According to the NFL, the average career length for a rookie who makes an opening-day roster is six seasons. Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams is close to doubling that as he nears the end of his 11th season.
In fact, at 33, Williams has been around so long that he’ll get another shot at Josh McCown a full decade after that infamous day in the desert.
“So he was the guy in Arizona, huh?” Williams said this week as he prepared for McCown and the Bears to visit Mall of America Field on Sunday.
Yes, Kevin. Yes, he was.
Facing fourth-and-25 from the Vikings 28-yard line with four seconds left and the Vikings leading 17-12 at Sun Devil Stadium, it was McCown, then a second-year backup with an 0-2 record as a starter, who launched the ball that would sink a season.
The Cardinals were 3-12 in 2003 and had lost seven in a row. The Vikings were 9-6 and would clinch the division if McCown’s desperation throw fell incomplete.
By now, the image of that play and the call by Paul Allen, the team’s radio voice, has been forever burned into Vikings history.
“What do I remember?” Williams asked this week. “I remember that the force-out rule was [ridiculous] and got changed a couple years after that. Too late for us, though.”
Nate Poole went up for that catch in the right corner of the end zone as time expired. Cornerback Denard Walker and safety Brian Russell converged on Poole, forcing him out of bounds. And for several seconds beyond that, Vikings players and fans waited for the referee to check the replay to confirm the touchdown call.
“That guy clearly was pushed out,” Williams said. “Now, if you’re pushed out, you’re pushed out, and it doesn’t count as a touchdown. It only makes sense. How you going to rule on a play based on whether you think a guy might have gotten his feet inbounds?”
Vikings players were left strewn about the field when replay confirmed the call. The 18-17 loss not only knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs but handed the Packers the division title.
Williams, a rookie then, had a huge game with a team-high eight tackles, three sacks, two passes defensed and an interception that should have sealed the game considering the Vikings had the league’s top-ranked offense.
With 8 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game, Williams’ interception gave the Vikings the ball at the Arizona 29. But the Vikings mustered 1 yard before settling for a 46-yard field goal by Aaron Elling.
Vikings 17, Cardinals 6. But McCown suddenly got hot. He threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with 1:54 left and then returned to the field immediately when the Cardinals recovered the onside kick.
Sacks on consecutive plays by Williams and Lance Johnstone turned the momentum by creating the fourth-and-25 situation. But, well, you know the rest.
McCown is 34 now. Since 2002, he’s played for the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Panthers, Bears and, in 2010, the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League. He’s 15-21 as an NFL starter, including 2-1 with seven TDs, one interception and a 100.8 passer rating in relief of the injured Jay Cutler this season.
He’s also 2-0 against the Vikings, having also beaten them as a member of the Bears in Week 17 of the 2011 season.