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Forty minutes after he ran (levitated?) off the field Sunday, Case Keenum picked up his iPhone in the Vikings’ locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, looked at the screen … Ding! … and just shook his head. Keenum repeated a line he could not stop saying. He said to no one, “I can’t believe it.” That ding sound, the annoying sound when a text message lands in an iPhone, just wouldn’t stop, and Keenum, bemused, tossed the phone onto the wooden seat of his locker.

“Can’t believe it,” Keenum said. “A hundred and 73 texts.”

He rose to pose for pictures with Stefon Diggs, his partner in the most stunning moment in Vikings history. Their grins were goofy. “Dude, I can’t believe this!” Keenum said. There are times when people are so happy they appear to be almost in a daze, and that was Keenum, right here, right now, turning back to his locker.


“I’m not mad about it,” Keenum said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Keenum just sat and thought for a few moments, and looked at me.

“How are you gonna write THIS?” he said.



There are football games, and there are mini-series, and there are Spielberg epics. Minnesota 29, New Orleans 24 falls somewhere north of football game on this spectrum. Well north.

Plenty of good material from the Vikings taking a 17-0 halftime lead, and the Saints clawing back to go up 21-20 with three minutes left, and the Vikings going up 23-21 with 89 seconds left, and the Saints going up 24-23 with 25 seconds left. But we’ll fast-forward through that, to third-and-10, 10 seconds to go, with Keenum gathering his team for one last gasp at the Minnesota 39.

In his helmet, Keenum heard the call from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

“Buffalo right, 7 Heaven,” Shurmur said.

And …

“Case!” Shurmur said. “Make sure you get the ball launched!”

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One-by-three formation, all sideline routes. “Buffalo right” is three receivers overloaded to the right (“B” signifies “bunch formation,” thus “Buffalo,” so the players get the “B” for bunch), close together to confuse coverage. The “7” signified the 7 Route, or corner route—where the receivers runs down the sideline and cuts out to the boundary and looks for the ball. To the left, Adam Thielen, running a 20-yard sideline-hugging route. To the right, tight end Kyle Rudolph running a six-yard out; wideout Jarius Wright running about a 20-yard out, and Stefon Diggs running about five yards deeper, also right on the sideline. The instructions were clear: Catch the ball, get out of bounds with a second or two left so kicker Kai Forbath would have prayer at a long field goal.

The huddle broke. Keenum looked at his three wideouts.

“Guys!” he said, and they looked at him quickly. “I’m gonna give somebody a chance here!”

Shurmur doesn’t know how many times he’s called the play this year. “But we’ve practiced it probably every week,” he said.

It’s a low-percentage deal. Most defenses, one Viking said, usually play this play near the end of a half designed to tackle the receiver in-bounds, so the clock can die before the opponent can attempt a field goal. On this play, as it developed, you saw the defenders on the right tight to the wide right stripe. If the Vikings caught the pass, New Orleans was going to do its darndest for the tackle to be in-bounds, so the clock would run out and the Saints would be the team going to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game after a 24-23 win. But hold on.


At the snap, four receivers bolted from the line; the back stayed to help block. Thielen got blanketed by Marshon Lattimore to the left; nothing to see there. Rudolph just an emergency place-holder to the right. All along, Keenum thought he’d throw it deep and to the right, because Diggs was going to be the deepest, and if he caught it, ideally, Forbath would be left with a 52-yarder.

“The play there is to just flood the sideline,” said Shurmur.

And hope.

With seven seconds left, facing pressure up the middle from Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, Keenum let it fly. In a way, he was lucky that Rankins pressured him.

Make sure you get the ball launched!

“I remember seeing a flash of Stefon breaking towards the sideline,” Keenum told me, “and I threw it right at the back of his head, trying to put it high on the back of his head, and he jumped up and I thought, ‘Oh wow, he has a chance at this.’ I could see his gloves up in the air. I can still see the image of his gloves going up for it. He catches it, and I'm like, ‘Oh man, he caught it!’”

:05. Diggs catch at the Saints 34-yard line.

“Get out of bounds!” Keenum yelled.

“Get out of bounds!” coach Mike Zimmer, just yards away, yelled.

Get out of bounds! Shurmur thought.

:04. Safety Marcus Williams of the Saints came in for the low kill shot on Diggs.

Williams whiffed.


If Williams connected with Diggs’ legs and clipped him over, Diggs would have stayed in the field of play. Game over.

“And then I see the safety fly by him!” Keenum told me.


:04. Williams and cornerback Ken Crawley banged into each other. They fell like bowling pins.

“That was God,” Adam Thielen said. “That play right there was God.”

“I’m just waiting for someone to hit me,” Diggs said. “That’s why—did you see me?—I almost fell. I turned around to run, and I almost fell.”

“I see him put his hand down, and he didn’t go down,” Keenum said. “I’m like, ‘Oh wait. He didn’t go down!’ There’s nobody in front of him!“

Five inches from the wide white boundary stripe, Diggs pivoted and headed upfield.

:03. At the 21-yard line, Diggs looked over his shoulder.

Nobody. :02, :01 …

:00. Diggs passed the goal line as the clock struck double zero.

Keenum: “He scored … wait, he just scored? What happened? … What is going on? Is this real life?”

“I was at a loss for words,” Diggs said. “Speechless. Biggest moment of my life. My whole life.”


Keenum started running down the field, looking almost exactly like Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug in Albuquerque. Finally, he found someone—left guard Mike Remmers.

“OH MY GOD!” were the only words that came out of Keenum, and he jumped into Remmers’ arms.


This was a special place to be Sunday, obviously. The Vikings have been to Super Bowls before, four of them in their 57 NFL seasons. They lost all four—Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI, and none was particularly pretty. Every loss was by double-digits. They have not been to a Super Bowl in 41 years, and now stand one win away from not only being in their fifth Super Bowl, but also being the first team in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl to play the game on its home field. Super Bowl LII will be Feb. 4, right here.

Beating a fledgling America’s Team, Dallas, for the NFC title in 1973 might qualify as the biggest win in franchise history. I won’t argue that this win is better. This win, simply, was one of the most shocking endings in NFL history: a walk-off 61-yard touchdown in the playoffs, from a undrafted quarterback cut loose by the Texans and Rams twice each, to a receiver picked 146th overall in 2014, coached by a man who was a head-coaching bridesmaid for years before getting the Vikings job in 2014. Against, of course, a walk-in Hall of Fame quarterback playing at his peak.

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It was such a energizing, shocking win. The game ended at 7:15 p.m. Central Time. At 10:36 p.m. CT, in the restaurant at the Radisson Red Hotel a couple of blocks from the stadium, some guy with a Randy Moss Vikings jersey stood up and yelled, “CAN I GET A SKOL?!!!!!’’

(“Skol” is a Danish/Norwegian/Swedish word for “cheers,” according to Wikipedia. The Vikings have been using it as part of their fight song since their founding in 1961.)

“Skol!,” one guy yelled back. Soon, the entire restaurant, as one, was chanting: “SKOL! SKOL! SKOL! SKOL!”

“Dilly Dilly! We’re goin’ to Philly!” another guy yelled next.

Good thing today’s a national holiday. Doubt much work will get done in the Twin Cities. Pretty big hangover day, from the looks of the Radisson Red last night.

But the joy was cool to see. I asked Mike Zimmer what it was about football that caused so many coaches and so many teams to latch onto the no-respect angle, or the thought that no one gave them a chance. It seems so natural with this team. “I think it's even not so much football,” he said. “I think it's sports. All sports. They see all your deficiencies and the guys that end up making it are the guys that keep their nose to the grindstone and keep fighting, keep trying to figure out a way. That's a little bit like our team. No one thought we were going to be any good. I know you guys didn't pick us very good going into the year. But we have a bunch of fighters in that locker room, guys that will compete. I said to Harrison Smith yesterday in practice, ‘Are you afraid of these guys?’ He said, ‘I am afraid of everybody. That's why I play good.’ That's how our team is.”


As the euphoria was winding down in the Minnesota locker room, Adam Thielen walked out past the scene at the Diggs locker. For the longest time, maybe an hour, Diggs didn’t remove a stitch of clothing. “I don’t want to take this uniform off,” he said at one point to Vikings alum Sage Rosenfels. Now, about 75 minutes after the game, Diggs had family gathered around, enjoying the moment. His godfather held the ball like it was a newborn. Thielen—small-college Minnesota guy, never lived outside the state in his life, never given a chance by any team but the Vikings—walked by, and they shared a moment, and then Thielen said, “Be ready tomorrow. We gotta work. Big week.”

“We got guys, taken late or free agents,” Diggs said after a while. “We got so much to prove. Adam Thielen? Come on now. Guy’s got so much much to prove every day, every play. We got a group of those guys with things to prove daily. We’re all the same. With us, every play matters. I believe that’s why we can make plays like we made today.”


From a couple of lockers down. Keenum was doing his press conference now, but his phone kept chirping. Alone. Everybody wanted a piece of Keenum, and boy, was that different from his days at the end of an NFL roster. What did the future hold? No one knows. “He’s got a Heisman Trophy winner backing him up now,” Shurmur said, speaking of Sam Bradford. “Early in the year, when he stepped in for Sam, he didn’t know how long it’d last, and he told me, ‘Listen, I’m getting a chance to drive a really beautiful fast car. I’m gonna drive it as far and as long as I can.’ And he’s never approached it with anxiety, or looking at anything except what’s important that day.”

I’d bet the Vikings try to re-sign Keenum, a free agent, after the season, but there could be bigger offers in Denver (John Elway is an admirer), Arizona, Cleveland or who knows where else. Now’s not the time for that. The NFC Championship Game awaits, Sunday in Philadelphia. Case Keenum is one win away from the Super Bowl, folks.

Back at Keenum’s locker, post-press conference, I wondered if he was still driven by that chip, by the people who still think he’ll implode. Sunday’s start wasn’t wonderful, and wasn’t nearly his best in a 12-3 season as starter. But he made the biggest throw of the day—of the season, really—when it had to be made. And he put it right on the spot.

“I mean, I've done so much work at trying to block those people out,” said Keenum. “I kind of have a little space in my mind that I just throw all that stuff in and maybe one day when I am not thinking about waking up to go work out or one last wind sprint, I’ll think about it. But it's not my biggest motivation now.”

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Before he left the locker room with family up from Texas, he checked his texts again. “Now it’s 205,” he said, and he shook his head.

Get used to it. That happens to hero quarterbacks who just made the biggest throw of their lives.

In other news …


Think of what we saw this weekend.

• We saw Tom Brady joined in the NFL’s Final Four by Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles. Don’t overrate this and think it means the decline in importance of the Franchise Quarterback. It doesn’t. Just think of championship weekend as an outlier. All four defenses can win games.

• One game (Pats 35, Titans 14) was drama-less. One game (Vikes 29, Saints 24) was won on the last play of the game. One game (Eagles 15, Falcons 10) was decided when Atlanta couldn’t complete a touchdown pass on any of four shots inside the Philadelphia 10 with less than two minutes left. One game (Jags 45, Steelers 42) was precisely the opposite of what any sane person thought, with 87 points and 923 offensive yards.

• Good for Ben Roethlisberger saying he’ll be back in 2018, and of course he should. He diced up Jacksonville after early struggles for 469 yards, five touchdowns and 42 points.

• Good, too, for Drew Brees. Folks, let me tell you about a home-field advantage. This crowd in Minneapolis on Sunday was just brutal for the visitors. I doubt Brees was able to be heard once on 44 pass drops—you could tell how tough it was to hear because Brees had to consistently lightly slap center Max Unger’s rear end to indicate the start of the snap count. The Saints struggled throughout the first half, but Brees was 17 of 22 with three touchdowns and no picks in the second half. The man turns 39 today, and he said after the game in Minnesota that he fully intends to play for the Saints in 2018. (He can opt to sign elsewhere if he chooses.) Brees should stay. He and Sean Payton added some maturity and growth to their 12-year relationship this year, and I still think they can make beautiful jazz together with the Saints next year.

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• New Orleans safety Marcus Williams made a stupid—and tremendously costly—play when he went low to try to upend Stefon Diggs on the walkoff Diggs touchdown. He could have simply tackled him either in or out of bounds. But the second-rounder rookie from Utah had a starry rookie year, finishing 12th on the Pro Football Focussafety grades, ahead of Micah Hyde, Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Weddle. There will be better days ahead, lots of them.

• Kudos to Adam Schefter for buttoning up one more coaching vacancy—Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to the Lions—while three others are in flux. The Giants, Colts and Cards still are in play. Our Albert Breer reports that it’s down to Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel in Indianapolis. The Cards have a ways to go, it sounds like, and the Giants are cloaked in a Pat Shurmur/McDaniels/unknown trio.

• The Jaguars are one impressive team. How about forcing six Roethlisberger picks and scoring 75 points on the Steelers this season? Jacksonville is a physically tough team, not to be intimidated, and that surely comes from Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone. I remember in training camp listening to Coughlin opine that he wasn’t sure about a lot of things with such a young team, but he did know they’d be good running the ball. And Leonard Fournette has backed him up. In his two games against the formidable (or so we thought) Steelers D, Fournette had 51 carries for 290 yards and five touchdowns. I don’t know how they’ll game plan against New England, but my guess is they’ll go all out to blitz and bother and hit Tom Brady. Wouldn't you? Tennessee didn’t sack Brady, and hit him only five times, per Pro Football Focus.

• I love the Eagles’ game plan in the 15-10 win over Atlanta. To me, this was the best coaching job of the weekend. Philadelphia offensive coordinator Frank Reich and coach Doug Pederson combined to make a very smart and industrious offensive plan work well enough to win—while not crushing the confidence of shaky quarterback Nick Foles. Here’s the way I view Philly now: The Eagles don’t have one offensive weapon who can beat you. But they have five or six who can be dangerous. On Saturday, the Eagles incorporated a lot of interesting stuff with Nelson Agholor. He is the Eagles’ version of Tyreek Hill. On Saturday they motioned Agholor from behind right tackle on a left end sweep. They motioned him from the left side in front of Foles, who flipped him one of those newfangled passes teams have incorporated to try to copycat the Chiefs and Hill. Both plays worked—for 21 and 10 yards, respectively. I like how Reich incorporated and Pederson called plays to make the absence of Carson Wentz less of a crisis.

Realtor of the Week


This is either the most inspirational story about living your dream, or is so far-fetched that any thinking person would say, “This story is true, but it’s such a fairy tale you can’t realistically expect it ever to happen to you. Dream, but dream realistically.”

Matt Nagy, fledgling real-estate agent, was sitting in the garage of a model home at the end of a cul-de-sac in a new neighborhood in Annville, Pa., in February 2011. The garage was Nagy’s office, basically. He was making $100,000 a year, but he was not happy selling houses. The former Arena League quarterback and NFL coaching intern missed football. His phone rang. Nagy, who had previously interned with the Eagles and knew they’d been having some staff shakeups and was told he might hear from the team, saw the “215” area code and hoped for the best. This is how Nagy remembers the story, as he told me Friday night.

“Matt? Coach Andy Reid here,” the voice said. “Hey listen, we just wrapped up the season. We got two entry-level jobs here, not a lot of money, but you get your foot in the door.”

The conversation with his wife took two minutes. His wife understood that making $100,000 was good for their young family, but being happy with a starter job under Andy Reid making $45,000 was the kind of risk her husband had to take. Nagy took the job. They’d figure out life. And now he’s the coach of the Chicago Bears.

“When you ask about picking a coach you can work with,” Bears GM Ryan Pace told me, “you have to think he’s going to be a good fit. There was just something about Matt. I went to a job fair in New Orleans and got a job [entry level] with the Saints making $500 a month. Matt’s basically the same. He climbed from the bottom. He’s got an appreciation for this and realizes how hard it is to get here.”

Nagy thought he should have been a major-college quarterback coming out of Pennsylvania high school ball, but he got no offers, and ended up playing at Delaware. He thought he should have had a shot to make an NFL roster, but he didn’t, and so he played in the Arena League. When the Arena League folded, Nagy, out of work with a wife and four kids, had to get a job in the middle of a recession. “If not given that opportunity [by Reid], I’d be coaching high school football,” Nagy said. “But once I got that opportunity, I was confident in my ability. I knew if I got to a point where height, weight and speed weren’t the most important factors, I would win that.”

Nagy glommed onto Reid and never stopped working. He followed Reid to Kansas City in 2013 as quarterbacks coach, and got promoted to offensive coordinator when Doug Pederson went to Philadelphia in 2016. Nagy got the play-calling gig from Reid in early December with the Chiefs in a bad offensive slump. The Chiefs scored 26, 30, 29 and 27 points as they salvaged their season. Nagy gets some credit, too, for Alex Smith becoming a better downfield thrower this year, and the Tyreek Hill wrinkles the Chiefs have added.

NFL teams love Reid guys. Teams find Reid guys organized and imaginative. Maybe that’s why Pederson and Nagy got coaching jobs before a far more celebrated and seemingly more prepared offensive coordinator, New England’s Josh McDaniels, has landed one—despite his Belichick/Brady pedigree. There may be no other explanation than Jeff Lurie wanted a Reid type in Philadelphia, and, in Chicago, Pace interviewed McDaniels and liked him a lot but identified more with Nagy. Time will tell if Nagy over McDaniels (and others) was the right choice.

But going from sitting in the garage in a spec house in Annville, Pa., to sitting in George Halas’ chair, in seven years, has got Hollywood written all over it. Now all Nagy has to do is win.

“I’ll always remember something one of my Arena League coaches said,” Nagy said. “I had Doug Plank as my coach in Georgia, and he told us one day, ‘All those people you see driving to work every day, 95 percent of them hate their jobs. You’re part of the five percent. You’re lucky.’

“Ever since that day sitting in the garage in the cul-de-sac and the 215 area code shows up, I’ve been in that five percent. And I am now for sure.”

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A Nagy postscript: I asked him about his play-calling in the wild-card loss to Tennessee. The Chiefs had a 21-3 lead at halftime but had only four second-half possessions, and in those four possessions the NFL rushing champ, Kareem Hunt, had only five carries. Add that to Hunt’s zero carries in the second quarter, and you ask: What gives?

“I brought that up in my interview with the Bears,” Nagy said. “We had four possessions and only 20 plays in the second half. That’s not a lot of plays. You’ve gotta get first downs, either running or passing. We went back and looked at the game, and we evaluated the run-pass ratio. The part that bothers me is our possession after the [Titans’] muffed punt. (That gave Kansas City the ball at the Tennessee 28 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.) We were up 11 there, and we went three-and-out, and we lost five yards. Instead of a 41-yard field goal, maybe, we have a 49-yard field goal try [and miss]. At the end of the third, we could have been up 14, which would have changed the game. If I could go back and do one thing over, it’d be to make sure we don’t call a play that’s going to lose those yards.”