Monday, June 14, 2010

Make No Mistake

Most Americans don't care about soccer, but every American cares about defeating the English. So far, we've got an unimpeachable track record on the latter: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812. And perhaps their rock 'n roll is better than ours, but our hip-hop is much better than theirs. Our national winning streak was tested on Saturday, when the USA faced England in the opening round of the World Cup. Things looked grim for our boys…until English goalkeeper Robert Green let in an easy goal. In slow motion you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half.

The final score was 1-1, which counts as a practical win for the U.S. thanks to the bizarre arithmetic of soccer tournaments. This got me thinking: Most sports movies take a dramatic, triumph-of-the-human-spirit approach to important events. They honor tremendous feats of athletic nobility, like America defeating communism in "Miracle" or America defeating Iceland in "D2: The Mighty Ducks." But some of the most memorable moments in sports history are the mistakes.

Which great blunders in sports history could be turned into a movie? There are some obvious answers here, especially if you expand the definition of "blunder" to include Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield's ear. (Mike Tyson would probably be happy to play himself.) But I'd go with the following events:

Leon Lett #1
Late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXVII (January 1993), Lett recovered a fumble on Buffalo's 45 yard line and ran it back towards the end zone. When he reached the 10 yard line, he slowed, and held the ball out as he approached the goal line. However, he didn't see a hustling Don Beebe, chasing him down from behind. Beebe knocked the ball out of Lett's outstretched hand just before he crossed the goal line, which sent the ball through the end zone, and resulted in a touchback that cost Lett his touchdown. Lett later said he was watching the Jumbotron, and trying to do a "Michael Irvin," where he put the ball out across the goal line.

The Cowboys had a commanding 52–17 lead at the time, and the play did not affect the outcome of the game, but it certainly embarrassed Lett, and it is still well known by football fans today.

Leon Lett #2
Lett ranks again with another blunder the very next season and this one was actually more serious as it resulted in a Cowboy defeat. On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, during a rare snow and sleet storm in Dallas, the Cowboys were leading the Miami Dolphins with 15 seconds remaining in the game. The Dolphins attempted a 41-yard field goal to take the lead but the kick was blocked. While most of his teammates began celebrating, Lett attempted to recover the ball. He slipped on the ice as he tried to pick up the football, and Miami recovered the "muff" on the Dallas one yard line. Had Lett simply done nothing, the Cowboys would have automatically received possession and could have run out the clock. By touching the ball and then failing to hold onto it, Lett enabled the Dolphins to take possession and then try another field goal with 3 seconds left on the clock. This second attempt was successful and the Dolphins won the game 16–14 as the clock expired.

Jose Canseco
In a game that featured the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers, Indians third baseman Carlos Martinez hit a deep fly ball to right field, where Canseco was playing. Running back towards the wall, Canseco apparently lost sight of the ball and the ball bounced of off his head and caromed over the right field fence for a Cleveland home run.

In the following days, Canseco was harassed by the media, his teammates and anyone else who saw Canseco using his noggin. A soccer team even offered Canseco a contract after seeing his header against the Tribe.

The Indians went on to win the game, but the game will always be remembered for Canseco’s blunder.

What miserable sports moment deserves their own tragicomic movie treatment? Thoughts?

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