NFC Championship images endure

Those who watched the Vikings' final game of the season on TV were witness to many mistakes. Those who witnessed the aftermath saw the raw emotions and disappointment of those who played and were intimately involved, and some of those images remain in the memory bank.

Two weeks later, the visions of defeat still remain. The revelry of Bourbon Street and the noise of the Superdome have long since left the eardrums, but certain visual images will stick for some time.

After the Vikings' loss in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, a photo in the Star Tribune of the "Weeping Blondes" became iconic with that loss. So far, there hasn't been anything like that to symbolize the latest Vikings disappointment.

On the field, Brett Favre's final interception will probably remain wedged in many fans' brains. The repeated sight of him hit time and again and continuing to rise to his feet will endure. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin's fumbles can't easily be forgotten either. Maybe the yellow flag on the field for 12 men in the huddle will stick with some.

Those are all on-the-field mistakes that converged to form the heart-breaking loss for many fans. Without any one of them, the Vikings might be in tomorrow's Super Bowl and trying to take down Peyton Manning's Colts.

But a couple of the memories I'll always have of the 2009 NFC Championship Game might not have been available to fans through their television feed because they weren't within the frame of the game. Instead, they marked the bitter disappointment among the players and executives.

Sitting above the Superdome field in the press box, I remember watching the players and coaches walk the length of the field and into the opposite tunnel before the game with their suits on and their luggage wheeled behind them. But one player who wasn't so quick to leave the field after the game was quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who was the only player on the team that was inactive for every single game this season.

Still, it was clear the loss affected Rosenfels every bit as hard as it did those who sweated it out on the field. When the bitter defeat was a reality, many players ran into the locker room … and in the process they ran right past Rosenfels, who walked to the goal line, turned around to watch the Saints' celebration and dropped to a knee.

Rosenfels continued to watch as every last teammate ran past and confetti fell to the turf. For at least a minute, the nine-year veteran of the NFL took it all in – players shaking hands, hugging and walking up the a makeshift stage to dance – before he finally stood up and walked back to join his teammates in the deafly silent locker room.

"I've never been in an NFC Championship Game and that was the most amazing game I've been around in any sport at any time in my life," Rosenfels said. "You don't know how many times you're going to get back and see what it's like. That was the most unbelievable game I've ever been a part of. I just wanted to see the end, I guess."

While watching the opponents celebrate was disappointing, Rosenfels also wanted to watch those he has grown to know during his time in the league.

"I know the season (the Saints) have had and I know (Drew Brees). We came in together as rookies. And I know how much it means to this city. Just to take it all in," he said. "Hopefully we'll have that experience next year or one of these years."

As he had done for the 16 regular-season games and both of the playoff games, Rosenfels was on the sideline talking with teammates during the game. He had seen highs and lows and had an appreciation for the fight that went into the NFC Championship Game.

"That was a 15-round heavyweight fight and we knew that's what it was going to be and that's exactly what it was. We never got too high or too low," he said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight and I think guys kept their poise, really, even when bad things happened. We kept our poise and we always responded."

In the end, however, there wasn't much responding to what had happened. Just disappointment.

Minutes after Rosenfels' goal-line observances, Peterson emerged from the locker room and walked past a small gathering of team personnel and media. He walked a few more feet down the tunnel toward the field and stood watching more of the celebration, staring blankly knowing what had literally slipped out of his grasp.

After a handful of interviews in the sullen locker room, reporters emerged on their way to a larger room where Brett Favre would speak. Still standing outside the locker room were a few Vikings executives, including owner and president Mark Wilf with a shocked and stunned look on his face. Owner and chairman Zygi Wilf was approached and asked if he would comment and all he could do was shake his head no.

From Rosenfels to Peterson to the Wilfs, each of those men symbolized the deep hurt they felt without saying anything.

And then came the image that might best have encapsulated what had taken place previously on the field for more than three hours. Several reporters sat in a room set up to handle dozens more – the missing were likely busy working the Saints' victorious surroundings. When Favre entered, he walked past the empty rows of chairs and stood at the bottom of three of four steps leading to the stage where his postgame press conference podium stood. With eyes glazed over, he grabbed the temporary railing tightly and hobbled his way up the steps.

He spoke for about 12 minute, expanding on the game and on his uncertain future as a player. But nothing he said would stick more than the image of his weary, watery eyes and the limp that dominated his walk.

And, now, an unlucky 13 days later, with the official end to the 2009 season tomorrow, new memories are about to made for two teams. One will celebrate, the other will mourn. And the images behind the scenes of the Superdome will continue stick with those who witnessed one or more of the post-game symbols of a playoff run that came up short.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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