Will Za'Darius Smith get revenge? 'That’s why I’m here now. So, I can play them twice a year'
He started preparing his Week 1 speech in the spring. This defense's new edge rusher is not shy in our chat, either. Now a Viking, Smith wants a piece of the Packers. What happened anyways?
EAGAN, Minn. — Sweet revenge feeds every competitor’s soul. With tangible rewards such as trophies and contract extensions always at stake, we tend to forget these are human beings with an endless supply of pride.
The Green Bay Packers released Za’Darius Smith.
Smith signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, they’ll face off in the 2022 NFL season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It’s early June as we chat at Vikings HQ but to say the newest outside linebacker in Minnesota has circled Sept. 11, 2022 on his calendar would be the understatement of the century. He knows how he’s wired. He hated how 2021 went down in Green Bay and — now — Smith is dying to tee off on his former team.
“I played one year of high school football,” Smith begins. “For me to be where I’m at today, that’s how you know I love the game. I put my all into it. That’s why I felt the way I did with Green Bay — I gave that shit my all. I put my blood, sweat… I put my back on the f--king line. I put everything. And that Year 3, I was treated bad. That’s why I’m here now. So, I can play them twice a year.”
We can hyper-analyze matchups. We can grind the All-22 until our eyes bleed. Distilled to its essence — stripped of all nauseating pomp and circumstance — right here is what the sport is all about. Maybe it doesn’t fit neatly into a Park Avenue-approved infomercial but football is a ruthless sport played by grown-ass men hellbent on proving people wrong. And this is easily one of the juiciest subplots in the NFC. The Packers and Vikings are no strangers to revenge games. The sight of Brett Favre in purple still makes fans across the border barf. Those four games in 2009 and 2010 were religious experiences in the Midwest. Wideout Greg Jennings was one of the greatest receivers in team history, a Super Bowl hero, yet ostracized by large portion of the fan base.
Now, Za’Darius Smith heads to Minnesota to stick it to Green Bay. What should’ve been a long-lasting career in Wisconsin ended miserably and, in this conversation with Go Long, the 6-foot-4, 272-pounder sugarcoats nothing.
In building this 2022 edition of the Minnesota Vikings, true, new head coach Kevin O’Connell is rolling with the usual suspects. But there was one significant investment. At $42 million over three years, Smith is the player handpicked to bring the juice to Minnesota’s new 3-4 defense. Teammates rave about his energy. Smith has declared this defensive front “Purple People Eaters 2.0,” even repeating the OG group’s go-to line: “Meet at the quarterback.”
What’s wild is that Smith was having this exact same effect in Green Bay.
What the heck happened? And where does Smith go from there? He’ll be the one giving the Vikings a speech ahead of this Week 1 game. Smith was preparing a speech for the entire team way back in the spring.
He’s been dissecting the Packers’ film to pick up on every conceivable key, too.
“This is my everyday livelihood,” Smith says. “This shit wasn’t even meant to be for me. I really went and took that shit and really became one of the best outside linebackers in the league. That shit means a lot to me.”
The Vikings are counting on the Packers’ loss being their gain. They love his energy. Right here is a vital element to that player-driven culture O’Connell is trying to instill. The loud, hilarious, violent, imposing Za’Darius Smith can bring everything the new head coach talks about to life. And let’s face it. For all of the good juju in Minnesota, Aaron Rodgers remains Green Bay’s quarterback. He’s been smirking and torching and hop-scotching through this division for years. This defense still needs a hammer capable of getting the four-time MVP off his spot.
The best place to turn is toward a player so motivated to face the Packers.
A player who hated how the team treated him when he hurt his back. (Smith doesn’t hold back in this conversation, as you’ll see.)
A player who wants to build something historic with Danielle Hunter in Minnesota. (Smith has been taking his Vikings history lessons.)
Quite possibly, “Z” is the exact ingredient this new culture needs.