Every great Minnesota Vikings team in recent memory has had a big guy anchoring their defense. A magnificent monster. A gregarious giant. A hearty hoss. We’re talking a scale tippin’ hulk who keeps those jitterbug running backs from racking up fantasy points as Alvin Kamara did against the Vikings on Christmas last year.
In 1998 it was a big ol’ Texan, Jerry Ball, who lived up to his name. Eleven years later it was Pat Williams, who fortified the middle of Minnesota’s defensive line alongside Kevin Williams. And who can forget Linval Joseph on the 2017 Vikings?
Michael Pierce is that guy, and he’s a big dude. We’re talking 6’0”, 340 lbs. Pat and Kevin Williams were a pony wall by comparison. Eat a McDouble, Jerry Ball. He’s bigger than all of them. Dalvin Tomlinson? The human ballast that the Vikings plucked from the New York Giants this offseason? Pierce has 30 pounds on him.
He’s not just a run-stuffer, either. He says he can get after the passer, an underrated part of Linval’s game.
It’s a shame that Pierce missed last season. An undrafted player out of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., he spent four years establishing himself on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense. But with an asthmatic background, he was forced to sit out last season due to COVID, and somehow Minnesota’s largest player became invisible.
It had to be painful for him to watch his teammates get trampled by Kamara last December. Sure, Mike Zimmer had a conniption, but Pierce was like any of us sitting helplessly on his couch. The only difference is that he actually can make a difference this year. Jim from Bloomington and Mike in Ostego aren’t suiting up, as convinced as they are that they can after they’ve had a couple of Mich Goldens. But Pierce will put on a different shade of purple and swallow up opposing running backs, not nachos and White Castle, this year.
There will be a lot of pressure for him to perform right away. For one, the defense needs him. While they have Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson, Pierce is filling in the Linval role. Secondly, he signed a three-year, $27 million deal that got deferred a year because he opted out last season. But most importantly, he’s raring to go.
“For me, it’ll be more fun than anything,” he said at practice this week. “I’ll probably be a little bit more amped than I normally would throughout the day since it’s a night game.”
Will he fit in? All indications are he will. He’s a self-described people-person who loves to be around others and says he’s been in all different kinds of social situations. The middle linebacker may be the captain of the defense, and the secondary may caulk any leaks, but the big guy is the soul of the unit.
“I can relate to a lot of people,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of different people. I just enjoy playing football. Just bringing a joyful spirit to practice, sometimes that does it.”
The 1998, 2009, and 2017 Vikings were three very different teams. The defense wasn’t all that great in ‘98: It was Randall Cunningham and his trio of weapons — Cris Carter, Jake Reed, and some rookie name Randy Moss — who carried them to the NFC Championship. A vengeful Brett Favre was the missing piece on the ‘09 team that was skilled on both sides of the ball. And everyone will remember the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017, but that group came within a game of the Super Bowl because the defense remained healthy all season.
We don’t quite know the identity of this team yet. Maybe the offense goes to another level with a reinforced offensive line and a third receiver. Maybe the revamped defense carries them. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: Every winning Vikings team has had a player like Michael Pierce on it.