Billy Cundiff, Kyle Williams and Lee Evans have one thing in common: they all need a hug. Sunday wasn’t kind to these NFL stars, who, in the words of Billy Madison “blew it” when their teams needed them most. Against New England, Evans let what was sure to be the game-winning touchdown, fall right through his fingers. Moments later Cundiff officially blew out the candles on Baltimore’s season by missing a cupcake 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
A few hours later on the left coast, Kyle Williams botched not one, but two punts for the 49ers. Devin Thomas recovered both fumbles for the Giants, allowing New York to punch a ticket to Indianapolis and deprive yet another Harbaugh brother the opportunity for Super Bowl glory.
The big stage isn’t for everyone. I’ve dealt with my fair share of sports tragedies over the years. I’ll admit, senior year of high school I choked in the track conference championships (oh Alex Hula). Heck, I might have even lost to a girl in mini-golf on a date this summer (I’ve been telling people I let her win … I should probably just stick to that story). And we all know how hard it can be to make the last cup in beer pong.
So you’re not alone Billy Cundiff, Kyle Williams and Lee Evans. The sports world is a vast landscape of miscues, screw-ups and blunders. Frankly, Sunday’s gaffes may not even be the worst we’ve seen in the NFL this season.
Phillip Rivers fumbled a snap deep in Kansas City territory late in the game, causing the Chargers to lose in Week 8. In Week 14, Chicago’s Marian Barber inexplicably stepped out of bounds in the final minutes and then fumbled the ball away in overtime; two huge plays that helped Denver escape with the victory. Dallas iced its own kicker against Arizona. And if it hadn’t been for Tim Tebow’s miracle 80-yard game-winner against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago, Denver fans would probably want Willis McGahee’s (crucial fumble in the fourth quarter) head on a stick. Here’s a list of some other epic sports fails that might make Sunday’s choke-artists feel a little better about themselves (but probably not):
1. Adrian Hilburn, Syracuse vs. Kansas State, 2010 Pinstripe Bowl
I still can’t believe Syracuse won a bowl game last year. What’s even more unbelievable is how they won it. Hilburn hauled in a touchdown with 1:13 left in the game to cut Cuse’s lead 36-34 (meaning Kansas State would have to go for two). Hilburn, being the excitable fellow that he is, saluted the crowd at Yankee Stadium after the touchdown. The ref immediately flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct, backing K-State up 15 yards for its two-point conversion try. Going for two isn’t as easy when you’re at the seventeen-yard-line. Most of the blame fell on Hilburn but to me, it was the refs who choked. You’re not allowed to salute after scoring the biggest touchdown of your life? Gimme a break.
2. Boise State kickers
Boise State has lost only two games over the past three seasons, and they’ve both been heartbreakers. Kyle Brotzman spoiled Boise’s shot at a perfect season last year by missing a 26-yarder at the end of regulation against Nevada. He followed that up with a miss from 29 yards out in overtime. Nevada ended up winning 34-31. Dan Goodale was the culprit this season, shanking a 39-yarder in a 36-35 loss to TCU back on November 12th. Recruiting better kickers should be number one on Chris Petersen’s to-do-list this offseason.
3. Brett Favre, Saints vs. Vikings, NFC Championship, January 24, 2010
You’ve got to admire Favre’s toughness. But his ego cost the Vikings a shot at the Super Bowl. With 15 seconds left the Vikings needed about five yards to get into field goal range. A quick scramble to the outside would have done it. Instead Favre tried to be the hero, forcing a pass into Sidney Rice, who was being blanketed by Tracy Porter. Porter swooped in for the easy interception. The Saints would hold on for the overtime win, 31-28.
4. Chicago Cubs, Cubs vs. Marlins, 2003 NLCS Game 6
You remember it. Cubs up 3-0 in the eighth, Mark Prior pitching the game of his life. Chicago was five outs away from going to the World Series for the first time in a half-century. And then … Steve Bartman. Florida won the game 8-3 and I guess the rest is history.
I’ll say it. It doesn’t matter what Cubs fans think, Moises Alou would NOT have caught that ball anyway. Face it Chicago fans: the Cubs just blew it.
5. Chris Webber, Michigan vs. North Carolina, 1993 NCAA National Championship
The Michigan Fab Five: maybe the greatest college basketball team to never win the National Championship. In one moment of sheer panic, Chris Webber taught a generation of young basketball players a valuable lesson: always make sure you know how many timeouts you have left. Because calling one when you don’t have any, may cost you the National Championship. That’s why you’ll never ever see me make that mistake … when I’m playing NBA Live on Xbox.
6. Darius Washington, Memphis vs. Louisville, 2005 Conference USA Championship
Watching this one just makes me cringe. With Memphis down by two, Louisville’s Francisco Garcia fouls Washington on a three-pointer at the buzzer. Washington, a 72% free throw shooter sinks the first. He’s the only player left on the court. He needs to make one to keep Memphis’s NCAA tournament hopes alive, or else the Tigers are headed to the NIT. Second shot …. clank. The third … off the front of the iron. What people forget about this game is that without Washington’s 23 points (he was the game’s leading scorer) Memphis wouldn’t have been in a position to beat Louisville in the first place.
Memphis’s free-throw struggles would come back to haunt them again in the 2008 NCAA championship. Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts missed four out of five free throws in the game’s final two minutes, allowing Kansas to send the game into overtime. Kansas won in OT, 75-68.
7. Houston Oilers, Oilers vs. Bills, NFL Playoffs, January 3, 1993
Generally you’d think a 35-3 lead is pretty safe. That’s usually about when most people would think about changing the channel, maybe seeing what’s on Food Network or catching a few minutes of Canadian Parliament on C-SPAN. But then again, logic doesn’t typically play much of a role in the outcome of sporting events. Perhaps that why, somehow, the Bills were able to come back and beat the Oilers 41-38 in overtime. The win was for not though: Buffalo got lit up by the Cowboys in the Super Bowl later in the postseason, 52-17.
8. Jean Van de Velde, 1999 British Open
A rare Sports Beagle golf reference. On the 18th hole at Carnoustie, Van de Velde only needed a six (on a par four) to win the tournament. Long story short, Van de Velde has still never won a major championship. You know you’re having a bad hole when you’re in water up to your shins, pondering what your next shot is going to be. Poor Jean.
9. John Carney, Saints at Jaguars, December 21, 2003
Down by a touchdown 75 yards away from the end zone and with just six seconds left on the clock, New Orleans needed a miracle. One pass and three laterals later, the Saints were in the end zone. New Orleans was a chip-shot extra-point away from overtime. John Carney only missed 10 extra points during his 22-year NFL career. This was one of them. Final score: Jaguars 20, Saints 19. Ouch.
10. LeBron James in any playoff series
… except against the Celtics in the second round last year. In that series, LeBron looked like Michael Jordan. In the finals against Dallas, he looked more like Michael Doleac. It’s got to be pretty discouraging for LeBron to wake up every morning knowing that Brian Scalabrine has won more championships than he has.
11. New York Yankees, Yankees vs. Red Sox, 2004 ALCS
This was the choke to end all chokes. The only baseball team to ever lose a series after being ahead three games to none. If you don’t think this was the greatest playoff series ever played you have no soul. And if you’re a Yankees fan it’s a fact that you have no soul. I read it on a Snapple cap so it must be true.
12. The Red Sox on many, many different occasions
We’d definitely be a little remiss not to include the Sox on this list.
First there was 1978, when the Red Sox let their 14-game-lead over the Yankees slip through the cracks (Bucky “Bleeping” Dent).
Hang in there … it gets worse. Fast-forward eight years to the 1986 World Series. Bill Buckner lets the ball go through his legs en route to another crushing defeat for the Red Sox. Luckily for Buck he was able to redeem himself years later on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Then in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Grady Little decides to leave Pedro Martinez in the game. The result: Pedro comes undone, the Yankees tie the game and eventually Aaron Boone shatters my childhood dreams with one swing of the bat. Good going Grady.
After the Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 with clutch performances all across the diamond, I worried that the Sox may have forgotten how to choke. They didn’t.
2011’s team had a meltdown for the ages. During the September of chicken and beer (also the name of a 2003 rap album by Ludacris. He was obviously foreshadowing the Boston’s collapse eight years in advance.) Boston saw its nine-game lead in the Wild Card vanish. In the end, the Rays were able to capture the Wild Card on the last day of the regular season after a massive comeback against the Yankees (and a torturous Jonathan Papelbon blown save in Baltimore). At least the Sox weren’t alone: Atlanta blew an even bigger lead (ten and a half games) en route to losing the NL Wild Card.
13. Scott Norwood, Bills vs. Giants, Super Bowl XXV
Two words: wide right. The Bills got pretty good at choking during the 90s. Buffalo appeared in the Super Bowl four times in four seasons. They lost every time. Fun fact, New Kids on the Block performed at the Super Bowl XXV halftime show.
14. Stevie Johnson, Steelers at Bills, November 28, 2010
If there’s one thing we know about young Stevie Johnson it’s that he’s got a lot of talent. If there are two things we know about Stevie Johnson it’s that he’s also kind of an idiot (I’ll admit his Plaxico impression was pretty funny though). In overtime against Pittsburgh in 2010, the cocky wide receiver had his hands on a game-winning touchdown pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick but he dropped it. Minutes later the Steelers won on a 41-yard field goal. Johnson, who got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct just about every time he made it into the endzone this season, later went on Twitter and blamed the dropped pass on God. Maybe he should start praying to Joe Pesci (skip ahead to 6:44 in this video and you’ll get the reference).
15. Tony Romo, Cowboys vs. Seahawks, NFL Playoffs, January 6, 2007
Billy Cundiff’s miss on Sunday has to hurt if you’re a Baltimore fan. I’m a glass half-full kind of guy though. I think Ravens fans should take solace in the fact that, despite Cundiff’s horrible kick, punter Sam Koch held that ball down for Cundiff like a champion. See, Tony Romo couldn’t even get that part right.
With 1:19 left, Martin Gramatica was on the field waiting to boot a 19-yard-field goal and give Dallas the lead. He never got the chance. Romo bobbled the snap and took off for the end zone. He didn’t make it. Romo tumbled to the turf at Seattle’s two-yard-line. Just awful. It makes you wonder what Jessica Simpson ever saw in him.
Well that about covers it. There’s your tour of Choke City, USA. And remember, only five months until LeBron blows it again in the NBA Finals. As I said, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.
Photo of Adrian Hilburn was taken from http://bit.ly/xZdsj8. Photo of Chris Webber was taken from http://bit.ly/Adi4Mj. Photo of Brian Scalabrine was taken from http://bit.ly/ww2XFg. Photo of Ludacris was taken from http://bit.ly/zinZVX. Photo of Tony Romo was taken from http://bit.ly/rLXS7M. All other photos were taken from ESPN.com.