Blair Walsh faced the cameras and recorders at his locker, and handled, best he could, every question about the missed field goal. Twenty-seven measly yards, wide left, and the Vikings were done for the year. It seems almost unfairly cruel that a football game can come down to a single play, a single player performing a non-contact action so anathema to the rest of the sport. But that’s kicking. On just about any other play, it takes 11 men to make things go right. On a kick, it just takes two or three men to fail.
I’m not entirely sure why we so lionize players for facing the media after the worst moments of their career—and you saw it everywhere yesterday and today, broadcasters and writers crediting Walsh for answering questions when he could have understandably moped home without a word—but I suspect different people hope to gain different things. For the reporters, they want their quotes and their color. For viewers, we want to hear from Walsh’s mouth what went wrong on what should have been a simple play. For Vikings fans, they just want to know that players care as much about this stupid game as they do.
He sat in his locker, still wearing the long underwear and shirt that helped keep him warm on a frigid day at TCF Bank Stadium. This was no silent cry. His face was contorted in anguish. His shoulders shuddered. He gasped for air each time a player, coach or support staffer walked over to console him.
And then, when interview time was over:
After the camera lights flicked off, the microphones and reporters receded from his locker, the NFL’s most prolific kicker in 2015 turned away, buried his head in the crux of his right arm and broke down crying.
Is there catharsis in this? Will it salve Vikings fans to know that no matter how bad they feel about that vicious loss, Blair Walsh feels worse? Probably not. Because for all the questions Walsh faced, he didn’t have the one answer that probably doesn’t even exist. He couldn’t explain why the kick went left.
Long snapper Kevin McDermott was there too, also crying, but the snap was fine. Holder Jeff Locke acknowledged what we all saw on TV: the ball’s laces were facing in, and Locke bemoaned his failure to spin it around, even as he noted the subzero cold makes that harder.
For what it’s worth, a parade of current and former kickers appeared on Twitter to note that the direction of the laces matters more to distance than direction, and that from 27 yards, it shouldn’t have mattered. Walsh concurred:
But I can tell you this: It’s my fault. I don’t care whether you give me a watermelon whole, I should be able to put that one through. Jeff did his job. Kevin did his job. I’m the only one who didn’t do his job. That’s on me.”
Walsh fumbled for partial explanations, all likely true yet incomplete. He said he pulled his leg before he made contact; he said he wasn’t “on top of” the ball; he said he didn’t follow through properly. “I just didn’t put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody’s standards,” he said.
Maybe the admiration for players who stick around for interviews comes from the knowledge that it’s as self-flagellating and futile an act as there is. There are a million questions and no real answers to be given. Walsh should have hit that kick; the Vikings should have advanced; he didn’t and they didn’t. There’s really not much else to say.