Stefon Diggs was my favorite player on the Minnesota Vikings. His incredible route-running skills and speed coupled with his ability to grab contested catches at will and score every time he touched the ball were my favorite things about him as a player, and I loved his swagger as a person with funny celebrations and an uber-competitive attitude. He was quietly one of the best receivers in football over the past two or three seasons, posting many games with multiple scores and two with three touchdowns, one of which I was in attendance for as a birthday present this past year against the Eagles.
During the course of the 2019-20 season, Diggs began to voice his frustration with the Vikings, primarily the quarterback play of Kirk Cousins by calling him out publicly for his underperformance in games after a humiliating Week 4 loss to Chicago. This opinion was shared by fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen, who noted that teams cannot win games all season by only running the ball, and by the majority of Vikings fans who had seen Cousins come up short in the two games where the team relied on him to score at that point in the season. Luckily for all of us, Kirk seemed to respond to this public criticism by performing at a level not seen before in his career, winning the NFC Offensive Player of the Month in October. He led the team to four straight wins in October and threw for 10 touchdowns to one interception, 1,262 passing yards, a 78.4% completion rate, and a passer rating of 137.1. The issues with Kirk had seemingly gone away overnight after being called out, and the Vikings would end up making their way into the playoffs despite losing three of their last five to end the season with star running back Dalvin Cook being injured for most of December.
Rivalries in the NFL usually are a product of the division teams are in. Classic rivalries like the Packers and Bears, Steelers and Ravens, Cowboys and Eagles, Packers and Vikings, and the Saints and Falcons are all in the same division. Sometimes, though, certain circumstances arise that allow a rivalry to exist outside of a division, and potentially be even stronger. The Patriots and Colts are a prime example, with quarterback Tom Brady squaring off against Peyton Manning and eventually Andrew Luck in many fierce regular season and playoff games. Such has been the case recently for the Vikings and Saints.
Going back to the 2009-2010 playoffs, both the Saints and Vikings finished with the first and second seed in the conference respectively and clobbered their opponent in the divisional round to make it to the conference championship. Even as a first grader at the time, I will never forget this game and its impact on the Vikings as a franchise, and as a microcosm for the Vikings as a whole. Without detailing every excruciating play and event, Brett Favre threw an interception to Tracy Porter within field goal range that set up the game for overtime, whereas if Minnesota had simply run the ball or even taken a knee, a field goal would have likely sent them to the Super Bowl. Instead, the Saints, who were somehow only tied with the Vikings at the time despite recovering four turnovers from the Vikings, won the coin toss in overtime and marched down the field to kick a game winning field goal to send the Vikings home without touching the ball and the Saints to the Super Bowl where they eventually beat the Colts.
To begin the following season, league rules changed requiring a touchdown in an overtime playoff game to win on the first possession to help both teams touch the ball, which was very helpful to the Vikings who finished 6-10 the following season, well outside of a playoff spot. At least the Saints got some karmic revenge. Thanks, Marshawn.
A couple years later revealed that the Saints had been paying their defensive players to injure opposing quarterbacks during their Super Bowl run which resulted in hefty fines, draft picks being taken away, and coaches suspended for a couple seasons. They were very successful at this task, shown here against legendary quarterback Kurt Warner.
This bitter taste would be left in Vikings fans’ mouths for nearly a decade as they waded in mediocrity for the better portion of the 2010s, making the playoffs in the 2015-16 season where they lost to Seattle in another painful play in Minnesota sports history. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was looking like a promising, franchise player until his knee exploded on a non-contact drill in training camp, which set the Vikings back another couple years as they gave up their first round pick for Sam Bradford whose knee was injured in a non-contact play a year later in the opening game against the Saints, ushering in backup QB Case Keenum for the remainder of the 2017-18 season.
He would lead the Vikings to a 12-3 record, coupled with the opening day win aganst New Orleans, secured the Vikings a spot in the playoffs as the #2 seed and a first round bye. Their first opponent in the playoffs would be the New Orleans Saints. After jumping out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, the Saints came roaring back. With about three minutes left in the game, the Saints held a 21-20 lead after a blocked punt led to a touchdown pass. After 2:50 had passed, and all hope from Vikings fans everywhere had been sucked out of their bodies as all of them had seen something similar too many times before, something amazing happened.
What? The Vikings did that?
Yes, they did. Undoubtably the greatest moment in Vikings history happened that day, and they went on to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium, vanquishing all of their past demons and finally, finally providing the title the team and their fans had been looking for for over 50 years.
Or that’s how I’d write the rest of the season in a book.
The Vikings got smoked by the Eagles the following week and watched as the Patriots and Eagles dueled it out in their own stadium only to have the Eagles win their first Super Bowl. But at least we got revenge on the Saints, and Diggs signed a 5 year contract extension with the team during the offseason
The next year, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to put them over the hump and proceeded to miss the playoffs by one game against a Bears team that had nothing to play for in the last game of the season, leading to some controversy at the position, but they returned the next year, last season, with a 10-6 record. The Vikings had to play the Saints once again. As per tradition, the game came down to the last seconds. The Vikings won the coin toss and drove downfield on an amazing pass to Adam Thielen, and then a pass to Kyle Rudolph to seal the game without the Saints touching the ball because Minnesota scored a touchdown instead of a field goal.
Diggs was visibly frustrated during the win, as he didn’t touch the ball very much in the game. The following week, he scored the only touchdown in a loss to the 49ers. Rumors had been floating around that Diggs wanted out of Minnesota before that season, as well as this current offseason. He finally got his wish as he was traded to Buffalo a couple days ago for a haul of draft picks.
Diggs has had some very memorable moments in his career as a Minnesota Viking, and he was my favorite player for several years. I will never forget his contributions to the organization as a whole and the memories he created for myself and Vikings fans across the world. Thanks for your time here, and may you have success in Buffalo.