Column: The Stefon Diggs effect

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, file photo, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) runs in for a game winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis. (Jeff Roberson, File/AP)

Stefon Diggs’ miraculous walkoff touchdown reception on Sunday was one of those moments that, before he even tossed his helmet to the ground, you immediately know you’ll never forget.

Sports are full of such moments. David Tyree’s helmet catch. Auburn’s Chris Davis returning a field goal for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl. Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception. Tua Tagovailoa’s game-winning touchdown pass in this year’s national championship. And that’s just drawing from one sport in the last decade.

Certainly, we can add Diggs’ touchdown to that list. Sports are remembered not as entire games, but as brief moments; single plays in which one side experiences utter elation—and the other, complete devastation.

But what about the moments that, had the game ended with a different result, would also find themselves on this list? What about the awe-inspiring plays that have been forgotten altogether, simply because that team ultimately fell short?

Take, for example, a pair of catches against the Patriots in recent Super Bowls. First, in 2015, the catch that set up the now-legendary Butler interception. With a minute left, Seattle’s Russell Wilson launched a bomb down the sideline to Jermaine Kearse. The ball bounced off hands, legs and arms—but not the ground—before settling in Kearse’s hands for a catch inside the 5-yard line. If the Seahawks punched it in and went on to win the game, that catch, not Butler’s pick, would be replayed before every Super Bowl for the next 20 years. Instead, Kearse was outdone by an even greater play a couple of downs later, and his catch is mostly forgotten.

Then, in last year’s Super Bowl, Atlanta’s Julio Jones came down with one of the most athletic, ridiculous sideline grabs you’ll ever witness. For the Falcons, up by eight with 4:38 remaining and in field goal range, it seemed like the knockout punch. But we all know how that went, and the catch thereby faded into irrelevancy.

Even more recently, in the College Football Playoff championship, Alabama’s kicker missed a game-winning chip shot field goal by a mile, sending the game into overtime. The Tide, as mentioned earlier, went on to win in spectacular fashion, and that miss is now just a note in the box score. But if Georgia had pulled out a victory? That miss would be cemented in infamy.

For evidence on YouTube, the Kearse catch, Jones catch and missed field goal add up to about 800,000 total views. The Butler interception alone has 2.7 million. The Diggs play is already nearing three million.

The most memorable sports moments, like history, are written by the victors. But it is not only fascinating to look at what moments are immortalized, but how they are remembered.

Some are relatively straightforward. Eli Manning and Tyree both made awe-inspiring plays. Chris Davis, and his army of blockers, simply made an incredible play. Marcus Mariota’s touchdown-pass-to-himself was of no fault to Darrelle Revis, it was just an astounding play.

But others are murkier. Should we remember Malcolm Butler reading Wilson, making a great break on the ball and holding on through contact? Or should we remember Seattle’s questionable play-calling, electing to pass on second-and-goal from the one?

Perhaps the Diggs catch is the most perplexing in recent memory. Sure, it’s a great pass from Case Keenum, a better catch by Diggs and a fantastic play to stay on his feet. And as Diggs recognizes there’s no one left to beat, he stays in-bounds and sprints to the endzone. But, as has been thoroughly discussed in the media, it was also a terrible play by Saints’ rookie safety Marcus Williams, who had a huge interception earlier in the game, deciding to dive at Diggs and missing altogether. Does it go down as a tremendous play by one player, or an inexcusable mistake by another?

As sports fans, we often have these decisions to make. Iconic moments are rarely just the product of one player making an incredible play; they’re typically created by an opposing player making an unfortunate error on the big stage. Highlight reels and history books usually choose the positive framing rather than the negative one, and the internet often take the more critical route. I think the Diggs catch will be remembered as, well, the Diggs catch, not the Williams whiff.

I, for one, root for guys like Williams. He’s a very talented young player, and had a great rookie season which will now be remembered for all the wrong reasons. He has a long career ahead of him and will have plenty of chances for redemption, to make sure that he’s remembered not for a mistake, but for a legendary play of his own.

As for Diggs, I’ve been a fan of his since he came into the league, and it’s exciting to see an underappreciated player making headlines. But his job is far from done. Odell Beckham Jr. may be best known for a single catch, but he’s done quite a bit since to solidify his place as one of the league’s best. When all is said and done, their respective catches may be the defining moment of their careers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add some rings as well.

Ultimately, as Kearse and Jones can attest, sports remember victories, not highlight plays. That’s why Diggs, Keenum and that lockdown defense can’t be content with that one miraculous play, and I hope we’ll be seeing them on Feb. 4.


Andrew Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets at @asmor24