Blair Walsh knew from the moment that his game-winning field goal attempt said wide left Sunday, he was going to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
When the media throng converged on the Minnesota Vikings locker room, they were instructed that Walsh would speak immediately and be done with it. But Walsh and everyone else that circled his locker knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. From Deadspin fan reaction to social media trolling, which included some ugly requests for both Walsh and holder Jeff Locke, it wasn’t about to go silent after five minutes.
On Monday, as players were cleaning out their lockers as an end-of-season ritual called get-away day, there was Walsh again standing in front of his locker fielding questions. But, this time, many of the questions centered on his reaction to the reaction of others.
Once again, Walsh answered all the questions but made it clear he isn’t going to waste his time dealing with the venom being spewed out by fans who were upset the Vikings lost, because the reality of the situation is that no words – positive or negative – can change what happened. Those words serve to show others the character of those involved, especially those who went out of their way to disparage him.
“The people that are saying that stuff are the people that don’t matter,” Walsh said. “There are so many great Vikings fans and there are so many great people in this city that care about Minnesota and understand all the situations that we’re in. The people who are going to say mean stuff, that says a lot about them. And I think the people who say kind stuff and go out of their way to be kind towards me, that says a lot about them as well.”
Walsh wasn’t attempting to deflect the criticism. The reality was that, during the entire regular season, no kicker in the league missed a field goal from 27 yards or in that wasn’t blocked.
Nobody feels as badly about the missed field goal as Walsh, who has gone out of his way to take ownership of the kick and apologize to the coaches and other 52 players on the roster. He has done his mea culpa and tried to put into focus that missing kicks – even chip shots – can happen. He isn’t looking for sympathy, merely understanding.
“You kind of have that faith in the humanity aspect and people kind of show their true colors in situations like that,” Walsh said. “A lot of people reached out to me and said nice things, and I’m very appreciative of that. I really am. It means a lot to me. But I think it’s important that people understand that, as hard as this is, I’m not a charity case. I’m somebody who’s really confident in my abilities. I know that sounds strange. But I’ll be back next year and I’ll be just as good. I know I will.”
One of those who has spent much of the last 24 hours being supportive of Walsh is long snapper Kevin McDermott. He knows the heat Walsh has been taking and the heartfelt sorrow he feels for missing the biggest field goal of his professional life.
McDermott said it would have been natural for Walsh to duck and run from the media or, if he did answer questions, simply be short and curt with his answers and give them nothing to report on or use as sound bytes.
Walsh didn’t do that. He stood tall and answered every question, which McDermott thought was extremely admirable.
“I’m proud of how Blair handled it,” McDermott said. “It’s tough to stand up in front of a hundred reporters that spring in the room right after you have something like that happen. It’s a tough situation for anyone to handle, but I thought he did as best as he could under the circumstances.”
When it came to dealing with the media, Walsh has been around long enough to know the game. When you’re the hero who makes the kick at the end of the game, the same horde of reporters and cameras are going to surround your locker. By the same token, if you come off as the goat who missed, you’re going to have the same focus on you.
To his credit, Walsh didn’t back away from the criticism. In fact, he put in on himself. He remains willing to stand up to the questioning because that one kick may never be forgotten, but he isn’t going to let it define his career.
“I want you guys here when I make those kicks against Chicago and St. Louis to win the game and you guys have to be here when I miss them,” Walsh said. “That’s just part of it. It doesn’t make it feel any better to talk about it, but you kind of have to face the music and realize that the game could have been won on that play, and it wasn’t. It doesn’t mean you have to be any less confident in what you do going into next year, but you have to reflect, you have to take ownership of what you did and move on.”
Being a pro football player brings with it a level of celebrity that has its positives and negatives. There are a lot of doors opened to professional athletes that the average person isn’t able to access. They’re stuck on the wrong side of the velvet rope. Walsh is just looking for people to accept his apology for his mistake and move on from it. If he had the power to change it, he most certainly would. But now there’s nothing that can be done to reverse what happened.
However, Walsh did point out that most people don’t have others tracking them down to give their vitriolic opinions of their job performance. If a surgeon loses a patient, it’s a tragedy, but there aren’t a slew of hospital beat writers waiting to ask them pointed questions. If a chef screws up a steak, the customers aren’t allowed to walk back into the kitchen and him or her have it.
Walsh’s hope at this point is that people try to put it in perspective. He isn’t minimizing his culpability in the loss, but he thinks some are taking the result of Sunday’s game a little too deeply and a little too personally.
“It’s our job and it’s important to realize at the end of the day that it’s football,” Walsh said. “There’s plenty of things that people are going through, battling cancer and sickness and other things that are real adversity. This is adversity in your workplace. It’s tough, but you have to keep everything in perspective. I have a big faith in the Lord, and I believe that everything happens for a reason. I really do. There’s a higher plan that I’m not really aware of right now, but I trust him and I trust the plan that he has for me, and I’ll continue to do my best.”
As for the trollers on Twitter and other social media platforms? As far as Walsh is concerned, they can have it. Get your pound of flesh. Expend your venom. He’s not going to go back to 3:30 p.m. Sunday and go through the hate-filled messages left by strangers. He takes comfort from those who have reached out in a positive way. The rest of them can turn their rantings to someone else when they eventually replace Walsh on the top of the 140-character-at-a-time hit list.
They can tweet all they want. At the end of the day, it won’t make any difference to him. He’ll take comfort in knowing he still has supporters at the lowest point of his pro career, not those gleefully hoping to dance on his NFL grave.
“I’m not hopping on Twitter for anything, really,” Walsh said. “I’ve always used social media very lightly, here and there. I know it’s a big part of our culture, and I understand it, and everybody has a right to their opinions. They really do. But the people who are going to say the mean things, they’re not the people in life you want to associate with. But there are so many great Minnesota Vikings fans and so many great NFL fans who are passionate and nice and understanding, and that’s amazing. I think that shows a lot about people.”