The third quarter had just begun, and the Saints held a 16-3 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints marched down the field before RB Alvin Kamara squirted through the Tampa line for a six-yard touchdown with 9:59 remaining. The rookie from Tennessee already had performed his best impersonation of mercury on glass in the last minute of the first half when he took a Drew Brees pass and weaved through defenders for a 33-yard touchdown. Tampa received the ensuing kick, but on the second play from scrimmage, TE O.J. Howard fumbled a catch, and the Saints recovered at the Tampa 36-yard line.
Never one to let a crippled opponent off the mat, Coach Sean Payton called a post pattern to veteran waterbug Ted Ginn, Jr., who cradled Drew Brees' catch as he fell backward into the end zone. Ginn was so pumped up that he propelled himself over the end zone wall into the adoring crowd. His paean to the Lambeau Leap, likely to become known as the Dome Dive, took Ginn into the arms of a young family whose father was holding a child, probably a year old. As he balanced himself on top of the wall and in the laps of the family, Ginn handed the ball to the baby, who immediately fumbled. Luckily, dad recovered it.
It was a great moment and one that warmed anyone who saw it. “Wow, what a nice thing to do,” Who Dat Nation sighed collectively. “That Ginn is a true gentleman, a great pro! A true NFL angel!”
The Saints were now up 30-3, Tampa QB Jameis Winston was out of the game with a bum shoulder, and the Bucs were reeling. Backup Ryan Fitzgerald tried to get the Bucs going, but his first pass to WR Mike Evans was knocked down by Saints rookie corner Marshon Lattimore near the Tampa bench. Apparently, words were exchanged between Lattimore and Winston, who then came onto the field as the rookie had turned to leave and poked Lattimore in the back of the helmet. Lattimore turned and gave Winston a retaliatory shove at which time Evans came running in and delivered a cheap shot blindsided hit to Lattimore’s back, knocking him down. The melee lasted a few more seconds, but the masses were incensed.
Payton ran to the middle of the field and demanded that Evans be tossed out of the game, the Dome crowd was screaming for the demonic Evans’ head on a pike, and viewers who saw it were wondering how thugs like Evans are even allowed to play this glorious game? Lattimore later called Evans’ hit “the sneakiest of sneak moves.” The League office will likely have more to say this week, but it was not a highlight that you’ll see distributed by NFL Films.
Then, only two minutes later, the mood changed again. Brees dropped back to pass as Tampa’s rush end William Gholston was sparring with a Saints offensive lineman. It appeared the two bumped helmets at least twice, then Gholston went down in a heap and lay motionless. The medical staffs of both teams rushed out onto the field, where Gholston lay for several minutes. His Bucs teammates came onto the field and formed a crescent around their fallen teammate, who was being loaded onto a spine board with an apparent neck injury.
Many of his teammates kneeled, some prayed, and even some Saints players were seen kneeling in sympathy. There were no more cheap shots in the game the Saints would win 30-10. Sideline reporter Jen Hale encapsulated the moment when she said: “The injury quieted down both sidelines and reminded the players just what they have to lose.”
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.