Percy Harvin's explosiveness made it tough for the Vikings to give him up, but tougher to keep him.
Updated: March 24, 2013 - 8:55 AM
Even when the end had passed with the conflict irreversible, the finality felt awkward.
On March 12, there was Percy Harvin, for four seasons a Viking, all of a sudden sitting at an introductory news conference in Seattle with a new head coach and a new general manager, flashing an effervescent smile.
From 1,600 miles away, with the Vikings taking cursory interest in the proceedings, it just felt odd.
An array of Seahawks logos adorned the backdrop, driving home the reality of the blockbuster trade/exit strategy that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman had devised to separate from a player who no longer fit.
Even with fulfillment in a deal that brought back three draft picks, a few ounces of disappointment percolated.
If only things could have worked out …
They hadn’t of course. So Harvin’s enthusiasm during his Seattle introduction briefly complicated the closure.
It exposed both the anguish associated with saying goodbye and the satisfaction of saying good riddance.
Seven days later, at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier still struggled to summarize it all. He acknowledged unwavering admiration for Harvin’s toughness and elite playmaking ability. Yet Frazier felt somewhat hollow too.
“I wish things could have played out differently,” he said. “I do. But it’s hard for me to talk about Percy Harvin now knowing that he’s a Seattle Seahawk.”
Harvin, meanwhile, instantly embraced his new opportunity. It was obvious from the minute he sat between Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider that he was giddy.
This was the fresh start he craved. He characterized his arrival in Seattle as “a blessing,” “a big relief,” “a dream come true.”
He expressed enthusiasm about the chance to join forces with promising quarterback Russell Wilson.
He sounded liberated. But from what exactly?
That’s the mystery that, despite a whirlwind of speculation, still hasn’t been solved. The Vikings continue protecting the details. Four years of on-again, off-again drama with Harvin had grown exhausting.
But the flash point that severed the relationship never has been leaked.
“There are a lot of layers to this situation,” Frazier explained. “And one day when I sit down and write this book, we’ll divulge all the layers.”
The bumpy development of young quarterback Christian Ponder might have aggravated Harvin’s impatience. And it certainly seemed calculated when the receiver’s first news conference as a Seahawk included praise for Brett Favre and eagerness to play with Wilson but no mention of Ponder.
Still, Frazier insists a strained quarterback-receiver relationship “didn’t play the role most would think” in the divorce.
So what made Harvin so unhappy?
“It’s complicated,” Frazier said.
With Percy Harvin, it’s so often complicated. Now headed for his fifth NFL season, he is indisputably one of the league’s most promising playmakers, a 24-year-old barrel of dynamite, who continues crackling toward an explosion into superstardom.
Yet there always seems to be unease as to whether Harvin’s detonation will turn out to be spectacular or destructive.
The mission in Seattle will be the same as it was in Minnesota and at the University of Florida and way back to the Harvin’s adolescence in Virginia Beach, Va.
The fire must burn. But it also must be controlled.
On the edge
An insatiable hunger for winning always has fueled Harvin’s drive. A disdain for losing often drives him mad.
“The kid hates to lose a finger nail,” said Thomas Anderson, Harvin’s former varsity track coach and a football assistant at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Va. “So it doesn’t matter what the dynamics are or what platform he’s on. Losing to him means he’s unsuccessful. And in his brain, he can’t tolerate being unsuccessful.”
Like so many of Harvin’s coaches, Anderson’s relationship with Harvin began with friction.
Even from a young age, Harvin pushed for greatness but would bristle when others pushed too.
Once Anderson cracked the code, earning trust by showing genuine care for Harvin’s well-being, he buckled in for a thrill ride like none he’d ever seen. Anderson still can’t comprehend the explosion of Harvin’s junior year when, at 16 years old, he almost single-handedly won Landstown a state track championship with gold medals in five events: the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, triple jump and 400-meter relay.
That came only a few months after Harvin had taken Landstown to the state championship game in basketball.
Which came only a few months after the Eagles won a state football championship, triumphing when Harvin dominated as a receiver, running back, defensive back and return man. He delivered 476 all-purpose yards, scored four touchdowns and intercepted three passes.
“Percy was sometimes bored playing the teams we knew we would beat,” said Damon McDaniel, a friend and high school teammate. “But put him on that bigger stage and the brighter he’d shine. He wanted it known he was the best.”
In Virginia Beach, “The Legend of Percy Harvin” created a tidal wave of celebration with a dangerous undertow of jealousy and antagonism. Fans marveled at the total Harvin package — his Army-tank strength, the quickness of a squirrel in traffic. All combined with that indomitable mind-set.
Coaches held Harvin up to exemplify the rewards of hard work.
Some classmates and teachers tired of the hype. Rivals sensed Harvin’s temper and schemed to agitate him.
Harvin’s junior year provided incredible highs. But during his senior year, he was suspended for two football games after a dispute with an official. He later was banned permanently from competition by the Virginia High School League, singled out for instigating a brawl after an on-court altercation during a basketball game.
As Harvin tried to separate his backers from his detractors, confusion circled.
“People turned away from him,” Anderson said. “A lot of people. People who said they adored him, who cheered for him, turned their backs on him. He was 17 years old. So now who can you trust?
“You have to build thick skin. Those scars and those wounds take a while to heal. And they shape who you become.”
Every incident, big and small, dripped gasoline onto the fire.
The name Charles Clark, for example, still brings chuckles in Virginia Beach. Clark was a nationally recognized track star at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach and destined for greatness at Florida State. So in 2005, his 200-meter defeat of Harvin in a preliminary heat at the district meet was not a major upset. But Clark’s cocky glance backward near the finish line lit Harvin’s wick. He would not be embarrassed.
For the next showdown, Harvin asked if Landstown could wear their black-on-black uniforms.
“Black-on-black meant it was a war,” Anderson said. “Charles’ antics brought out the beast in Percy.”
Predictably, Harvin blazed past Clark in the rematch.
Anderson loved those moments. But he could only roll his eyes at a later meet when Harvin singled out a triple jumper from Granby High School for disrespecting him before competition began.
“I told him, ‘P, don’t start. I’ve been with you the whole time. The kid hasn’t said anything to you. He’s not even looking at you,’ ” Anderson said. “And Percy said, ‘Exactly. He won’t even look at me. He’s disrespecting me.’ ”
That’s how it always will be with Harvin.
Emotionally charged. Invigorated.
At Florida, Harvin frequently clashed with coaches but was a major contributor to two national titles.
His thorny four-year relationship in Minnesota is over now, its highlights unforgettable with the headaches still felt.
Said Anderson: “I always told Percy, what makes you tick, makes you tock.”
Holding a grudge
Competition, McDaniel says, hooks Harvin. McDaniel recalls the casual graduation party Harvin turned into a three-on-three basketball battle with relatives.
“Most people chill at their graduation parties, hang out, eat food with family,” McDaniel said. “Percy’s? He’s dunking, yelling. The ball is flying onto people’s plates. It’s in him, man. He can’t be outdone. If you try to, he’s only going to come at you with greater ferocity. That’s the thing that’s always worked for him.”
Except when it doesn’t.
“I can say Percy never knew that ‘Let it go’ mentality,” McDaniel said.
It should be noted that Harvin never wore out his welcome in the Vikings’ locker room. Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams said Harvin was “a great teammate” whose passion and investment in getting better always was welcomed.
Added Brian Robison: “Whatever happened with Percy behind closed doors with management, he kept it behind those doors. I always respected that. He played through injury, practiced through injury. He was never a talk-big prima donna. If anything, he worked harder when he didn’t get what he wanted. You ask any guy in our locker room, we would have loved to keep Percy.”
It’s now Pete Carroll’s job to play firefighter. Carroll remains aware that Harvin comes with that “extremely flammable” warning label. But the Seahawks coach is certain the inferno never should be extinguished.
Without the anger, Carroll recognizes, Harvin’s desire might not burn so intensely.
“With the greatest of the great athletes, I think that’s a positive. Sometimes they push the limits,” Carroll said. “They’re like that because that’s who they are. … That nature has made Percy what he is. So if you think that that’s a problem, you’re missing the boat.”
That boat is docked in Seattle now with new throngs of excited passengers looking to board.
The ride should be thrilling. Its dangers, though, must be known.
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