It had happened. We had just beat the Panthers for the 3rd time in one season and it wasn’t any regular game either…it was the playoffs & we were at home & it was a w e s o m e. That win was especially exciting because not only did Zach have his 2nd touchdown of the season, but it meant that we were heading back to MN for Zach to play his old team for the first time. I’d be lying if I said I slept much that whole week in between games. I was nervous, excited, hopeful, and oh so very stressed. There was SO much on the line, and it wasn’t the fact that we were playing the Vikings it was the magnitude of the game itself. I mean, it was the playoffs. It’s win or go home and no one was ready to go home.
Fast forward to Sunday, I woke up at 6:30 to get ready and head to MN with about 25 other Saints significant others and a few of their kids. The Brees family was so incredibly generous by chartering a plane for us all to get there and support our men in person instead of from home. Drew and his wife, Brittany, are truly the definition of class acts. They didn’t have to do that for us, but they did because they love this team and believe in it. On the plane we toasted to this opportunity that our guys had in front of them and prayed for their health & success. I can bet you that not a single person on that plane didn’t have goose bumps as we all exclaimed “Amen” simultaneously as the prayer finished. Here we were, ready to go face whatever the day (and weather) had in store for us girls from Louisiana.
If you don’t know our background (Zach and I), we were living in Minnesota the last four years as he played for the Vikings. Bleeding purple and gold was no new thing for me and my family though. Both my mom & dad’s sides are from Iowa and die hard Vikings fans, as are most of their friends. With that being said, I was met at a bar near the stadium prior to kick off by cousins, aunts, uncles, my sister, her boyfriend, my mom with her friends & my in-laws. Most were wearing purple (but had Zach’s name and old number on, so it was ok). We headed to the stadium early as my father in-law, Joe, and I are two of a kind when it comes to watching games and have to be in our seats at a certain time. Totally not creatures of habit by any means…😂. There’s a whole list of things I go through on game day that have become more of rituals than anything. Of course, I had to make sure all were complete on my end as well as with the girls at home (because I’m crazy like that) before the game started.
The captains from each team walked out to the middle of the field for the coin toss and my husband was one of them. Anyone who knows me knows how emotional I can be and there has not been a game that I’ve been to where I haven’t teared up seeing him on the field. It’s a dream come true every single time he gets to step foot out there and seeing him out there as a captain in our old home made me so happy, sappy & flat out proud. One year to that exact day, Zach was 4 days post hip surgery and it just made think of how far he has come in just this last year.
In the NFL, every year is battle. Whether it’s for your spot on the roster, against yourself or your body, there’s always something to overcome. Last year was especially hard on Zach. His body hurt and he never felt relief from it. His role was slowly changing with the installation of a newer offense and OC, and nothing seemed to feel right. I had told so many people that I felt like our time in Minnesota was up but it was kind of exciting. It’s funny to think about that now…how my gut was truly trying to tell me something and it happened. It really felt like a chapter of our lives had come to an end and even though it was a scary thought to have to go somewhere new, it seemed like the right thing for Zach’s career so there were no hard feelings when they chose to not resign him.
To be honest, the whole first half of the game is a blur. I was in utter disbelief of what I was witnessing. Yes, Minnesota is a good team and yes, they have a rock solid defense but I truly believed that we were better. I was sitting there with this massive pit in my stomach while trying to maintain a positive attitude, but it was hard. Finally, we got some points on the board and things started to turn around (for a little). The 4th quarter took at least 10 years off of my life. AT LEAST. It was crazy and so emotional literally up until the last second, I think every person in that stadium had a moment where they couldn’t breath.
Once the clock hit zero and the score was changed to 24-29 my heart sunk and I could not control my emotions. It. freaking. stung. I wanted to throw a tantrum like my two year old & just stomp out of that stadium and it really did take every ounce of self control not to. No one likes sore loser, or a poor sport winner for that matter…Everyone around me was cheering and giving me jabs for being on the losing side so in an attempt take the high road, I left my seat and watched the extra point be kicked from the hallway. The high road worked until a drunk Vikings fan tried to hit my hat right off my head by batting it with the back of his hand while I was walking. That triggered me and I may have had a few choice words for him, but I think that’s understandable.
I really just wanted to cry and most of all I REALLY just wanted to give my husband a hug. I wanted to hold him and tell him how proud he makes me every single day.
Some of you might be reading this thinking that I sound so dramatic, but I’m not just a spectator. I’m watching the person I love most in this whole world have an amazing opportunity taken right out of his hands. It’s not just a game for us, it’s our livelihood and even though football does not define who we are, it’s our life right now. That last and final play was an absolute gut punch and probably will be for a while. My sweet friend, Courtney Hill, said it best in this message to her husband, “So much goes into this. There are so many things behind the scenes that nobody sees. Waking up, having a hard time getting out of bed but you still make your way out the door for another day of it. Literally broken inside, but no one would know that. I was heartbroken after Sunday because I wanted to take it back, give you something that was out of my control but like you said we can only look forward now.” I couldn’t have said it better so thank you for allowing me to share, Courtney!
I have to mention though, how many people stopped me while at the stadium and asked me about Zach. Each one was a Viking fan and told me how much they missed having him in purple. Some knew everything that he had been up to since he left & that truly touched me. It’s a special thing to be loved and held in such a high regard. It reminded me why we loved our time with the Vikings so much and honestly makes the loss a little (a little, teeny, tiny bit) easier..now that a few days have passed. There’s still a lot of love for that team (not that I wouldn’t rather it be us heading to Philly, but you get what I’m saying). It was refreshing to reflect on those encounters and feel like not everyone is out to get you.
If you’re reading this and you were one of the people who stopped me, thanks for making my day. I think the world of my husband, but to hear it come out of other people’s mouths is pretty amazing. When all is said and done, the thing that we will leave the NFL with that we will cherish the most are the friendships we’ve made and people we’ve met. No one will remember each great block or the touchdowns, they will remember Zach for who he is as a person and I know that will be a legacy he’s proud of.
We didn’t end up leaving Minnesota until around 1am and even though the flight itself felt like it took a million years & the day didn’t end how we all were hoping it would, I had the best time being around all of those women. Zach and I consider ourselves so lucky to be surrounded by such loving, down to earth, and kind hearted people here within the Saints organization. When we first moved here in the beginning of season we felt like we were accepted immediately and that’s what made New Orleans feel like home. I’m honestly dreading having to leave these wonderful friendships we’ve made, but I’m hoping it’s just a see you soon type thing but you never know since Zach will become a free agent again this March.
I wish that things had gone the other way for us but there’s no sense in hanging on to what could have been. If anything, it’s lit a fire that this young team can use to fuel their way back into the playoffs next year. I can only hope that Zach & I will be able to be a part of something so special again, but until then it’s time for some much needed relaxation and family time. We’re so blessed to have been in the positions we were to be able to experience a game like that, even if it leaves us heartbroken for a while.
Thanks for the memories year 5. Lines out!