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Three Teachable Moments from the 'Minneapolis Miracle'


Key playmakers for the Vikings aren’t blue-chip players who netted million-dollar bonuses upon reaching the NFL. Case Keenum and Adam Thielen were undrafted, and Stefon Diggs was a fifth-round pick. They know, through experience, not to take anything for granted.

With 10 seconds remaining in Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game, Minnesota Vikings fans started to leave U.S. Bank Stadium, many not wanting to relive the franchise's countless heartbreaking, last-minute losses.

Yet those who stayed watched quarterback Case Keenum launch a pass toward the right sideline, Stefon Diggs leap up to haul it in … and Saints safety Marcus Williams awkwardly stumble past, allowing the Vikings receiver to race 61 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

As a father, I’m always looking for ways to reinforce character values to my children. And “The Minneapolis Miracle,” as Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen dubbed the unprecedented walk-off finish to an NFL playoff game, had three teachable lessons I shared with my kids.

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1. EVERY SECOND COUNTS

Trailing 24-23, the Vikings started their final drive with 25 seconds remaining. Then offensive tackle Mike Remmers was flagged for a false start. The Vikings’ next three plays netted just 19 yards, and they faced a 3rd and 10 from their own 39-yard line with 10 seconds left.

Many associated with the Vikings — from fans to former players, coaches and staffers — undoubtedly were feeling, “Here we go again!”

As a Vikings beat writer for 10 seasons, I documented many of those moments. It’s also hard to forget receiver Randy Moss walking off the field, the Vikings trailing 21-18, with two seconds remaining against the Washington Redskins in 2004.

Yet key playmakers for this season’s Vikings aren’t blue-chip players who netted million-dollar bonuses upon reaching the NFL. Keenum and star wide receiver Adam Thielen were undrafted, and Diggs was a fifth-round pick. They know, through experience, not to take anything for granted.

So Keenum told his teammates before the final play, “Hey, let’s get a chunk or two and see what happens.” Meanwhile, Diggs said, “We have a group of fighters, guys that fight … until the clock hits zero.”
 

2. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

There are obviously two sides to the “Minneapolis Miracle.” And the Saints player forever linked to the play will be safety Marcus Williams.

After the game, some Saints players reportedly tried to protect the rookie from reporters. On social media, as often is the case, some crossed lines, with expletive-filled rants and even threats. Others, meanwhile, downplayed the play and highlighted a standout rookie season during which he intercepted four passes and defended seven passes.

But this fact remains: Williams failed to execute. The Saints called an outside zone, which means the defense is trying to force a play away from the sideline, which would allow the Vikings to stop the clock and kick a potential game-winning field goal. And as the free safety, Williams is usually the last line of defense, especially on that play. Yet he awkwardly overran Diggs and bumped one of his own teammates, providing Diggs a clear path to the end zone.

Some critics would blame reporters for wanting to speak to Williams, given the magnitude of his mistake. Yet NFL rules require players to, “be available to the media following every game and regularly during the practice week.”

Williams, who was teary-eyed, did speak to the media — and he handled himself with class. He didn’t make excuses, and he lamented that he should have attacked the ball. He also offered some wisdom. 

“You have to overcome it, and do not let it beat you down,” he said. “I am going to take it upon myself to make sure that never happens again.”

3. GRACIOUS IN VICTORY, HUMBLE IN DEFEAT

Even on Monday morning, as we reflected on an action-packed Sunday, my 10-year-old son Elijah pointed his finger in the wrong direction following his youth soccer team’s 4-4 tie.

Asked what he learned from his game, he said, “We had a garbage ref,” blaming the official for providing an opposing player a questionable penalty kick on the game’s final play. (Obviously, we have lots of work to do with him!)

But once he settled down, Elijah reinforced that his team could have played through the final whistle and tightened up its defense.

In the NFL playoff game Sunday night, players and coaches reminded us how to act in victory and defeat. “First off, congratulations Minnesota,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “It was an exciting game and obviously a disappointing game to lose in the fashion we did.” He tipped the proverbial cap to the Vikings and acknowledged his feelings.

Meanwhile, Thielen complimented the Saints on being a tremendous adversary. “We knew this team is an unbelievable football team,” Thielen said. “We knew the Saints were going to be the toughest test we’ve had all year. I knew it was going to be a fight, but I had no idea it was going to end like that.”

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