EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Anthony Barr has scrolled through the social media hate messages directed at him from disgruntled fans of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
One of them even arrived in the mail.
When Barr and the Vikings visit Green Bay on Saturday night, the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is bound to be the primary target of jeers at Lambeau Field. Barr, after all, delivered the hit that broke Rodgers’ collarbone and sidelined him for nearly eight games, derailing a promising season for the Packers.
“It’s inevitable. Aaron Rodgers is to Green Bay what LeBron is to Cleveland,” Barr said. “You’re responsible in a way for their guy going down, you’re going to take some heat. It just comes with the territory.”
No matter how profane or vile the sentiments on Instagram or Twitter, Barr has shrugged them off. That’s befitting of his laid-back Los Angeles personality, a soft-spoken style that’s a polar opposite of the strength, instinct and speed Barr has displayed on the field in Minnesota’s dominant defense.
“He’s having a great year. He’s playing really good. He’s been very active. He’s on top of things. He makes a lot of checks for the defense,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who helped make Barr the first draft pick of his tenure when the Vikings took him ninth overall out of UCLA in 2014.
With the athleticism of a running back that he started his college career as, Barr has represented the prototype for a linebacker in Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme with the ability to blitz by the center, drop into coverage and roam from side to side in run support. He’s third on the team with 84 tackles, eight for loss, according to statistics compiled from the coaching staff’s film review.
“I didn’t really know what to expect or where I was going to fit in, but I soon learned that there was a spot for me and that I could make an impact in different ways,” Barr said, leaning his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame back in a folding chair at team headquarters after a recent practice.
Smarts are another important asset.
“I’m very situationally aware,” he said. “I feel like they’ve done a good job, the coaching staff and my teammates, of really easing the learning curve for me.”
Near the end of the 2016 season that was a disappointment for most everyone in purple, Zimmer said Barr sometimes had a “tendency to coast a little bit.” Perhaps that was simply part of the Southern California cool he carries, but the comment from the coach served as motivation for Barr to raise his performance in 2017.
Off the field, he’s plenty inspired, too.
His mother, Lori Barr, is the engineer of the fledgling Raise The Barr foundation, which is designed to support single moms with college scholarships and day-care assistance, among other benefits. The focus is on applicants from California and Minnesota, for now. The goal is to one day spread the program nationally.
“You see these people and think we were once in their shoes. It just reminds you of where you came from and how you got to where you are,” Barr said. “It just makes you appreciate everything that’s come your way.”
Barr’s father is Tony Brooks , once a star running back at Notre Dame. He and Lori dated while they were in college, and Anthony was born the month before Brooks went to the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 1992 NFL draft. They eventually broke up, though, and the Barrs moved to California to be near family.
Lori worked as a waitress to help continue her higher education, all the while raising Anthony on her own. She finished her degree, became a counselor and, later, a school principal. Anthony still tries to check in with Brooks from time to time, but they’ve never had a close relationship.
“My mom’s been an educator almost her whole life and is a very selfless person,” Barr said, reflecting on the impetus for starting his foundation last year. “I have a lot of those qualities, too.”
Raise The Barr has reached double digits in scholarship awards.
“We do feel like education is the benchmark to breaking the cycle of poverty,” Barr said. “Education is knowledge is power, as cliche as it sounds.”
Rodgers won’t have the opportunity for revenge on Saturday night, because he’s been placed back on injured reserve with the Packers eliminated from postseason contention. Brett Hundley will start instead , with the NFC North champion Vikings (11-3) chasing a first-round bye for the playoffs.
The fans might not have forgotten Barr’s takedown of Rodgers to the U.S. Bank Stadium turf on Oct. 15, but the Packers haven’t exactly been dwelling on it more than two months later.
“It’s football. You take hits like that, and things happen,” Packers linebacker Nick Perry said. “You can’t control those things.”