Vikings Safety Camryn Bynum Saved My Sanity

Camryn Bynum Saved Sanity for Fans
Nov 7, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings celebrates cornerback Camryn Bynum (43) interception in the end zone during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I am, among other things, a mediocre, aging tennis player. Like the Minnesota Vikings, I play at about a .500 clip, winning some and losing some, with most of my losses coming from some combination of tentative, conservative playmaking and a haunted psyche that tells me I’m not as good as I used to be. 

When I lose, as I did last Sunday (immediately after watching another crushing Viking defeat), I struggle to stay positive. I am, after all, a hyper-competitive man in my fifties, which means I really want to win every time out, but in the back of my mind I’m always wondering, is this embarrassing loss the beginning of a downhill slide into old age? Will I soon be relegated to the doubles court? Will I begin to grunt and groan like an octogenarian getting out of the bed in the morning, each time I serve? Will I have to start serving underhand? Will I ever be a decent player again???

To combat these thoughts, I have a saying: “If I can’t win the match, just give me one point that I can remember.” To maintain some sort of sanity, I try to focus on one point in the match where I do something unexpectedly well, and for just a moment, play like a 30-year-old again. I lost my match last Sunday, but the only things I really remember is the 6-7, 3-6 score, and the point where I returned a hard serve to the deuce side with a booming forehand, covered the width of the court to retrieve a strong response from my opponent, and then ripped a backhand winner down the baseline. It was pure perfection, thank you very much, and that’s what I choose to remember about that match. It’s a little thing like that that keeps me coming back for more, keeps me feeling relatively young, and keeps my sanity in check.

I figure saving your sanity is a pretty critical life skill, and where better to apply it than to the weekly gut-wrenching task of sweating through 4 quarters (or more) of Vikings football? The team now sits at 3-5, going into a tough matchup against the Chargers. I am confident that this week’s Vikings game will toy with our collective sanity in much the same way each preceding game has. If the Vikings can put up a “W”, who knows, we could battle through a tough schedule ahead and put together a run. But just in case they don’t, my advice is to look for a play, or two, that gives us a spark of extreme excitement, maybe a little awe, and perhaps even elevates our faith in the Purple Future a little bit.

Despite the horrors of last week’s game, it was actually littered with Plays To Remember—a long run, a pretty touchdown pass, a 98-yard kickoff return . But for me, the Play to Remember was delivered by rookie Camryn Bynum late in the second quarter. With less than two minutes to go in the half, the Vikings were clinging to a 14-3 lead. I don’t use that word “clinging” loosely here—most of us Vikings fans were already starting to feel the dread. A Lamar Jackson-led touchdown drive to end the half seemed almost inevitable, and the weight of previous Viking collapses were already feeling like an unbearable burden.

The defense was looking tired—though not nearly as tired as they would appear to be throughout the second half of the game, when the real comeback, preordained, would of course play itself out. To make matters worse, going into the game – with Danielle Hunter already out for the season – Harrison Smith was out for the game with Covid-19. Much of the front seven was looking the way I felt in the late stages of my tennis loss later that day—old and wondering how much gas was left in the tank. The Viking bench has no shortage of younger players that have been sitting and waiting for their chance to shine, and the injuries and general wheeziness of the “D” is starting to (finally) get some of these youngsters onto the field, including Bynum, who got his first start subbing for Smith.

So it was with this backdrop that Bynum created his first professional Let’s-Remember-This moment. From the Ravens’ own 20, Jackson dropped back to pass and flung the ball 25 yards downfield, towards a seemingly-wide-open Mark Andrews. Bynum, showing his chops as a college cornerback converted to free safety (in place of Smith), came seemingly out of nowhere and elevated horizontally, superhero-style, to snatch Jackson’s pass for the INT. It was a remarkable catch, and to cap it off he got up and returned the ball back to the Raven’s 20. Bynum’s play short-circuited a key closing drive for the Ravens to end the half.

This is what I choose to remember from last Sunday. Let’s not think about how the offense completely let us down immediately afterwards, unable to penetrate the end zone. Let’s not think about how that was pretty much the last important play that the defense would make until overtime, when Anthony Barr would make another remarkable interception that would again be followed by a pathetic three-and-out. Let’s not think about the utter lack of imagination, or determination from the Vikings offense for most of the game’s final 45 minutes.

Lord knows, I was thinking about all of those things throughout the second half, and into the overtime. As I watched the Vikings implode once again, frittering away a commanding lead, my sanity was seriously in question. Fans all across Vikingland felt much the same. But I kept flashing back to that Camryn Bynum INT. It was an inspiring play, and coming from a 23-year-old rookie out of Cal, it offered Hope, with a capital H. Hope that the aging Smith is far from irreplaceable—as are Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, Michael Pierce, and a host of others on either side of the ball that are pushing or past thirty, expensive, or both. The cemeteries are full of irreplaceable men, says the wry old saying. Bynum’s INT reminded me that this is true, and single-handedly turned my thinking from utter despair over the current state of our team, into something that almost felt like optimism about what might lie down the road.

That was my Play To Remember, but yours might have been the early touchdown bomb to 22-year old Justin Jefferson. Or maybe the second-half opener, 23-year-old rookie Kene Nwangwu’s kickoff return for a touchdown. We lost the game, but when’s the last time three Vikings aged 23 or younger contributed so much? Throw in 22-year old rookie Christian Darrisaw, who has looked impressive in his first two starts on the Viking line, and the future begins to look a little brighter, even if the present is a non-stop pressure-cooker littered with disappointment.

My tennis game may be inevitably wearing down until it wears out completely, but an NFL team, by necessity, replenishes itself with youth.  It never has to worry about such things—so long as it doesn’t rely on the same old group for too long. That’s something the 3-5 Vikings braintrust needs to think about as they transition into the second half of the season, and ultimately turn their attention to 2022. And it’s something that I, for one, need to think about just to maintain my sanity.