SOMERVILLE, NJ – Just five years removed from an outstanding football career at Immaculata High School, defensive end Tashawn Bower and his Minnesota Vikings teammates are one step away from Super Bowl LII, thanks to what has been dubbed the “Minnesota Miracle.”
It was to be the final play of the game; the Vikings were on the short end of a 24-23 score in last Sunday’s NFL playoff against the New Orleans Saints.
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum took the snap, dropped back, and lofted a pass down the right side of the field. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs leaped up and snatched the ball out of the air with both hands near the sideline, landed on his feet, dodged a tackle, stayed in bounds and took off, crossing into the end zone ahead of the Saints’ defenders and a stream of Vikings’ teammates ready for an end zone celebration.
The 61-yard walk-off touchdown put the Vikings into the NFL National Conference Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia. Game time is 6:40 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Fox network.
The winner of the Vikings/Eagles championship game will play the winner of the AFC Conference game between the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars in Super Bowl LII at the Vikings' stadium Sunday, Feb. 4.
The 22-year-old NFL rookie watched the play unfold looking up at the big screen that hangs from the ceiling of the Vikings’ US Bank Stadium, the newest indoor stadium in the NFL – and one of the loudest, by design.
Others peered upwards with him while other teammates crowded along the sideline; Bower was about 10 yards up field when Diggs made the miraculous reception.
“When I saw Diggs catch it, the angle they had on the TV, I saw he was inbounds, all the way, I just kept shouting ‘keep going, keep going,’ it was just crazy,” Bower said. “It got ridiculously load, it’s just something that you can’t explain, you don’t see this in the NFL.”
While the majority of his teammates streamed out on to the field, Bower remained behind because he knew the game wasn’t yet over.
“I was hanging on the sidelines; the game can’t end on a touchdown,” he explained, “you have to kick the extra point and I wasn’t going to be the one to say, ‘hey, we have to run another play.’ I just let everyone do their thing until they got it together.”
There was no attempt to kick the extra point; Keenum took the snap and took a knee. Game over. Final score: Vikings 29, Saints 24.
That’s when the on field celebration ratcheted up.
“We’re all jumping up and down, trying to figure out what just happened, we just couldn’t believe it so,” Bower said. “There were so many emotions, the guys were just going crazy. It all means so much to us.”
The team took it all in, celebrated for just a day or two, and then it was back to business, according to Bower.
“We practiced Wednesday and Thursday, with a light practice scheduled for Friday, nothing too physical,” the 6’5”, 250-pound lineman explained.
“We’re trying to take care of our bodies, recovering from the Saints’ game, so that we’re all right, all rested and ready to go,” Bower added.
“After a big win like last week, all your emotions are going crazy, but once you get into the work week, you can’t look back and reflect, you have to focus on Philly and what we need to do to prepare for them,” he added.
Though he may not get to visit with them, Bower expects several friends and family members from New Jersey to cross the Delaware River for Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field.
He was unable to secure any extra tickets, as is the case for most regular season games.
“My friends have been texting me, but people know it’s not the easiest thing to do for a game of this magnitude,” Bower said.
Bower is the second graduate of Immaculata High School to play in the NFL; he was preceded by Theo Riddick ('09), who played collegiately at Notre Dame before he was drafted in 2013 by the Detroit Lions, where he continues to play.
Bower and Riddick both played for Immaculata Coach Pierce Frauenheim.
Bower finished his senior season at Immaculata with 95 total tackles, 16 tackles for losses, 11 sacks, seven pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, and ranked as the No. 11 best defensive end in the nation and the No. 4 prospect in New Jersey by ESPN.
ESPN.com’s top 150 listed Bower as the No. 132 prospect in the nation.
Bower was a four-year starter at LSU, playing 40 games, with 7 starts in the 2015 and 2016 seasons; he finished off his senior year in spectacular fashion against the Louisville Cardinals, with 3 sacks against Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson in the 2016 Citrus Bowl.
Despite a stellar collegiate career, Bower was not drafted by any NFL team, and signed with the Vikings as a free agent in May, 2017, went to training camp two months later and overcame the odds to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent.
He is listed third on the Vikings’ depth chart at right defensive end behind starter Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly.
Bower made his NFL debut on Oct. 29 against the Cleveland Browns, seeing action on special teams. He recorded his first career sack on Nov.19, tacking Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff for a loss; the Vikings won that game 24-7.
Bower’s family lives in Livingston.