I know this will seem completely unrelated to Vikings football, but have you ever seen the 1991 movie Pure Luck with Martin Short? Short plays a man with the worst imaginable luck. As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I relate to that. Things have gone wrong so often that Short’s character is no longer surprised by his bad luck, he just accepts it. Even expects it. It’s who he is.
Vikings fans have been whammied so many times, we sort of expect things to go wrong. It’s who we are. While watching games we murmur, “Please, don’t find a way to screw this up.” But, all too often, they do and we’re not overwhelmingly surprised. Disappointed and disheartened, but not really surprised.
A quarterback gets drafted, we don’t get too excited because, chances are, either ability or circumstances will keep him from being a true franchise quarterback. Our defense might be dominant, but at the back of our minds we doubt that they will be able to hold the opposing offense in check for the full four quarters. Our kicker might kick the ball a mile, just not always through the uprights. We can’t quite let go and believe things will work out for our team.
It gets worse in the playoffs where the Vikings have routinely suffered the slings and darts of outrageous fortune. The Vikings have been on the wrong side of playoff miracles so many times that it has become our identity. Vikings and their fans have been known as snakebitten, cursed. For decades they’ve being the foil for another team or fanbase’s miraculous playoff moments, like in 1975, 1987, 1998, 2009, 2015.
And then on January 14, 2018, with just ten seconds remaining in what looked like a hometown heartbreaker, the Vikings and their fans were on the receiving end of a playoff miracle. Stefon Diggs hauled in a pass from Case Keenum and ran untouched for the 61-yard game-winning touchdown, instantly dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.”
There are so many ways in which that play, Seven Heaven, could have fallen apart. The offensive line could have buckled under pressure from the Saints’ defense, but they held strong. Keenum could have been inaccurate, but he fired a dart. Diggs could have dropped the pass, but he made an incredible leap, perfectly timed, and caught the ball like the second-coming of Cris Carter. Marcus Williams could have tackled Diggs or shoved him out of bounds, but he went low and missed Diggs entirely. Diggs could have stepped out of bounds or his knee could have hit the ground, but Diggs planted a hand on the turf to steady himself like a sprinter and displayed amazing balance to stay upright and in bounds, nothing but the end zone in front of him..
The Vikings didn’t have to pin their hopes on Kai Forbath’s leg, they didn’t have to sit crestfallen and red-eyed in front of their lockers talking about what went wrong, didn’t have to think about next season. They won with a touchdown as time expired. They’re going to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game. Miraculous.
What do you do when you’re so used to expecting the worst that you don’t know what to do with a miracle? You lose your damn mind.
Vikings players hugged, dog-piled, and wept with elation. Case Keenum was so excited he was like a human pinball, bouncing from one hug to the next, hands on his head amazed. Half the team had piled onto the victorious Diggs in the tunnel, then hauled him upright moments later so he could breathe again. Lots of guys just wandered around dazed by what had just happened. Play-by-play announcers howled what we were all thinking, “Unbelievable!”
Fans did pretty much the same. They screamed, jumped up, fell down, ran around like cartoon Tasmanian devils, cried, laughed, cried some more. Like kids surprised with a trip to Disney World, we couldn’t sleep. It was all too wonderful to finally taste the sweet side of a playoff miracle.
The last time anything even came close to this level of overwhelming sports-related joy in Minnesota was when the Minnesota Twins won the 1987 World Series. Minnesota lost it’s collective mind in what was basically a state-wide party. During the victory parade people were literally hanging off of light posts, and dancing on the steps of the capitol building, waving “Homer Hankies”.
But last night’s win was a more potent and sudden shot of joy because it came just as we were expecting heartbreaking loss at the hands of an old foe in our own damn stadium. Hollywood could not craft a more dramatic backdrop for that moment.
Diggs’ touchdown was dramatic, but the Vikings have been piling up small, everyday miracles since Mike Zimmer became head coach. For every knock they have taken, and there have been many, they have found a way to cope, to learn, and to overcome when they could have fallen apart, not learned, and started infighting. Zimmer has worked to develop a winning culture that can create and sustain winning moments.
Maybe there’s a bigger, sneakier miracle going on in Minnesota than a last second touchdown. Maybe the real miracle is that we are finally beginning to believe miracles can happen for the Vikings.