by Thomas U. Tuttle
My trip to Philadelphia in 2005 didn’t end well, and it didn’t finish on a positive note for coach Mike Tice or the Minnesota Vikings. On a cold January 16th, after the Purple had defeated the Green Bay Packers in a Wild Card game 31-17 on January 9th, the Vikings were humbled 27-14 by Donovan McNabb and company in chilly Philly.
After the game – and the news conference and player interviews – I headed down to a restaurant not far from the stadium to meet a college buddy who was at the game. It was packed with green and white jerseys and the libations were flowing.
Philly might have an actual jail in their home park, and the fans might boo a cure for cancer, but when they win it’s a Big Time Party like few others. I made very sure not to let any of the rowdies in the place know I was in from Minnesota, especially after seeing the verbal pummeling a guy in a Daunte Culpepper jersey was taking.
Minnesota’s victory the previous week over Green Bay was on the road and expectations were high for another road win to put the Vikes in the NFC championship game against Atlanta. But the game felt like it was over at halftime, with the Eagles up 21-7 and in control. Philadelphia moved on to defeat Atlanta and make Super Bowl XXXIX, where they were bested by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 24-21.
The Vikings under Brad Childress were favored to beat Philly at home in the Wild Card game following the 2008 season, but again it was too much Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook as Minnesota fell 26-14. They had their chances and were only down 16-14 in the fourth quarter, but no dice, as they say. The Purple defense couldn’t make key stops, and the Eagles pulled away.
I distinctly remember the quiet of the Vikings locker room following the game. You could have heard a pin drop if not for the carpeting. Adrian Peterson, who had given his all and played a fine game, had his head down and was unable to speak for some time. These kind of things hurt even grown men. “Toughest loss of my life,” he told me later. “We had them.”
Except they didn’t, and neither did the New Orleans Saints have the Vikes last Sunday after the “Minnesota Miracle” took place. Getting tired of that expression? Me too. It was a phenomenal play and one of the greatest sports moments I’ve witnessed in my life, but it was simply a wonderful football play that went terrifically right for the Vikes and terrifically wrong for the Saints.
As Aretha Franklin and Harry Carey used to say, “it’s an evil wind that blows no good for someone.”
High quality safety Marcus Williams blew the play, the New Orleans defense really wasn’t set up right for those final moments, and Case Keenum threw a great pass. Stefon Diggs made an excellent grab – and then escaped for the touchdown that now sends the boys back to…
….Philadelphia, for the NFC championship game and the rare opportunity for a home Super Bowl.
The admittedly wondrous play has given the Purple gang another shot at a team that has had their number over the years. But this is an Eagles team that is banged up and playing a second string quarterback due to injury – though a second-stringer (Nick Foles) who used to be a first team QB, and a pretty fair one at that!
The Vikings can do this, and they don’t need a miracle. They need to create some offense via the run, which means the offensive line needs to play a strong game. And the pass protection has to be improved from the second half of the Saints game. Remember, Philadelphia’s defense is their strength, too.
The Vikings defense seemed shaky in that second half. Remember, Drew Brees surgically eliminated the 17-0 lead the home team enjoyed at the half, giving New Orleans the lead and the potential win. “Bend but not break” defense needs to be stronger all the way around. It’s just a fact – the Vikings were going down without a miracle on the final play of the game!
Okay, maybe it was something special from Heaven. Or at least a gift from the football Gods…