Amid the yelling, hugging, high-fiving and kissing of strangers, Minnesota Vikings fans had a singular word for the outcome of the game Sunday night: Unbelievable.
In a good way, for once, not the usual head-hanging, I-can’t-believe-this-happened-again way.
“We thought we were done; it was another loss,” Barry Vulcan of Lino Lakes said, shaking his head, wearing a No. 19 Adam Thielen jersey and still holding a beer on the concourse with his friend Bob Faulkner of Hugo.
The two were in their seats, silent, settling in for playoff heartbreak like the rest of the heavily purple-clad crowd of 66,612. These fans at the outset had brought a surreal level of energy to the first playoff game at the 17-month-old U.S. Bank Stadium. Fans fervently waved their purple and white “Bring It Home” hand towels and howled to numbing decibels at kickoff and throughout the first quarter, when the Vikings held the Saints to a single first down.
Then that familiar sinking sensation sneaked in as the Saints sheared the Vikings defense and took, lost and retook the lead late in the fourth quarter. Fans looked at each other with those familiar, knowing sympathy of lifelong Vikings fans.
In front of the western glass doors on the main concourse, fans had coats buttoned, ready to walk out, get smacked by the January cold and go to work Monday morning. Oh well.
But they didn’t leave. They watched on the screens — just in case.
Then that catch. The run into the end zone. A pause of disbelief before reality took hold. Then the eruption. Men rolled on the concourse floor, women jumped up and down. Strangers ran into each other’s arms. Everyone smiled. The collective howl of happiness was so loud that you couldn’t hear yourself scream.
Prince’s “Delirious” soared on the speakers throughout the building and everyone felt it.
“I’m in shock. I don’t know how to take it. This doesn’t happen in Minnesota,” said Jake Rother of Savage, who was sporting a Harrison Smith jersey.
His friend James Kolar of Mendota Heights interjected, “[Stefon] Diggs in 2020. In [Case] Keenum we trust.” He referred to the wide receiver and the quarterback who connected for the winning touchdown. He was bouncy and smiling, but minutes earlier, he said he “was biting my nails.”
The Vikings fans weren’t jamming the concourses to get out. They were soaking in the unfamiliar feeling of winning, rather than losing, a big one in the final moments. The final-second reversal made the result all the more savory.
Spontaneous rounds of the “Skol” chant broke out on the concourses. Hands went up to high-five passing strangers. Refusal was not an option.
Jeremiah Speckel of Minneapolis was out there among them, shaking his head, saying he had been resigned to watching the Vikings throw away their shot at playing in a Super Bowl in their own stadium. Minutes after the game, it was still sinking in. “This doesn’t happen in Minnesota,” he said. “This happens in New York.”
Nearby, Victor Andriano of Lakeville was one of those who dropped to the floor and rolled around as his wife and two sons already had their hands on the exit doors. “This is unbelievable,” he said, waving his son’s blanket and hugging anyone who got close.
His wife, Veronica Andriano, and sons Axel, 11, and Caleb, 5, smiled and watched. “I don’t know if he’s leaving,” she said. But the kids don’t have school Monday so there was no rush to go.
Craig and Lee Edsill are lifelong Vikings fans from Iowa who now live in Philadelphia. Yes, they will be at that game. “You want to stay at our house?” she asked a stranger.
Lee Edsill said they weren’t in a hurry to get out of the crowd. “You want to relish the moment.”
Standing off to the side were Laurel Scott and Dennis Gudim of St. Paul. He was wiping off the bottom of her crutches as they took a break from walking. “The way they did it was unbelievable,” she said.
The two already have tickets to the Super Bowl here on Feb. 4. “That’s how confident we were,” Gudim said.
As for the uncharacteristic postgame exuberance on the concourses, Gudim looked around, smiled and said, “It’s good for the spirit.”
Traci Opsahl, who watched the final moments from the concourse, said, “I’ve never high-fived or hugged so many people in quick succession in my life.”