Inexcusable. Awful. Pathetic.
All appropriate ways to describe the culmination of the Minnesota Vikings season. But, we’re not talking about Blair Walsh missing a short field goal that would’ve won the Vikes’ NFC Wild Card round playoff game as time expired. Instead it’s the treatment Walsh received after his attempt sailed wide left that was downright disgusting.
Walsh should have made the 27-yard attempt. Clearly it’s an easy one by his standards. For his career Walsh has converted 30 out of 31 field goals from 20-29 yards out. This season Walsh led all NFL kickers in field goals made. Walsh is ultra-reliable. He’s also, dare we say, human.
Blair Walsh tried to make a field goal but he missed it. It’s as simple as that. A physical error by a professional athlete. The reaction by many, however, makes you think Walsh capsized a Viking ship filled with puppies. Big mouths on ESPN and elsewhere smiled while telling us how Walsh “failed” at his job. The disenfranchised with keyboard muscles called him every name in the book on social media. Walsh and his family have reportedly received death threats. Over a football game! In a day and age in which we are threatened by ISIS, malcontents with no girlfriends sitting in mom’s basement call for the death of a guy they’ve never met because he didn’t boot a ball through the uprights.
There’s so much wrong with this whole situation it’s hard to tackle all of it, but there are certain aspects that stand out. In order to miss a field goal in a playoff game, you first have to be one of the 32 men in America that currently call NFL placekicker their profession. So, for the snarky television and radio shows to say Walsh is a”failure” at is job is stupid. He missed this particular kick, yes, but Walsh is far from a failure. He’s one of the best kickers in professional football today.
The Vikings didn’t lose the game because Walsh missed a filed goal. Minnesota lost because Walsh missed a field goal and because their offense couldn’t score a touchdown all day and because their defense couldn’t hold a two-score second half lead and because the Seattle Seahawks had something to say about all of it.
Have we forgotten Gary Anderson? After a perfect 1998 season in which he converted all of his extra point and field goal tries, Anderson missed a kick in the NFC title game that would’ve sent Minnesota to the Super Bowl. Walsh’s attempt was a lot closer, but does anyone really think the 2015 Vikings were going to beat Arizona or Carolina? The Vikings enjoyed a nice season, but their run would’ve probably ended next week even if Walsh converted. Walsh missed a kick he should have made, but by no means did he ruin anyone’s dreams of a Lombardi Trophy.
Another reason Walsh is being harassed, bullied, and frankly abused is simply because of his position. Kickers are slammed when they don’t come through. Meantime, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and coaches Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner are being patted on the back for a superb season. Where’s the vitriol for them since their offense could only manage nine points on Sunday? There is none, because that would be ridiculous. The attacks on Walsh are just as silly.
The Vikings could’ve won the game by scoring more points earlier. The only points they mustered came from Walsh’s foot. If Walsh missed a 27-yarder earlier in the game, it would have gone down as just another stat. Instead the timing of his shank has brought the ne’er-do-wells out of the woodwork.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Walsh aftermath is the comments made by his head coach. Mike Zimmer went out of his way to tell us he didn’t speak to Walsh and to say “It’s a chip shot” and “He’s got to make it.” Come on. Zimmer has been awesome this season leading his team to a division crown. But doesn’t Zimmer have to first show some compassion for his player? Surely if Adrian Peterson fumbled on the last play or if Bridgewater threw a pick to end it, Zimmer’s first comments wouldn’t be similar to these. Zimmer should know first hand how throwing out blanket statements isn’t always the best course of action. Earlier in the season, Peterson questioned the Minnesota coaching decisions after a tough loss. The Vikings have been among the best coached clubs all season long. Peterson was wrong. Now, his coach missed the mark just as much, if not more so than Walsh did.
The bottom line is: the Seahawks advanced and the Vikings went home after Walsh missed a field goal. He didn’t try to miss it. He wasn’t in cahoots with his snapper and holder (who’ve also received shoddy treatment) to give the game to Seattle. He just missed. Laces in, out, or otherwise he should have made it. He tried to make it. Regardless, the reaction was inappropriate, weird, and telling.
Multi-million dollar athletes are subject to criticism for their play and behavior. Saying Walsh should’ve made the kick is completely fair. Calling it a short field goal is also accurate. A disappointing ending to the season? Sure. But, attacking a man personally is just sick and sad.
This unfortunately is part of society today. The culture war is chock full of those on the wrong side of it who truly believe the outcome of sporting events is life and death. It’s healthy to love sports. It’s great to have a rooting interest. However, when you look the other way from dog killers and sexual abusers as long as they help your team win, there’s a problem. People are buying authentic jerseys but passing on paying the electric bill. Many can name every player on their team’s roster but have no idea who their congressman is. Priorities and perspective aren’t what they were in Bud Grant’s day.
The one who handled the Blair Walsh miss the best is Blair Walsh. The kicker manned up and answered every question from media members. He defended his teammates and took the blame. He feels horrible. But unlike so many others, the just turned 26-year old showed he’s wise well beyond his years. While accepting blame, Walsh also made it clear he’s determined to come back next season stronger than ever. He articulated that tough finishes like this one are part of the job. He was adamant in declaring he will not let this play define him. Some of the comments were done through tears. Walsh gets it. He knows his city is feeling let down and he’s man enough to carry that burden.
Blair Walsh missed a field goal that would’ve won the game for the Vikings. He’s being called a choker and a goat. If you listened to any of his postgame remarks you’ll see he’s actually someone to admire—as a man. That’s something he and his family should be proud of. If Walsh’s kick would have sailed through he would have been labeled a great guy. Interestingly, he’s even more of one after missing it.