For me, it was Vinny.
The Jets were widely viewed as a Super Bowl favorite entering the 1999 season. With a dream-team staff anchored by coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, New York was coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance and, following the retirement of John Elway, appeared to have a clear path to Super Bowl XXXIV. Tom Brady wouldn't be drafted for another year. The window was wide open.
Until it wasn't.
Midway through the second quarter of the season opener against the Patriots, Vinny Testaverde, the Jets' star quarterback, handed the ball off to Curtis Martin, then attempted to quickly shift his momentum when Martin was stripped of the ball by a New England defender. Instead of advancing toward the loose ball, Testaverde dropped to the Meadowlands turf like he'd been shot. He had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Said Martin afterward: "It was one of those days where you want to look to the sky and ask, 'Why?' "
You can imagine many Vikings players doing the same thing Tuesday, when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater saw his season cruelly wiped away by a bizarre, catastrophic knee injury. Like the Jets in '99, the Vikings were generating Super Bowl buzz as summer transitioned to fall. And like the '99 Jets, that buzzing optimism was reduced to eerie silence in an instant.
My Vinny moment 17 years ago is now somebody else's Teddy moment in the present day -- a wretched snapshot in time served up as a sacrifice to the "What if?" gods. The sudden, season-ending injury is the single-most traumatic experience you can suffer as a sports fan. The violent nature of the NFL makes these periodic calamities feel inevitable.
And let's take a second to keep it real here: Vikings fans don't need this s---. They're still processing Blair Walsh's savage shank in the 2015 Wild Card Round against the Seahawks. Malcolm Butler larceny excepted, there's not a much worse feeling than your damn kicker blowing a huge game on a botched chip shot. Vikings fans have dealt with The Kicker Choke and The QB Calamity in the space of eight months!
If you're a sports fan long enough -- I mean a real sports fan who lives and dies with your team each season -- your Vinny or Teddy moment will eventually come. That sounds pessimistic and possibly ghoulish, but it's true. Even Patriots fans, who have lived a blessed existence on a Throne Of Ease since 2001, can point to when Tom Brady ripped up his knee in the 2008 season opener.
If you're a Vikings fan in denial right now, there's an outlier here -- an example you can point to and say, "See, we're not dead yet!" On Aug. 28, 1999, Trent Green dropped back to pass during the St. Louis Rams' third preseason game and was drilled in his plant leg by Chargers safety Rodney Harrison, still years away from saying painfully stupid things about Colin Kaepernick. Green's knee was shredded.
Could Shaun Hill be the next Kurt Warner? Well ... yeah ... probably not. Six months from now, we'll likely look back at the events of Tuesday as the exact point Minnesota's latest Super Bowl dream died. A generation of Vikings fans will never forget where they were when they heard the news about Bridgewater, just like countless Patriots fan still remember where they were as a wounded Brady was helped down the steps that led to the MRI machine at Gillette Stadium.
The sudden season-ending injury of a franchise star has that type of seismic effect on a fan. It sticks to your ribs and sucks all the air out of the room. If you've never gone through it, I'm happy for you. I hope you never do. Wish I could say the odds are in your favor.