This is some crazy circle of life stuff.
Go back to the NFC title game after the ’98 season. You all know the scenario. Vikings and Falcons are tied late. Vikings are at their own 30 and have 30 seconds and a couple time outs to get in field goal range and try to win in regulation. Instead of go for the win, Dennis Green elects to take a knee. The game goes to overtime. The Vikes win the toss but don’t score. Atlanta ultimately kicks the game winning field goal and Green spends the rest of his natural life being ripped for his conservative decision to kneel down rather than let Randall Cunningham heave a couple deep.
Fast-forward to tonight’s divisional round game between Denver and Baltimore. Like the Vikings after ’98, Denver is at home and are heavily favored. By an unlikely set of circumstances the game winds up tied late. John Fox is in the same spot Denny Green was in back in the day. Do I try to score with little time left and a couple time outs? Or do I take a knee and send it to overtime, hoping the coin toss lands my way (we understand that the overtime rules are different now, so there’s slightly less disadvantage in losing the coin toss).
Fox, like Green, elects to let the clock run out. Unlike Green, he loses the coin toss. Baltimore gets first crack. The Denver defense holds, giving Peyton Manning a chance. But Denver can’t capitalize and the ball goes back to Baltimore. And then back to Denver again. But Denver loses the ball after – wait for it – Peyton Manning throws across his body in Brett Favre-like fashion and is intercepted. This sets up Baltimore with good field position. They move it closer, putting it in the hands of their field goal kicker. Who, just like Morten Andersen, makes the kick to shock the world. Baltimore advances over a stunned Denver team.
NFC title game after ’98. Divisional round after ’12. Both unlikely outcomes. Both situations where the head coach made himself rippable by not going for the win in regulation. And the other common thread between the two games? Matt Birk.
Birk was a rookie for the Vikings when Atlanta shocked them in the Metrodome. He didn’t play in that game – Jeff Christy was still the starter – but he was on the sideline, bearing witness to what transpired. 14 years later, he found himself on the other end of things. Playing center for the Baltimore Ravens. And watching the other team’s head coach make the same move Dennis Green made.
John Fox was burned just like Green. But this time, Birk was on the right side, the side that, after a very roundabout set of circumstances, benefited from the conservative kneel-down decision. What goes around comes around. That’s what they say right? You play long enough, it will indeed come around.