Thursday will mark the ninth anniversary of the Vikings’ 31-28 loss to New Orleans in the NFC title game at the Louisiana Superdome.
In the nine seasons since, the Vikings have gone 71-71-2, they have lost two games in the wild card round and another NFC title game. They have made three head coaching changes, going from Brad Childress to Leslie Frazier to Mike Zimmer. They have moved from the dark-and-dingy Metrodome to the luxurious U.S. Bank Stadium and from the antiquated Winter Park in Eden Prairie to the state of the art TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
Despite all of these changes, and how much time has passed, there is one thing that remains the same — at least among the team’s fan base: The hatred for the New Orleans Saints and the joy Vikings fans take when bad things happen to the team with the fleur-de-lis on its helmet.
One wondered if Minnesota fans might have taken a step toward forgiving the Saints after the Vikings shocked them in the NFC Divisional round last season at U.S. Bank Stadium. Stefon Diggs’ sprint into the end zone after he caught a last-second pass from Case Keenum — and after Saints safety Marcus Williams somehow failed to tackle Diggs — caused plenty of heartache in New Orleans.
But judging from the joy that many of the Vikings faithful took in celebrating the Saints’ 26-23 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the NFC championship game, it’s clear they will never tire of seeing the Saints suffer.
Rams cornerback Nickell-Robey Coleman gets away with a clear pass interference, not to mention a helmet-to-helmet hit, on New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis and no flag is thrown by referee Bill Vinovich’s crew?
In Minnesota, this resulted in knowing smiles and the feeling that karma again had come into play.
This, of course, doesn’t have to do with the fact that the Saints simply beat the Vikings on Jan. 24, 2010, in the Superdome. It’s how they beat them, or at least the marching orders they received before that game. Watching Vikings quarterback Brett Favre get absolutely beat up during the course of four quarters, it seemed the Saints were doing more than simply playing a game.
Turns out, they were.
The NFL’s investigation of the Saints offering bounties to defensive players to go after quarterbacks, including Favre, landed coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis and others in hot water with the league and resulted in significant suspensions.
If Vikings fan are being honest, their team cost themselves the game that day. Anyone who had the stomach to watch the NFL Network’s replay of that game on Friday received a refresh course in just how many mistakes Minnesota made. The Vikings outgained the Saints 475 yards to 257 and had 31 first downs to 15 for New Orleans.
But the Vikings also had six fumbles, losing three of them, and Favre threw two picks, including the late fourth quarter pass he attempted to force to Sidney Rice over the middle with the score tied and the ball on the Saints’ 38-yard line. That came on the play after the Vikings were called for having 12 men in the huddle. If Favre had stumbled ahead for a few yards, or thrown to an open Bernard Berrian on the sideline, the Vikings could have put kicker Ryan Longwell in a position to attempt about a 50-yard field goal.
The Vikings received no favors from the officials in overtime as referee Pete Morelli’s crew threw a questionable flag on linebacker Ben Leber for pass interference that put the ball on the Vikings 29. The Saints ended up getting a 40-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley to win it on the first possession of overtime.
That game was the reason the NFL almost immediately changed the overtime rules so a team could not win on a field goal on its opening drive, despite the fact Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wasn’t initially in favor of the idea and commissioner Roger Goodell got it voted upon while the coaches were on a golf course at the Owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.
But of everything that went wrong for the Vikings that day, much of it self-inflicted, Minnesota sports fans most frequently come back to the Saints’ “Bountygate” plot against Favre. That probably won’t change anytime soon, or at least not until Payton, the king of smug, is no longer roaming the sideline in New Orleans.