Photo by Eliesa Johnson
Jason DeRusha Eats with Rick Spielman
Random fact: After football, Spielman’s favorite sport is lacrosse. His son Ronnie is a lacrosse star at Ohio State University; another son, JD, is a standout at Eden Prairie.
Even by the standards of the Minnesota Vikings, it’s been an extraordinary few months. The star running back is accused of abusing his child by disciplining him with a switch, the outspoken former punter who was a vocal same-sex marriage supporter threatens a lawsuit, and the team’s starting quarterback gets hurt and is out for the season. The ringleader at the Winter Park circus is general manager Rick Spielman, and you probably know virtually nothing about him. We spoke—just three days before the Adrian Peterson allegations became public—in the Minnesota Vikings room at Eden Prairie’s Wildfire Restaurant.
The Restaurant: If you want to randomly run into a Minnesota Vikings player, Wildfire is the spot to do it. Just a stone’s throw from Winter Park, the team members all get a discount. Not that they need it, of course.
What We Ate: Spielman had the cedar-planked salmon with the house specialty, the Wildfire chopped salad. Even the small size is suitable for a football player. I started with the delightfully buttery corn bread Wildfire serves with all meals. And sitting in a room surrounded by Vikings memorabilia, I had to get the perfectly seared petite filet mignon. Football and steak just goes together.
My Lunch Date: Spielman’s brother, Chris Spielman, was the all-time tackles leader for the Detroit Lions.
Do people know anything about you, or do they just know the idea of you?
I think it’s more the idea than the real me, because there are always perceptions out there.
When you make a move fans love, the player is the hero. When you make a move they hate, you’re the villain.
You’re starting to sound like my wife! In this seat, you have to make really hard decisions, decisions that affect people’s lives. It affects you. I don’t know how many nights I’ve come home when I’ve had to make difficult decisions and just stared at the ceiling.
Tell me about your wife. You’ve been together since college.
The first time I met her, I told her I was going to marry her. She looked at me like I was from Mars.
You don’t normally talk about your family, but I know you’ve adopted six kids.
I try to keep my kids separate, just because it’s hard enough on them when dad has the job he has.
Why did you end up adopting?
We went through all the infertility treatments, but there is a plan in place for your life. That’s why my wife and I are together. Maybe that’s why I was never good enough as a player, so I could do what I do now. Adopting was because we couldn’t have children.
You adopted your first two children when they were 7 months old and 2. You didn’t stop there.
Our third child has cerebral palsy. Then we adopted a 5-year-old daughter. We thought we were done when we moved up here. Then we adopted her two older brothers. It’s hard to split kids up; we’ve always tried to keep them together. Those brothers are 24 and 22! We just dropped one off at Ohio State; we have two juniors at Eden Prairie, and a seventh grader!
I have so much respect for arents who give kids a chance at a great life.
We didn’t do anything great. What our kids bring to us is so much more gratifying. We’re able to have a family. And having a special needs daughter is so inspiring. We’d be so incomplete without her in our life.
You mentioned you make hard choices: What’s the toughest?
The hardest day of the year is the 53-man cut down. Players who have had families, have done a lot for your organization, done everything the team has asked them to do off the field, you have to come down and make a business decision.
Do you worry more about getting rid of a veteran or screwing up and cutting someone who ends up becoming a star?
That’s where the tough business decisions come in. We have a very young roster we’re working with. We’ve kept younger players who may not be where the older player is this week, but maybe three or four weeks from now, he may pass him. You roll the dice.
For a lot of us, the scandals involving players are so disappointing.
They have to be held to a different standard. Not only are you representing your name, but you’re representing your team, and that NFL shield. You have to be held to a higher standard.
Do you have a secret Twitter account?
Yes. I follow all the media. I follow all the players. They may know I follow, but the’’ll never know the name. [Laughs]
You want a Super Bowl.
That’s the only reason you’re in the business. We’ve come close twice. But you do this job because you want to say your organization is a champion.
Jason DeRusha anchors WCCO-TV’s morning and noon news. He also asks some really good questions.