It happened again.
The ghosts of Drew Pearson, Darrin Nelson, Gary Anderson, Nate Poole, Naufahu Tahi (the 12th man in the huddle) and Brett Favre showed up Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. Blair Walsh, who led the NFL in made field goals this season, missed a chip shot 27-yard field goal that would have won the Vikings’ NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Walsh’s miss just adds another chapter to Minnesota’s long history of near-misses and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It doesn’t register as high on the heartbreak meter as some of the others, but it certainly pours a fresh batch of salt on the open wound that is being a Vikings fan.
Walsh will be the one remembered. His name will be added to the list above. He missed the field goal. He choked. Really, though, he’s nothing more than a scapegoat. While I was admittedly cursing his name at about 3:05 p.m. Sunday afternoon, I’ve since changed my tune. Actually, I feel really bad for the guy. So many things could or even should have happened earlier in that game to keep him out of that position.
I watched Sportscenter Sunday night and saw Walsh talking to the media shortly after the game. He choked back tears as he shouldered the blame, placed the responsibility along with the frustration and even hatred of an entire fanbase squarely on his shoulders. He didn’t complain that the laces of the ball were facing him (they’re supposed to be out) or the sub-zero temperatures. He owned up to his failure.
Watching that, I couldn’t help but feel an admiration for Walsh that I don’t often feel toward professional athletes. In a day where it often seems the fans care a lot more about the outcome of games than the players themselves, he was clearly hurting. He was kicking himself and (wrongfully) holding himself solely responsible for the loss.
Walsh did choke. There’s no way around that. But I know I’ve choked, too.
I’ve written stories that were just OK when they could have been great. Outside of work, I’ve messed up on things that shouldn’t have been a problem; I’ve spoken and later wished I’d gotten my point across more eloquently. I can guarantee everyone reading this has done the same at some point.
Seeing Walsh’s post-game interview was a stark reminder that athletes, celebrities, etc. are human, no matter how high of a pedestal they’re sometimes placed upon. The difference is, when I “choke” or make a mistake, at most a few thousand people who read the Daily Globe will see it. For most people, it isn’t even that many. Walsh’s played out on live television in front of a worldwide audience.
I started thinking about the season as a whole. Two weeks in a row, Walsh kicked game-winning field goals that were much longer than the one he attempted Sunday. If he had missed those, we wouldn’t have been in the playoffs to begin with. The guy has succeeded so many more times than he’s failed. If that weren’t the case, he wouldn’t have a job anymore.
So, what’s my point? Even though I’m sure Walsh isn’t doing it for himself, as Vikings fans we need to cut him some slack. If we can’t, then we’re choking in life.