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The (worst) best Christmas gift ever

By Jim Palmer

Sometimes I find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in December, I found myself in absolutely the right place at the right time.

My wife and I were thinking about what gift to give my oldest son, Noah, for Christmas. Noah is 17 and loves his Vikings. Watching the Vikings is one of the things he and I like to do together. And since the Vikings were having a good season at the time (with a few clunkers mixed in), and were playoff bound, we decided that we would buy tickets for him and I for a Vikings game.

The next available home game was the Vikings versus the Indianapolis Colts. There were some other decent games in January, but since we had such a good record, I didn’t want to risk going to a game where the Vikings rested their starters. One other time I brought my boys to a game (4-5 years ago), I made that mistake. It’s not quite the same watching a backup quarterback hand off to a third string running back, or throw to a guy you didn’t even know was on the team.

So the Colts game it was.

I found a couple good tickets near one of the end zones… about 24 rows up. As we found our seats, the energy in U.S. Bank Stadium was at a high level. The drum was beating, everyone was on their feet, the cheerleaders were flying around, and the players looked amped up and ready to go. It was electric!

Within minutes, all that energy was gone. After the first quarter, the Vikings were down 0-17 and looked nothing like a playoff team. There were turnovers. There were dropped passes. There was a blocked punt. There were stumbles, missed blocks, and brain farts on just about every play. It was bad. Before the second quarter started, the two people sitting to the right of me left their seats and didn’t return. They were season ticket fans who had apparently had enough.

The poor play by the Vikes continued in the 2nd quarter. The Vikings fans started to boo, and the language behind us got more and more “colorful.” The only fans standing now were wearing the white and blue of the Indianapolis Colts. I looked over at Noah and could see the disappointment and boredom in his eyes. I was thinking… Noah is going to remember this as the worst Christmas gift he ever received in his life.

By half-time, the Vikings were down 33-0. Our offense barely had a first down, and our defense was letting the Colts march right down the field and score every time. ESPN has an app that measures the win probability at every moment of every game. At the beginning of the third quarter, the Colts winning probability was at 99.2 percent.

The people on the left of us grabbed their coats and headed out at halftime. Our row was thinning out fast. The ship was sinking.

I started to think about what we could do if we left the game early…to make this experience a little more happy and enjoyable for Noah. Maybe we could go to a nice restaurant, I thought.

In an effort to lighten the mood and to keep things positive, I turned to Noah at halftime and said, “Noah… you are about to witness the greatest comeback in NFL history.” He smiled and shook his head.

And then, something magical started to happen… in small doses. A Vikings first down here, a defensive stop there... and by the middle of the third quarter, we could start to feel some momentum forming.

We would say things like, “Well… if we get within three touchdowns by the fourth quarter, we have a chance,” or “We just need a few turnovers and quick scores and we are right back in this thing.” We were laughing when we said it, but there was a glimmer of hope.

As the fourth quarter started, the Vikes were still down 36-14, and our winning probability had only dropped to 98 percent, but we had momentum. Our defense had tightened up, and our offense was starting to make some plays. It was all Vikings the rest of the way. In the fourth quarter, we scored three touchdowns and picked up two extra points and one two-point conversion to tie the game at 36, sending the game into overtime.

When the tying TD and two-point conversion were scored, the roof nearly blew off the stadium. The fans below us and behind us were suddenly high-fiving us and celebrating with us like we were old college buddies. Little did we know that the stadium could get even louder. It reached the peak as the winning field goal was made and we won the game 39-36 in overtime. The fans around us were jumping around, screaming, hugging, and high-fiving us. It was like nothing we have ever been a part of before. Pure magic.

And my halftime prediction was true… that day, the Vikings put themselves in the record books. This game was the biggest comeback in NFL History.

More importantly for me -- for the rest of his life, Noah will likely remember this game as the best and most memorable Christmas gift he ever received from us. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Note: A few weeks later, the Vikes were quickly bounced from the playoffs with a loss to the New York Giants.

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