Vikings' Griffen keeps locker room loose, opposing quarterbacks on their toes
MINNEAPOLIS—The pied piper of the Minnesota Vikings locker room strolled in Wednesday, Nov. 29, still beaming about the birth of his third son on Thanksgiving Day.
For the record, Everson Griffen and his wife, Tiffany, settled on Sebastian Gregory for the boy's name over those that poured in over social media after Griffen crowd-sourced the national television audience of Minnesota's holiday victory over the Detroit Lions by revealing a T-shirt message that solicited names.
"Crazy names," Griffen said.
There was Thunderbolt, and Mike Zimmer. And Zygi Woodson, a play off owner Zygi Wilf.
"Sebastian—he's a little sea bass," Griffen said. "We're not done. I love those kids. I plan on having four or five. I want a big family."
In many ways, Griffen is the biggest kid in the Vikings family, a wisecracking run-on sentence who keeps the locker room loose and the quarterback pressure coming.
He is tied with Arizona's Chandler Jones for the NFL lead with 12 sacks this season, which already matches his 2014 career high. Griffen tied a team record with a sack in eight straight games to start the season but was blanked in his ninth game. So, he immediately started a new streak with two against the Lions.
"It's not about sacks. It's not about tackles. It's not about making the Pro Bowl," Griffen said. "It's about beating the Atlanta Falcons and getting to the big prize."
He was referring to Sunday's opponent at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium—knowing, of course, there is a lot that has to happen in between for the 9-2 Vikings to become the first team to qualify for a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
"We've got to get battle tested," Griffen said. "We've got to be able to be disciplined, do our job and play together. We're all in right now with what's at hand and that's the Atlanta Falcons. They're playing well. They're clicking on all cylinders. Our goal is to stop the run, affect (quarterback) Matt Ryan and get back there and win the game."
Griffen is the alpha dog on a defensive line that is among the best in the NFL at stopping the run and harassing quarterbacks.
He has always had the speed to beat a left tackle around the edge, and the strength to bull rush his way to quarterbacks. But Griffen has worked hard on refining his technique to win the hand-to-hand combat that so often dictates how these one-on-one matchups are decided.
Griffen, whose 60 career sacks are tied with Kevin Williams for eighth all-time among Vikings, also has the experience to set up left tackles and beat them with deception as much as hand-to-hand combat, which he credits to working with defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
"I'm able to lock in for four quarters and do my job," Griffen said. "In the past, I used to get distracted. Now, I can get dialed in and see what the tackle's giving me, see his set and I'm really able to break him down during the course of a game and win the battle when it's time to win."
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has followed Griffen's career closely since he was Seattle's defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, who coached Griffen at USC. He was effusive in his praise for the one lineman Quinn does not want to see anywhere near Ryan.
"Somebody asked me once why it takes so long for pass rushers to develop," said Quinn. "It's certainly not like Everson's just coming onto the scene; he's just at the highest level. I love the fact he can really jump off the ball and beat a guy to the punch like a boxer. The best pass rushers I've seen have been able to do that, when they can dictate to the tackle how it's going to go.
"If you have speed and can run around the edge, that's good. If you have speed and you can convert it into power on the tackle, where he can't just bail on you, that's when the special stuff happens and he has both of those."
Griffen's transformation from hard-partying bad boy to grounded family man, elite pass rusher and team leader is nothing short of miraculous considering where his twisted career was six years ago.
He became TMZ fodder during a lost weekend in Los Angeles in January 2011 following his rookie season, when he was arrested twice in a 72-hour span for public intoxication and scuffling with a police officer after fleeing a traffic stop—his L.A. County Jail bracelet from the first arrest still dangling on his wrist.
Then-Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and team executives had a scared-straight meeting with Griffen, whose renegade days at Southern Cal already had raised questions about the team's decision to draft the talented-but-troubled defender in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
Once a gullible goof mercilessly hazed by veterans Pat Williams, Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams in defensive line meetings, Griffen became a professional. After biding his time in a multi-tasking reserve role, he succeeded Allen at starting right end in 2014 and earned the first of two lucrative extensions.
The $58 million extension he signed in July includes $34 million guaranteed and locks him up with Minnesota through 2022.
"I resolved my personal issues," he said. "It's been a long road, maturing more and more and talking to the right people and getting my mind right and learning how to get the job done.
"I knew I always had the potential to take over games and help my team win. But I was my biggest enemy. I was holding myself back. Now I'm not holding myself back anymore."
Tiffany Griffen was not due with Sebastian until Dec. 16, so it was a shock to the couple when she went into labor Thanksgiving morning with Everson already in Detroit with the Vikings. He was able to watch the birth in the visitor's locker room on FaceTime.
Despite being four weeks early, Sebastian weighed in at a robust 7 pounds, 2 ounces when he joined older brothers Greyson, 4, and Ellis, 2.
"If she had gone full term, he would have had a chance to be a 9-pound baby," Griffen said. "He could have been a big baby. He's eating good. He's sleeping not so good."
Griffen shrugged off a potential NFL fine for altering his uniform.
"Hopefully I won't. I'm just supporting my baby," he said. "If they give me one, oh, well. I'm just happy my baby was born. I was disappointed I wasn't able to see it."
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson was not surprised by Griffen's stunt. It was all in character.
"He's like the 8-ball, the joker," Johnson said. "He likes to get everyone going. He's one of the most emotional guys I've played with. It's all on his sleeve. He definitely gets the crowd going, gets us going. Very enthusiastic at all times."
Coach Mike Zimmer inherited Griffen's baggage and his potential. He knew Griffen to be vocal. He never expected him to be a vocal leader.
"No, he's matured a lot that way," Zimmer said. "He's earned the respect of the players by how he works and how he plays. But he's not afraid to talk, and they understand he talks to talk. But he means well and he means good for the team. Obviously, he wants to get sacks, but he knows he's getting help from other people."
Maturing into a team captain is part of Griffen's broader perspective on football, family and focus.
"It's fun because that's who I am. I've finally figured out who I am as a person — a fun, lovable guy who can make people laugh," he said. "A leader. I see it. I can lead this team and I'm going to keep on doing it."