Sunday’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings has already been turned up a notch due to it being a divisional contest, but now, it’s been cranked up even more after ex-Packer-and-now-Viking Za’Darius Smith called out his former team in a recent interview.
While it was never made official, it was pretty clear something went sideways between Smith and the Packers in the end. Teams and players don’t just split like that after the instant success Smith had during his first two years.
According to Smith, it was the Packers’ mistreatment of him that prompted the early departure.
And it’s also what led him to sign with the Vikings back in March.
“I played one year of high school football,” Smith said in a recent interview with Go Long TD‘s Tyler Dunne. “For me to be where I’m at today, that’s how you know I love the game. I put my all into it. That’s why I felt the way I did with Green Bay — I gave that s— my all. I put my blood, sweat … I put my back on the f—ing line. I put everything. And that Year 3, I was treated bad.
“That’s why I’m here now. So, I can play them twice a year.”
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur doesn’t see things that way, however.
“I respect the crap out of ‘Z’ as a player,” LaFleur told reporters Wednesday. “He busted his butt [and] did a lot of great things. I think we may have a different perspective of how things transpired. So I’ll just leave it at that.”
There’s some history that adds a little context, here, as well. Smith joked on The Rich Eisen Show back in May that he was excited “to hit Aaron Rodgers”, so his latest remark tracks. He clearly has some resentment toward the Packers, even though he previously told Eisen otherwise.
“Everybody is good upstairs,” said Smith. “I really want to thank them, for like I said, giving me the opportunity. Because when I was going to Green Bay, nobody knew who Za’Darius Smith was. But, those people upstairs -in a good way- put me in a situation to show my talent and become one of the best outside linebackers/pass rushers in this league.
“Nothing went bad. It was just situations that happened. So, like I said, I just want to thank them. But I can’t wait to see them for the first game.”
Regardless of how Smith really feels, it’s clear he has flipped a switch. The regular season has started and the Packers are the first -and biggest- obstacle in his team’s way of a division title and subsequent playoff berth.
And it looks like he’s going to use whatever beef he has with the organization as fuel for a big performance on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a party, I can tell you that much,” said Smith. “It’s going to be a big show. It’s going to be a very big show, being able to go back there.”