On January 24th, 2010, the Vikings lost one of the most heartbreaking games in franchise history, falling 31-28 to the Saints in overtime of the NFC Championship game. Antoine Winfield Sr. was a star cornerback on that Vikings team. His son, Antoine Winfield Jr., was just 11 years old.
Evidence eventually emerged that the Saints and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had engaged in a bounty system during that postseason, specifically targeting Brett Favre in the NFC title game. Williams was suspended for a year, as was head coach Sean Payton, who knew about the program and failed to put a stop to it. GM Mickey Loomis was also suspended for eight games. "Bountygate" put a stain on the Saints' Super Bowl title and may have stopped the Vikings from their best chance to reach the big game this century.
11 years later, the younger Winfield got a little personal revenge for his family and his childhood team. Now a rookie for the Buccaneers after a standout career at the University of Minnesota, Winfield Jr. helped the Bucs win in New Orleans in the divisional round by making perhaps the biggest play of the game. With the Saints leading 20-13 and driving for more, Winfield punched the ball out of Jared Cook's arms for a fumble that was scooped up by Devin White.
Five plays later, Tampa Bay tied the game at 20. They went on to win 30-20.
On Monday morning, Winfield posted a video of the play to Instagram with the following caption. "Made some grown men cry last night and I don't feel bad about it! That was for my pops back in '09."
Meanwhile, the elder Winfield was in attendance, sporting his son's jersey and talking trash to nearby Saints fans.
Over the past four years, the Saints have gone 49-15 in the regular season and failed to reach a single Super Bowl. The Vikings knocked them out of the playoffs twice in that span, and a son of a former Viking helped get the job done again this year. If Drew Brees retires after this season as expected, his only career championship will be the tainted Bountygate season in 2009.
Another Minnesota-related note: fellow Bucs rookie and former Gopher Tyler Johnson made a huge play on a third and long in the fourth quarter. This highlight-reel catch led to a field goal that put Tampa Bay up for good.
Winfield was drafted in the second round last year and will likely finish second in defensive rookie of the year voting. Johnson was picked up in the fifth round and had a solid season as a reserve player on a loaded Tampa offense. Plenty of Vikings fans wanted Rick Spielman to target the pair of Gopher stars in last year's draft, and it already looks like the Vikings may have made a mistake in letting the two leave the state.
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