Just two weeks into 2018, Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs delivered what seemed like it would stand as the signature moment in Minnesota sports for the entire calendar year — if not more — when his leaping catch and run walkoff TD against the Saints rescued the Vikings from a playoff collapse.
Barely a month later, Diggs has been equaled — and perhaps topped — by another Minnesota athlete, Jessie Diggins, and her exhilarating cross country skiing gold medal.
Their two accomplishments appear to have nothing more in common than that loose connection of “Minnesota sports,” but let’s take a closer look to find some interesting similarities.
*First, obviously, the names: Yeah, I’ll admit this is where the whole weird idea started. You can’t spell Diggins without Diggs. Both start with the same first four letters. The pun headlines are not only endless, they’re the same. Can you Digg it?
*OK, but check out the numbers: Honestly, I didn’t even notice this — quite possibly because I have trouble paying attention to details and am maybe not that bright sometimes — until a reader responded to my tweeted picture of Diggs and Diggins side-by-side.
Diggs wears No. 14 for the Vikings, a number he got to pick. It’s kind of an unusual number for a wide receiver, since most of them wear 80-89, but receivers are also allowed to wear 10-19. Only four other players in Vikings history have worn No. 14 — quarterbacks George Shaw, Brad Johnson and Joe Webb, along with kicker Fred Cox. Diggs is the first receiver to wear that number.
Diggins, coincidentally, was also wearing No. 14 on her bib during Wednesday’s race in Pyeongchang. Maybe it’s lucky?
Overcoming history: Diggs made believers out of Vikings fans who had witnessed countless playoff losses over the years — many in excruciating fashion. “It’s a storybook ending, and it never ends that way,” Diggs said in the immediate aftermath of the catch.
Diggins was feeling a similar pressure while trying to deliver the first Olympic medal of any kind by a U.S. woman in cross-country skiing. “It’s been hard not to let it get inside my head, and race for myself,’’ Diggins said after her gold medal performance.
On the call: Men with Minnesota connections went viral in both cases with their descriptions of the dramatic finishes.
Vikings radio play-by-play voice Paul Allen famously screamed, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IT’S A MINNEAPOLIS MIRACLE!” as Diggs caught the pass from Case Keenum, stayed in bounds and sprinted for the end zone.
Chad Salmela of Duluth was part of the two-man broadcast team for NBC that called Wednesday’s race. Known and beloved by viewers already for his energetic calls, Salmela went through the roof for the dramatic race. “HERE COMES DIGGINS! HERE COMES DIGGINS!” he screamed as Diggins made her move and eventually won.
The finishes themselves: Diggs scored at the last possible moment, ending the game with literally no time left.
Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall trailed the relay until the final turn, when Diggins pushed hard to cross the finish line 0.19 seconds ahead of the silver medal winning team from Sweden.
And yes, I suppose the big difference is that Diggins got a gold medal while Diggs got a harsh dose of reality a week later in Philadelphia. But neither will be forgotten for a long time. And like Diggins said Wednesday after the race, “If one too many people says, ‘OK! I believe it! You’re going to go win it,’ then it becomes less fun. Because winning is not the full end game for me.’’