Normally when the words Vikings, playoffs, & kicker are used in the same context, it brings back to life painful memories of a franchise that has historically managed to fall short of expectations while agonizing their fan base.
In 1998, the Vikings went 15-1 and captured home field in the NFC playoffs. Kicker Gary Anderson, who was perfect all season, missed a field goal late in the 4th quarter which would have sealed the game to send the Vikings to the Super Bowl. The Falcons went on to tie the game in regulation, and win in overtime.
In week 17 of the 2003 season, the Vikings were 9-6, facing the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals. A win would have sent the Vikings to the playoffs. Instead, facing 4th and 25 on the final play of the game, then rookie QB Josh McCown hit receiver Nate Poole in the end zone as time expired, as the Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention with an 18-17 loss.
The 2009 NFC Championship game had the Vikings driving for the win against the Saints near field goal range when QB Brett Favre was intercepted over the middle of the field as time was winding down in regulation. The Vikings never got the ball back, as the Saints won the toss in OT and went down the field for a Garrett Hartley game winning field goal.
And lastly, there was the 2015 wild card game, when then Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed an easy 22 yard field goal with 20 seconds left to win the game and send the Vikings to the divisional round. They lost 10-9.
Sunday seemed like another entry into the long list of painful moments for the franchise. Leading 17-0 against the Saints at halftime, the Vikings seemed in control. Late in the third quarter, Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas for a TD to make it 17-7. On the ensuing possession, QB Case Keenum was intercepted, and the feeling of déjà vu was so palpable in that stadium you could feel it through the television. Brees found Thomas again at the end of that drive to make the score 17-14.
Later on in the 4th the Saints were eventually able to take their first lead of the day, with Drew Brees hitting a beautiful pass to Alvin Kamara with 3:20 left to make it 21-20. Keenum responded, bringing the Vikings back down the field, where kicker Kai Forbath drilled a 53 yarder to make it 23-21 with 1:30 left. Even with 1 timeout remaining for the Saints, everyone knew it was too much time.
Brees did what he does best, marching the Saints down the field to set up the Saints comfortably in field goal position. Kicker Will Lutz hit a field goal with 25 seconds left to give the Saints the lead at 23-21.
The Vikings, favorites to win the NFC and leading 17-0 at halftime, looked prime for another collapse. Was this really happening again? Was this going to be another entry into the long list of playoff agony? Keenum had one more shot. A first down to Diggs gave the Vikings a glimmer of hope at the beginning of the drive, however after two incomplete passes and 10 seconds left remaining, it looked all but over. This was just going to be another addition to the long list of disappointment.
Then the unthinkable happened. Finally, the Vikings ended up on the right side of playoff history. Keenum hit Diggs by the sideline for a catch. Rookie safety Marcus Williams came up on Diggs and completely whiffed on the tackle, while Diggs was able to stay up and run it in for the walk off touchdown. Pandemonium ensued, as the Vikings pulled off one of the greatest finishes in NFL history.
A team has never played a Super Bowl in its own building. The Vikings will have one more tough challenge to become the first team to do so, as they will travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. While it will be a hard fought battle, the Vikings and their fans will cherish this victory for a long time, as for once the playoff heartbreak was on the other sideline.