the shots. Once they get what they need for this project, they exit the van and only Rhodes, Mr. Jimmy and a reporter remain.
Mr. Jimmy turns off the razor and grabs his phone. Al B. Sure!’s “Natalie” plays. The recorder is turned off. The real barbershop talk commences.
“Three-by-one X under,” Rhodes says sitting on his couch looking at film. “I look at his leverage. If it’s three-by-one, and that back’s wide—the back is behind the tackle—he’s going to come flat out. If it’s three-by-one, he’s going to try to pick the linebacker.”
The Vikings have the Dolphins on Sunday, and Rhodes will be assigned to DeVante Parker. With his Vikings-issued iPad in his lap, his right hand balancing it and his left hand controlling the content, Rhodes starts on 44 minutes worth of video cutups of every play this season in which the Dolphins have had three receivers on one side of the formation and one receiver on the other.
“You see how wide [the running back] is? He’s behind the tackle, so that’s how you know he’s coming out,” Rhodes says. “The Dolphins don’t really have many tendencies. That’s one of the tendencies they have …
“If it’s third-and-long and they’re in three-by-one and [receivers] 1 and 2 go vertical, I’m going to think it’s dagger. I’m going to backpedal, then open up and I’m going to expect the dig, but then I’m going to play the go at the same time …
“Once the receiver stacks you, he can do anything to you then. You’re gonna have to bite on the first move. So that’s one thing corners don’t want to do is stack, because once you stack, that’s it.”
“Did you hear me?” Brittney says from the kitchen behind Rhodes. She cooks on Friday nights, and the chili and cornbread have been ready for a few minutes now.
“Ahh that’s their formation. Three-by-one. Oh oh oh! I knew that route was coming!” Rhodes is lost in film. A minute goes by before he speaks up.
“We’re ready to eat,” Brittney says.
“Oh, it’s time to eat!”
It’s an hour past Journey’s bedtime, and she still needs a bath. Rhodes calls it a shower because she stands in the tub while he pours the water on her head. Brittney tries to correct him, but it doesn’t take.
After the bath, he’ll retreat to the bedroom. He’ll watch film, and Brittney will watch her guilty-pleasure reality TV show. He feels good about the three-by-one film but needs to watch the Dolphins’ two-by-two film. He has to find the tendencies of a team that has none.
In two hours, he’ll have his film work done for the night. Hopefully Journey will be sound asleep. Brittney expects him to snore loudly tonight.
Rhodes and the NFL’s third-ranked defense would hold Miami to just 193 yards of total offense in the Week 15 win, Minnesota’s best defensive performance of the season. After another victory over the Lions the following week, the Vikings would enter the season finale in Chicago with their fate in their hands: A win would mean a return to the playoffs.
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