McFeely: Local boy done good, Thielen is one of Vikings' all-timers

Detroit Lakes native went to small college in Minnesota, remained true to his home state as an NFL star.

Dec 10, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) can't make the catch in the end zone as Carolina Panthers cornerback Kevon Seymour (27) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Thielen ranks fourth on the all-time list for receptions by a Minnesota Vikings player. That is good, but doesn't tell the whole story.

The three players ahead of Thielen:

Cris Carter.

Randy Moss.

Anthony Carter.


That's the pack in which Thielen runs. Cris Carter and Moss are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Anthony Carter was one of the best receivers in the NFL during his prime.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen smiles to the crowd after scoring a touchdown against New England in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Vikings beat the Patriots 33-26.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Whenever his playing career ends, Thielen will someday be honored with his name included with the all-time Vikings greats in the team's Ring of Honor.

Moss, Cris Carter, Bud Grant, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Randall McDaniel, Jim Marshall. They are current members of the Ring of Honor.

That's the company Thielen will keep.

Not bad for a kid from Detroit Lakes, Minn., who went to NCAA Division II Minnesota State Mankato on a $500 scholarship and made the Vikings after a rookie camp tryout, working his way up from a practice squad member to a two-time Pro Bowler and the face of the Vikings franchise.

That story's been repeated so often it's almost a cliche. But it's too good to not tell and re-tell. And retell some more.

The Vikings released Thielen on Friday, cutting the 32-year-old receiver to make room under the NFL's salary cap. 'Tis the season. Teams are trimming aging veterans who make too much money to justify their production.

Never forget, professional sports is a business with no room for sentimentality. Out with the old (32!), in with the new.


Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) talks to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Dec. 30, 2018. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

Thielen was such a great story because he was one of us. Grew up in Minnesota's lakes country, where he was a member of the Detroit Lakes state championship golf team in 2008. Went to a Minnesota state college that plays Division II. Played for the home state team. Remained here, living in the Twin Cities during the NFL season and on a Detroit Lakes-area lake in the summer with his family.

He and his wife Caitlin started a foundation in 2018, raising money for various causes around Minnesota. Thielen was named the Vikings' community man of the year in 2022.

There's been no hint of scandal, no hint of big-timing the home state, no hint of the Becker County kid going Hollywood. He's still a Minnesotan and always seemed to understand that.

Thielen was one of the guys who was always available to speak with the media after practices or games. And that included wins and losses. It isn't always that way.

There are those, present company included, who were turned off by Thielen's refusal to get vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic. He joined other Minnesota stars like quarterback Kirk Cousins and safety Harrison Smith in that silly crusade.

It might have been Thielen's faith that led him to the decision, it might have been something else. It was the one mark against him in an otherwise stellar decade with the Vikings.

Something to remember: Thielen is not retiring, despite the sense of finality to the news of Thielen leaving the Vikings. He is not calling it a career. He and the Vikings tried to reach an agreement on a lower salary this season so Thielen could stay with the team, but were unable.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19), of Detroit Lakes, Minn., celebrates his touchdown on a blocked punt with safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

So Thielen, still productive in 2022 despite yielding his top-dog status to younger players like Justin Jefferson, will become a free agent and will sign with another team. He'll play at least one more season, and likely a few more.


Thielen has made it known he wants to play for a championship contender in hopes of fulfilling the one missing piece to his career.

The Vikings, of course, did not win a Super Bowl during his time here (or ever in franchise history), nor did they make the big game. The closest they came was the 2017 season, when the Minneapolis Miracle vaulted them to the NFC Championship game where they were mauled in Philadelphia.

Thielen is said to be buddies with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and so national media types are tossing about the idea of Thielen following Rodgers, wherever Rodgers lands. Could it be the New York Jets? Could Rodgers remain in Green Bay, thin as that chance seems?

Adam Thielen in a Packers uniform?

Say it ain't so.

That might be enough for Minnesotans to turn on their home-state hero, although given Thielen's exalted status here even that might not be enough.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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