It's absurd, really. A player misses 27 of 29 games over two years and yet is poised to make a major impact on Super Bowl XLVIII. For most anyone, the story ends there, filed under wishful thinking. For Percy Harvin? Somehow it makes sense.
Those who have followed Harvin's bizarre NFL career can't be surprised by this dramatic turn. He proved an exasperating enigma during four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, prompting a 2013 trade to the Seattle Seahawks, and his residence in "PercyWorld" -- population of one -- is now visible on the largest sports stage in the nation.
Harvin has appeared in two games since spraining his ankle in Week 9 of the 2012 season, in the process missing four preseason affairs, 22 in the regular season and one more in 2013 playoffs. Depending on what formation the Seahawks open with Sunday, he could become the first player to start a Super Bowl after playing in fewer than three regular-season games, per Elias Sports Bureau. (Current record-holder: Green Bay Packers tailback James Starks, who played three games in 2010 before starting Super Bowl XLV.)
Harvin's genius, intentional or otherwise, is to create enough doubt about the origin of his issues to ward off permanent damage to his career. The Seahawks thought enough of him to offer a six-year, $67 million deal last spring, and by all accounts they will play him heavily Sunday after a season derailed by a hip injury and concussion. Strange things happen around Percy Harvin, often during less-essential times of the NFL calendar. But like the child whose fluttering eyes convey innocence, it's never clear whether Harvin is actively at fault or simply the unfortunate victim in a string of unpredictable maladies.
The examples are endless, beginning days after the Vikings drafted him in April 2009. When he failed to show the following weekend for rookie minicamp, coach Brad Childress relayed a detailed story about Harvin's collapse in the Atlanta airport while making a connecting flight. Two months later, Harvin departed the NFL's rookie symposium with what was described as an illness, and as we found out during his rookie season with the Vikings, he was afflicted regularly and without warning by migraines.
Harvin missed 15 days of the Vikings' 2010 training camp because of his grandmother's death followed by what he told team officials was a migraine episode. In his first practice upon returning, a glance into the bright sky while fielding a punt triggered migraine symptoms. He soon collapsed, was briefly unresponsive, and was taken from the field in an ambulance.
He spent the night in the hospital, missed one practice and was back on the field two days later. Speaking to reporters a few weeks later, he blamed the collapse on medication he had since abandoned and said he believed his migraines were caused by sleep apnea.
The drama continued in Minnesota, from a practice altercation with Childress to a minicamp walkout to his departure from the team following the 2012 sprained ankle. Recently, he revealed he had an appendectomy in November 2012 and a tumor removed in the offseason. And then, before his career in Seattle really started, Harvin reported hip soreness that led to surgery and ultimately a lost season -- at least what would have been for most other players.
Taken individually, these episodes might qualify Harvin as merely injury prone or perhaps a typical NFL diva. Viewed collectively, they define a career of unrealized promise and either inexplicable fortune or devious maneuvering, depending upon your proclivity toward conspiracy theories.
There was a time when I wondered if Harvin viewed himself as the NFL's Allen Iverson, a big-timer who answered the bell for games but had little interest in the monotony of everyday life in football. By my count, he has missed two full training camps and part of a third. He has played in seven of a possible 20 preseason games, has sat out at least two offseason camps and more practices than anyone can accurately calculate.
For all of his ailments, Harvin missed only three games in his first three seasons before the Vikings faced the Seahawks on Nov. 4, 2012. The team was in the midst of a 2-5 stretch and Harvin let loose with a verbal sideline tirade against coach Leslie Frazier. His left ankle sprain, suffered a few minutes later, was his final play in a Vikings uniform.
It was never entirely clear why a sprained ankle sidelined Harvin for more than two months, but then again nothing is ever clear -- to anyone else -- in PercyWorld. Regardless, it's quite possible that Harvin will play more Sunday than he has in the 15 months since that injury (33 snaps). Which makes perfect sense, as long as you're talking about Percy Harvin.