Give Robert Griffith one word to describe the Vikings 1998 season, and he'll say it was electrifying.
Griffith, who signed with the Vikings in 1994 after a brief stint in the CFL, explained that everything came together at the right time that season – a good mix of savvy veterans in their prime along with a slew of young players such as Randy Moss and Matthew Hatchette who added a spark and, in Moss' case, "some swagger."
"We were built to run. We had a [scheduled] hour-and-15-minute practice on the field, and we would get done in 51 minutes, because it was all about our tempo," Griffith said. "When the whistle went off for drills, nobody walked anywhere. And that's why we were electrifying.
"We got in the Dome, and people knew if they sneezed, we'd be up 21-0," Griffith added. "Because it was a track meet to us. And we practiced like that."
Griffith and a number of teammates from that iconic team will be at Sunday's season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1998 season, so we caught up with the Pro-Bowl safety for a Timeout.
Q: In 1998, you had a career-high five interceptions, including two against Brett Favre in a Border Battle at Lambeau Field. What do you remember about that game?
A: If I had to pinpoint games in my career, there's maybe 20 or 30 out of 195 I played in my career, I'd say that's one of them. First of all, it's Lambeau on Monday Night – it's always a big game. But we knew just by getting there a day early and looking at the grass, they wanted to slow us down. The grass was long, we had to put on extra-long spikes, so we knew it was going to be one of those kind of grind-it-out kind of games. And then, I remember [Head Coach] Denny Green coming in that night and saying, 'We see everything they're trying to do to slow us down. So we've gotta give them more of what they know is coming.' And he said [to equipment manager Dennis Ryan], 'I want to make sure everybody has on the right cleats; we don't want any slipping. I want everybody digging into this ground, and we're going to run right by these guys.' Sure enough, we went on the field, and I've never seen a team more focused. … Everybody was clued in. We went out there and we showed them. It was Oct. 5, 1998. I'll never forget that day. It was a good day.
Q: As someone who had been with the Vikings for four seasons already and played in the secondary, what were your first impressions of Randy Moss when he was drafted?
A: (Laughing) When he first came in, first practice, I was like, 'Who is this long, lanky, skinny dude?' You know, obviously I saw highlights from the draft, but the first practice, he's running by everybody. I knew right away that he was going to change the way we played as a team, from opening night. … And sure enough, he opened up everything. He changed the Vikings forever. He really did.
Q: How would you describe Vikings fans and the support you received from them during your time in Minnesota (1994-2001)?
A: From the first days [of training camp] in Mankato all the way until my last game here in Minnesota, it's always been consistent. 'Minnesota nice' is not just a phrase; it's a way of life. The dedication and all the Purple [was incredible]. The best way to encapsulate it would be to say the fans are loyal; they deserved the new stadium, they deserve a championship, and I'm hoping within the next couple years that will happen. The fans have been outstanding. You know, I had an opportunity to play in Cleveland, and they have a great fan base, too, and then I had a chance to play in Arizona for two years. But my home is Minnesota. There's no fans like in the state of Minnesota.
Q: Your Twitter bio (@GRIFF24SEVEN) says 'future author' – what types of books can we expect to see from you?
A: I actually have it written already – I have it out to a proofreader and just making sure it's all right. … It's a guide to betting on yourself. It's my story, but it's [also] a lot of people I met along the way, how they impacted me. It has a lot of my life's stories on how … just being able to look at myself in the morning and saying that I'm doing what feels good to me and what I really want to work hard for. A lot of people don't do that in the morning. There's no purpose, there's no grit to really want to go through some of the hard times to get what you really want. All that and just a lot of funny tales, a lot of my football experiences, some triumphs and some low points. A lot of experiences that I've had that I think people will relate to.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your foundation and your passion for giving back to the community?
One of the things I work on passionately is the Robert Griffith Foundation. I've given out 36 full scholarships to high school seniors. I've had people from Hamline University, Augsburg, the University of Minnesota, to name a few in the state. I also started a backpack company, called XOOX, almost three years ago with a partner of mine … and my portion of the proceeds goes directly to my scholarship program. Every bag that I sell provides [funds] for my scholarship program. My goal is put a thousand seniors through school.
Q: I know you return to Minnesota most years for the Vikings Legends reunion; what motivates you to make that trip back regularly?
A: The Vikings gave me so much. I became a full-time starter here. I got a chance to sign my first contract here. I got a lot from the state of Minnesota. And the staff, people like Fred Zamberletti. Guys like him, Dennis Green, Leo Lewis, Scott Studwell, some of the other earlier people who took care of me even when they really didn't have to, but they believed in me. Like [former Vikings General Manager] Jeff Diamond – I signed three or four contracts with the Vikings, and every time they treated me as one of their own, as somebody who was not only a good football player but as somebody they respected in the community. So that's why I come back. And then the other thing is, I get to see all my boys who I played with over the years – get to hang out and reminisce and have a reunion every year. It's always great.