In 1975, the Vikings hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round of the playoffs and had them beat in the waning seconds of the game. We all know about the Hail Mary, the push-off, the loss and the whiskey bottle. Many longtime Vikings fans point to that sequence as a jinx-able moment and the reason that the Vikings have not (to this point) won a Super Bowl. Never mind that they returned to the Big Game the following season and lost (which would be enough to satisfy many current fans who have never seen the Vikings play in the final game of the season), but back in ’75 someone hurled an empty booze bottle and bounced it off the noggin of referee Armen Terzian and the rest has been history.
There are other jinxes in sports, the trading of the Great Bambino in Boston, the Billy goat in Chicago, Joey Two-Step at Target Center, etc., so why bring them up? Well, perhaps there is currently one going on in New Orleans, where the Vikings will travel to play the Saints in an NFC Wild Card game on Sunday.
Since 2009—when the Saints committed several acts of illicit behavior in the Bountygate escapade (the New Orleans defense coach offered a bounty to injure quarterback Brett Favre and the players did everything but twist his foot off at the ankle), had countless favorable and/or incorrect calls go their way (particularly in overtime) and basically stole the NFC Championship game on their way to winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl—several very good Saints teams have struggled to return to the Super Bowl.
Typically, Super Bowl champions drop-off a bit after winning (unless you are the New England Patriots), but the Saints—thanks to head coach Sean Payton (who sat out a year on suspension due to Bountygate) and quarterback Drew Brees, who may own all the career passing records before he retires—have remained relevant in the postseason picture since their title in 2010.
In the 10 seasons since then, they have returned to the playoffs six times, but have lost once in a Wild Card game, three times in the divisional round (including in 2017, when the Vikings performed the Minneapolis Miracle on them) and last season in the NFC title game in which a blown call by the refs prevented a return to the Super Bowl for New Orleans. It didn’t elicit the throwing of a whiskey bottle, but the play did result in a rule change on interference calls that has been dubious at best in its application this season.
So, are the Saints experiencing their own kind of jinx for unjustly and illicitly winning a Super Bowl? Perhaps. None of these jinxes we’ve referenced can be proven. But the Saints have put very good teams on the field since then and have yet to get back to the promised land. Just like the Vikings, Cubs, Red Sox and, yes, even the 2003-04 Timberwolves, they have come up short. (The Cubs and Sox have finally climbed out of their jinx hole, but it took about a century to do so.) But the bottom line is that the Vikings, who started as eight point underdogs to the Saints (which have the third-best offense in the league), could use a jinx (or at least another miracle) to win on Sunday.
Job number one on Sunday, however, will be to stop all-world receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas, as you may have heard, set the NFL record for most receptions by a receiver in a season with 149, he was first in yardage for the year with 1,725 and tied for fourth in touchdown receptions with nine.
There is a reason for that (other than he is good and catches everything that comes his way) and it is because he has the most opportunities. Thomas had the league’s highest target rate with targets on 31.9 percent of his routes run. Which means he probably gets open a lot and has a hall of famer throwing it to him. But it also means he is the most important target in the Saints’ seventh-ranked passing offense. If the Vikings can stop Thomas (or at least slow him down) then they have a chance to outscore this offense that puts up an average of 28.6 points per game.
They also have to stop running back Alvin Kamara (who has slowed a bit this year but has always given the Vikings fits) and a fired up Latavius Murray, who was on the other side of the field for the Minneapolis Miracle and will want to show his former team a thing or two, as well.
On defense job one is Cam Jordan (the son of former Vikings tight end and recent entrant into the Vikings Ring of Honor Steve Jordan—but then you knew that). After what we saw Za’Darius Smith of the Green Bay Packers do against the Vikings offensive line, Kirk Cousins should be very concerned. But we hope he isn’t. A nervous Kirk gives the Vikings offensive performances like we saw last Monday night, but an edgy Kirk who gets out of the pocket and takes things on the run and becomes comfortable and fires balls accurately into tight windows is the Kirk that can also give this team a chance.
“He’s a very violent rusher,” head coach Mike Zimmer says of Jordan. “Plays extremely hard, tough guy. He uses his hands well. He’s a good matchup.”
The return of Dalvin Cook will help Kirk and the offense greatly. Even though Mike Boone has looked good, he isn’t the mental threat that a healthy Cook on the field brings. The defense has to be wary that Cook can break it on any play and they can’t sell go all out rushing Cousins. They are very tough against the run (ranked fourth), but the threat of a game breaker will get their attention and open up the passing game for Cousins against a New Orleans defense that is susceptible to the pass (ranked 19th).
The Vikings can beat the Saints, even though most national pundits and prognosticators don’t give them much chance. Those folks, of course, are not taking in the recent history between these two teams or the Miracle or the jinx or that it is the Vikings’ turn. It doesn’t matter that only two six seeds have won the Super Bowl or that the NFL Network put together an ad about the playoffs that excluded the Vikings. (Wait, that does too matter because players notice those things, and Zimmer is making sure they don’t miss it:
“I don’t think anybody believes that we can win this game, so we go in there and we slug it out,” Zimmer said and then explained why. “We’re eight-point underdogs. We’re going on the road. They just had an NFL video of all the playoff teams except us. We’ll just go from there.”
Truth be told, the ad doesn’t matter and neither does any of the previous seasons matter. The Minneapolis Miracle was only two seasons ago, but these are different teams with different players, coaches and issues. Furthermore, jinxes are a figment of our imaginations. We have no quantifiable or verifiable proof of them—just a real strong sense of belief brought on by the frustration over years and decades of futility and some events on the field of play in front of us that defies any other explanation.
Still, if jinxes are real, it would seem to be that the Saints have a ways to go with theirs (since they won Super Bowl and sold their souls to the Devil). The Vikings and their fans, on the other hand, have suffered enough without a return to the big game in over four decades. And there is no better place to believe in jinxes, hexes and voodoo than down on the bayou in New Orleans.
Therefore, since I went to the Packers game as a fan recently (and had my first beer at a game in 10 years), I hear that notion of a transition back to a life of Purple fandom calling, so I am going with it. I am going to believe, no matter what the oddsmakers or experts or talking heads or even my head says. I am going with a Vikings win in the Superdome in hopes that it will propel them, eventually, to the Super Bowl, where they should have been in 2010. And then I am going to have another beer.
Minnesota—24, New Orleans—23