Two words that Bill Vinovich did not have the courage to utter. He cowardly swallowed his whistle, left the microphone hanging to his hip off and chose to be an active part of one of the most egregious failures in NFL history.
In truth, Vinovich would have had to say a bit more than just two words. The entire sentence would have sounded something like this: “Pass interference, defense number 23. Half the distance to the goal, first down New Orleans!”
What If That Had Happened?
By the simple fact that you are reading this article, I will assume that you are familiar with the notion of a Mulligan. Wikipedia calls it “a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder.” So, let’s say that good old Bill got a Mulligan and correctly called Nickell Robey-Coleman’s flagrant pass interference on Tommylee Lewis. What would have happened?
It is third-and-10 at the Rams’ 13-yard line with exactly 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles has just burned its second timeout, and the smoke from its sweltering hopes of reaching Super Bowl LIII is slowly rising to the ceiling of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Third-and-10, Brees with a quick dropback, a pass to a streaking Lewis in the flat…Robey-Coleman is behind on the play, he panics, he hurls himself at Lewis with the ball still in the air. Yellow flags fly. First down Saints at the Rams’ 6-yard line.
There is only 1:45 left on the clock now, but with three consecutive kneel-downs, the Saints could leave a little over 20 seconds on the clock for the Rams who still have one timeout. Too much time for Sean Payton, who the year before, had just seen his team lose a playoff game on a desperation throw in Minneapolis. Not again. The Saints’ head coach sends Alvin Kamara to the huddle and shouts as the running back jogs to the field: “Alvin! Take care of that [expletive] ball!” Before calling the play, he asks placekicker Wil Lutz on which side of the uprights he wants the ball for his imminent field goal attempt.
Drew Brees takes the snap, sticks it in the belly of his running back. Kamara hesitates, then darts slightly to the left of the offensive line, evades one tackler but is pushed back for a three-yard loss to the Rams’ 9-yard line. Eight seconds have burned off the clock as the Rams call their final timeout with 1:37 left. On second-and-10, Brees kneels down. The clock inexorably runs down, Los Angeles is out of timeouts. There are 57 seconds separating the Saints and what could be their second-ever appearance in a Super Bowl. Brees kneels for the final time and New Orleans lets the clock go down to 17 seconds before calling its second timeout of the half. Wil Lutz struts towards the field, the Superdome is roaring nervously: A 26-yard field goal is all the Saints need to take the lead and draw ever closer to the promised land.
Lutz swings his right leg through the ball. He is an incredible 15-for-15 on field goals shorter than 39 yards this 2018 season. The ball splits the uprights, Saints lead 23-20. Lutz kicks off. Touchback. Only 13 seconds to go. The Rams have no timeouts and 75 yards to go. Because New Orleans’ defense loves to play with Saints fans’ emotions, on the first play of their drive, the Rams get to midfield on a long pass to Brandin Cooks, but there is only 4 seconds left and time only for a Hail Mary. Jared Goff throws a rainbow that seems to hang in the air for a full minute. Michael Thomas bats the ball down in the end zone. THE SAINTS ARE GOING BACK TO THE SUPER BOWL!
A Legacy Altering No-Call
Snap back to reality, oops! There goes gravity. The Saints did not make it to Super Bowl LIII. They did not play their second Super Bowl on the very turf where their archenemy, the Atlanta Falcons, play their regular season games. Drew Brees still has only one Super Bowl ring, less than Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. As many as Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. I think I’m going to be sick. Wait, no, first I have to finish this piece.
Had Bill Vinovich and crew made the right call, the New Orleans Saints would have had a chance to become just the fifth franchise in NFL history with exactly two Super Bowl wins, joining the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. Brees would have had a shot at further cementing his place as one of the very best quarterbacks of our era, let alone one of the very best in the entire history of the league. Sean Payton would’ve had a chance to equal the record of his mentor Bill Parcells in number of Super Bowl victories with two. In fact, by just playing in two Super Bowls, Payton would have matched the likes of Vince Lombardi, Jimmy Johnson or Mike Shanahan.
By not throwing a flag on a play that was as obvious as a September rain in Seattle, Vinovich’s crew did not just influence the outcome of a game, they changed NFL history. They altered the record books. They broke the heart of a city. And they kept the Saints from winning the damn Super Bowl on the Falcons’ turf, which honestly, would’ve made this win much, much sweeter than the one in 2009. and if you disagree with me on this, as the cool people on the Twitter would say: advance towards me, sibling.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though. Saints fans have skins thicker than mature alligators found in Bayou Lafourche’s swamps. Through Aaron Brooks throwing passes backwards and Marcus Williams missing both the ball and Stefon Diggs, they have endured, persevered, screamed at the top their lungs when the other team is on offense and wolfed down their Muffulettas when the Saints have the ball. They’ve made every opponent squirm whenever they have to play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and this upcoming season (whenever it starts) will not be any different. Brees and Payton will be back with a loaded team, in search of that elusive Two Dat. Somehow though, we all know it could have, it should have been in search of the Three-Dat.
What Saints heartbreaking moment most breaks your heart? (sorry)
This poll is closed
The River City Relay - Jacksonville, 2003
The Beast Quake - Seattle, 2010
Vernon Davis Touchdown - San Francisco, 2011
Stefon Diggs vs. Marcus Williams - Minneapolis, 2017
The NOLA No-Call - New Orleans, 2018
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