As a collective, Minnesota sports fans probably embrace Schandenfreude -- that delicious German word meaning to take pleasure in the misfortune of others -- more than other places. We need not pick at all the scabs to explain why. Suffice to say, the combination of painful losses and too few championships has given us a company-loves-misery (yes, in that order) attitude.
That brings us to this past Saturday. It's hard to believe, but it was just under two years ago when the Vikings and Saints played in a memorable (and ultimately bitter, for Vikings fans) NFC title game. Brett Favre ended with a bruised and swollen ankle. The Vikings left with another chapter in a painful history -- and a new disdain for the Saints.
And as the Vikings stumbled to a 3-13 mark this year while the Saints motored on at 13-3, the distance between the two franchises grew -- until Saturday. Yes, it was a divisional playoff game and not a conference title game. Yes, New Orleans fans still have a recent Super Bowl to fall back on. But the manner in which the Saints fell to San Francisco was reminiscent enough of that cruel day nearly two years ago to make the worst of us feel better. Consider all the similarities:
• The Saints, like the Vikings two years ago, took an offensively explosive team on the road into a game many experts thought they would win. They had a quarterback who was largely playing mistake-free football on the way to a statistically eye-popping season.
• The Saints, like the Vikings, bumbled away opportunities and fell behind largely because of a potentially crippling turnover disparity. New Orleans lost three fumbles and was intercepted twice, while only causing one turnover of its own. That's exactly how the turnover battle finished up in the NFC title game two years ago, only that time it went against the Vikings.
• In spite of all the giveaways on the road -- usually a recipe for a blowout -- the Saints were in prime position to win on Saturday just as the Vikings were two years ago. A Drew Brees touchdown pass with less than 2 minutes left put the Saints up on San Francisco just as a late drive with the game tied looked as though it could yield the winning points for the Vikings.
• In both cases, of course, heartbreak followed in extremely cruel fashion. The Vikings had the infamous huddle incident, the infamous interception, and the rest is history. The Saints watched Alex Smith -- at one point a candidate to be among the biggest busts among No. 1 overall picks in NFL history -- beat them on a TD pass with nine seconds left.
While none of it eases the sting of two years ago, it doesn't mean Vikings fans can't enjoy a little Schadenfreude.
Oh, and that second game on Sunday didn't hurt, either.