For Vikings fans, the Minnesota Miracle helped ease 20+ years of playoff heartbreak. Tonight, the Vikings and Saints face each other for the first time since that cold January day.
The Minnesota Miracle was one of those NFL moments that had fans around the globe staring at their television screens in utter disbelief.
Baseball has its fair share of walk off home runs and buzzer beaters occur relatively often in basketball, but a game-winning touchdown with time expiring had never occurred in the playoffs in the NFL’s 98 seasons. That changed in the Minnesota Vikings versus New Orleans Saints Divisional Round playoff game on January 14, 2018.
It’s a day Vikings fans will remember forever and one that Saints fans are still trying to forget.
“I sat in disbelief that it had just happened. Like, just a blank stare at the TV. I maybe sat still for five to 10 minutes just wondering what in the world just happened and how. It hurt,” says John Hendrix, a Saints fan and site manager for SB Nation’s Saints website, Canal Street Chronicles.
Let’s rewind to the scene of the play. With 29 seconds left in the game, Saints kicker Will Lutz kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Saints a 24-23 lead over the Vikings. It looked like New Orleans was going to win the game, but Minnesota had one last chance to score with the clock ticking.
Christopher Gates, a Vikings fan and site manager for Daily Norseman, SB Nation’s Vikings website had assumed it was going to be all down hill from there.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about how poorly the Vikings had played for much of the second half,” says Gates. “They went into the locker room with a 17-0 halftime lead, and it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing to the NFC Championship Game. Then, Case Keenum started throwing YOLO balls and the Vikings’ defense decided not to stop anyone. I had actually resigned myself to a loss when the Saints were facing a 4th-and-10 late in the game with the Vikings leading 23-21 and Drew Brees converted with a first down that put the Saints in field goal range. I assumed that they would do enough to run out the clock and kick the field goal.”
But, that’s not what happened.
After a touchback, Vikings offensive tackle Mike Remmers was called for a false start. Now it’s first-and-15 at the Minnesota 20. Case Keenum throws a 19-yard pass to Stephon Diggs. He catches it. First down; timeout, Minnesota. The next play was an incomplete pass. Timeout, New Orleans. With 14 seconds remaining, Keenum throws another incomplete pass. Now there’s 10 seconds to go at the Minnesota 39-yard line. Keenum launches a ball down the field to Diggs. He catches it around New Orleans’ 34-yard line, nearly falls, but steadies himself and takes it to the house for the game-winning touchdown.
Diggs throws off his helmet, his teammates tackle him, and the crowd goes wild.
“It’s really tough to describe the feeling after the play, to be honest,” Gates says. “This sort of thing pretty much always happens to the Vikings rather than for them. It’s honestly a feeling that I had never experienced before, because rather than getting your heart ripped out in the most excruciating fashion possible, the team wearing purple actually came through in a big way and went home with one of the biggest wins in recent franchise history.”
The Minnesota Miracle has become an anthem, of sorts, for Vikings fans.
“I still watch the clip to get pumped,” said Frank Bi, SB Nation’s editorial engineer and a life-long Vikings fan. “Pretty sure I watched it before I went jogging last weekend.”
The Vikings have experienced plenty of playoff heartbreak. There was the 41-0 loss to the Giants in 2001. Their 17-14 loss to the Cowboys in 1975 is credited with giving the term “Hail Mary” life. There’s also Blair Walsh’s infamous 27-yard field goal miss with time expiring in the wild card round of the playoffs following the 2015 season. If he made the chip shot, the Vikings would have beaten the Seahawks. These are just a few quintessential moments of playoff heartbreak for the Vikings.
“That one catch made me forget about 20+ years of Vikings fandom heartbreak,” Bi said of the Minnesota Miracle. “Albeit the next week, it was back to reality.”
If you believe in superstitions, Bi’s decision to take his pants off right before Diggs’ catch may have been the reason for the Vikings’ win.
The fan who lost hope — and missed the play
With so much playoff atrocity, it’s not hard to imagine Vikings fans losing hope and thinking the game was over after Lutz’s field goal. That was the case with Eric T. Thompson, a lead writer for Daily Norseman.
“I was at a friend’s place in the Twin Cities. There were about 15-20 people there watching the game, including all our kids,” Thompson recalls. “After Drew Brees connected with Willie Snead on 4th-and-10 to put the Saints in field goal range, I figured that was it. Lutz was going to make the field goal and the Vikings were going to exit the playoffs in godawful fashion yet again. With so many friends and my family around, I just needed to get out of there. I didn’t want to have a complete meltdown in front of everyone, so I started packing our things into the car. I heard Joe Buck confirm that the kick had gone through just as we left the house.”
“THE VIKINGS HAD LOST LIKE THIS SO MANY TIMES BEFORE! I didn’t see Morten Andersen’s field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship Game live either — I was already outside of a friend’s house that day too,” Thompson says. “I really didn’t want my two young daughters to see me throw a tantrum like I did back then. I figured I’d keep as calm as possible and quietly drive home while screaming internally. It was the grown up thing to do. Besides, Minnesota had gotten about six inches of snow the night before, so I figured I could release my visceral rage with some shoveling.”
But once he got into the car, Thompson’s friend called him and told him the news: The Vikings won.
“I thought my friend was pulling a prank on me for being a sore sport,” Thompson says. “I had to turn on the radio and hear the local announcers going ballistic before I believed him. My first thought was whipping a U-turn in the snow and getting back to the house right away. After that, it was just a haze of happy disbelief. We watched the play at least 50 times on DVR, just sort of standing there and laughing to ourselves.”
Thompson says he’s “at peace” with missing the play in real-time. “Leaving my buddy’s house early just adds a fun twist,” he says.
The over-confident Saints fan
Like Thompson, many Saints fans assumed that following Lutz’s field goal the Saints were moving on to play the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Mike Effler is one of those Saints fans; he was watching the game at home with his father and sister.
“After the Saints scored, we were nervous for the first couple plays, but we were making plans to watch the Saints/Eagles the following week, and were actually discussing what to cook for the game when Diggs made the catch,” Effler recalls.
“Before Diggs’ catch, my thoughts were how amazing Drew Brees really is. Our offense couldn’t muster anything in the first half. It felt like the Seahawks playoff games. But then in the second half we came back. On the road. A masterful game.”
After Diggs’ catch, Effler was left pondering how the Saints defense let down the team, again.
“Our damn defense went full-on-Saints.”
So what should we expect in a regular-season rematch of these two teams who are both on a journey to make it back to the playoffs this season?
Keenum is gone as he’s quarterbacking the Denver Broncos. Now it’s the Kirk Cousins show in Minnesota and Adam Thielen (not Diggs) is the star receiver making all the headlines. Thielen has a chance at history on Sunday as he’s recorded at least 100 receiving yards in each of Minnesota’s first seven games this season and can surpass Charley Hennigan (seven consecutive games to start the 1961 season) to become the only player in NFL history with 100 or more receiving yards in each of his team’s first eight games to start a season. If Thielen accomplishes that feat, he’ll also join Calvin Johnson as the only players to record eight consecutive games (not necessarily the first eight) with at least 100 receiving yards in NFL history.
“I think it’s a great matchup that should probably feature a lot of points,” Thompson said of his expectations for Sunday. “The Saints offense is really tough to stop, especially Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. I hope I’m wrong, but I think New Orleans wins in a close one on Sunday night.”
Hendrix is expecting much of the game.
“I really think the Saints play this game hard, and with the Rams up next … I believe they have to win at least one of these next two games to really be taken seriously in the NFL,” he says. “If the Saints are going to take the next step, then what better way than to get a road win in primetime and go on to beat the powerful Rams at home next week?”
As for Effler, he makes a good point about Saints head coach Sean Payton.
“Payton is confident and at times cocky. He wants to punish the team,” Effler says. “I think he’s embarrassed by his SKOL clap and wants to redeem himself.
We’ll find out how this battle plays out in primetime on NBC at 8:20 p.m. ET.
Read more: sbnation.com