The Orleans Saints on Sunday were on the wrong end of a play that will live forever in team infamy. Minnesota WR Stefon Diggs caught a desperation pass from Case Keenum and rambled 61 yards untouched into the end zone as time expired in a play that will be memorialized as maybe the greatest playoff moment ever. Long-time Kentucky fans immediately saw the parallels in Diggs’ catch that sends the Vikings into the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The play became the Saints’ Laettner Moment.
Christian Laettner’s shot that sunk Kentucky is considered the greatest in NCAA tournament history. The play is still, 26 years later, used in the CBS basketball intro, although it came during a regional final and not the Final Four. Likewise, it didn’t matter that Diggs’ catch was two steps away from an appearance in the Super Bowl and not in the game itself. Vikings fans will call it the Minnesota Miracle and they will remember where they were when it happened, and the capacity of U.S. Bank Stadium will grow over the years, expanded by those who claim to have been in the stands and saw Diggs’ heroics in person.
It’s funny, but just before Diggs put the dagger in the Saints’ chest, I thought of all those games during our Finks-Mora years when the 49ers or Packers or Bears came from behind to beat the Saints in the closing moments. I had a brief flash of fantasy that now maybe it’s time the Saints become heart-breakers. One play later, the collective hearts of Who Dat Nation were broken yet again, but this time was worse. The play was so unlikely and so unexpected that it will become the signature moment in Saints’ futility. It’s over but it will never be forgotten.
You can bet the play, like the Laettner moment, will become an iconic representation of the unpredictable nature and excitement of the NFL playoffs. Of course, they never consider the victims of such drama who suffer all over again every time it’s shown. This morning, Who Dat Nation has tossed another needless, shocking memory onto the stack. WATCH VERY SHORT VIDEO TO COMPARE THE TWO MIRACLES-MISTAKES
It doesn’t matter that the Saints overcame a 17-0 first-quarter deficit and fought back valiantly. Drew Brees’ offense came alive in the second half as he threw two touchdown passes to Michael Thomas to draw within 17-14 before a Kai Forbath field goal stretched the Vikings lead to 20-14. But Brees was hot, and he found Alvin Kamara in the end zone for a 21-20 lead before Forbath kicked another field goal with 3:00 remaining for a 23-21 Vikings lead. Brees countered quickly, marching the Saints back, thanks to a 4th and 10 completion to Willie Snead, and within field goal range, Brees faced third down and a yard to go. A first down would have allowed time to dwindle to a Will Lutz chip shot, but Mark Ingram was stuffed at the line, and Lutz’s go-ahead field goal came with 25 seconds remaining. The Vikings were out of timeouts and three pass attempts left them only at their own 39 with ten seconds remaining.
Then Saints rookie Marcus Williams donned the horns worn since 1992 by Kentucky’s John Pelphrey, who stood behind Laettner, allowed him to catch a long in-bounds pass from Grant Hill, turn and shoot the winning shot with no resistance. Then, as now, the underdogs who almost pulled it off are left with a lifetime reminder of an agonizing moment.
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.