Patriots-Vikings showdown super bleak prospect

After the crazy finish in the last of four NFL playoff games last week, a rhetorical question issued forth among fans of the Green Bay Packers.

Who would you rather see win the Super Bowl — Minnesota or New England?

To many fans, the answer is an obvious “neither.” Patriots and Vikings jerseys don’t fly off the shelves in this locale, with good reason, and all things considered, picking one over the other can be like choosing between a cluster headache and a migraine. It’s hard to muster up any support either way.

Why the aversion to those two? Easy. The Packers’ rivalry with Minnesota has played with an intra-divisional hostility ever since the Vikings came into the league, most recently illustrated by the season-killing injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

As for the Patriots — as it often happens with franchises that have been too good for too long — many football fans outside their base are just sick of them on general principle.

A dud matchup on paper, a New England-Minnesota championship game could well come about. Both the Vikings and Patriots are favored to win their games in next Sunday’s conference finals, which, for a good chunk of football fans here, would mean a 100 percent chance of sneering at the television set on Feb. 4.

All things being relative, it could be worse.

Unpleasant though it may be to imagine Tom Brady and company beaming yet again in the winner’s circle — or maybe even worse, to hear the elk-in-rut caterwauling of novelty horns fill the stadium as the Vikings raised the Lombardi trophy — it wouldn’t be anything like the pain Marcus Williams is dealing with.

The New Orleans Saints’ rookie safety was immortalized into highlight reel posterity on the final play of Minnesota’s 29-24 division round win when his missed tackle allowed receiver Stefon Diggs to spring free on a miracle 61-yard winning score.

Williams’ misplay was unforgettable due to the stage of the game that it came, and by how badly he whiffed on the tackle. He collided with teammate Ken Crawley in a manner that looked more like a Three Stooges episode than a postseason playoff, as both defenders were taken out of the play that had required only a basic wrap-up tackle to finish.

Like fumbles, interceptions and never-ending pass interference calls, missed tackles are part of the game. Today’s players may be more skilled than ever, but fundamentals in football have taken a retrogressive turn of late, at least to the extent that various players still don’t have the part down yet about hanging onto the ball all the way across the goal line.

The winning touchdown pass was the fourth lead change in the last three minutes of the game led that Minnesota led by 17 points with a little more than a minute left in the third quarter.

“It’s on me,” Williams said afterward. “I’m going to take it on myself to never let that happen again.”

That’s no doubt very reassuring to Saints fans.

Nevertheless, he does have time to redeem himself. Some postseason antiheroes aren’t so lucky. Tight end Jackie Smith was 37 when he dropped an easy touchdown pass in the end zone in Super Bowl XIII. It was his last game in an otherwise stellar 16-year career. Bill Buckner was 36 when he pantomimed a croquet wicket at the wrong time. Enough said there.

The 21-year-old Williams — who had a key interception in the Saints’ second-half rally — will be motivated to bounce back and build a career obscuring his role in last Sunday’s debacle.

The game he’d rather forget is already being hailed as the greatest victory in Vikings history, which, for those keeping score, includes a stretch of four Super Bowl berths in eight years, and four long trips home.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.