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The Vikings and Saints gave us an ending for the ages, breaking a curse that never existed

Marcus Williams missed a tackle that led to one of the greatest playoff endings ever. It was unfortunate, and that’s all.

Divisional Round - New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If the Vikings were going to exorcise the demons of so many playoff heartbreaks, this was the only way: an accidental Hail Mary as time expired thanks to a fortunate whiffed tackle.

The last time the Vikings played the Saints in the NFC Championship, Brett Favre threw a terrible interception at the end of regulation that led to an overtime loss. The Gary Andersen miss begat the Blair Walsh miss, which are branches from the roots of the 1975 Hail Mary loss to the Cowboys.

It’s fair to say Vikings fans deserved this, especially the specific euphoria that comes from a win like this.

To be a sports fan means chasing that feeling — for a lifetime, if you must. There are tangential benefits to fandom, like interpersonal relationships and easy weekend plans. Those benefits are staked in the idea that something like what the Vikings achieved Sunday night is possible: a miracle, just for you, to validate all that time you’ve spent on your favorite sports team.

Diggs’ 61-yard reception — in which he leaped, caught the ball, avoided a would-be tackler, spun quickly, and tiptoed down the sideline to the end zone — will be remembered for the rest of human history.

So will the safety who missed the tackle, Marcus Williams, who put his head down and tried to take out Diggs low with his shoulder and ended up missing Diggs completely.

That’s where this gets messy.

Yes, Williams should have been less aggressive. If he simply lets Diggs make the catch in front of him, he can likely wrap him up for a big gain but nothing more. Even if Diggs gets by him, he would likely slow him down enough that a teammate or two could catch up and make the stop.

Williams screwed up at a level of magnitude he almost certainly won’t screw up again. Yet, there was a reasonable explanation for what Williams did. The Saints committed four pass interference penalties on the day, and a fifth would have given the Vikings the gain AND stopped the clock with just a few seconds left. Williams wanted to take down Diggs, but in a way that couldn’t be construed by the referees as a penalty.

The play was actually a good example of the Expanding Brain-level intelligence required to play NFL-caliber football. In a split instant, Williams processed the time, the situation, the way refs had called the game up to that point, and what was happening in front of his face into the decision to tackle low. He overthought it, as K.J. Wright noted after the game. The rest is history.

Williams vowed after the game to make sure nothing like that ever happens to him again. Getting over the play won’t be easy, however. In the same way that Vikings fans celebrated the win as an extension of themselves, Saints fans felt the loss as a personal injury. Williams’ Wikipedia page was edited in the minutes after the game to note that he missed “the easiest tackle in football history” and ruined “the playoff hopes and epic comeback of the New Orleans Saints.”

Before that, the Wiki page said something much more vile that isn’t worth printing here. You’ve been on the internet, so you know how this works. And if you don’t, just wade a bit through Williams’ Twitter mentions. Williams just finished an excellent rookie season and may be on his way to an excellent career, but his legacy will forever be the Minnesota Miracle.

That’s the problem sometimes with sports fandom: Fans often use the same license to take joy in their favorite teams as license to hate. The two are necessarily tied together once you start believing that your sports team is you, that what happens reflects your own worth, and that things like playoff curses are real and transferrable.

None of those things is true, though. Curses have never existed, and you don’t have to be upset that a sports team lost in heartbreaking fashion if you don’t want to be. The way fans internalize and respond to moments like these is out of tune with the fact that football players are just dudes — Williams is 21 years old — making instantaneous decisions that are informed by the whole. Sometimes those individuals goof up. Sometimes the goofs are well-meaning. And sometimes those well-meaning goofs lead to catastrophic outcomes because football is cruelly engineered.

If I were a Vikings fans, I would be leaning into this catharsis hard. I would be yelling SKOL!, and eating hot dish and booyah and playing Duck, Duck, Gray Duck until the sun came up. Hell yeah, an undefeated streak of heartbreak has ended and now we’re one game away from the Super Bowl. This is the reason anyone bothers with sports.

If I were a Saints fan, I’d probably feel pretty crappy right now, and maybe for several days, and maybe even periodically over the next several months or years. But I don’t think I’d be mad at a guy who is good at his job and did what he believed to be best, chasing a euphoric feeling like the rest of us.

Remember: You can feel however you want at any time. Maybe — say, if your team has appeared in four Super Bowls and lost them all — you can say you deserve better. But nothing is owed in sports. If you don’t get what you deserve, you can call it a curse, or just acknowledge that the whole exercise is silly sometimes. Once-in-a-lifetime touchdowns are only one way to feel better about yourself. If you’d like, you can exorcise your demons at any time.

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