EAGAN, Minn. — The first NFL season for Vikings rookies has come full circle, much like the roof of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Minnesota will have the distinction of starting the 2019 preseason and ensuing postseason in New Orleans.
Side note: This is the third time in Minnesota's 30 total postseason appearances that the Vikings have opened on the road in the same venue where they started a preseason. The other two were 1977 (against the Rams in Los Angeles) and 1987 (against the Saints in New Orleans).
While there is some commonality between the underdog status of the 1987 Vikings and 2019 Vikings, we'll focus on the newbies.
See photos of the Vikings equipment staff readying the team's uniforms for Sunday's Wild Card showdown with the Saints.
Center Garrett Bradbury, tight end Irv Smith, Jr., and running back Alexander Mattison each started the preseason opener, and receiver Bisi Johnson also logged significant snaps.
Mattison scored the Vikings first touchdown of the preseason, handling a 1-yard pass from Kirk Cousins, and Johnson reeled in the second score, gathering an 18-yard pass from Sean Mannion.
Smith finished with three catches 21 yards, which was fitting since it was the New Orleans native's 21st birthday. He also made an off-the-field impact on Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski that evening.
Asked how the four rookies that logged the most time on offense this season have developed since the preseason opener, Stefanski started with Smith's attire.
"That was Irv's (Smith Jr.) birthday, I think," Stefanski said. "Did he turn 21? I remember Irv's outfit from the game, pregame, was kind of wild.
"We have some really conscientious young players," Stefanski pivoted. "They're smart and they're tough, which I think fits the mold of what this team is all about. That does seem like ages ago, but each one of those guys has come so far, and it's a credit to them and it's a credit to their position coaches."
Bradbury became the first Vikings rookie to start all 16 games of a season at center, Smith set a franchise record for a rookie tight end with 36 receptions, Mattison rushed 100 times for 462 yards and a score, and Johnson caught 31 passes for 294 yards and three scores.
Smith said he's tried to have the mindset of not being a rookie after the first game, embodying an approach proposed by Stefanski. Smith knows the significance of a postseason berth because his father, who was drafted by the Saints in 1993, only got to play in one postseason game (with San Francisco at the end of the 1998 season).
"It really is crazy. Talking to my dad, he didn't make it to the playoffs until his sixth year," Smith said. "For me, as a rookie, coming in my first year and making it to the playoffs, it's amazing. I'm excited. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Mattison also is aware of the unique opportunity.
"It's not something that happens often. I'm blessed to be in a position where I'm surrounded by a great group of guys and an amazing team," Mattison said. "We have a chance to do something special, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity."