That game you’ve been thinking about since Sunday night, when it became official the New Orleans Saints would be the Vikings’ first playoff opponent? Mike Zimmer was there.
His son Adam, now the Vikings linebackers coach, was in his fourth season as an assistant linebackers coach with the Saints in 2009, when they secured the NFC’s No. 1 seed before playing host to the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. But if you’re looking for Zimmer to say he was rooting for his son’s team — and by extension, against his future employer — in what turned out to be the most painful playoff loss in recent Vikings history, well, you’re out of luck.
“I was just sitting there observing. I wasn’t really rooting for anybody,” Zimmer said. “I had some — what are those? Hurricanes.”
And thus the connection between this Vikings-Saints matchup and the events of Jan. 24, 2010, when the Saints beat the Vikings 31-28 to win the NFC title in a game that would be re-litigated for years in its connection to the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, was officially severed. The two teams have a combined five players on their rosters that played in that game; Brian Robison is the only one left on the Vikings’ roster.
Only three Vikings on the active roster were even in the NFL at the time of the game. So while fans might be viewing this game as a chance for closure after a painful NFC title game loss, the current Vikings aren’t.
“I hear all the time that this is a ‘revenge game,’ that we get a chance to get revenge,” receiver Jarius Wright said. “It means nothing to us. We just want to win a game. We’re just trying to go to the next level. We’re going to worry about just winning this game, and not worry about revenge, or whoever’s mad.”
Wright, a sophomore at Arkansas at the time, was asked Monday what he remembered about the matchup.
“Just that they were out to hurt [Brett] Favre. That’s one thing I remember,” Wright said. “I know [Saints coach] Sean Payton got in trouble for that, and was suspended [for a year]. But it was a little before my time, so I didn’t really watch the NFL like that.”
Robison, who was a third-year defensive end on that team, had little interest in using it as fuel when asked about it last week.
“I’m not worried about that; this is 2017,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”
The Vikings-Saints matchup with more bearing on Sunday’s game would, of course, be the one that opened the 2017 season for both teams on Sept. 11, when the Vikings won 29-19 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Even that game, though, has some limitations as a barometer for Sunday’s matchup, given how much both teams have changed since that night. Sam Bradford, who won NFC offensive player of the week honors after a marvelous 346-yard performance, has started only one game since then and practiced for the first time last week since knee surgery on Nov. 8. The Vikings lost Dalvin Cook three weeks later, and have rallied their offense around Case Keenum and the backfield tandem of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
The Saints, who had eight new defensive starters at the beginning of the season, have won 12 of 15 since an 0-2 start and ended the regular season with the league’s 10th-ranked defense.
“They’re playing a lot better now,” Zimmer said. “They’ve got 20 interceptions and 42 sacks. I think that’s their mantra: they want to create havoc for the offense.”
The Week 1 game, Zimmer said, still can give the Vikings an idea of the Saints’ base scheme, but he added: “They’ve all changed. We’ve changed.”
If a game four months ago only carries some benefit to the Vikings in their preparation for the Saints this week, a matchup eight years ago is bound to carry scant value, beyond its capacity to bring fans to full throat in hopes of bandaging an old wound on Sunday.
“That happened before pretty much all of us were here, so we can’t exactly be mad about it,” Wright said. “We just have to come out and play our game, regardless of who’s mad at who for what reason.”