100 MORE DAYS TO GO: As Saints Near Closer to the Upcoming 2018 NFL Season, Playoff Loss at Minnesota Still Hurts
For the New Orleans Saints and their wildly-passionate "Who Dat Nation" fan-base, the last time that the team played in a game that counted for anything, has left behind an ever-lasting bad taste in their mouths which continues to hang around and linger; like an uninvited house guest who has overstayed his or her welcome by one week too long.
And now with the official kickoff to the 2018 NFL 2018 Regular Season just 100 days away as of this morning, that game — a 29-24 heart-breaking loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs — is a permanent memory that's been emblazoned both into their minds and even all the down to the depths of their very souls.
Yes, it STILL hurts 4 and a ½ months later.
"I'm still not over it," now-Saints 3rd year safety Vonn Belltold Chattanooga Times Free Press writer Dave Paschall in a recent interview.
"It's something to build upon and get stronger from mentally, but it's still a sore spot."
Saints fans certainly share in Bell's never-ending pain, especially those older than the age of 40 who can recollect other similarly heart-breaks which include the 1983 season finale at the Superdome, and a Divisional Playoff loss at San Francisco to the 49ers in the 2011 NFC Playoffs.
For Bell and the Saints, they were on the very cusp of advancing to the NFC Championship Game and a trip to Philadelphia to play the Eagles with a spot in Super Bowl LII at stake.
But we all know how it turned out, and it's something that unfortunately can only be healed with the passage of time.
In 100 days from this morning, perhaps it will hurt even less.
Nevertheless, the memories from that fateful day remain.
New Orleans had rallied from a 17-0 hole against the Vikings to take a 24-23 lead with 10 seconds remaining, but Saints then-rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on a tackle of Minnesota WR Stefon Diggs, who caught the pass, turned around and had clear sailing to the end zone.
Game over. SEASON over.
And no Super Bowl for the 2017 NFC South Division Champion Saints to end their otherwise-magical 2017 season with.
It's a lasting lament for Bell, who tried to run Diggs down and was at the 10-yard line when Diggs crossed the goal line.
"I was on the other side of the field," Bell recalled about the game's now-famous last second play to Paschall.
"I saw the ball in the air, and then I was like, 'Oh my goodness.' It was a surreal moment, and it felt like a dream. Then it felt like I woke up, and I had to chase after the guy.
"I feel like if I had 10 more yards I would have caught him."
Williams, who had a key interception of then-Vikings QB Case Keenum (now the new starting QB for the Denver Broncos) earlier in the game, met with reporters and quickly took the blame.
For Bell however, it was a confusing time but yet as he recalled to Paschall: it was also an opportunity to help out a slightly younger teammate.
"At first I couldn't really say anything," Bell said. "Our lockers are right next to each other, and I was still mind-blown. A few minutes later, I told him that I was there for him and that I loved him like a brother."
"I told him that we were going to move on from this."
For Bell, the rest of his teammates, and the millions of Saints fans world-wide, "moving on" hasn't been easy.
It certainly hasn't been a "peaceful" off-season by any means, and the emotional wounds from such a shocking moment that will live on forever as one of the great moments in NFL Playoff history; is something that no one who is affiliated with or supports the franchise, will be able to forget anytime soon.
But in 100 more days from now, a brand new NFL season will arrive.
And in 104 more days to be precise, the Saints will kickoff their season against the visiting division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 9th at the Superdome.
You can expect that it will be a raucous sell-out crowd of rabid Saints fans all decked out in their Black-and-Gold clad regalia, and the lasting effects of that lingering pain that remains from the heart-break in Minnesota, will quickly be forgotten.
Forgotten at least until the night of Sunday, October 28th — when the Saints return to the scene where their emotional pain began: U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — for a Sunday Night Football "showdown" between themselves and the Vikings.
Then they'll be faced with the prospect of having to re-live that moment from 4 and a ½ months ago, on an endless loop of highlights featuring the infamous play and subsequent bitter defeat.
Don't you just LOVE the sport of Pro Football?
It can entertain us and bring us excitement, and throughout the years it can even become an indelible part of our lives; and yet at the very same time: it can completely rip our hearts out and hurt with all the pain that's normally associated with the passing on of a loved one, or the break-up of a 30-year marriage.
That's what being a long-time New Orleans Saints fan feels like, and it's an existence fraught with as much good, as there is bad.