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Fatherhood Impacting 'Sack Daddy' Everson Griffen's Game

It took only a glance at training camp to see that Everson Griffen is playing for a lot more than himself.

A miniature Vikings fan stood on the sideline, eyes tracing Griffen's every movement. DADDY is stitched across the nameplate of the young boy's purple 97 jersey in white lettering.

The player in the full-size Griffen jersey has had quite the growth spurt since entering the NFL.

"I was a knucklehead," Griffen said of his first rookie season with the Vikings in 2010. "Reckless, immature, I really wasn't teachable.

"I tried to have a chip on my shoulder, I thought I knew it all," he added. "But I didn't know anything."

Now, however, things have changed.

This season marks the second in which Griffen's teammates have voted him as one of four season-long team captains.

"I think they respect the way he works, the way he studies, the way he wants to be great," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of Griffen this summer. "He's not a guy that's afraid to voice his opinion or his leadership skills."

When Griffen was elected a captain in 2015, Zimmer called him into his office to talk about the new role.

"I think at first he tried to be the image of a captain and just not the image of himself," Zimmer said. "I think he felt better after we had that talk to just be himself and do what he keeps doing and people will respect him."

Griffen is one-of-a-kind. His infectious, tell-tale laugh is recognizable anywhere. It's a calling card his teammates rib him about, but Griffen's humor and big heart are as much a moniker as his ferocity on the field.

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said Griffen's teammates receive the whole Everson.

"He's able to show his teammates all of his personality," Patterson said. "He can be serious when it's time to be serious. He can be jovial and funny when it's OK to do that, and he can show that he cares about his teammates, too."

Griffen, who said he began to mature when he started listening to veteran teammates like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison, strives to now be a reliable leader in the locker room himself.

"I try to be the same guy every day," Griffen said. "I just try to lead by example. If I can help the guy next to me, then I'm doing my job right. It's not all about me – it's about the team."

Griffen learned a lot about support from his mother, Sabrina Scott. He largely credits her with where he is today.

"She made sure I got good grades. She kept me in line, and that was pretty hard to do," Griffen said of his mother, who passed away unexpectedly in 2012. "But she was always there."

Scott never missed any of her son's sporting events – from baseball, to basketball, to football, which he didn't start playing until ninth grade.

"She's the reason I'm here," he added. "I always had her support. I just tried to do the right things as a kid, and it really helped me get to this point."

Griffen calls the past six seasons in Minnesota a journey, and it's been well-worth the ride.

When the Vikings first drafted Griffen in 2010, he was primarily a contributor on special teams for the first two seasons. In 2011, he helped the Vikings special teams unit set a then-team record with a kickoff return average of 26.9 yards for the season.

He showed real talent and potential, but Griffen was frustrated with his lack of playing time on defense.

"I think in 2012 I could have made the Pro Bowl in special teams, but I was so immature at the time," Griffen said. "I took it upon myself to say, 'If you're not going to play me any more on defense, I'm not going to do special teams like you want.' And that affected me in the long run."


Looking back, Griffen sees how his attitude may have held him back from making the jump he would make in 2014. He received his first starting nod in 2012, but it wasn't until two seasons later that he became a full-time starter at defensive end.

Under Zimmer and Patterson, Griffen flourished.

"[Coach Patterson] came in and taught me how to be the best me," Griffen said. "He's the best d-line coach I've ever had."

Griffen helped the Vikings achieve the most improved defense in the NFL in 2014. After recording a career-best 12 sacks on the season, he was named the Vikings Defensive MVP.

The following year, Griffen helped Minnesota achieve the NFC North title and playoff berth by leading the team in sacks (10.5), and he was selected to his first career Pro Bowl. Patterson said getting to break the news to Griffen about his selection was incredibly rewarding.

"He earned it," Patterson said. "It wasn't given to him because he was a big-name guy; he earned it from his play.

"The thing that made me the proudest was that Griff' gave credit to his teammates [for helping] him achieve that goal," Patterson said.  

So far this season, Griffen has 36 tackles and 6.0 sacks. His impact is felt far beyond the stat line, however. Throughout the first five games of the season, Griffen's tenacity against the run helped the Vikings hold opponents to an average of just 77 yards per game.

Robison said he's seen an immense amount of growth from Griffen in the three seasons they've held down the ends of the defensive line together. Robison, in his 10th season, said Griffen was "kind of a run-and-gun" player early on, focused more on making splash plays than on executing technique. But while he started out a bit raw, Griffen's athleticism was apparent from day one.

"I think the one thing where you've seen him grow a lot is that he's tried to become a technician in everything he does," Robison said. "A lot of that comes back on Andre [Patterson] as well, but you also have the type of player that he is, that understands that's the type of player he needs to be. I think for him, not only his maturity level [has developed], but also the way he's become a technician on the field."

According to Patterson, Griffen has developed into one of the league's top defensive ends.

"You have some guys that are name guys in this league that are good pass rushers, but they're a liability against the run. They don't want to play the run," Patterson said. "What makes Griff different is that Griff wants to get out there and hit you in the mouth with the run game."

The veteran coach said Griffen is physical against tight ends and offensive tackles, and he's going to make plays when you need him to. Patterson calls Griffen a complete player.

"I know [defensive ends] get their publicity off of sacks, which he's done a good job with the past two years," Patterson said. "But what makes him a complete guy is that he's the best run defender, other than Linval Joseph, that we have on our team."

But Patterson mentors Griffen in much more than technique, hand placement and footwork. The defensive end explained that Patterson, a father of two, teaches not only what happens on the turf but also what happens in life.

Patterson's message to his defensive linemen is, "If I'm just teaching you football, I'm not doing my job."

It's a lesson that Griffen takes seriously.

"He's teaching us how to see the world through a different lens; he's teaching us how to be a great husband, a great father," Griffen said. "And he's also teaching us how to be a great football player when we step on the field."

Griffen prides himself on his performance, but the motivation behind lacing his cleats every day has evolved along with his talent. Another factor – or rather, three – that Griffen credits for keeping him on track is his wife, Tiffany, and his two young sons, Greyson and Ellis, who give him that extra drive to give 110 percent at work every day.

He makes it a constant goal to be the best dad he can be and to teach his sons life lessons, to help them learn from his mistakes and not hit similar bumps in the road.

"Not just on the football field, but off the field, too – teach them to be gentlemen," Griffen said. "Tell them that with hard work and dedication, you can pretty much do anything. I just want to be an example for my kids, that no matter where you start, you can always finish strong."

The path hasn't been easy for Griffen. However, he says now that if he was given the opportunity to do it all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

"Whatever I did in the past is a learning experience," Griffen said. "When you learn from your mistakes and move forward and don't allow them to happen again, that's when you have growth.

"Now I see that it's my journey," he added. "Everybody has their own journey, their own path. But now I'm here, and I'm here to stay."

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