The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 29, 2013

Free-agent signingss make rivalry more interesting


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Jared Allen was asked about the prospect of having another couple of ex-Packers join the Vikings this season, and he brushed off the the premise of the question.

"The rivalry is more for the fans," Allen said. "There's no real rivalry among the players."

Really?

I suppose, no other team in the NFL proves Allen's point more than his own. The Vikings have acquired quite a number of significant players from their arch rivals in recent years.

Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell and, of course, Brett Favre didn't just make guest appearances in purple. They started and won games. They became wildly popular on this side of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers while turning into pariahs back in Wisconsin.

While Favre never came to Mankato for training camp, Sharper and Longwell quickly became popular with the fans at Blakeslee Stadium who used to adamantly root against them. Those scenes proved comedian Jerry Seinfeld's theory that sports fans really just root for laundry.

This year, wide receiver Greg Jennings made the short, four-hour trek to Minnesota, as did linebacker Desmond Bishop. Both were key starters on the Packers' Super Bowl championship two years ago and are now trying to help get Allen and the Vikings to that spot.

Both play at positions of great need for the Vikings, so the signings made sense. Jennings agreed to a fat free-agent deal — reportedly five years, $45 million with $18 million guaranteed — to become Christian Ponder's top target, while Bishop, a lower-risk signing, is hoping to return to form after losing the entire 2012 season with a hamstring injury.

That's where the rivalry gets tossed aside, of course. For both the Vikings and the players, the signings made good business sense.

Allen heaped praise upon Jennings' career up to now and recalled the "pick-six" that Bishop made against Favre and the Vikings to seal a Packers win in 2010.

But ... "Once someone puts on that purple, they're your teammate," he said.

While Allen downplayed the rivalry, Jennings fanned its flames prior to reporting to Mankato. He made some snide and somewhat peculiar remarks about his former quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and the way his old team went about its business. It created just the sort of dust-up that shouldn't but does qualify as news in our NFL-crazed and football-starved society.

Even if Vikings coach Leslie Frazier mutes Jennings on all matters Green Bay for the remainder of training camp, the comments are sure to resurface again when the division rivals meet for the first time on Oct. 27 at the Metrodome. By then we'll know a lot more about the impact free agents lost and free agents signed than we do today, just one day after the shoulder pads actually went on these players.

As if the Vikings and Packers need any more fuel to their rivalry.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.