Minnesota Vikings defensive end Hercules Mata’afa tweeted, then deleted, a clown emoji shortly after being cut last month. He explained it as his emotions getting the best of him during a moment of frustration.
“I feel like I was really getting my opportunity, and then when I got released, I knew how hard it was to stay in this league,” Mata’afa said. “I was frustrated with myself, so I posted that clown emoji. It’s just part of my story.”
Since then, Mata’afa has made sure it has remained part of his story, leaning into his usage of the clown emoji on Twitter, while parlaying a second chance into some meaningful production on the field.
He signed with the Vikings’ practice squad a day after being cut, got bumped up to the active roster a couple of weeks after that, and has made his presence felt this month in wins over the Packers, Lions and Bears.
“I had to reevaluate myself and how I wanted to be as a player,” Mata’afa said. “I wasn’t doing enough to be on the team, so as soon as I signed with practice squad, I went into that week thinking like, ‘This is it. I’m going to go out and show every day in practice what I can do for this team to contribute.'”
And that is exactly what he has done over the past few weeks.
He had what some would consider a breakout performance against the Bears on Monday Night Football, pestering Chicago quarterback Nick Foles all night, finishing the 19-13 victory with three quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits and one tackle for a loss. Veteran safety Anthony Harris was the only Vikings defender who finished with a better grade in the game than Mata’afa, according to Pro Football Focus.
After the game, Mata’afa took to Twitter once again, this time tweeting, “I BELONG IN THIS LEAGUE!” He followed it up with a clown emoji for good measure.
“It was a big-time game, and I felt like I contributed to the team and played my role to help us win,” Mata’afa said. “That game was kind of part of the underdog story.”
The rest is still unwritten for the 25-year-old Hawaii native. All he knows is he must continue to prove himself on a weekly basis.
“I’ve always been an underdog my whole career — high school, college, to now in the NFL,” he said. “My opportunity is finally coming, and I’m trying to make the best out of it.”