MINNEAPOLIS — Kickoff could not come fast enough.
The worst week in the history of the National Football League finally came to a close Sunday when more of the suspended and the suspected were ruled out of games and finally America had football again. And everything went on the way it always does.
Here on the campus of the University of Minnesota, in the shadow of the venerable Williams Arena — where Kevin McHale and so many other Golden Gophers ran on the elevated hardwood — the Patriots easily dismantled the Minnesota Vikings, 30-7, in front of 52,350 fans, including hundreds of folks wearing the No. 28 jersey of Adrian Peterson. The Vikings were without their star running back; they deactivated Peterson Friday night after he was arrested for whipping his 4-year old son with a switch.
I went down to the main concourse during the third quarter of the Patriots’ rout. I was hoping to find the young woman who was photographed before the game wearing her Peterson jersey and carrying a switch designed for child punishment. She looked pretty happy with herself in the tailgating photo and I wanted to know what was going through her mind as he selected her outfit for the game.
Alas, no sign of the switch-wielding woman. But I had a chance to talk to dozens of other locals who had made the conscious decision to don the jersey of an accused child abuser before traipsing over to TCF Bank Stadium on a perfect fall afternoon.
“I’m not saying anyone wants to see someone who beats his son, but he’s been a very good player for so long,’’ said 22-year- old Marc Instrum. “And I think things are different in the South.”
Charles Barkley says amen to that. The inimitable Round Mound of Rebound was summoned to the CBS Gameday set to tell us, “every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.’’
Folks buying burgers and beers in TCF Bank Stadium weren’t as radical as Charles, but there was plenty of support for Peterson, in all colors and sizes. Men, women, children. There was a guy in a wheelchair in the handicapped section wearing a Peterson jersey. A 12-year-old boy with his dad had one on. As did a couple of high school girls, waiting in line to buy burgers at Goldey’s Grill.
“I just wore it because it’s the only Vikings jersey I have,’’ said one of the teens. “But it would not be cool if some of the things they say he did turn out to be true.’’
While the rout continued down on the field, it was learned that Commissioner-under-siege Roger Goodell had canceled his long-awaited appearance at the San Francisco 49ers’ dedication game at Levi’s Stadium. It’s evident that fallout from the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, the Peterson arrest, and Sunday’s inactivation of Greg Hardy (convicted of assault on a female, he played in Week 1) changed the commissioner’s plans.
After being routed by the Patriots, the Vikings didn’t have much to say about Peterson. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said he’ll address the Peterson situation “at another time,’’ but admitted, “If you took the best player off of every team, it would have an impact.’’
“Not my business,’’ said Vikings guard Brandon Fusco.
Believe it or not, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was relatively expansive on the topic. After his 200th career regular-season victory in the league, the esteemed coach was asked — as a historian and one who loves the NFL — what can he do to move forward and make things better.
“I think we need to do what we always do and that’s take care of our job and do our job and try and do it well,’’ he said. “That’s what we’ll focus on and continue to focus on. We can’t control anything outside of what we do. We’ve just got to do the best that we can and leave all those other things to the process. It’s certainly unfortunate.’’
You could tell he wanted to say more. This is a man who has dedicated his life to The Shield and it’s got to hurt to see what has happened to the NFL’s image in the last week.
“I have a lot of personal respect for Adrian and Ray,’’ said Belichick, “and the situation is really unfortunate, and the events of what happened. We all know what that is. So, it’s an unfortunate situation.’’
I wanted to ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady the same question. He’s invested 15 years in the NFL and profiles like a man who someday may run for public office. Surely he has feelings about the damage done to the NFL over the past week. Unfortunately, Brady was in a very bad mood for a man who just won a football game by 23 points. After a few short answers, Tom bolted with his patented, “Thanks, guys.’’
There is one final member of the Patriots’ holy trinity who could answer some questions about the NFL’s decaying image and his approval of all things Goodell. Bob Kraft went on the airwaves of user-friendly CBS early last week to talk about the swell job Goodell’s been doing. He rejected a pair of Globe interview requests during the awful week and yours truly didn’t have any luck Sunday when I took the charge in the hallway outside the winner’s locker room.
What about it, Bob? Any comment on this past week in the NFL?
CBS’s “Master Kraftsman” never broke stride in those nifty “Owner’s Model” Nikes he’s been wearing.
“No,’’ was all he said.
That was it. We had a nice Patriots victory and great television ratings as the worst week in NFL history came to a close.