The Vikings were arriving in Mankato for the start of 1999 training camp. Channel 5’s Joe Schmit was capturing quick interviews for his newscasts and “Sports Wrap’’ show. Producer Gary Schulzetenberg was also on the scene.
Schmit was in the middle of an interview when he noticed Gary Anderson arriving in his car. Schmit motioned to Schulzetenberg to get a few words from Anderson, the gentleman who had missed a field goal 6 ½ months earlier that very well could have sent the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
The producer took off with haste and reached Anderson’s vehicle before the competition. As the driver’s door opened and Anderson’s left foot hit the pavement, Schulzetenberg asked:
“Gary, have you gotten over missing that field goal yet?’’
Schmit was asked on Thursday to confirm this legend and said: “I’m not sure that was the exact question, but I know Schultzie didn’t back into reminding Anderson of his miss.’’
Things have changed in the past 17 seasons. My impression after four days of pandering toward Blair Walsh is that when this failed field goal kicker arrives in Mankato in late July, the Purple Faithful and assembled media will greet him as a hero.
As we celebrate Walsh’s enthusiasm to visit first graders and bring along every willing newspaper photographer and television camera person, there are points being made in behalf of the choking field goal kicker that I would like to refute.
The main one has been this:
Walsh did not lose the game by himself. Adrian Peterson’s fumble, Captain Munnerlyn’s failure to corral Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, Andrew Sendejo’s inability to make an interception … those were all as important.
There is ebb and flow to all closely contested sporting events. Plays and bounces and officiating decisions go one way and the other, until the moment arrives when a winner is to be determined.
Sometimes this final decision is made by an individual coming up with an outstanding play. We call him or her a hero. And sometimes the final decision is made by an individual who reaches that moment and fails completely. We call him or her a goat.
The reason for “hero’’ being used is easy to define. The “goat’’ description is more complex, particularly when you consider that G.O.A.T. is now being used by younger generations as a social media acronym for Greatest of All Time.
The traditional definition of “goat’’ in sports is aimed at the person responsible for losing an athletic contest. It can be traced all the way to the ancient Hebrew bible. There was the sacrifice of two goats on the Day of Atonement, one slain for the glory of the Lord, and the other goat cast into the desert.
The goat sent to the desert was the “scapegoat,’’ carrying with it the sins of the community. This was shortened to “goat’’ by American sports writers early in the 1900s, and the definition changed to an athlete who had made a blunder or misplay that caused a team’s defeat.
So, back to Sunday, when there were dramatic turns in favor and disfavor for both teams – 59 ½ minutes of remarkable will in outrageous conditions demonstrated by the real football players on both teams.
And finally it was to be decided on a 27-yard field goal attempt for Walsh – either a hero by executing the most routine of kicks, or a goat for doing the unthinkable.
The game had not reached its final, decisive moment when Anderson’s 38-yard field goal went fractionally outside the post in the NFC title game in the Metrodome. There was 2:12 remaining, and his team led by a touchdown, and there were events still to come to decide the outcome.
That was not the case with Walsh on Sunday.
The fact he had made three field goals earlier and thus accounted for the Vikings’ nine points mattered not. The fact Peterson had fumbled, the Captain had overrun Wilson, or Sendejo had failed to intercept a pass no longer would impact the outcome.
This was the game. This was the moment. Period.
And Walsh hooked this cupcake of a kick so badly that, as someone told me this week, it was the equivalent of a PGA Tour pro missing a flat 15-inch putt by the width of a cup to lose a tournament.
I’m not saying Walsh should be cast into the desert, but all of this feel-good nonsense is nothing more than putting lipstick on a goat.