Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield has been in the NFL for 10 seasons and has been a starter since 2000 when he was with the Buffalo Bills. On Tuesday, Winfield was elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time. We caught up with him after he did an autograph signing at Continental Diamond in St. Louis Park.
Q. How does it feel to finally get this?
A: “It’s an unbelievable feeling. This is one of the best days of my life. Once I got the news early this morning. Actually, I looked at my phone and saw Coach [Brad] Childress calling me. I got on the phone and it was Jared Allen. He called me and was like, ‘Yeah, ’Toine, I want to thank you for getting me into the Pro Bowl. Once we get out there don’t give nobody your room number.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you made it.’ I started yelling, running around the house.”
Q. So he knew before you did?
A. “Yeah, because they were all over at the training room, over at the facility.”
Q. Does it almost make it sweeter to get it since you waited so long for this?
A. “It does. I’ve been in this league a long time and finally to get in is an unbelievable feeling. I’ve worked so hard, finally to get there, it’s a relief. I’m just so overjoyed right now.”
Q. You had said the past few years that if you got into the Pro Bowl it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. But was that more of a defense mechanism against disappointment?
A. “Somewhat, yes. Of course you want to get in but it’s pretty much out of my control. All I can do is go out there and perform on the field and just leave it up to the fans, the coaches and the players to vote. Luckily, I got in this year.”
Q. You probably saw the fan voting?
A. “I heard I was like No. 10.”
Q. So are you thinking you weren’t going to get in?
A. “I thought that was going to hurt me. Everything is what [a third between fans, players and coaches]. Everyone gets a vote in. So I thought that would kind of hurt me a little bit, but then I thought I would get the players and coaches vote. I didn’t know how much percentage or whatever, how that would workout.”
Q. What in your mind got you in this time?
A. “I made some game-changing plays this year. Earlier in the year. In New Orleans, Carolina. But then I had a lot of support. I hired a publicist, I’m doing radio interviews, I’m on ESPN doing all this stuff. Trying to promote myself to get there and get some votes. But it worked out for me this year.”
Q. Where did you hire a publicist from?
A. “From L.A. Her name is Erit Yellen. I was talking to her every day.”
Q. Just this year?
A. “It was maybe right after the voting started. So October, the end of October.”
Q. Solely for the Pro Bowl?
A. “Oh yeah, solely to get more attention. Get the interviews, try and get on TV, they have me doing NFL Network and that stuff. More exposure.”
Q. Is this something where people said you have to get more exposure?
A. “Actually, it was my agent’s idea. Ashanti Webb. He was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get you out there. It’s hard to get you on television in Minnesota. You don’t have that many nationally televised games. So to get you on ESPN and NFL Network.’ To get my face out there and my voice out there.”
Q. You mentioned the Vikings’ 30-27 victory over the Saints in a Monday night game in October. You had a 59-yard return of a blocked field goal for a touchdown, you forced a fumble on a sack that you recovered to set up a touchdown, added five tackles for a loss and broke up a pass. How key was that performance on national TV?
A. “I think that was the game right there. That game was seen probably all around the world. Everyone watches ‘Monday Night Football.’ To go out there and have the game that I did, I think that’s what got me to where I am now.”
Q. Did you care if you were a starter? (He was named a starter later in the day)
A. “I don’t care. I’m in. I’m going to get in the game, I’m going to Hawaii, I’m excited.”
Q. You talk to Brad Childress about it?
A. “Yeah, I talked to him earlier. Actually, when Jared called me.”
Q. What was his reaction?
A. “Congratulations, well deserving, you worked hard and many more to come.”
A. How far have you and Childress come in your relationship which had its up-and-down moments earlier in his tenure?
A. “We’ve come a long way. … I am [having fun]. This is my 10th year in the league and I don’t plan on playing another 10 years. I’m enjoying every day of it. But with Coach Childress, the line of communications are open, his door is always open, we both exchange text messages, phone calls. It’s really easy to talk to him now and for us both to get on the same page.”
Q. Is this something too where you can tell other cornerbacks to persevere and hang in there?
A. “You have to. It’s such a long process. If you don’t get in, work hard to get in and try to get in the next year. True enough I don’t have the interception numbers [he has two this season] that everyone looks at but I worked hard and played 100 percent every time I was on the field.”
Q. How nice will it be to have five teammates with you in Hawaii?
A. “That’s nice. It’s going to be fun out there. I’m definitely going to enjoy it. It’s my first time and it will be fun.”
Q. Is this the most excited you’ve been about this team since you arrived in 2004?
A. “Definitely. We knew at the beginning of the year we were going to be a good team, it was just about putting it all together. We started off kind of slow, 1-3, but we are on a roll right now. Four [wins] in a row, a chance if we win this week to clinch our division and make it to the playoffs. I’m very excited and this is just an added toppings to the cake.”
Q. Who goes with you to Hawaii besides your wife and kids?
A. “My goodness, everyone. Probably my grandparents, my mom, probably like 10 of my cousins, all the [Vikings defensive backs]. I’m taking everybody. Coaches. On me.”