It’s epic when a football game has a generic term or short phrase applied to it and everyone understands what it means.
Sunday’s 10-9 loss by the Minnesota Vikings to the Seattle Seahawks won’t be remembered for a defensive performance that kept the two-time defending conference champions on their heels for almost the entirety of the game. It won’t be remembered for the 52 yards the Vikings drove to get the ball inside the 10-yard line for what, for all appearances, was going to be a chip shot to win the game that would send Seattle home and the Vikings to Arizona.
What will it be remembered for? Wide left.
No NFL kicker had made more field goals this season than Vikings kicker Blair Walsh. He had accounted for all of the Vikings points in the game, having made field goals of 22, 43 and 47 yards. But, with 22 seconds to play, Walsh pushed the likely game-winner wide left – only the second miss on 33 career kicks inside of 30 yards.
Walsh kicked the ball on the laces, but punter Jeff Locke said that, in cold conditions, the risk-reward of spinning the ball around isn’t worth potentially spinning it away from being in the proper position to kick. Walsh didn’t use that an excuse, saying he should have been able to kick just about anything through from that distance.
“It was so quick, I had no idea what happened,” Walsh said. “I can tell you this: It’s my fault. I don’t care whether you give me a watermelon hold, I should be able to put that through. I know Jeff did his job and Kevin (McDermott, the long snapper) did his job. I’m the only one who didn’t my job there. That’s on me.”
As the media surrounded his locker, Walsh fielded questions for five minutes with grim determination to get through it. After the media was told it was time to leave his locker area, Walsh buried his head in his locker and began to weep.
But, while talking to the assembled media surrounding him, he held himself together and said being under pressure is part of the job description for kickers, especially when the stakes are amped up in the playoffs.
“I want you guys here when I make the game-winning kicks and I realize that I’ve got to have you guys here when I miss them,” Walsh said. “That’s the life of a kicker. This team has so much in store for it. Beside from where this team is going to go, we needed this one. I didn’t come through for us in that moment and it hurts.”
McDermott was there to console Walsh following his short press conference and, like many of his teammates, he defended Walsh for the player he is and the person he is. While the Twitter universe was viciously trolling Walsh following the game – including some death threats – McDermott said that he, Walsh and Locke are a group and, if one of them fails in his assignment, they all fail.
“I think Jeff, myself and Blair all the feel the same way,” McDermott said. “We’re a unit. We all three have jobs to do out there and when this happens, it happens to all of us. He’s my brother. I love him. He’s an amazing guy. We’re not in this game without him to begin with. He hit three field goals in minus-25 degree wind chill weather. That’s really hard to do. I’m very proud of him. It’s just one of those things. It sucks that we don’t get come in and snap tomorrow and punt tomorrow and kick tomorrow.”
The fact that his kick had virtually no chance to be made from such a close distance was painfully evident to Walsh the instant it left his foot. He felt his leg pulling too much in advance of striking the ball. He said he didn’t stay on the top of the kick and have the proper follow through like he had done on his previous three field goals.
In his mind, it was happening in slow motion and it wasn’t going to improve one it got airborne.
“I just didn’t put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody’s standards,” Walsh said. “I worked real hard to get myself to a place where I was very, very consistent for this team all year. In that moment, the moment they need me the most all year, I wasn’t. That stings. I’ll be working hard to erase that from my career, but it will take a while.”
Sunday wasn’t the first time Walsh had endured the heartbreak of his teammates and the vitriol of fans. In his final college game at the University of Georgia, Walsh missed two field goals in overtime in a 33-30 loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl Jan. 3, 2012.
The feeling was eerily similar in what was arguably the biggest game of his college career and clearly the most important game of his professional career.
“I’ve been there before,” Walsh said. “I was there at the end of my college career and I’m here right now. I know this feeling unfortunately. It’s happened to me twice. I think my record of kicks in my career kind of speaks for itself. I know that I’m one of the better kickers in the league – I know that sounds kind of crazy right now, but I think my record says that. The one they needed the most today, I didn’t make. That’s on me. These guys deserved to win today and I’ve got to finish it.”
Despite the sadness, the anger and the tears, Walsh didn’t allow his missed kicks in his final college game to define him as a pro – he went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie – and he isn’t going to let his confidence wane following Sunday’s loss. But he was quick to admit this one will take time.
“If we had a game tomorrow, I’d be confident in my ability,” Walsh said. “That’s just how I am. I’ll take this with stride. I’ll take the blame because I deserve every second of it. It was just one of those days.”
A day that will remembered for a long time in Vikings lore – the downside of Vikings lore and its “wide left” history.