A new anchor on the line
MANKATO — Remi Ayodele has been a Minnesota Viking for two weeks.
In that short time, he has heard the same thing from just about every one of his new teammates who were on the Vikings 2009 team that lost to New Orleans — and Ayodele — in overtime in a heart-crushing NFC Championship game.
"A lot of guys have given me a hard time about that game," the 6-feet-2, 318-pound Ayodele said. "They said we must have had — what do you call them? — rabbit's feet? Lucky rabbit's feet? Yeah, they said all of us must have had them in our pocket that night."
Ayodele, a defensive tackle, was a central figure in a play that many Vikings fans believe had a major impact on that game. Ayodele and Bobby McCray put a high/low hit on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, severely aggravating Favre's ankle injury.
The Vikings turned the ball over five times in the game, including a fumble by Percy Harvin that Ayodele recovered. It led to a Saints touchdown. The Saints went on to beat Indianapolis two weeks later in Super Bowl XLIV, 31-17.
"That was a great game," Ayodele said of the NFC Championship game, with a broad smile. "It was back-and-forth the whole time and we happened to win."
After agreeing to a three-year, $9 million deal on July 28, Ayodele would love nothing more than to get back to a Super Bowl as a Viking. But, his priority right now is fitting in on a defensive line that has been one of the NFL's best in recent seasons.
"I'm just happy to be here," he said. "I'll do whatever they tell me to do. I'm going to play the run. I'm not that huge pass rusher who'll get you 15 sacks a year. I'll do my part on first and second down, and maybe if I'm doing well, they'll let me get a rush or two in on third."
Ayodele has a big jersey to fill, too. He'll step in at the starting tackle spot previously occupied by Pat Williams.
"They've always had a good front seven here," he said. "Just watching these guys fly around has motivated me to fit in. I've watched a lot of film on Pat. For a big man, a lot of people don't notice how quickly he got off the ball and got his hands on other players. I'm just trying to emulate that."
The path to becoming an NFL starter wasn't a quick or easy one for Ayodele, whose brother, Akin, is a 10-year NFL veteran.
Remi entered the league in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oklahoma. He bounced around from New England to Baltimore, Dallas and Atlanta before settling with the Saints in 2008. He started 13 games in the Super Bowl championship season, and started all 16 games for them last season, when he set a career high with 37 tackles.
"They've always had good big men in the middle here in Minnesota," Ayodele said. "I thought it would be a great fit for me. The defense is a lot like we played in New Orleans. They like to attack, attack, attack."
Ayodele will get his first chance to line up next to perennial Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams on Saturday, when the Vikings open their preseason schedule at 7 p.m. at Tennessee.
"He's a tough guy, an anchor," Vikings defensive coordinator Fred Pagac said of Ayodele. "He's been in the league for a few years. He's a younger guy who is very physical and he'll be one of our anchors inside."