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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Bryant McKinnie rejoined the Minnesota Vikings this week. He's down to his last strike, but only time will tell if he realizes it.
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|Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie has returned from his suspension.|
During his first six seasons, McKinnie cultivated a well-deserved reputation for late-night carousing and more-than-occasional run-ins with the police. McKinnie's arrest outside a Miami nightclub in February was his fourth legal entanglement since the Vikings drafted him in 2002.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the season's first four games, and there is every indication that McKinnie's next slip -- no matter how minor -- would lead to a year-long suspension and almost certainly cost him his job as the Vikings' starting left tackle.
"I don't want to put myself in that position to have to go and meet with the commissioner again," McKinnie said Thursday in the Vikings' locker room. "I know that."
The Vikings have heard -- and trusted -- similar words before. Indeed, they gave McKinnie a $48.5 million contract extension shortly after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct as part of the Vikings' infamous 2005 Love Boat incident. So when McKinnie was drawn into a late-night brawl in February, coach Brad Childress said publicly the team had some "difficult decisions" to make about McKinnie's future.
Thursday, Childress said McKinnie "did some things that shall remain nameless" to demonstrate how serious he is about changing his ways.
"He knew that he needed to regain everybody's confidence," Childress said, "whether it's the fans' confidence, his teammates, whether it's the coaching staff, whether it's the league. And he knows the mandate from our standpoint. ... Obviously, your life doesn't flash in front of your face, but your career certainly does. And I think it's probably made a better man out of him and I think a little bit more thoughtful."
McKinnie was vague about the specific changes he's made, although he did admit he got a new phone number. "Just to get rid of some people that I felt like weren't there for me," he said.
McKinnie also started a record label to consume some of his free time.
"I'm trying to become more of a businessman," McKinnie said. "I'm getting older, and that's the mindset I want to have."
McKinnie, however, has no plans to eliminate his social life altogether.
"You can't do that," he said, "because then you drive yourself crazy. You limit yourself. You just need to have a game plan for when you do go out. ... You can't change overnight, but I'm in the process of changing."
Some have questioned why the team has given so many chances to a player who has never made a Pro Bowl. The truth is that McKinnie has played at a Pro Bowl level several times in his career and is probably one of the top 10 left tackles in the game. Left tackle is one of football's most difficult positions, and the Vikings consider McKinnie a long-term anchor.
Still, it's fair to say they've had enough of his off-field indiscretions.
"I think he knows that he needs to act right," Childress said.
The Vikings will be holding their breath.