By: Eric Smith
There's just something about Everson Griffen's No. 97 that looks right in Purple.
The defensive end wore his trademark number through seven games with Dallas last season. But it just felt … off.
And the sight of Griffen wearing No. 98 with Detroit — a team he tormented over the years — likely made more than a few Vikings fans do a double take.
But now that he's back with the team that drafted him, Griffen has fit right back in with Minnesota, whether that's on the field, in the locker room or away from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. He has 5.0 sacks through four home games this season and at least one in every contest.
"Being back in Minnesota, this is my 11th season, and it's just a blessing. My family is here, my kids go to school here … we're comfortable here," Griffen said. "It's just home. It's where I belong. I'm just happy to be back on the team.
"Last year, it showed me that the grass isn't greener on the other side. Being home is very important," Griffen said. "Detroit and Dallas, they were two good places to go. But my home is Minnesota."
Griffen spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Vikings, blossoming from an athletic 2010 fourth-round pick to one of the league's top edge rushers.
But, as it happens with nearly every player in the NFL, Griffen and his original team parted ways in the spring of 2020.
He landed with Dallas, recording 2.5 sacks through seven games before he was traded back to the NFC North. Griffen then spent the second half of the 2020 season with the Lions, picking up 3.5 more sacks.
Griffen said the transition — from Minnesota to Texas to Michigan and back to Minnesota after the season ended — was unlike anything he and his family had ever experienced.
"That was tough. A rough time for us but we came together and made it through. It was different," Griffen said. "I'd never been a journeyman like that, being on two different teams. But being home is just the best."
View photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen at his first practice back with the team after he signed on Aug. 23.
The 33-year-old found himself in a familiar place in late August when the Vikings brought him in for a workout, signing him the next day.
Back with his original team, Griffen adapted as a situational pass-rusher after being a full-time starter since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014.
"It was a warm-up period. I feel like I had to get warmed up," Griffen said. "I don't feel like it was open arms with everybody, I feel like we're still getting there. But it's warming up.
"I just feel like signing here was amazing," added Griffen, who has recorded 5.0 sacks through eight contests. "It was just us trying to figure out how I would fit in and the situations I'd be in."
Griffen's original role was for him to play 25-35 snaps a game, with the focus on him to bring down quarterbacks.
Yet as the Vikings enter a Week 11 tilt against the Packers, Griffen is not only a starter but also being relied on as the primary pass rusher due to a litany of events.
Danielle Hunter is out for the season with a torn pec. Stephen Weatherly was traded. Griffen overtook teammate D.J. Wonnum for a starting spot opposite Hunter in Week 4, but the two now find themselves as the starting duo up front.
Wonnum explained the benefit of having veterans such as Griffen in the defensive line room.
"[Showing us] technique … and different things that we watch on film that those guys see that we don't," Wonnum said. 'It's all a learning role for us."
Through his first four games of the season (Griffen did not play in Week 2 because of a concussion suffered when he swerved to avoid a deer), the defensive end played 154 defensive snaps.
But in his past four games, thanks to exhausting and narrow contests, Griffen has tallied 260 snaps, including a whopping 87 at Baltimore.
Zimmer and Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson have talked about limiting Griffen's snap count this season. But that's become tougher and tougher to do as the weeks pass by.
"Yeah, it's hard. He doesn't want to come out. And when the game's on the line, we don't want him out," Zimmer said. "Unfortunately, every game is on the line.
"That's part of it, but we try to take care of him during the week the best we can," Zimmer added. "It's important, he's kind of the Energizer Bunny we have on the defense, anyway."
Patterson said: "Once you get into the overtime period, every series, you know, is on the line, so it's not like in the middle of the first quarter or second quarter of the game. 'We've got to stop them here or the game is over,' so you're putting your best guys out there in that situation."
While Griffen has taken on a lighter workload during practices in recent weeks, he's probably working harder than ever behind the scenes to make sure he's at his peak on Sundays.
"Just taking care of my body is, honestly, the No. 1 thing I can do," Griffen said. "To me, football is always going to be 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical.
"You've got to watch a little bit more tape and really study a lot more. Just go out there and play," Griffen added. "I've seen the blocks, seen the situations … it's just playing the tendencies, playing your guy … get off the blocks and go."
Griffen recently went into detail about his weekly recovery routine, one that he has relied on for nearly a decade.
Mondays include acupuncture and work with his movement coach, while his Tuesday schedule features a massage and Pilates.
You can often find Griffen in an ice bath Wednesday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. And he's sometimes spotted with compression boots that help rejuvenate his lower half.
Griffen's weekly chiropractor appointment falls on Thursdays, and Fridays feature another massage and more time in the compression boots.
"Am I a little more sore than in previous weeks? Yeah," Griffen said. "But I maybe add a little extra [recovery] each week.
When you play 87 plays [as I did against Baltimore], you can't go as hard as you want to [the next week in practice]," Griffen continued. "You have to tone it back a little bit and get ready to play ball.
"Honestly, I think recovery is what you make it," Griffen added. "It's about my routine, and I think that's why I'm still able to play and able to recover. Recover, and get ready to play."
No other player on the Vikings current roster can match Griffen's 12 years of NFL experience, while his 11 total seasons in Purple is also a high on the current roster.
And no other player on the team has been involved in more Border Battles then Griffen, who will gear up for his 21st edition of the Vikings-Packers rivalry on Sunday.
Even now, after so many clashes with the Green and Gold, Griffen still circles the NFC North collisions with Green Bay on his calendar. (Griffen has only faced the Packers as a member of the Vikings, as he did not play in Detroit's Week 14 game in 2020 against Green Bay).
"They are fun. I love going against Aaron Rodgers," said Griffen, who has 10.5 career sacks against the Packers starting quarterback. "I love playing them at U.S. Bank Stadium. That's the best stadium, period, but after that it's Lambeau [Field].
"I love it when we play," Griffen said. "These games mean something, and it's always a big rivalry. It's going to be fun as always."
Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.
Griffen's success against Green Bay has helped him total 79.5 career sacks with the Vikings, a tally that ranks seventh in team history.
He is also the only player in the NFL who has recorded at least 5.0 sacks in each of the past 10 seasons.
As the Vikings try to right the ship and make a second-half push for the postseason, the Vikings will surely rely on the veteran to help get them there.
Maybe it's not the traditional fiery role that we've seen in previous seasons.
"We've got leaders on this team. Earlier in my career, I was a big yeller," Griffen said. "Now, at my age, I'm just going to go out there and do my job."
There's no doubt Griffen took more of a winding path to get to this game against Green Bay.
But you can expect the guy who has worn Purple for 155 career games (93 starts) to be back in his usual spot against his biggest rival.
"There's been a lot of lessons, a lot of things I have learned from," Griffen said of his career in Minnesota. "First and foremost, you always need to learn from your mistakes and not repeat the same ones.
"I just feel like it's been very fun as I try to get better each and every year," Griffen said. "I do feel like I could play this game for a few more years, who knows? I'm just going to take it play-by-play and day-by-day. But I'm always going to going out there and try to win."