by Thomas U. Tuttle
The Minnesota Vikings play a Big One Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints, a formidable opponent that just won a Big One last week over Can Newton’s Carolina Panthers. It’s playoff football time, and every contest is potentially one and done, now or never, etc…
The Saints are led by Drew Brees, and the old Purdue Boilermaker (class of 2000, winner of Super Bowl XLIV) seems better than ever, leading a confident, improved team that believes it’s ready to avenge an early season 29-19 loss in Minneapolis.
Remember Sam Bradford setting the completion percentage record a year ago, breaking the mark held by Drew Brees? Brees broke that one again this year to reclaim the top spot in the category.
New Orleans is supremely confident after the workmanlike victory over the Panthers, and why not? They are firing on all cylinders with a developed running game featuring Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, both of whom have good hands and know how to carry the ball after the catch.
The Saints beat the Panthers for the third time last weekend, a feat said to be difficult to accomplish in one season. The Vikings need to win a second consecutive battle with New Orleans, a manageable proposition if that vaunted, league-leading Purple defense comes out firing and pressures Brees from the get-go.
I’m not the only person who wonders how the tough and tenacious 5 – 10 QB almost always gets the ball off despite a ferocious rush by large defenders, averaging 6-4 in height, closing in with their arms extended.
Much taller men in his position seem to take more of a beating and have more balls batted down than he does, and Brees tends to consistently put the ball on the spot while moving.
It’s not usually one play, or one moment that decides a football game, or so they say. For many in the coaching profession such a cliche is a mantra, designed to deflect criticism, or scrutiny, or something…
Nah, don’t believe it. Just last week Georgia, leading by two touchdowns, was going in for a score to put the National Championship game away against Alabama. Alas, the young Bulldog QB Jake Fromm bounced a pass off the helmet of a Georgia offensive lineman into Alabama’s hands – a huge interception in the red zone!
The next sound you heard in Atlanta was the groan of despair. They knew what was coming soon… defeat, and another Alabama national title. It was just a matter of time.
I’ve been blessed to have seen many sporting events, of a wide variety. From Olympic Games to World Series to Super Bowls. Okay, maybe not as many SB’s as my running mate Eric Nelson (25 SB’s) and certainly not as many as Mr Super Bowl (over 35 and counting, including one with his son participating) Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.
But one game stands out as the toughest defeat of all time. The 1999 overtime loss to Atlanta, in the 1998-99 NFC Championship game. You remember that one, the game where the Vikings snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Man, that was brutal.
Many people forget that Atlanta and QB Chris Chandler came out of the gate fast on that cold January day, scoring a touchdown on their first possession in a mere five plays. But then Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss, along with Robert Smith and the gang, turned up the heat on the Falcons and were trying to put the game away at the end of the first half.
Trying too hard, it turned out, with an interception just before halftime leading to an unexpected touchdown for Atlanta that seemed to shift momentum in favor of Chris Chandler and his crew.
Still, when Gary Anderson came on to kick a 38-yard field goal and put the Vikes up by 10 points with two minutes and change left in the game, the door on the Dirty Birds season would officially close. Anderson had not missed a field goal all season. The first man in NFL history to accomplish such a feat, and this was a mere chip shot for the veteran.
The snap looked good, the kicking motion smooth, the ball rotated nicely and…wide left…WIDE LEFT? It couldn’t be! The Purple faithful in the Metrodome let out a sound that I can remember hearing in the press box to this day.
A soft, lingering gasp – with a touch of forboding. AAHHHhhhhhhh…….with a little OOOHHhhhhhh….
Atlanta took the ball and scorched a suspect Vikings secondary for a touchdown pass from Chandler to Terrance Mathis with just under a minute left, then stopped the take-a-knee Purple to close out regulation time.
They stuffed the vaunted but shaken Vikings offense again in overtime, and marched to solid field position for the game ending, Morten Anderson field goal. 30 to 27, Dirty Birds on top.
Toughest. Loss. Ever.
Let’s hope this is the year a Minnesota Vikings team gives the hurt rather than receives it. And I’m not going to touch the four lost Super Bowls, because I’m not old enough to remember…right?