The cocksure former Florida Gator never flinched at the Minnesota Vikings’ voluminous playbook, deftly made adjustments on the fly while running a route, and looked like a natural returning kickoffs for the first time in his career.
“I came in with an, ‘I’m ready for anything, I’m expecting anything [attitude],’ so nothing surprised me,” Harvin said. “I’m pretty good on that end.”
Instead, opposing defenses and kick coverage units were the ones having trouble adjusting to him.
Harvin’s unique combination of speed, intelligence and toughness made the transition from college to the pros startlingly smooth for the runaway winner of The Associated Press 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
“It’s a tremendous honor, but that’s not our team goal,” Harvin said Wednesday in a conference call with Minnesota reporters. “To win that and lose the championship would be a failure.”
Harvin received 41 votes Wednesday from the nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. Baltimore tackle Michael Oher was second with six votes.
The 22nd overall draft pick came into the league with plenty of question marks. He tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine, a remarkable blunder that was behind his slide down the draft board.
Harvin also fought through injuries in three seasons with the Gators, leading some to wonder if the 5-foot-11 burner could withstand the rigors of a full NFL season.
After he was drafted by the Vikings, he impressed with his willingness to speak openly about the failed drug test. And once he stepped on the field, it was clear Harvin was something special.
“With Percy, I’m surprised how it just carried over from college,” Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. “Usually with rookies, it takes a little adjustment period. But this carried right over. Still playing at a high level.”
Harvin identified quarterback Brett Favre and cornerback Antoine Winfield as two of the many teammates who helped him get comfortable — Favre with his knowledge of the offense and Winfield for pointing out tendencies he saw in Harvin’s routes from covering him in practice.
“It’s not intimidating. Football is always football,” Harvin said. “As long as you’re always learning and you know what you’re doing … you’ll be able to take care of business.”
Harvin, who was also added to the Pro Bowl roster earlier this week, had 60 receptions for 790 yards and six touchdowns; rushed 15 times for 135 yards; took back 42 kickoffs for 1,156 yards (27.5 yards per return) and two touchdowns, one covering 101 yards.
He tied with the Colts’ Austin Collie for most catches by a rookie and set Minnesota’s single-season franchise record for all-purpose yardage (2,081).
“He’s a nightmare for defenses and special-teams coordinators,” guard Artis Hicks said. “He’s got a bright future. I knew he was going to be good, but it just surprises me that he’s this good this quick. The sky is the limit for him.”
His impact was immediate. Harvin scored touchdowns in his first three games, two through the air and one on a 101-yard kick return against San Francisco in Week 3.
Despite being 19 years younger than the quarterback slinging passes in his direction, Harvin quickly developed a chemistry with Favre. He was the first Vikings player Favre met when he arrived at team headquarters on Aug. 19 and has emerged as Favre’s favorite target on third down.
“I think Percy’s on his way to a league of his own,” Favre said. “He’s quick like Wes Welker. He’s got a long ways to go to be in the same category with Wes, but at the rate he’s going he’s a dominant force in a lot of ways.”
Harvin is the sixth Vikings player to win the award, joining Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss (1998), Sammy White (1976), Chuck Foreman (1973) and Paul Flatley (1963).
Also receiving votes this season were Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin, Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, and Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace, each with one.
The biggest hurdle for Harvin to overcome in the NFL has been the onset of debilitating migraine headaches. He’s dealt with the condition for much of his life, and in December it got so bad he couldn’t get out of bed, forcing him to miss a game.
Harvin visited the noted Mayo Clinic in Rochester later last month and hasn’t had a problem with them since.
“It was frustrating. It wasn’t the first time it happened,” Harvin said. “I knew I had to deal with them. We’ve got a solution to it now, so hopefully I won’t have to deal with that no more, and look forward to being healthy.”
The Vikings (12-4) sure need him. They are a different team with the versatile Harvin returning kicks, catching passes and taking handoffs. His dynamic rookie season helped the Vikings earn a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs and ensured opposing defenses have more to worry about than Favre and Peterson.
“I call him Little Phenom,” said Peterson, the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year. “He’s got the heart of a lion when he’s out there playing.”