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Zulgad: Tears of joy: Vikings finally able to write a happy ending in playoff game

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS – This time it was different.

That’s why nearly everyone wearing purple on the field Sunday evening was celebrating in disbelief with the clock showing zeroes at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That why fans were chanting Mike Zimmer’s name as they watched his postgame press conference through the glass in the bowels of the stadium.

That’s why Vikings legend Carl Eller was standing in the home locker room, his voice raspy, telling anyone who would listen, “That was fantastic. Go Vikings!”

And that’s why 34-year-old Brian Robison, his 3-year-old son Parker sitting nearby, was in tears as he tried to put into words what he had just seen. Robison is the lone remaining member of the 2009 Vikings, who had suffered a devastating overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game. Robison also was on the 2015 team that lost in the final seconds of a playoff game to Seattle when Blair Walsh missed wide left.

Now, Robison had the responsibility of explaining what it meant to be on the other side of things. The Saints, leading by a point with 10 seconds left in the NFC Divisional playoff game after having rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit, had the Vikings in a third-and-10 at the Minnesota 39.

New Orleans had taken a lead with 29 seconds remaining on Wil Lutz’s 43-yard field goal and Vikings quarterback Case Keenum was running out of time. Keenum, having told his teammates that “I’m going to give somebody a chance,” let fly with a pass deep down the right sideline. Stefon Diggs came down with the ball around the Saints’ 34-yard line before racing into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 29-24 win and set off pandemonium in this downtown Minneapolis stadium.

It might not have erased all of the painful memories of Vikings’ losses past – that will only come with a victory next Sunday over Philadelphia in the NFC title game – but it went a long way toward eliminating the feeling that the Vikings were destined to disappoint whenever the stage got too big.

“I’ve been in this league 11 years, man,” Robison said before stopping in attempt to compose himself. “You don’t know if you’re ever going to have an opportunity like this again. A lot of these young guys take it for granted, but you can’t ever take these opportunities for granted because they are few and far in between and sometimes guys have played 12, 13, 15 plus years in this league and never got this opportunity. You’ve got to grab a hold of it when you can and hold on for dear life.”

That’s exactly what the Vikings were able to do in order to extend what now has been a magical 14-3 season.

“It’s a turning point for everybody,” Diggs said. “The majority of the people doubt us, they don’t think it’s going to happen especially because of history. People have a way of saying history repeats itself, I guess this is not one of those cases.”

The silence in U.S. Bank Stadium in the moments before Keenum found Diggs on a play known as “Seven Heaven” was all too familiar for this franchise.

The disappointments of 2009 and 2015 were preceded by devastating NFC title game losses in 1987 and 1998 and before that there were the four Super Bowl losses and the Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson 50-yard touchdown pass in which Pearson allegedly pushed off on Vikings defender Nate Wright to end the 1975 season in the divisional playoffs. It was on that day that Staubach coined the term “Hail Mary” for a desperation pass. It was somehow fitting it came at the Vikings’ expense.

“It’s huge for this franchise,” Robison said of winning a game like this. “It’s huge for our fan base. But if we don’t go win next week it’s all for not. At the end of the day, we’re not here to win playoff games, we’re here to win championships. This fan base, this organization is thoroughly in need of that.”

All of this pain had led a reporter to ask Zimmer two weeks earlier whether he believed in a curse that has doomed his team to playoff failure. Zimmer shot back that “there’s no damn curse.”

On Sunday, asked about the curse again, Zimmer said: “That didn’t look like a curse out there today. That looked like a Hail Mary.”

Should the Vikings have been in need of that type of miracle? Probably not, given how Minnesota controlled the first half. But it also should not have come as a shock that a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Drew Brees would lead a rally.

Especially after the Saints turned a Keenum interception into a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, and then took a 21-20 lead on a Brees to Alvin Kamara touchdown after Ryan Quigley’s punt was deflected and New Orleans took over at the Vikings’ 40.

The Quigley miscue – along with Kai Forbath’s miss of a 49-yard field-goal attempt near the end of the second quarter and Keenum’s interception – were the exact type of things that Vikings fans have come to expect will go wrong in the postseason.

Only this time, when it mattered most, everything went right for the Vikings. That’s one reason Robison was choking up as he talked to the media Sunday. It’s why Keenum also was near tears in a postgame interview. Finally, a painful collapse that would have haunted the Vikings all offseason had been avoided with a miracle finish.

Robison was prepared to enjoy that finish on Sunday but now, like this team’s fan base, he wants more – namely the opportunity to return to play for the Super Bowl title on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“If we don’t finish it out, then it doesn’t matter,” he said. “For us, we’ve got to finish this thing. … We’ve got to get two more. We’ve got to get two more.”

The post Zulgad: Tears of joy: Vikings finally able to write a happy ending in playoff game appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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