Teddy Bridgewater’s new start is the NFL’s feel-good story

In some ways, Teddy Bridgewater’s story has already been written.

Four years ago girlfriend Erika Cardona evolved her love of poetry and Early Childhood Education studies into a debut children’s book titled ‘Little Bear Teddy: Big Dreams Come True’.

She needn’t look far for inspiration, basing the story on Bridgewater and teaching the core values of hard work, resilience, determination and perseverance at the foundation of his comeback from a gruesome knee injury.

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The inspiration behind the character, Little Bear Teddy, wearing his two gloves shirt. @teddyb_h2o Visit littlebearteddy.com today!

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A heart-rending read could yet deliver a rousing repair to the narrative as Bridgewater embarks on his own fresh chapter, the 27-year-old breathing new life into his career by signing a three-year, $63m contract with the Carolina Panthers this free agency.

In dislodging Cam Newton, he is greeted by another deserved opportunity to establish himself as a full-time NFL starter under a newly-appointed head coach in Matt Rhule. It’s been a page-turner so far.

The cruel plot twist

Bridgewater, a first-round pick out of Louisville in 2014, was named to the All-Rookie team and voted by fans as the Pepsi Rookie of the Year after recording an 85.2 passer rating along with 209 rushing yards in his maiden season with the Minnesota Vikings.

Year two saw him honoured with his first Pro Bowl selection in reward for helping the Vikings reach the wildcard round of the playoffs with 3,231 passing yards for 14 touchdowns and 192 rushing yards for three touchdowns.

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Cardona’s work was already in motion by the time Bridgewater tore his ACL, dislocated his knee joint and sustained additional damage during a practice session on August 30, 2016. Recollections of the day cite harrowing screams and teammates praying amid fears he might never walk again.

It didn’t matter how the quarterback’s story subsequently unfolded, though. Cardona knew those values of hard work, resiliency, determination and perseverance were an ever-present, regardless of the ending.

Speaking to ESPN at the time, Bridgewater’s surgeon Dan Cooper referred to the injury as “the worst knee dislocation in sports I’ve ever seen without having a nerve or (blood) vessel injury”.

“This surgery was an absolute gut test, a test of what you’re made of, and I’ve seen it break people down,” he added.

I never saw it break Teddy down. Most people have no idea the volume of the workload this kid had to put in. He had a toothpick of a leg he had to rebuild.

Bridgewater’s surgeon Dan Cooper on his recovery

The first of Bridgewater’s two surgeries lasted four-and-a-half hours. The second was around an hour. There was no easy fix.

All arrows pointed despairingly to another career-ending injury, the NFL’s element of risk mercilessly swallowing up its latest victim. There were major doubts over whether Bridgewater would ever play a professional snap again, let alone rediscover his previous form.

Faced with a 19-month recovery period, Bridgewater missed the entire 2016 season before staring at free agency as the Vikings declined the fifth-year option on his contract in May 2017.

An unlikely farewell arrived in Week 15 of the 2017 season when he took to the field to a standing ovation during the fourth quarter of the Vikings’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing with one interception from two pass attempts.

The road back

“When I look in his eyes, I see greatness,” future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson said of Bridgewater in 2016, speaking to ESPN.

“He has that leadership, he has that leader inside him and it’s coming out even more. He has a good soul, a good spirit. And when you combine that with talent, and the mindset that he has, greatness will come out.”

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Even with the talent worthy of AP’s recognition, there were understandable questions over Bridgewater’s capabilities upon his return to health.

He signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets in March 2018, though it quickly became clear that first-round draft pick Sam Darnold was the team’s Week One man. Nonetheless, Bridgewater had taken heart-warming strides in preseason by the end of August, at which time he was traded to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a third-round pick.

His sole start came on the final day when he went 14 of 22 for 118 yards and a touchdown in a 33-14 defeat to the Panthers.

He then signed a new one-year, $7.25m fully guaranteed deal in March 2019, before a thumb injury to Brees in Week Two paved the way for Bridgewater to shoot for a starting job in 2020.

Bridgewater was 5-0 in his run under center, finishing 115 of 165 passing for 1,205 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions to maintain the Saints’ path to the playoffs. This included 314 yards for four touchdowns in the 31-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It’s testament to the job Bridgewater did in New Orleans that Sean Payton persisted with him as opposed to the multi-purpose Taysom Hill, a starting quarterback in-waiting in the eyes of his head coach.

Now Teddy is onto Carolina, where he finds himself armed with a Pro Bowl running back in Christian McCaffrey, plus a dynamic receiving corps consisting of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and recent acquisition Robby Anderson. Additionally, he is reunited with Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady after the pair’s time together in New Orleans.

Four years after his devastating injury, Bridgewater has the faith of a new head coach to reignite a franchise that was prepared to part ways with one of the NFL’s great dual-threat quarterbacks.

It’s reminding of the most shattering and demoralising layoff a professional athlete could envision going through that truly tells the story of his extraordinary comeback.

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