Right Team, Right Time
“If we win, I’ll pee my pants.”
“What? Get outta here.”
“I swear I will.”
“Nah…… you won’t.”
“If you say so.”
“Man, I’m telling you. If we win, I’ll do it.”
“Pee your pants?”
“Yeah that’s right. Just gonna pee myself to all heck.”
“Right then and there.”
“Right then and there, man. Pants on, clothes on — like it ain’t nothing.”
“If we win.”
“Yep, if we win.”
If this were a movie, I guess now is the part where they’d cut to a shot of my friend, Josh, peeing his pants — and that’s how they’d let you know that, yeah, in 2004, man … my buddies and I won State. We won the Texas Class 3A Division 1 State Championship, to be exact — still, to this day, the only state title in Wylie Football history.
People ask me all the time about what that was like, growing up in Abilene, and playing high school football in the great state of Texas.
And, well … it was awesome.
It was traditions and superstitions. It was pep rallies and cheerleaders and letter jackets. It was having a decal with your name and number on the back of your truck, so that everybody knew whose truck it was. It was somebody’s mom making the whole team brownies every Wednesday night. It was a bunch of idiots crashing CiCis Pizza and eating as much as we could for $3.99. It was movie nights in the locker room the night before a game, watching those stupid comedies that you thought were really funny in high school (and probably still think are funny, but don’t tell anyone).
It was being the underdog, yet being tied 14–14 with under a minute to go — with a state freaking title on the line.
It was being a little punk quarterback, with no sense and no fear, scrambling inside the 10-yard line to set up a game-winning field goal.
It was your buddy making the game-winning field goal.
It was … total insanity.
It was you and all your friends in the locker room, after, just going absolutely crazy — cranking up some country music … playing bumper cars with the laundry bins … acting like complete and utter maniacs … jumping around until you couldn’t jump any more.
And, yup — it was Josh, legend forever that he is, proving himself a man of his word … and standing tall in that locker room, and peeing his pants.
It was just — Texas high school football, man.
It was the exact right team … at the right time. It was the shortest … fastest … most fun and fleeting part of our lives.
We hoped that it would last forever.
Flash forward to 2011, and I’m at the College Football Awards. I had just wrapped up my playing career at the University of Houston — and now I’m one of three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Trophy (which is a fancy way of calling you the nation’s best quarterback).
So I’m at this ceremony, and I’m sitting down for an interview with a journalist. I won’t name him. But the guy says to me, he goes, “Case, hi. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you this … but I just wanted you to know: I have a Davey O’Brien vote — and I voted you third!”
And he’s looking at me like he’s waiting for me to say thank you.
Like he’d done this gigantic favor for me, just by having me third on his ballot. Like — in his mind, that’s how little most people felt I deserved to be there.
So anyway, he says that … and I’m just kind of sitting there, looking at him. And I’m like, “You know I’m one of the … three finalists, right?”
And I think for a second he thought I was ticked. Like he’d offended me or something. But then I think he saw the smile creeping in on my face — and I could see him realizing that I was much less ticked than I was just … amused. I could see him realizing what a lot of people eventually realize about me: that being underestimated? It hasn’t ever really been anything I’ve taken much to heart.
I was a two-star recruit, man. I quarterbacked a team to a state title in Texas — in Texas — and I only got one scholarship offer. I had to compete for the QB job in college twice: Had to win it, and then we changed coaches and I had to win it again. I’ve been getting, “If you were only a few inches taller” … or, “If you were just a few ticks faster” … or, “If that arm was maybe a few yards stronger, son” — basically my whole life.
Heck, the only time in my life I think I’ve ever been overestimated was at the NFL draft. The experts said I’d be a late-round pick.
I went undrafted.
So when people ask me about having to adjust to being a “journeyman QB” … or about having to adapt to life on the fringes of my profession for so long … you know, I guess I just have to kind of laugh. Adjusting and adapting — those words would imply that this is a new situation for me. They’d imply that anything in football has ever come to me easy.
I guess you could even argue, in an ironic way … that I almost came to the NFL more prepared than anyone.
Because they say this is a “prove it” league.
And proving it — over, and over, and over again — is all I’ve ever known.
When you’re on the fringes, man — you’re almost lucky in a way. Sure, there’s less job security. And sure, the paycheck is smaller. And sure, you could be packing your bags at a moment’s notice. O.K., on second thought … maybe “lucky” is the wrong word. But still, I’m telling you — there’s something about that life.
You learn things on the fringes.
You learn how to put your head down and go to work. You learn that progress can be slow as all heck — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You learn that your margin for error … it’s always smaller than you think. You learn the value of having people who believe in you — and the value of proving them right. You learn how to block out the noise. You learn how to really call plays. And you learn how to cherish every opportunity, right down to the last one … because you never know how many you’re gonna get.
I made some pretty good plays during my first four years in the league. Made some plays I’d like to have back, too. But I honestly believe that I got better every year — and heading into free agency last off-season, I was by far the best version of myself as a quarterback that I’d ever been.
And if you’re looking for the reason why I signed a one-year deal with the Vikings … well, I’m not gonna give you a whole mess of football clichés. Instead — I’ll just give you the one that’s the most true:
They wanted me more than the other teams. I could feel it.
When Sam got hurt, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I’ve known Sam from when we were in St. Louis together in 2014, and he’s a really good guy. He was rehabbing an injury at the time — but he was in meetings, still, and he worked with the quarterbacks, and we got to establish a relationship. So it was tough for me to see him injured again.
But on the flip side of that coin … you gotta cherish every opportunity, right?
Except when you don’t — at all. In my first start in a Vikings uniform, on the road, at Pittsburgh … we got clobbered. I didn’t play all that well — and I went into that next week of practice stressed and tense. Not only was I coming off a loss, but the rest of the guys didn’t really know me yet. They didn’t know how I operated. It was just a tough week, all around. I mean … it’s tough whenever you don’t win. But when you lose your very first game? The pressure to win that second game is huge.
Often times, honestly, the pressure can get to guys. That’s how losing streaks happen. One bad game puts more pressure on the next game, which puts even more pressure on the next game, and then even more pressure on the game after that. And then suddenly you look up and you’ve lost four in a row.
Which leads me to one of the first things that I noticed about this team — and a huge part of why we’ve been so successful, I think: Everyone here knows how to wipe the slate clean. There was this attitude after the Steelers game, like, So you had one bad game? Alright. Well, let’s get it on track, starting now. The amount of support I got that week — from Coach Zimmer, to Coach Shurmur, to all my teammates — was just incredible. Not only did they stick with me, but they rallied around me. They picked me up.
And the following week, I think it showed on the field. I went out against the Bucs and played maybe the best football game of my life. I earned my first win as a Viking, and the team moved to 2–1. And then after the game … well, I got another sign that something special is going on here in Minnesota.
Coach Zimmer was in the locker room, giving his postgame speech — when, all of a sudden, he turned around … and he grabbed a football.
Then Coach held it up in the air, and paused for a second, and he said, “You know — I don’t usually do this, but.…”
You gotta understand: Coach Zimmer doesn’t give out game balls like that, right after the game. It’s just … not something he does. He’s only given out two like that all year — and this was one of them.
He tossed me the ball, and man, the guys just went crazy. They were all hootin’ and hollerin’. And then eventually it died down … and everybody came in and surrounded me. I mean everybody: teammates, coaches, Mr. Wilf……. everybody. And they let me address them — not just as a team. As my team.
I told them that I was gonna fight for them every day — and I did not lie. I’m telling you: The camaraderie that I felt in that locker room on that afternoon … I’m not sure I can even explain it.
This team? It’s just a unique group.
And while we knew pretty early on that we had something special in our locker room — it wasn’t until our eight-game winning streak that I think we realized we had something pretty special on the field, too.
There were so many little moments along the way of that streak, you know? Throwing a pair of touchdown passes to Kyle in our win on Thanksgiving. Getting five different guys into the end zone in our win over Washington. Going on the road and taking down the defending NFC champs. And for me, of course….
Beating my old team.
When the Rams came up to Minnesota, I really did treat it like it was any other game — because that’s just what I do. But c’mon … it’s always cool to beat your old team. They had been playing really well, too, and especially on the road. So not only was it big for me, personally — but it was also this big step for us to take together as a squad.
It’s games like that — moments like that — when you start to think to yourself, Wow … a very cool thing is happening here. When you start to think to yourself, Hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…… but, you know………..
It was the first real snowfall this winter in Minnesota, and I was just out in my driveway, shoveling snow — when one of my neighbors drove by.
“Hey Case,” he said. “What are you doing?”
I threw my hands up and shrugged.
“Honestly? I have no idea!”
Here’s the thing: I’m from Texas. I don’t know anything about shoveling snow. I don’t know how to salt, I don’t know when to salt, I don’t know how much to use — I don’t know one single solitary thing about it. And I have a feeling that, maybe, just maybe … people could tell.
So then the next day, I came home from practice, and I was driving down my street … and it’s the strangest thing. I saw like three people in front of my house.
It was my neighbors.
I was like, “Thank you, truly — but y’all don’t have to do all that!”
But they just kept on shoveling, man.
Now? At any given time, you might be driving down my street, and you’ll see some of my neighbors — could be John, or Richard and DeDe, or Kimberly and Tim, or their kids, Roan and Peyton — outside my house, spreading salt or shoveling snow. Maybe it’s out of the goodness of their hearts … or maybe they just want their QB focusing on football right now … or maybe it’s some combination of those things — I guess we’ll never know.
But our neighbors are just awesome, man. In fact, everyone who my wife, Kimberly, and I have met since we’ve been here in Minnesota is awesome. And let me tell you something else about them:
They all know their football.
And I have a pretty good hunch they know where the Super Bowl is being played this year, too.
Sometimes, during my journey through college and the pros, I would wonder if I was destined to become one of those people for whom winning State — and that feeling of being QB on a winning team in Texas — was going to be my “glory days,” when it was all said and done. I always had dreams of making it to the NFL, and of doing what I’m doing now — and I always had this confidence that, once I made it, I’d be a winning player. But even still … you never know. There’s never the guarantee of winning, at any level. And sometimes I’d just wonder if that state title — if it was going to stand up all those years later, for better or worse, as the best season of my football life.
And obviously I’d never disrespect those guys at Wylie, by saying that anything could top it. But this year … you know what?
I think I’ve finally found an experience that comes close.
I’ve got an organization that believes in me, and a system that I can succeed in. I’ve got this great group of close-knit teammates, who have become this great group of close-knit friends. And I’m living in this amazing community — that loves, and lives, and breathes football.
It’s not Josh peeing himself while country music is blasting out of cheap speakers, and laundry bins are being used as bumper cars … but man. Almost 15 years after that state title in Abilene, I can finally say what I’ve been wanting to say again for so long: that I’m on the exact right team … at the exact right time.
In high school, we always had this saying — about how we wanted each season to last forever. And I’m telling you, as sure as I’m writing this article … that when we said that, we meant every word.
But I know better now.
Nowadays, man, my goals are a little more modest: Just give me the best football, and the best fans, that the great state of Minnesota has to offer.
Put ‘em all under one roof.
And give us three more games.