For some reason, sports fans find it funny when a large person demonstrates skill or speed. It’s as if big, talented athletes are supposed to be less dexterous or nimble than skinny cubicle jockeys who regularly trip on the way to the coffee machine.
Linval Joseph is 6-4 and 329 pounds. Sunday afternoon, when a football floated in his direction, he reacted not as a living stereotype of a full-figured lineman, but in the way any world-class athlete would. He snared, tucked and carried a fumble 64 yards for the first touchdown in the Vikings’ 23-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, maybe saving a season while he was losing his breath.
Joseph sped — yes, sped — into the end zone 10 yards ahead of the nearest defender, prompting teammates to search for automotive analogies.
“Mack truck,’’ said defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who forced the fumble and threw a key block. “That man is a Mack truck with no brakes. He is much faster than you think.’’
“Cadillac,’’ said defensive end Jalyn Holmes. “Mr. Cadillac. He’s a great player, an All-Pro, and he definitely made the plays to help us win today.’’
Before the Vikings’ offense surged and the defense held, their season faced an early-season crisis. They came into the game 1-2-1, and were playing on the field that hosted previous death knells.
“The last two years, they shut us down,’’ Joseph said. “We were 5-0 two years ago, lost here and finished 8-8. We won 13 games last year and were one game from the Super Bowl and they came down and embarrassed us. I told the team before the game that this game meant a lot to me and to coach Zimmer, and we had to come out here and play together and give it our all.’’
The score was 3-3. The Vikings had missed two-field goal attempts. The Eagles were driving. On first down from the Vikings’ 31, late in the second quarter, they seemed prepared to take the lead.
Stephen Weatherly started at right end in the place of star Everson Griffen, who is away from the team while dealing with mental health problems. Weatherly hit Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz as he drew his arm back.
The ball hung in the air like a party balloon. Joseph gathered it, watched the stadium scoreboard to gauge his pursuit, scored, pantomimed a slugger’s home-run swing, and blew kisses toward the stands.
His first NFL touchdown might have helped save a season.
“I consider myself an athlete,’’ he said. “I feel like everybody got a chance to see that I’m faster than I look.’’
Joseph is one of the most accomplished and popular Vikings. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants and has been All-Pro.
“His presence is felt on the field and off the field, and definitely in the locker room,’’ running back Latavius Murray said. “He’s one of our leaders. When he makes a play like that, it definitely fires up the team.’’
After Joseph scored, a Vikings assistant coach walked over and told him, “We need to put a package of plays together for you.’’
That should be more than a joke. Vikings Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel was a devastating lead blocker when used as a fullback. William “The Refrigerator’’ Perry was a force blocking and carrying the ball. Joseph blends McDaniel’s speed and Perry’s bulk.
“Who would want to tackle that guy?’’ linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “Not me.’’
“Whatever they want me to do,’’ Joseph said. “I’m here to help the team win. If it’s playing offense, fullback, I can do that, too. But right now defensive tackle, nose guard, that’s my job.
He paused, then said, “Emotional win.’’
Joseph was wearing white loafers, no socks and a pink suit. If you think that’s funny, you’d be wrong, just as with his touchdown run. “I’m wearing this in honor of breast cancer awareness month,’’ he said.
The suit looked good on him. Almost as good as that tucked-away football..
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org