This would seem to be a good time to write about race relations, what with Monday being Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That’s what I did on this page this time last year, and the year before.
However, despite my best efforts the last two years, racism is alive and well, so for now, I’ll move on to an easier topic: Why what is being called the Minnesota Miracle has me grinning like a jackass eating briars.
If revenge is a dish best eaten cold, I had a full plate of it Sunday evening, and it tasted good, as does the aftertaste.
But before I tell you why a last-second touchdown pass continues to tickle my fancy, let me set the stage by taking you back several decades – actually, to another millennium.
In the early 1970s, a young lad, looking very much like a much younger and shorter version of myself growing up in Lexington, developed an affinity for the Minnesota Vikings. There seemed to be no particular reason for this fandom, as I had no relatives in Minnesota, and in fact, still haven’t visited the North Star State.
Maybe it was the logo on the helmets, a horn fairly easy for an untalented artist to draw. Perhaps it was the purple that’s the prime color of the team’s uniform, a color that no other NFL team at the time wore. Maybe it was their defense, the front four of which were nicknamed “The Purple People Eaters.” Maybe it was Fran Tarkenton, the undersized scrambling quarterback the Vikings brought back to the fold in 1972. And maybe it was the fact that during the first eight years of that decade, they were darn good, and usually played home playoff games in the snow, which they usually won.
They were darn good, that is, until they reached the Super Bowl, at which point other darn better teams beat them four times. I was too young to watch – or remember, anyway – their loss in Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The next three outings – 1974 against the Dolphins, 1975 against the Steelers, and 1977 against the Raiders – I remember quite well.
In eight years, the Vikings lost four Super Bowls, a runner-up performance the world hadn’t seen and wouldn’t until more than a decade later with the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, there have been other heartbreaking losses since then.
Three days after Christmas in 1975, the Vikes were the victims of the original Hail Mary pass when the Cowboys’ Roger Staubach (credited for introducing that term to sports) threw a 50-yard touchdown pass with seconds left.
In the playoffs following the 1998 season, which the Vikings finished 15-1, their field goal kicker missed for the first time all year, and the
Falcons came back and beat them.
Eleven years later, the Saints hit Vikes QB Brett Favre so often and so late that by the end of the game, with the Vikings driving, he had trouble walking. Already in field goal range, Favre chose to pass rather than run for a short first down. The pass was intercepted, and the good guys lost.
In January 2016, another Vikings field goal kicker missed a chip shot that would have iced a playoff game against the Seahawks. So, Sunday night, a man who’d begun the season as the third-string quarterback, an undersized fellow named Case Keenum (see Tarkenton, Fran), had 25 seconds left to get the Vikes into field goal position. After dominating the first half, they were down by a point, and began the drive on their 25-yard line.
It didn’t look good, particularly after a penalty on first down.
With 10 seconds and no timeouts left, Keenum faded back to pass from the Minnesota 39. The unlikely goal was to complete a pass close enough for a very long field goal and get the heck out of bounds to stop the clock.
Unlikelier still was what happened: a game-winning 61-yard TD pass to Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
I don’t know whether the Vikings win the next game, or, if so, Super Bowl 52, which will be played in their home stadium. Maybe they will, and in the process, add a second cleft to Tom Brady’s face – on a completely legal hit, of course.
Race relations matter far more than who wins a sporting event, but considering the state of the former these days, I’m quite happy to dwell on the Minnesota Miracle for a few more days.