When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Percy Harvin in the first round of the 2009 draft, it was thought to be the start of a long, successful partnership. Harvin won Offensive Rookie of the Year his first season and helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game.
But Harvin only lasted four seasons in Minnesota, plagued by debilitating migraine headaches along the way. Tension between Harvin and the organization boiled over and precipitated his trade in March of 2013.
As it turns out, there was more going on than just the headaches. Harvin opened up about his ongoing struggle with anxiety in a recent Sports Illustrated story, saying it often was the source of his migraines.
“Take a hammer and beat it on the side of your head nonstop,” he says of the pain. “If you’re trying to relax, if someone’s trying to talk to you, that hammer is still going off. You’re trying to eat, still going off.” That pounding is linked, he says, to an anxiety disorder that has gripped him since he was a kid, which he didn’t even know he had until he broke in with the Vikings and started making regular visits to the Mayo Clinic. Kept confidential by the NFL’s medical protocols, and by his own protocols of manhood, the ailment caused Harvin to play most of his 79 NFL games on little or no sleep.
Harvin was dealt to Seattle in exchange for a first-round pick and, despite only playing in one regular season game due to injury, returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVIII to help the Seahawks seal a championship.
Ironically, Harvin’s final game in Minnesota had been against Seattle the previous year. He exited the game — an eventual 30-20 loss — with an ankle injury, but not before having a sideline explosion that was captured by FOX’s cameras.
In 2012, TV cameras captured Harvin yelling at then Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, following an incompletion against Seattle. “It was a wheel route up the sideline; we had worked on it all week with [quarterback Christian] Ponder. ‘If we get the right defense, this has got to be our home run.’” When Ponder overthrew a wide-open Harvin, “I came off the field like, ‘Nah, man! We got to have this! I ain’t accepting that, Coach!’”
Harvin told SI that he generally enjoyed his time in Minnesota, however, especially considering how the rest of his career went. Preceding his Super Bowl heroics, Harvin had been injury-riddled in 2013. His 2014 was split between the Seahawks and New York Jets after a midseason trade, and his career fizzled in 2015-16 in limited appearances with the Buffalo Bills.
With the Vikings, Harvin said, he had a confidant who understood his ailment.
“The anxiety I’m talking about is, like, the unknown. You freeze up. Your heart is racing, you want to move around, you can’t sit. … You don’t feel like you’re there all the way. The only people who understood were my mom and one or two coaches.”
Les Pico, who is still the Vikings’ player personnel director, was “a huge help. That’s why I say Minnesota was my best years; I had at least one person who understood. … Other places were less understanding, because they just didn’t know.”
Harvin remains tied for the Vikings’ kickoff return touchdown record (five) with Cordarrelle Patterson — another mercurial first-round receiver who was drafted as Harvin’s de facto replacement.
For reference, Harvin put together more receiving yards in his first three seasons than current Vikings star Stefon Diggs, who may be receiving a massive extension in the coming months.
Harvin is currently living in Gainesville as a mentor for the Gators football team.