MIRACLES OF THE GRIDIRON

“Do you believe in miracles?….Yes!”- Al Michaels

All of us who were around during the 1980 Winter Olympics remember this iconic call by Al Michaels. He proclaimed this as the USA Men’s Hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union. Although this article is not about hockey, the quote is a perfect lead-in.

For those of you who may have been out of touch with the sports world late last Sunday afternoon, let me fill you in. In the last of the weekend’s divisional playoff games, the Minnesota Vikings hosted the New Orleans Saints.

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Minnesota Vikings’ Stefon Diggs reels in a pass from quarterback Case Keenum on the last play of a stunning 29-24 divisional playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The game seemed like it was going to be uneventful at the end of the first half. The Vikings led the Saints by the score of 17-0 at the break. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees led a roaring comeback in the second half. The future Hall of Famer threw three touchdown passes including a go-ahead strike to Alvin Kamara with three minutes remaining. The Vikings took back the lead with a field goal with 1:29 remaining. New Orleans responded with a field goal of their own a mere 64 seconds later. This set the stage for a miraculous ending.

The Saints field goal left the Vikings with only 25 seconds on the clock. With New Orleans clinging to a 24-23 lead, everyone in the football world was thinking the same thing. Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum needed to get his offense into field goal range. With ten seconds remaining, and the Vikings on their own 39 yard line, it happened!

Keenum threw a desparate sideline pass to receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs caught the pass with two Saints’ defenders near him. The New Orleans defenders collided, and one actually missed tackling Diggs. Diggs struggled to stay in bounds, but got himself together and ran untouched into the end zone for the game winning touchdown!

What has come to be known as the Minnesota Miracle, conjured up thoughts of other unlikely events in the annals of the NFL Playoffs.

The first of two such stunning events occurred on January 8, 2000. In a wild card playoff contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans, the football world witnessed another shocking ending.

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Tennessee Titans’ Frank Wycheck throws a lateral pass to Kevin Dyson on the final play of an AFC wild card playoff game, January 8, 2000.

In a close contest, the Bills had taken a 16-15 lead with sixteen seconds remaining on the clock. The ensuing kickoff return turned out to be legendary.

Following his go-ahead field goal, Buffalo kicker Steve Christie kicked the ball to the Tennessee 24 yard line. Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and handed off to Frank Wycheck. With the Bills pursuing him, the Titans’ tight end turned return man threw the ball to Kevin Dyson (normally a wide receiver). With most of the Bills kicking team on the tails of Wycheck, Dyson scampered 75 yards for a game winning touchdown! To this day, this unbelievable finish is known as the Music City Miracle.

Perhaps the most famous miraculous play in NFL Playoff history happened in Pittsburgh on December 23, 1972.

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Steelers’ RB Franco Harris grabs a ball deflected by Raiders defender Jack Tatum and teammate Frenchie Fuqua. Harris would take the ball to the end zone for a game winning touchdown.

With 30 seconds remaining in a divisional playoff game, the Steelers trailed the Oakland Raiders by the score of 7-6. Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw attempted to hit John “Frenchie” Fuqua with a pass. The ball deflected off of Fuqua, and Raider defender Jack Tatum in what seemed to be an incomplete pass. Steelers’ running back Franco Harris appeared to come out of nowhere and scooped the ball up before it hit the ground. Harris ran the ball to the end zone to cap a 13-7 Pittsburgh victory!

There is still some controversy surrounding the play that has become known as the “Immaculate Reception.” It has been questioned whether or not the ball actually deflected off of Tatum. The NFL rules at the time mandated that a ball could not be deflected from one offensive player to another. If it is tipped by the defense, in between it is still a live ball. We will never know the actual answer to this. Even in the current era of reviewing replay, there is not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.

With the conference championship games coming up this afternoon and evening, will there be another miracle?

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