Historical End Game Debacles

Submitted by CR on October 19th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

I received this from ex-lawyer now novelist Jon Rowe. He lives in Kona but is a UM and Stanford grad. A UM fan.

1. 1982, The Stanford Band game. Jack London famously said there are only three archetypal plots: Man against Nature, Man against Man, and Man against Himself. But that's just because Jack London never saw the Stanford Band in action. Even Stanford's then-recently-departed brilliant Head Ball Coach Bill Walsh could not have drawn up a special teams play to stop that 1982 Cal last-second kick runback in the "Big Game," given that Stanford's Eleven were up against not only Cal's eleven special teamers, AND Nature, AND themselves -- but Stanford was also up against the entire badly-dressed horn section of the Stanford Band. Not since Thermopylae have such valiant defenders been so badly outnumbered.

2. 1993, Leon Lett's "Muff." This one was straight out of Greek Tragedy. Up 14-13 with less than 10 seconds to play, Dallas's Heraclean Leon Lett rose up like a Pillar of Stone, and swatted Miami's pathetically mortal FG attempt to the ground -- arguably not as hard as stealing the girdle of the Amazon Queen, or gashing your eyes out after learning you've married your mother, but still, no easy feat for mortal man -- yet instead of just letting the dead ball lie on the frozen tundra and heading for the presser, all-too-mortal Leon Lett attempted to "recover" the dead ball (a recovery which would have served no purpose in the game), yet unfortunately Leon slipped on the snowy field just after fatally touching the ball, thereby transforming his brilliant apparent game-saving block into a "muff" which Miami recovered and, after sagely calling timeout with three ticks let, Miami kicked the game-winning FG. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ...

3. 2013, Auburn returning Bama's missed FG. This classic meltdown had more of a Biblical feel. Last play, game tied, Bama's on Auburn's 41, the normal call is a "Hail Mary" (a football term coined after uber-religious Roger Staubach claimed he "said a Hail Mary" just before heaving an improbable 1975 last-play game-winning bomb for the Cowboys, who preferred then, as now, to be called 'God's Team'); but in 2013, Nicky Saban, after consulting the Oracle that presumably resides somewhere within the four national championship rings cluttering his fingers, decided to attempt a 58-yard FG. Like a college kicker is going to hit a 58-yarder? Yeah, right. But what I really liked about this play, besides Nicky looking like a Fool, is that Gus Mahlzan was so QUICK to send in his best returner in, to field what he knew would be a short FG attempt, and then send that swift messenger out against Bama's FG team -- i.e., Bama's worst tacklers -- to deliver the Biblical Bad News straight to Nicky: Pride Goeth before the Fall.

4. 1999 Baylor v UNLV. Speaking of "pride goeth before the fall," in 1999 Baylor was up 24-21 on UNLV, Baylor had the ball on UNLV's one-yard-line, and there was time for just one more play; but instead of taking a knee, Baylor elected to try to run up the score on the Runnin' Rebs -- but fumbled, and the Rebs picked that fumble up and ran it back 99 yards for the victory. Hard not to see the Hand of God in that one.

5. 2002, Black Saturday. This game-ending piece of hubris is another "pride goeth before the fall" play that probably deserves to be #1 on this list of gut-wrenching ways to lose, except it involved a bunch of redneck hillbillies that no one outside of Georgia and the Carolinas cares about -- and only rednecks could possibly be THIS dumb. With seven (7) seconds left, Furman scored a touchdown which made the score Furman 15, Appalachian State 14. Instead of, say, attempting to KICK an extra point -- or just plain falling on the ball -- the Furman boys went for two (presumably to rub salt in the wounds of their hated rivals, the App State Mountaineers). But it turns out, under the Rules of Football, if an attempt to kick an extra point is blocked, it can be advanced by the defense and, if they reach the opposite end zone, they get one point -- but if a two-point conversion attempt is intercepted, as Appalachian State did to Furman on that "Black Saturday" in 2002, the intercepting team can advance the ball, and if they reach the opposite end zone, as App State did that dark day, they get two points, and win on the last play, 16-15. OUCH!

6. 1978, The Holy Roller. Ye Olde Oakland Raiders lacked the grandeur of the Greek and Biblical heroes; yet the Raiders' thugs brought a special creativity to bending the rules -- 'cheating', in plain English -- that was very refreshing. The Raiders' finest moment (well, except when the Raiders made the various and sundry plays that necessitated the NFL adopting rules against spearing, leg-whipping, clothes-lining, chop-blocking, taunting, and excessive use of 'stickum') was when the Chargers were up six points in 1978, but with the Raiders knocking on the door at the Chargers' 14, yet with time for just one last play; and the Chargers tackled the Raiders and brought them to the ground, not once, not twice, but three times -- yet each time the various and sundry Raiders' ball carriers (Stabler, Banaszak, Caspar) keep FLINGING the ball towards the end zone just before they were tackled, in transparently obvious intentional forward fumbles, until Caspar finally fell on the ball in the end zone for the game winner. Holy Roller, Batman. But the Holy Roller game was probably just the God of Karma settling debts with Al Davis for the Raiders' gut-wrenching defeat in:

7. 1972, The Immaculate Reception Game. As a Raiders fan, I can't bear to talk about this one. Look it up, and weep.

8. 1978, The Miracle At The Meadowlands. Stop me if this one sounds familiar, 2015 Michigan fans. Giants are up 17-12 on the Eagles, 31 seconds to play in the days when the play clock was 30 seconds, Giants have the ball on their own 26, Eagles are out of timeouts. Giants just have to run one play -- heck, they can just fall on the ball -- and then claim victory over their second-most-hated-foe, before heading for the presser. But instead of taking a knee, the Giants attempt a simple hand-off to their future Hall of Fame tailback, Larry Csonka; only Csonka fumbles, and Herman Edwards of the Eagles picks it up and runs it back for a touchdown. Does that sound familiar?

9. 2015, UM v MSU, The Miracle at the Big House. UM's up 23-21 with ten seconds to go on our 40-something, UM punter fumbles the 4th-down snap, could have just fallen on it and there's no way Sparty could get its FG unit on the field in time (much less make such a long kick), and it's doubtful Sparty even had enough time to line up and heave a Hail Mary, but instead our punter tries to pick it up, and then Sparty picks it up and ... oh, I can't even complete this sentence, unless I get 50 years of counseling.

10. 2005 UM/Nebraska Alamo Bowl. Nebraska's up 32-28, but UM was on the verge of winning the game with 7 laterals on the last play, only the refs apparently had a flight to catch, so they didn't bother enforcing the rule against 37 Cornhuskers wandering onto the field of play, even while the last play was still going on ... [Not that I'm bitter, but ....]



October 19th, 2015 at 11:41 AM ^

Agreed MSU would not have likely hit a FG from that distance if O'Neill fell on ball. But getting it off wasn't an issue; time would stop on change of possession.

Newton Gimmick

October 19th, 2015 at 11:47 AM ^

-Clint Stoerner and Arkansas fumbling when the center stepped on his foot, losing to eventual NC Tennessee in 1998

-Alexis Serna in his very first game at Oregon St missing all those extra points, costing them a win against defending NC LSU in Baton Rouge

-Two of the most mafia-ish bad calls cost Oklahoma a win at Autzen vs. Oregon in 2006

-And from another sport: Jim Joyce stealing a perfect game from Armando Galarraga

Red is Blue

October 19th, 2015 at 12:29 PM ^

Different sport, but how about Bill Buckner muffing an easy put out at first and allowing the Mets to stay alive, come back and win the game and ultimately win the Series.


October 19th, 2015 at 12:34 PM ^

The clock would have stopped on change of posession. I agree with the part about not making such a long kick though.


EDIT: oops, too slow. Missed the same comment a couple above.


October 19th, 2015 at 12:47 PM ^

I can't remember which pro teams were involved or when this happened - I believe this was back in the 80's, I do remember seeing the replay.

A team was taking a knee at the end of the game to run off the clock and seal a victory. The QB somehow fumbled the snap and the opposing team picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown with no time remaining. 

Ever sense that game teams have deployed a "safety" (usually the team's best tackling defensive back) 10-15 yards behind the quarterback when taking a knee to run out the clock. Formally they just lined up in a normal goal line formation.

I'm at work so I don't want to get too involved looking this up right now (What am I doing reading this blog anyway?). Maybe one of you guys can check my memory.




Unfiltered Manball

October 19th, 2015 at 12:58 PM ^

2005 Alamo Bowl game did in fact leave early to catch a plane.  Nothing short of 30,000 Michigan fans present at that game were ready to apprehend them for a public flogging.  Worst officiated Michigan game I have ever seen. 


October 19th, 2015 at 2:28 PM ^

Others that come to mind:

The 2002 "Bluegrass Miracle" - Kentucy up by 3 on Nick Saban-coached LSU with 2 seconds left when LSU completes a hail mary from THEIR OWN 25 YARD LINE. The UK students, on the other end of the stadium and assuming they won, storm the field as LSU celebrates:


2013 Georgia-Auburn - 36 seonds left, Georgia up by 1 and Auburn facing a 4th and 18 from their own 26, and then this happens:


Also, the 1997 Nebraska-Missouri kicked ball in the endzone game, which was total dumb luck (and illegal). 


October 19th, 2015 at 2:41 PM ^

First, thanks for posting this ... I think. At least we have company, right? (The Furman one sounds particularly brutal.)

Second, as a Cowboy fan it pains me to say this, but there's another Cowboy end-of-game debacle that should go on this list: Tony Romo's botched hold on a 19-yard field goal (shorter than an extra point) that cost them an almost certain win over Seattle with about a minute left in the wild card game in 2007. It was a far more costly gaff than Leon Lett's muff in 1993 (as someone notes above, the '93 Cowboys didn't lost a game after that, and went on to win the Super Bowl) -- Romo's fumble ended their season, and also Bill Parcells's coaching career; he didn't come back for the final year on his contract after that.


October 19th, 2015 at 4:37 PM ^

1990 Colorado - Missouri.  Google it - ESPN had something about the 25th anniversary earlier this year.  Colorado would go on to win the National Championship that year.

The refs were brutal on that final drive:

- They stopped the clock with seven seconds left to clear the pile when they had no business doing that

- Colorado got 5 downs (essentially did 2nd down twice - the down marker and scoreboard never moved; a fan in the stands had a heart attack and that confused everyone)

- It wasn't clear on the replay that Colorado even crossed the plane of the goal line on the winning score


October 19th, 2015 at 11:17 PM ^

If the score was 15-14 with time left on the clock, a 2-point conversion gives you a three-point lead. There is no practical difference between a one-point lead and a two-point lead, so might as well go for two. I know the chances of App State kicking a FG with seven seconds left are remote, but it could happen. For instance, they could return the kick to, say, the Furnan 25 yard line and then get a defensive penalty to extend the game one play. Unlikely, yes--but the chances of throwing a "pick-2" are probably just as low.