EAGAN, Minn. — Teddy Bridgewater's NFL journey has returned him to the place it began.
Well, maybe give or take about 15 miles east of the Vikings former Winter Park headquarters.
But there was Bridgewater at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Wednesday afternoon, smiling and sweating in the sun about an hour after the Vikings and Broncos completed the first of two joint practices this week.
And with the five-year mark of his gruesome knee injury coming up on Aug. 30, being in Minnesota gave the 28-year-old a reason to reflect on where he's come since that life-altering afternoon.
"I found myself thinking more about it lately than I have in the past … just about the day I was injured … because I use it as motivation," Bridgewater said. "Before, I used to brush it off and [say], 'Man, it happens,' and keep going. Now it's like, 'Man, here I am. I could have been counted out,' and 'I almost had to get my leg amputated,' and things like that.
"When I wake up in the morning I'm blessed I get an opportunity to put my feet on the ground and go out here and play football," Bridgewater added. "It's the game that I love to play, so I have so much fun playing this game. More fun than I've ever had the more that I think about what I went through here."
Bridgewater, of course, missed the entire 2016 season after that devastating injury. And he missed most of the 2017 season, too, as he eventually worked his way back on the field in mid-December at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Since then, he's gone from a stint with the Jets to a trade to the Saints that meant a two-year stop in New Orleans. He then signed with the Panthers and started 15 games in 2020 before he was traded again, this time out to Denver where he is competing with Drew Lock for the starting quarterback job.
Each stop, Bridgewater said Wednesday, has taught him something different. And each stop, he said, has been important in one way or another.
"I made different spots, and each place has been different. And I've been able to take away different lessons from each place, whether it's in Minnesota, where I just grew as a man. I went from a young [guy] to a man.
"Then when I stopped in New York, that just taught me briefly that I can still do this. And it just reassured my confidence in things like that," Bridgewater continued. "And when I stopped in New Orleans, I learned the value of process. I watched a guy like Drew Brees be the same person every day. Then I go to Carolina and I learned to stand on my word and my integrity.
"Now I'm here in Denver, I get the opportunity to be one of the older guys on a team where we have guys who are five years younger and they start me calling me 'OG.' I'm like man, 'When I came in the league, I was calling Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway 'OG,' " Bridgewater added. "But it's just a great feeling to be on my journey, and the biggest takeaway from all my stops is that I learned I'm a survivor and no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, it's just how are you going to survive? You can lay down and be eaten alive, or you survive and keep hunting. So that's been my mindset."
View photos of Vikings players at the joint training camp practice with the Broncos on August 11 at the TCO Performance Center.
Along the way, plenty of people remained in Minnesota that rooted for him from afar (except, of course, when he started against the Vikings in Week 12 last season).
Bridgewater saw plenty of those people Wednesday at practice, whether it was Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen or Harrison Smith.
And then there's the special bond between Bridgewater and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
"Teddy was a good kid when he was here; everybody liked him," Zimmer Wednesday said before later adding:
"You know, he texted me about a month ago maybe and told me he just had a baby, so I think he's improved that way," quipped Zimmer, who became a first-time grandfather this summer. "But you know, he's always been a real steady kid that doesn't get flustered. … He understands situational football really well.
"I think he does a really good job of getting the ball out when he needs to; when he sees the pressure, he's got a quick release. And he's probably moving in the pocket even better now, I think."
Bridgewater offered a typical rebuttal when asked about Zimmer's comments.
"Yeah, we talk briefly. I told Zim', 'Hey man, my son, he's big enough to play 3-technique for you right now.' Zim' and I have kept in touch over the years, and it was good to see him today," Bridgewater said. "He's smiling … he wasn't looking mean, so that's a good sign. but it's great just to go against this defense. I spent four years here, and just seeing how they've grown over the years and how some things have changed, that's just fun being out here."
Bridgewater was the Vikings second selection in the first round back in 2014 and helped lead the Vikings to an NFC North title in 2015.
And before his injury, it appeared he was poised to take a major leap to become one of the bright young stars in the league as the Vikings were opening U.S. Bank Stadium.
Bridgewater's injury altered his course, as well as that of the Vikings and other teams that have been involved in subsequent trades, but life in the NFL rarely goes as expected. All one can do is keep pushing, keep working and keep improving.
Bridgewater knows that better than anyone. And it's a mantra he keeps close to him each day of his football journey.
"Honestly, it's all going to play out how it's going to play out. I can't think too far ahead," Bridgewater said of the current quarterback competition in Denver. "For me, when I'm out there, it's one rep at a time. 'How can I maximize this one rep?'
"If I'm thinking about, 'Ahh, a QB competition' during a seven-step drop, then I'm doing harm to myself and to the team," Bridgewater added. "It's one play at a time for me: trying to become the best player I can be, making the proper reads, using the right techniques, things like that. The rest will take care of itself."