The 2009 NFL season is into it’s freshly infantile state, and while most players are just beginning to get their feet wet in the game once more, no other player on the Vikings roster, including Silver Fox, is more excited to get back out on the field in some real action that LB E.J. Henderson, who spent three quarters of 2008 on injured reserved. We caught up with Henderson after the Vikings win in Cleveland to see how he felt about the beginning of 2009 …
“I’m going to be honest with you guys; I didn’t quite know what to expect when I headed back out onto the field last Sunday in Cleveland. I mean, I knew the game plan and everything. I had a great grasp of what we expected Brady Quinn and the Browns’ offense to try and do against us. I knew what my gap assignments were and where their weakness would be along the offensive line during a linebacker blitz. I was all there as far as the game plan goes, but I didn’t really know how I would react once the ball got snapped and play began. Sure, I played some this preseason and got my feet wet tackling, hitting, trash talking and everything else, but … Man, getting yourself set for that first real snap of the season is an entirely different beast. And I thought I had prepared myself for it. But I didn’t.
I had no idea the Blood Fury would strike me as hard as it did.
I know that you guys want to ask me what I thought of the game; how I played, the sack I had, the team leading eight tackles, Purple Jesus’ run, things like that … but I have to be honest here. After the first hike of the ball I don’t remember a single thing. I completely blacked out, Kanye West style. Some things have started coming back to me here and there, flashes of memory of Jamal Lewis frozen in an O face as I leveled him with my shoulder pads, the sounds of flesh tearing and ligaments snapping as I was at the bottom of a pile scrambling for a loose ball, and the mixed look of terror and excitement that was displayed on Quinn’s face as he saw a big burly linebacker like me homing in on him like a missile preparing to erupt. But I don’t really remember those things. Like I said, maybe bits and pieces of some of it, but mostly just jumbled images and sounds and a soft tint of red over all of the pictures in my head as the Blood Fury overtook my normal disposition and led me on a visceral mission for the internal organs of the Browns players. Frighteningly, I think I succeeded.
Most of what I know happened during the game I’ve had to put together from what my teammates told me and what I saw on film. I remember coming to in the locker room with my jersey off sitting in front of my locker, staring at the floor. There was a pool of blood around my feet and at first I was shocked and confused. I touched my face and saw that there was blood all around my mouth. Startled, I asked the closest player next to me, rookie Phil Loadholt, what had happened. Did we win the game? Why is there blood all over me? Want to go get some cotton candy after we hit the showers? And in his weird, silent monster way he just smiled at me with a knowing smirk, like he’d been where I was before. I found out later from some other guys who were a bit nervous around me at first that I bit into the face of Joe Thomas after the game was over and sent him to the emergency room. I have since written him a genuine letter of apology, but I don’t know if that will help. I think a bit of his cheek is still in my stomach. And the tapes later showed me that we did in fact win and that I led the team with eight tackles, which was exciting, but also a bit frightening because I honestly don’t remember any of them.
I’m encouraged because the Blood Fury apparently wears off after a little while. And I did play well. I know I said before, after my injury last season, that I wanted nothing more than to get back out on the football field and break someone’s spine, putting them on injured reserve. I still am looking forward to that and obviously enjoy playing football, it’s just that … Well, I don’t know if I can be held responsible for myself anymore. I’m a bit nervous that as the games get more intense, against better and more hated opponents that I may find myself not sparing anyone, including the sideline reporters. Someone will die on the field this season, and it will probably be because I pin them to the ground and eat their heart raw from their split chest cavity. Do I want that to happen? Of course not. Do I expect that to happen? … Yeah, I really do. And it’ll probably be when I’m angry.
And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry …”