It was a chip shot, a 27-yard attempt from the left hash, an absolute gimme.
The field goal would give the Vikings a two-point lead. The Seahawks would get the ball back with a little more than 20 seconds remaining in the contest. The Vikings might squib the ensuing kickoff, force the Hawks to field the football in the frigid cold, attempt a return, and take time off the clock. Or they might blast it to the back of the end zone for a touchback, as they had routinely been doing, in spite of the conditions. Either way, Russell Wilson wouldn’t have much time to lead the offense down the field in search of a victory.
Maybe, just maybe, a hand might get in Walsh’s way, blocking the attempt and sealing the victory for Seattle. Earlier in the game, Richard Sherman, all 75 inches of him, had surged around the line, lunged, and fell short of the rising pigskin by barely a centimeter. What if he could do it again? It allowed for a shred of hope, no matter how improbable.
Only minutes before, jubilation reigned over viewing parties across the Puget Sound region, the result of a Steven Hauschka field goal that had staked Seattle to a one-point advantage. This was preceded by the offense stirring from a three-quarter-long slumber, as Doug Baldwin hauled in a Wilson pass for a touchdown on the prior possession. There had been screaming and yelling and a collective exhalation from those watching the grind-it-out grudge match that had been more heavily influenced by the elements than anyone could have imagined.
Until the fourth quarter awakening, little had gone right for the Seahawks over the course of the afternoon. And it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Seattle was supposed to waltz into Minnesota and bludgeon an opponent they had throttled just five weeks earlier. It was all but anticipated by everyone who knew anything about the matchup. Thus, in the wake of a pair of unanswered scores by the visiting squad, there was a sense of relief among the Seahawks faithful.
Temporary was the respite from white knuckles and strained nerves, however. Now, here we were looking on as the Vikings’ 26-year-old placekicker lined up the go-ahead offering.
It was hardly fathomable. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota’s second-year quarterback, had actually executed a successful two-minute drill that was about to pay off. Teddy Bridgewater, wearer of two gloves. Teddy Bridgewater, who seven days in the past had tossed an interception with his non-throwing hand. Teddy Bridgewater, the butt of seemingly any joke one could make about an NFL quarterback. Thanks to a 24-yard hookup with his tight end, Kyle Rudolph, and the aid of a curious pass interference call, Bridgewater, against all odds, had put his team in a position to win.
There we sat, heads down, silent. We turned our gazes away from the glow of the TV screens, not daring to watch the depressing outcome that was almost certainly headed our way. We looked at our phones, at the floor, the wall. But then compelled by those same forces that draw our eyes to train wrecks and car accidents, we glanced back towards the action like children peeking through their hands at a horror movie.
The snap was crisp. The holder brought the ball to the turf. The kicker wound up. The line trembled. Would anyone get there? Would anyone get to the – nope. The kick was up. Annnnddd…
I giggled. I’ll admit it. I snickered like a schoolgirl. I rose with the flight of the football and giggled as soon as Walsh’s attempt took a harder left turn than a Jeff Nelson slider.
Bedlam ensued. Chairs went flying, voices cried out, people were leaping, running, almost dancing. Strangers hugged. Friends embraced. Some guy in the corner of the bar with a grin the size of Texas recorded the entire celebration on his phone. I laughed like I haven’t laughed in a long time.
How? How did that happen? How had Walsh, one of the better kickers in the league, failed to deliver on what should have been an automatic three points? Later, we would discover that the hold was botched, a symptom of the sub-freezing temperatures and something that had plagued the Vikings kicking unit throughout the day. But in that instant, it didn’t matter.
After an exhausting fourth quarter, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Blair Walsh was going to nail that kick. Until he didn’t. And then it was over. The Seahawks extended their season into the divisional round of the playoffs. The Seahawks, against a backdrop of euphoric disbelieve, had won.