There are just some guys in sports you can’t imagine in another jersey, players that embody the team, the city, and the fanbase so completely that they might as well have permanently tattooed themselves on your fandom. These are the first players to be brought up in sports bar arguments of all-time greats and who have fans wearing their jersey to games decades later.
And in today’s cutthroat NFL, players like that are a dying breed.
Far too often these days, we see the same disappointing narrative play out. A fan-favorite player gets older, too expensive, and the front office makes the business decision to move on. Then the player is confronted with early retirement or another payday with whatever team is desperate enough to overpay for a player who’s past his prime di lui.
Vikings fans have claimed a few franchise favorites for their entire playing careers, and these are names that immediately make Minnesotans beam with pride. Not because they’re first-ballot Hall of Famers, but because they’re our guys.
Jim Kleinsasser. Chad Greenway. And it’s only fitting that we add Adam Thielen to that list.
Adam Thielen deserves to retire as a Viking.
Vikings fans are all familiar with Thielen’s story. The pride of Detroit Lakes grew up a big Vikings fan, idolizing the dynamic duo of Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Unheralded as a recruit, Thielen played football at Division II Minnesota State University, where he was a standout for the Mavericks.
Thielen was not even on the NFL’s radar going into his draft season despite his college production. After not being invited to the NFL Combine and failing to gain positive momentum, Thielen had to watch himself go undrafted as countless wide receivers came off the board.
Here’s a fun exercise. Twenty-eight wide receivers were drafted in 2013. Two of those 28 are superstars: DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen. The another two are quality starters in Robert Woods and Kenny Stills. The remaining 24 picks are all out of the league or are depth pieces. The Atlanta Falcons use Corarrelle Patterson as a running back.
How many NFL teams would rather have Thielen than the first receiver taken in 2013, Tavon Austin? The answer is all of them.
Instead, Thielen had to settle for a rookie tryout at Winter Park to pursue his NFL dream. He worked out alongside many guys who probably didn’t make as much as a practice squad, and he finally got some attention. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and would be on the practice squad that fall.
Thielen then spent the next few years working his way onto the active roster, making himself useful in any way he could. A special teams ace, Thielen became Mike Priefer’s Swiss Army knife on returns, coverage, and the occasional trick play. He slowly gained more game reps at wide receiver. Thielen broke out in 2016, finishing just shy of 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
All of a sudden, Thielen was no longer just an underdog story. He was a legitimate NFL star.
Since 2016, Thielen has cemented himself as a dominant red-zone threat and an all-around weapon for Minnesota. His toughness, scrappy attitude, and selflessness di lui as a player come out in everything he does. Some fans are concerned about his ability of him to stay on the field. However, Thielen, 31, is fourth in the league in touchdown receptions since 2019 despite missing 11 games during that stretch.
Amid speculation that he could be on the trade block due to a large cap hit, Thielen once again agreed to a team-friendly restructure this offseason to remain in Minnesota. His willingness of him to restructure could be a major step in solidifying the rest of his career with the Vikings. But that doesn’t change the harsh reality of this business.
The NFL has seen more roster turnover, cold-blooded cuts, and high-profile trades this offseason than ever before. Russell Wilson is in Denver, Matt Ryan is in Indianapolis, and Davante Adams is in Vegas. It’s a huge shock, good and bad, for all of these fanbases. Fans are left rooting for their team’s jersey rather than the player wearing it, and it sucks. Thielen should be different.
Thielen represents everything that being a Minnesota Viking is all about. This fanbase knows what it’s like to be overlooked, overshadowed, and underestimated. Things never come easy to Minnesota sports fans, but Thielen provides hope that grit and determination can lead to success.
Thielen has repeatedly cut the Vikings’ team-friendly deals. He’s stuck with them through every bit of drama and controversy and done amazing work for his community di lui. And he’s kicked ass on the field every step of the way. He’s a hard worker, tough as nails, and hates the Green Bay Packers as much as any Vikes fan.
Adam Thielen is a Viking, and this fanbase deserves to see his career end the right way – in purple and gold.