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A TED Talk, Wildcard Round

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Chasing the ghosts of 1987

1987 NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Minnesota Vikings vs San Francisco 49ers - January 9, 1988

Hi kids. Are we all still on cloud nine, or are we coming down off that ‘kick the Saints out of the playoffs AGAIN’ high already? In 2017, the Minneapolis Miracle stayed with me for 3-4 days, and as exciting as this win was, it’s pretty much ebbed for me emotionally. I’m already looking forward to the next game, and I suspect the Vikings players are, too. I can’t imagine being a player in either game; heck, as a fan I was up and down, and I ran the gamut of emotion, as I’m sure we all did.

But the Miracle win was different than this. It was such a shock, so unexpected, that when it happened you needed more time to digest what you just witnessed, sort through your feelings, re-live it about 500 times, and then try to focus on what was next. It took me until Thursday, probably, to come down from that game, and it felt like the NFC Championship was almost anticlimactic. I doubt you’ll ever get any member of the 2017 Vikings to admit that, but we all processed that game in many similar ways. I’m sure that even though a trip to the Super Bowl, at home, hung in the balance, there were some players that had similar feelings.

It happens, we’re all human beings first. Athletes are no different, and heck, when you live the moment the feelings have to be all the more visceral.

This game had much more the feel of a ‘normal’ win, though, if that makes any sense. There was no Thunderclap From The Gods that suddenly changes certain defeat into improbable victory. There was a football game. One with big stakes, but still a football game that unfolded in a more traditional style. Two teams played it close for four quarters and then some, with the ebbs and flows of a regular game, and no Divine Intervention that altered the outcome. Although the Adam Thielen catch was a defining moment for Kirk Cousins and Thielen, the play allowed us to mentally prepare for what was about to happen, and the post-game reaction in the locker room, while jubilant, wasn’t one of disbelief like it felt in 2017. It’s a great, great win, one of the best in franchise history, but it’s not one that will linger like the Miracle did.

And that’s okay.

I will say, though, that beating the Saints, on a walk off TD, for the second time in three years?

Not disappointing.

Not surprisingly, Saints fans are complaining they got robbed on another no-call for the second year in a row, and I have to say that if there’s a whinier fan base in America, a fan base that’s benefitted from terrible non-calls in the past, I find it more than a bit ironic. So what does the guy that caught the game winning TD think about it?

He’s right. Anyway, Vikings win. We’ll look back on it fondly, but I’m over it.

There’s bigger walleye to catch.

I don’t know how many of you were alive for the 1987 playoff run that saw the Vikes fall short on the goal line at old RFK Stadium in Washington. There are a lot of parallels to that year, yet there are no parallels, because this team is 32 years removed from that run that made Anthony Carter a Vikings legend for all time.

But, there are a couple weird coincidences. Entering yesterday’s game against the Saints, the Vikings were given almost no chance against one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Same deal in 1987. The Saints had won nine straight and had looked unbeatable in the process. The Vikings beatdown that was about to happen was a foregone conclusion to just about every single person in America.

The Vikings started off slow yesterday, fumbling on their first possession, and leading to a Saints score. The 1987 Vikings also fumbled on their first possession, and that led to a Saints score. Going down early is usually bad, but give the Vikings credit--they bounced back, took it to the Saints, and won the game.

There’s one more coincidence here, and it’s this week’s opponent. Once again, the Vikings are going on the road to San Francisco to face the number one seed in the NFL, and already, very few people are giving the Vikings a chance. In 1987, no one was giving the Vikes a chance, either. The 49ers were 14-1 (1987 was a strike year and one game was lost due to that), and were in the midst of the Joe Montana-Bill Walsh dynasty.

These 49ers are a bit different, as it’s the first playoff game for Handsome Jimmy Valiant Garoppolo. But, there’s a reason they’re the top seed in the NFL—they have a ridiculously good defense, an offense that is almost as good, and one of the brighter coaching minds in the game with Kyle Shanahan. The Vikings will have their hands full with what might be the most athletic defense they’ll face all year, and a running game that can grind opponents into dust. Add in the fact the Vikings will be travelling to the West Coast and playing on a short week, and once again Minnesota faces what most people think are impossible odds.

This was the same feeling in 1987, for those of us old enough to remember.

All is not lost, though. The Vikings played their best game of the season yesterday against what a lot of people thought was the best team in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. They rattled a future first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback into making uncharacteristic mistakes by bringing pressure with unconventional personnel groups and blitzes. If they can rattle Drew Brees, they can rattle Jimmy G. He’s thrown the most interceptions (13) of any remaining playoff quarterback, and also has the highest interception rate as well.

On defense, the 49ers are first in the NFL against the pass, but just okay against the run. As we saw with a healthy Dalvin Cook back, this Vikings offense looks every bit as good as it did in most of September and October, and the strengths the Vikings bring to the table are possible chinks in the armor of San Francisco that the Vikings could exploit. They’ll need to neutralize San Francisco’s strengths to get out of Santa Clara with a win, and the margin of error gets smaller the farther you advance in the playoffs.

But to say they have no chance? That’s simply untrue. Still, 2019 isn’t 1987. Just because the Vikings won then and there are some eerily weird parallels doesn’t mean they’re going to win Saturday.

It doesn’t mean they’re going to lose, either.

If you missed all my previous TED Talks or SMR’s, or anything else I’ve written or said here, I think this bears repeating: I firmly believe the Vikings have one the most 2-3 talented rosters in the NFL, and if they can get everyone going in the same direction at the same time, they’re one hell of a good team.

On Sunday, that happened. So now, on Saturday, one hell of a good team will face another hell of a good team, with the winner going to the NFC Championship. That’s more than 24 other teams in the NFL can say right now, and that’s all that matters.

Thank you for listening to my TED Talk.