It was impressive enough that Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was on the sideline Sunday, three days after the unexpected death of his wife, Vikki. But then Zimmer's unit held the AFC's best offense to just 14 points and led the Bengals to the franchise's biggest win in years.
Before the game, Zimmer's defense dedicated their effort to the memory of Vikki. After their performance, in which they shut down the rushing attack of the Baltimore Ravens and picked off two Joe Flacco(notes) throws, the team awarded Zimmer the game ball. With his voice cracking and his head coach, Marvin Lewis, tearing up in the background, Zimmer told the team:
"My wife loves all of you. Win or lose, she's proud of you. And I just appreciate all of your effort."
The Bengals then surrounded their coach in a group hug. Watching the moment on television, even a Ravens fan would have had tears in their eyes.
Vikki Zimmer, 50, died Thursday of unknown causes. She had been married to the long-time NFL assistant for 27 years. They have three children.
Vikki was an unseen presence in this summer's HBO reality series Hard Knocks. Her husband is widely known as a demanding taskmaster, a sort of archetype of the stereotypical intense, vocal football coach. To counter this, Vikki made cookies for the team and Mike delivered them with the sheepish admission that his wife wanted to do something nice for the players because she saw the show and thought her husband yelled too much.
After the game Zimmer understandably declined to speak with the media. Marvin Lewis spoke about the difficult situation after being asked what Zimmer said to the team today:
"He said, 'You know how Vikki felt about all of you. She's up there now in heaven smiling at you.'
Win or lose, she loved these guys. I was in their house on Thursday afternoon, and there were Post-It notes all around and treats for the players. And I reminded those guys of that Friday morning. I said that they were always on her mind."
Zimmer traveled with the team to Baltimore on Saturday along with his father and two of his children. His mother and one of his sons stayed behind in Cincinnati.
Linebacker Dhani Jones(notes) said after the win, "emotion is the name of the game". Sadly, the Cincinnati Bengals had to work with mournful emotion today. But thanks to the strength of their coach and the memories of his wife, the team was able to channel its sadness into victory and give Mike Zimmer an instant of relief in this, the most difficult of times.