As Sam Bradford made his way through a crowd of reporters on the way to his locker, set to talk about his first two days of practice since October, left guard Jeremiah Sirles jokingly made the Vikings quarterback sound like a Hollywood protagonist who’d come back from the brink.
“Sam Bradford — the return!” Sirles shouted, becoming the first of several teammates to needle Bradford during his first media session in nearly three months.
Bradford’s return to practice, after an operation to clean up his bothersome left knee in November, might not be so monumental in actuality. The Vikings have three weeks to determine whether they’ll put Bradford back on the active roster after he started practicing again Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer placed no grand expectations on Bradford’s availability during the playoffs.
“I’m not committed to say he’s going to play, so we’ll just see how things go,” Zimmer said Monday. “Things could happen. We win a game, someone gets hurt. You never know what could happen.”
For Bradford, though, the mere fact he was back on the practice field meant a goal achieved.
“When I first had the surgery and we looked at the time frame, we had some goals in mind. We kind of laid out a plan, and this was kind of part of the plan,” he said. “The past couple weeks, building up to be able to go out there and practice, it was our goal from Day 1. It was encouraging to be able to hit that goal.”
The quarterback said he tried to simulate “as much of a practice as we could” during recent weeks of rehab work with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, and said those rehab sessions had him confident his knee would respond well during the Vikings’ two bye-week practices.
Bradford, who twice previously had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, was injured in the Vikings’ season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints when he twisted his knee. He didn’t play the following Sunday in Pittsburgh, made an ill-fated return Oct. 9 in Chicago and spent the next month visiting specialists in an attempt to get the discomfort in his knee under control, even as doctors found no structural damage.
“It seemed like whatever we did, it wasn’t getting to the point it needed to,” Bradford said. “I think surgery was a last resort, but it was one of those things that, once we got to the bye week and tried to test it, it was kind of the last stop.”
The 30-year-old said he doesn’t know if his knee “is going to hold up” in the future, and admitted there were days after the surgery where he wondered if he would return to the playing field.
In the end, he said, a love of playing in the NFL drew him back.
“I think that’s the hardest thing, knowing how much time, how much work I put in in the offseason, trying to get myself ready for this season,” he said. “And then to have it taken away again, you just realize how special it is to be out on that field with your teammates, being able to compete out there in the National Football League. It’s one of the greatest honors there is, and once you’ve had a taste of that feeling, it’s really hard to let it go. It’s what drives you to come back and try to get another taste of it.”