In case you didn’t watch the game, here’s a brief recap.
The Minnesota Vikings faced off against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Game on Sunday to see who would move on in the playoffs. The game took place in Minnesota, where the cold was relentless and unforgiving, with players facing a wind chill of -25 degrees. After an extremely tight defensive game by both teams and with 26 seconds left on the clock, Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was called in to make what appeared to be a game-winning 27-yard field goal. It seemed to be an easy wrap up for the Minnesota Vikings after a nail-biter of a game, and Walsh was ready and lined up to finish it.
The ball was snapped, held by Jeff Locke, and kicked by Blair Walsh.
And… he missed.
It wasn’t even close.
Walsh’s kick veered way off to the left -- missing completely.
And Viking country was immediately in denial and uproar.
I will be the first to admit that the whole thing was pretty brutal. It was a high-pressure situation where Walsh was asked to make what some would consider a simple “chip-shot” to put the game to bed and leave his team victorious. It could be compared to a tap-in to secure the winning of the Masters or a hockey player on a breakaway with an empty net at the end of a game. It was supposed to be simple and super easy.
And yet Walsh failed, miserably.
I, like every other Vikings fan across the state of Minnesota, was shocked, heartbroken and frustrated.
I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed, and the bitter taste of losing the game that barely slipped away lingered long after the game was over.
But Blair Walsh’s missed field goal attempt was not the most disappointing part of the game.
The most disappointing part was the way Vikings fans reacted to the devastating loss.
Social media exploded with mean and hurtful comments, insults and jokes about Blair Walsh and his missed kick.
His name was everywhere, being smeared and called out for “sucking,” and some people even threatened to kill him or demand the Vikings fire him immediately.
Blair Walsh and his mistake were the butt end of a state-wide joke that many seemed to be in on and partaking in.
And this was more disappointing to me than watching the Vikings season end because of a missed 27-yard field goal attempt.
There are so many things I want to say to the Vikings fans who belittled and berated their team member.
The people saying that Blair Walsh sucks, is horrible and is no good clearly haven’t seen his statistics. Fair weather fans may look at this one isolated incident and see an epic failure, but the true Vikings fans know his numbers do not lie. Blair Walsh started his rookie year in 2012, and in that season, he was the only rookie selected to the All-Pro First Team. In 2014, he was named the PFF All-NFC North Kicker of the Year. He holds countless NFL records: most field goals of 50 or more yards made in a single season, most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season without a failed attempt, most field goals of 50 or more yards made in a single game, most consecutive field goals of 50 or more yards made, most field goals of 37 or more yards in a single game, highest field goal percentage by a rookie in a single season and most field goals total made in a single season by a rookie. Not only does he hold records across the entire NFL, but he also holds many records within the Vikings franchise. Walsh holds the following records for the Minnesota Vikings: the longest field goal, longest attempt at a field goal, most field goals of 50 or more yards in a single season, most field goals of 50 or more yards without missing in a season, and the list goes on and on. Clearly, Walsh is a very good, young kicker and he has been very successful for Minnesota among his short career.
I disagree that the entire loss of the Minnesota Vikings should be blamed on a single player. People were ready to crucify Walsh as the single-handed loser of the game, but they’re wrong. Everyone blamed Walsh, but no one seemed to remember a crucial fumble, a big 41-yard pass interference penalty, the over-commitment and excitement by our defense when Russel Wilson missed a snap and the fact that our passing game was basically nonexistent. No one seemed to recall either the three consecutive field goals Walsh made to give the Vikings all of their nine points. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that Walsh was three for three on some pretty difficult kicks in some crazy conditions before the attempt at the game winner. I don’t like placing blame on any team members because winning as a team and losing as a team is both true and important. I don’t want to play the blame game, but if people are going to, I think it needs to be spread around appropriately to represent the rightful blame accordingly. Also, if we have to rely on our kicker to score all of our points, maybe we weren’t ready to move on in the playoffs anyway. Instead of placing blame on our only point producer, we should be looking for ways to increase our offense as an entire team, to include more than just setting up our kicker to score three points every possession. Being a kicker is like being a goalie in hockey; it’s a tiresome and thankless job. Making field goals is not seen as being successful, it’s expected, and only when you miss one do people take notice.
The lack of respect many people have for athletes who follow their dreams and yearn to play at an elite level is bothersome to me. Athletes are often glorified and said to be living spectacular, glamorous lives. Not many people know that behind the scenes, being an athlete is a lot of dreaming, persistence, resilience and hard work -- more than some people will ever know in their lifetime. It’s a lot of struggle and a lot of setbacks, and it’s much easier to take the easy way out and give up on your dream than to give it everything you have and follow it. Professional athletes have to defy all odds, ignore all logic and have a stubborn, iron will to make it to the professionals. Blair Walsh has worked endlessly to make his dream come true. He’s chased his dream, made it and he’s now living it. And because he made one mistake, people are laughing at him, calling him a failure and making fun of what it is he does for a living. If you win all of your cases except one as a lawyer, do people have the right to make fun of you and mock you? Are you a bad lawyer? I certainly don’t think so. I wish I could tell Blair that many of the people who are throwing shade at him were too scared to follow their own dreams a long time ago, and they resent him because he had the courage to make his a reality. Mr. Walsh, I don’t want you to feel bad for a second because I’d much rather be known as the person who tried and sometimes failed than the person who remained comfortable and never tried at all. In America, we praise those who make their dreams come true and fight through setbacks and difficulties, and professional athletes are some of the people who do this best of all- somehow, we often forget to see it this way. Most people are bitter against athletes because they make millions of dollars doing what they do, but I know that many athletes are champions because they are internally driven; they’re not driven by money. Their pride and self-worth rides on their successes and failures in their craft, and no amount of money can take away the sting of a heartbreaking failure or knowing you came up short.
I’d like to call on those who have been athletes to try and put yourself in Blair Walsh’s shoes. Especially for those who have played at higher levels, it’s painful and uncomfortable to even think about. Instead of criticizing him, we need to be understanding and empathetic because at one time or another, all of us have been there. Hockey players have missed empty netters to secure wins. Boxers have come into the ring and have left in less than 15 seconds, wondering what happened. Baseball players have made silly throwing errors on routine ground balls that have cost their pitchers perfect games. Stuff happens, even to the best of athletes. As former athletes, we need to recognize that Blair is going to be harder on himself than any of us will ever be. Even when his teammates tried to take their responsibility for the game, Walsh shouldered the blame all his own, with a broken heart and lots of tears. We need to recall times when we’ve made big mistakes or errors that have played a role in a team’s loss, and we need to let him know that we’ve all felt that awful, sinking feeling of letting teammates down. We need to remind him that we know how it feels, and we also need to tell him that with time it will start to fade. As former athletes, we need to remember that what he does for a living is not a joke -- he’s worked hard at it, and he’s already achieved great things. Being a former athlete allows us to sympathize with the athlete lifestyle: the drive it takes, the work and the desire to be perfect, and we need to let him know that perfection is unattainable and it’s OK not to be.
It’s not easy being a Minnesota sports fan, but isn’t this something we already know? God needed people with a lot of patience, a grasp on their frustration and people who will love their teams unconditionally -- so he made Minnesotans. He also needed someone to cheer on their teams in the freezing, cold weather. Being a Minnesota sports fan is something I am usually proud of, but I definitely feel different today. Part of being a sports fan is understanding the reason the games are played: because when it’s actually played out and fought, anything can happen, and that’s what makes sports so exciting. Accepting being a sports fan also means that you’re willing to accept sometimes the craziness that happens in competition isn’t going to go your way: it’s a give and take relationship, and you’ve got to be willing to take the good with the bad -- many Minnesotans failed to do that yesterday.
Yesterday was a tough day in the world of Minnesota sports, with the Wild falling to the Devils, the Timberwolves falling to the Mavericks and the Vikings falling to the Seahawks. But the person who had the toughest day of all was Blair Walsh, and we as Viking nation failed to be there for him when he needed us most. In fact, many of us made it so much more painful for him during one of his darkest hours, and I’m really disappointed in that. Part of being a loyal sports fan is taking the good and the bad, picking up your team when they need you to and remaining loyal when times get hard. We also need to stand by our teams when they suffer a tough loss, instead of turning against them when the rest of the world asks us too. We need to remember our athletes are people, not just pawns in a game, and we need to remember that sportsmanship and respect should always trump the drive to win.
Blair Walsh, I hope you know that in the grand scheme of things, this is all just a game. An important one yes, but yesterday, your only wrong doing was you failed to kick a football through a field goal. If that’s the reason people are throwing so much hate your way, it’s them, not you, who have lost. They’ve lost the perspective that winning isn’t as important as who we are as people. Blair Walsh, I refuse to be mad at you for your missed field goal attempt, and I hope the state can rally around you and remind you how great you are, and how much we appreciate everything you’ve done right for the Minnesota Vikings. Besides being an asset for the Vikings on the field, you're also an awesome guy off the field; a class act, a truly nice, genuine person, and that's even more important than how good you are as a football player. It’s probably going to be dark for a while, but just remember, stars can’t shine without darkness. Remember we are behind you and with you. I think Harrison Smith says it best: "He's stepped up big for us and won games for us in the past, [we’re] not going to abandon him now.”
Look, I know he messed up big time. And I, as much as the next person, love competing and playing hard to win.
But yesterday we were reminded of something that we all seem to forget sometimes: even the best of the best make mistakes, even the pros are human.
Let’s just all remember that as the Vikings, we have come a long, long way, and the future is bright. Where we’re at now is so much better than where we used to be, and the guys we have to lead us into tomorrow are full of character, talented and pretty dang great.