Antoine Winfield (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield played Sunday’s game with a heavy heart, thinking of his brother who was shot to death late Wednesday night. Winfield talked about football and teammates that helped offer a brief respite.
Much of the focus on Sunday’s 26-23 Vikings win was centered on the much-discussed return of Adrian Peterson to the Vikings lineup. But, behind the scenes, there was an even more emotional drama.
Last Wednesday, Antoine Winfield’s brother was shot and killed in Akron, Ohio, according to two team sources. Anthony Travis, 30, was shot by an unknown person while standing outside a vehicle, according to police reports. He was hit with multiple gunshots and was pronounced dead at 12:29 a.m. Nobody has been arrested and Akron police are investigating it as a homicide.
Antoine Winfield (at right) made four tackles in Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
The team kept the story under wraps and few outside the organization were aware that Winfield was practicing late last week and playing Sunday with an extraordinarily heavy heart.
Winfield was excused from practice Thursday and, as such, had to be listed on the team’s injury report because he did not participate in practice. His absence was listed as non-injury related on the report, and head coach Leslie Frazier said he was dealing with a personal matter. Winfield was processing the death of his brother – having informed Frazier what had occurred.
“I have so much respect for Antoine. To experience the loss he experienced this week and to come to work, to work as hard as he did and then to play in the ball game and play as well as he did, I don’t know if I could have done that,” Frazier said Monday after the full extent of the story was realized publicly. “I don’t know many people that could have done that. Just a very courageous young man, a very strong young man and his teammates, they were very supportive. They were pulling for him. A lot of guys were encouraging him throughout the game and throughout the week as well.”
It seemed unusual on Thursday when a reporter went to Winfield’s locker when he showed up in the final minutes of the weekly Thursday media access to the locker room. Almost without fail, if a reporter asks Winfield if he has a couple minutes to answer questions, he invariably obliges. Rare is the time when he says “no” and, when he does, it’s typically with an explanation – he has to get to a meeting, he’s running late, etc. On Thursday, he declined, which is understandable now. Asked if he had a minute, he said, “I’m not answering any questions today.” That was that. In hindsight, knowing what he was dealing with at the time, it was amazing he was at work at all.
It was that work ethic that prompted a response Sunday from Percy Harvin to a question about how gratifying it was, after having so many games exactly like Sunday’s game go against the Vikings last year, to come out on the winning end. Harvin said the game was a tribute to not only the return of Peterson in miraculous fashion, but his awe and respect for Winfield and his ability to play under such extreme adversity.
“We had a lot of great people we played for today – starting out with Antoine’s brother,” Harvin said. “For him to come out and still be able to play – he didn’t miss a day of work. To lose a brother, it was good for us to get a win for him. You all know A.P. and all the things he battled through. We feel like we completed the day and were able to send both of those of those guys out right.”
Winfield was hesitant to get into too much detail about the tragedy. However, in a low, sad monotone, Winfield did take the time to thank his teammates. The Vikings kept Winfield’s family tragedy in-house for a few days, but it became clear that his teammates supported him in recent days and that his personal loss was felt throughout the locker room.
Winfield said being with his teammates and being on the field Sunday was therapeutic in many ways. If nothing else, being on the football field – which is so natural for a veteran like Winfield – is a respite from the flood of emotions away from the game.
“Football for me is relaxing,” Winfield said. “When I’m on the field, I’m totally concentrating on that. It took my mind off it for a couple of hours, but it’s something I’ll have to deal with this week.”
Winfield made a point to contact Frazier and was overwhelmed by the support he received from his teammates when he showed up for work on Thursday. At one of the lowest times of his life, his Vikings family let him lean on them and he was more than appreciative.
“It was all love,” Winfield said. “I texted Coach (Frazier) that night (Wednesday). When we came back in for team meetings Thursday, Coach got up and said few words and said a prayer. Everybody came to me on the side to give me their condolences. It was a rough week. A real rough week.”
Winfield will be handling funeral arrangements early this week and his availability for the early part of preparation for the Indianapolis Colts will likely be in question. The pain of the tragedy last week is still fresh. But, the one place where he will be able to feel “normal” and not consumed with his personal grief is with his teammates.
In a sport of tough guys – Winfield being arguably the toughest pound for pound – the emotion they go through as an extended family was obvious when Winfield described the previous four days with his teammates. He could have internalized his pain, but he opted to share it with his teammates and let them know what emotions he was going through. He lost a brother, but has a lot of love and prayers going out for him from his brothers in the Vikings family.
“With these guys, some of them I’ve been around for a very long time, I shared it all with them,” Winfield said. “I let them know how I was feeling. They knew the situation and they were all love. Guys came up and said, ‘I’m sorry about your brother’ or ‘We’re playing for you.’ That was a great thing. I love every man in this locker room. It’s good to have a locker room like ours.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.