Sports might seem like a complicated mesh of numerical stats, statistics, and federal drug statutes. But when you boil the whole thing down to its basic roots, most sports are about one thing: catching and holding the damn ball. These are the athletes with the biggest cardinal sins for breaking the first commandment of competition.
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10. Leon Lett’s Early Super Bowl Party
Most Super Bowl parties include such tasty staples as buffalo wings, chips and dip, and your opponent’s sweet, sweet tears, served in a martini glass with a fifth of Grey Goose vodka and a small twist of lime (I call it “The Tearjerker”). Leon Lett’s Super Bowl celebration only had tears.
The Cowboys lineman was about to score his first career touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 when he decided to get the party started before he made his way to the end zone. He made a diving jump for Buffalo’s end zone and he made it across the line, but the ball was still on the one-yard line. Somehow the ball had slipped out of his hands and found real estate on the green while Lett thought he was still in the black. The move didn’t cost Dallas the game, but he got quite a tongue-lashing from coach Jimmy Johnson and his hair.
9. Earnest Byner’s “The Fumble”
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There is no amount of heartache that can equal watching your hometown team lose the big game by a margin of error that’s narrower than the space between Kevin Smith and any human being on the planet on a cramped Southwest flight.
Cleveland Browns fans, who have suffered enough just being from Cleveland, suffered the emotional equivalent of a stroke followed by a groin pull when their running back dropped the ball just two yards shy of a touchdown after a great comeback drive in the final minutes of the AFC title game in 1987. Things might have hit rock bottom for Byner, but they could've been even worse for the Browns’ long-suffering fans: they could be living in Detroit.
8. Jason Richardson Gets Dunked on His Own Dunk
Whether you’re rooting for your hometown team because you crave worldwide bragging rights for eight months or you only have one more good leg that bookies can break, you still want the game to be close. Sure it’s nice if your team can wallop your enemy back into another time zone, but it doesn’t truly feel like a good game unless the scoring margin is razor thin.
The Suns’ ex-shooting guard got his chance to get the fans what they crave when he scooped up a loose ball during a fast break. He tried to slam the hammer on the game by stuffing the ball in the basket as hard as he could, but a few ill-timed bumps sent the bouncy bastard out of the hole and into the cosmic abyss of abject failure. To make matters worse, he’s only one of two basketballers in history to win back to back Slam Dunk Championships along with Michael Jordan, which destroyed his chances of starring in Space Jam 2: The Dunkening.
7. Brant Brown’s Dropped Pop-Up
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Catching a pop fly is about the easiest thing anyone in sports can do. But somehow outfielder Brant Brown of the long-suffering Chicago Cubs cost his team one less chance at a wild card spot in 1998 when he dropped an easy out to left field in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-and-2 batting count. Brown’s mistake allowed three runs across the plate, giving the Milwaukee Brewers the win and Chicago another reason to drink themselves into cirrhosis of the liver.
6. Robert Greene’s “Goal-No!”
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It would be easy for me, as one of America’s uglier Americans, to trash the international majesty of soccer, simply because my homeland doesn’t celebrate as often as others unless it features female athletes ripping off their tops and dancing in their sports bras.
It’s easy to see how the game can be exciting when matches feature heart-rippers like this one from the latest World Cup tourney. England’s boys seemed to be one of the top teams to beat because, well, it’s England, a country that lives and breathes the other sport named “football.” (You’d better hope there’s not a World Hot Dog Eating Cup because we’ll smoke your ass, GB.) But those hopes and dreams came crashing down in a fiery wreck when their goalie let an easy block slip through his fingers and into the net to give the tie score to us Yanks. We’re number half! We’re number half! We’re number half!
5. Jackie Smith’s Drop Flop
I have no idea what it’s like playing in a Super Bowl. The pressure must be intense. Your every move and route has to be run on a precise run of execution where one bead of improperly dropped sweat can cost you the Lombardi trophy. Your actions are being televised on a national stage where your every move is being scrutinized by every armchair coach in the country who still thinks he could beat up Warren Moon if Moon had one less leg and the fight took place underwater.
Hall of famer Jackie Smith fell victim to that intense, rock-crushing pressure in 1979 when he dropped a pass that could have given his Dallas Cowboys a chance to tie and win Super Bowl XIII in overtime, a pass that he himself admitted was “catchable.” The game ended up being his last. If only the NFL rulebook had a section on “do-overs...”
4. Joe Pisarcik’s Wack Snap
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Lots of sporting legends are well known for the wrong reason. Peter McNeely is forever known as that white guy who had his clock cleaned by Mike Tyson in less time than it takes to boil an egg. Bill Gramatica is forever known as that Cardinals kicker who ended his career tearing his knee up while celebrating a field goal. I’m eagerly awaiting the athlete who ended his career in a horrible coin toss accident.
Former New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik has been spot-welded to the famed “Miracle at the Meadowlands” in 1978 when an ill-timed snap late in the game caused a last-minute fumble that gave the Philadelphia Eagles an unlikely win. The moment happened so fast that the network airing the game was still running the credits through the game’s final seconds when Herman Edwards powered the ball through the end zone for the winning touchdown. The team could have just kneeled to end the game, but stubborn pride forced them to call a run play that led to the ill-timed fumble. Oh stubborn stupidity, will you and “whiskey-soaked logic” ever cease to endlessly amuse me?
3. Jim Marshall’s Wrong Way Run
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Being the young spark on a professional team might help you run faster, work harder, and play longer, but it doesn’t make you “book-smarter.” I’m told that’s an actual word.
Jim Marshall learned that lesson the hard way in 1964 when he picked up a dropped ball and ran the pigskin into the end zone for what he thought was a touchdown. The problem is he ran it into his “own” end zone for what was actually a safety. That’s like accidentally passing the basketball to a guy on the other team in the final seconds of a very close NCAA championship game. Wait a minute...
2. Fred Brown’s Accidental Pass to a Guy on the Other Team in The Final Seconds of the NCAA Championship Game
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Georgetown and North Carolina met in the Superdome in 1982 to take each down in a glorious exercise of collegiate athleticism. What New Orleans got was a game with the comedic equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Nearsighted Athletes of America’s “Four-Eyed Falcons.” The game featured a who’s who of future NBA stars such as Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, and the great Michael Jordan. Brown, however, became known for the ill-timed pass he gave to Worthy in the game’s final seconds when both teams were separated by just a point. Of course, the only problem is Worthy and Brown were on separate teams. The only way this moment could have become sweeter is if Brown dropped out of basketball to become an optometrist.
1. Bill Buckner Loses the World Series Between His Legs
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When it comes to covering great moments in error-dom, I would be remiss without mentioning God’s least favorite child, Bill Buckner.
His infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series not only cost the Boston Red Sox their chance at a win, but it cost him a reputation that took years of blood, sweat, and toil to achieve. A lot more than a silly ball went through his legs on that fateful night. Of course he and his fans have moved on, having hailed him as one of the more memorable players in the Red Sox franchise. The rest of us, however, will forever plague his name as having “Bucknered” when we accidentally choke in extremely momentous moments, just like when we “Homer” a dumb move into a great moment, “Lohan” an entire bottle of $100 vodka, or “Cruise” up and down on our mother’s freshly cleaned couch.