Dan Arnold knew as well as anyone on the Saints roster the fleeting opportunities a fringe NFL player has to make an impact.
The second-year pro played Division III football in college, spent his rookie season on injured reserve and didn’t catch a pass this year until Week 7. He was a wide receiver-turned tight end catching passes from one of the greatest throwers in the history of the game.
And so that’s why letting an opportunity to score a touchdown in the NFC championship game literally slip through his fingers had him in tears in the locker room after the Saints’ crushing 26-23 loss to the Rams Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
He knew entering Sunday’s contest he may have an opportunity come his way, with starting veteran tight end Ben Watson ruled out with appendicitis. Arnold had a stretch of four games in November where he caught a ball in each contest and hauled in 10 of his 13 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown.
So when Drew Brees slung the second-year pro a ball near the rear of the end zone on third-and-7 from the 19-yard-line on the Saints first drive, putting it in a spot only Arnold could grab it while draped with two defenders, and Arnold let it ricochet off his mitts, he couldn’t contain himself, knowing those four points could have made the difference.
“It stings. Every play, every moment in the game. It’s tough to go out like that,” he said. “That’s one play that’s gonna sting hard. I feel like, you know, you let your team down more than anything. You weren’t strong enough for that moment. Those are the kind of things that are going to define you.”
Arnold was inconsolable just minutes after the game, when fellow tight end Josh Hill, who exited the game midway through the first quarter with a possible concussion and didn’t return, came over and put his arm around Arnold.
“I’m so sorry,” Arnold muttered.
And to have his season end with a pivotal missed call by the referees, when he felt, looking back, that he had the game in his hands, the sting cut even deeper. There’s only so many things he, one player on a field with 22, can control in any game. He said letting that opportunity soar through his gloved hands will stay with him for a while.
“That feeling sucks,” he said. “I never ever want it again in my life. From here on out, it’s how you respond, it’s what matters most.”
Who would have guessed the officials also started bringing ski masks to Saints games?