As I held my sleeping infant son Edison on Sunday, exclaiming loudly (but thankfully not so loud to wake him up) when Kyle Rudolph hauled in the winning touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins in a playoff overtime victory over the Saints, a strange thought kept coming into my head: The only world this 10-day-old child knows is one in which the Gophers win New Year’s Day bowl games over SEC teams to cap 11-win seasons and the Vikings defy odds with clutch plays when it matters most.
What a start to the 2020s, unquestionably — to date — the best decade in Minnesota football for a long time.
The two of us watched the biggest moments of both games in pretty much the same position, his head resting on my arm while his two older sisters ran around making all sorts of noise to which he was oblivious.
And I started both games with the same basic attitude that a lot of Minnesotans had: Curiosity, a bit of a feeling of a gambler playing with house money given the heavy underdog status of the local teams, and a vague belief that slowly morphed into disbelief that good things were actually happening.
Both games started with would-be disastrous turnovers: a Tanner Morgan interception and an Adam Thielen fumble. Both yielded just three points for the opposition, though. And both games turned on an opponent turnover: a muffed punt by Auburn and a Drew Brees interception, both fueling halftime leads for Minnesota.
The Gophers’ 31-24 victory was surprising, but I dare say the Vikings’ result was even more so — not quite shocking, since it seemed like the Vikings were a little undervalued coming in given their seeming return to health, but these were the NFL playoffs and the Saints were seemingly on a mission.
Suffice to say the Vikings don’t win without Thielen or Dalvin Cook — Thielen with his clutch catches after a rough start and Cook while slicing his way through the Saints defense and barreling into the end zone for both regulation touchdowns.
They don’t win without head coach and defensive maestro Mike Zimmer shifting his two excellent edge rushers — Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter — inside to exploit matchups. In a game that called for something unconventional but not gimmicky, that was a very smart decision.
And they certainly don’t win without clutch throws from Kirk Cousins. It was the ball flying from his arm, often landing in the hands of Thielen and ultimately Rudolph, that the strange and fun mix of belief turning to disbelief made itself known the strongest.
I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the way, though I do know the Vikings have already defeated the scariest team in the NFC regardless of seed. I think they can play with San Francisco, and I’m always curious to see how playoff newbies like the 49ers handle the pressure of the postseason.
And I know that we’re only two outcomes away — another Vikings upset and a home win for the Packers over Seattle — from an NFC title game at Lambeau Field between two border rivals.
Choose to believe or not. My young son doesn’t know anything yet other than football happiness.