By Kurtis Seaboldt
As the New York Giants positioned themselves for the field goal that would send them to the Super Bowl, several players came up to San Francisco 49ers kick returner Kyle Williams and offered kind words. He heard none. He didn’t even blink.
For the second time since the end of the third quarter, a mistake by Williams on a New York punt had given the ball to the Giants deep in 49ers territory. The first gaffe was not fatal; the second one was.
Even before Lawrence Tynes’ 31-yarder split the uprights, Williams knew his name was going into the history books in a way no players wants. He would be a post-season goat.
And he would have company.
Billy Cundiff was also fitted for horns Sunday. Baltimore’s kicker badly missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game between the Ravens and the New England Patriots into overtime. The Patriots and Giants go to the Super Bowl; Williams and Cundiff go home to begin serving their sentences.
The worst part about making the big mistake in the big game is that we record these games and play them back. Forever. And, whenever today’s games are replayed, there will be Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff, failing in slow motion.
But these players, like all goats before them, are heroic in one fashion. For they allow all others to escape the eye of scrutiny. Because Billy Cundiff missed, no one will remember that the Ravens scored just one touchdown in four trips inside the Red Zone. Cundiff even takes most of the heat off of Baltimore receiver Lee Evans, who had the game-winning touchdown pass in his hands before getting it stripped.
Because Kyle Williams botched two punts – oddly, had it been someone else on the first one, THAT guy would be spared of much of his grief – no one will recall that the 49ers didn’t convert a third down until the final play of regulation. Not a single person will note that San Francisco ran just one play from inside the Giants’ 45-yard line before the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Of course, it has always been like this. Giants fans are well aware of that.
Buffalo Bills fans don’t remember that their team didn’t convert a third down in Super Bowl XXV until the final play of the third quarter, or that they allowed a nine-plus minute touchdown drive during which the Giants converted four third downs. But Scott Norwood lives in infamy to this day.
It’s like this in all sports. No one recalls that Calvin Schiraldi allowed three straight hits with two outs in the tenth in the 1986 World Series, or that Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch to allow the tying run to score. But mention Bill Buckner in Boston, and everyone knows what you’re talking about.
Only the nerdiest baseball fans remembers Mike Witt allowing a ninth-inning homerun to Don Baylor in the 1986 ALCS or Gary Lucas hitting Rich Gedman on the hand with his only pitch later in that inning. But who hasn’t heard of Donnie Moore?
A conference title game isn’t the Super Bowl and it isn’t the World Series. So it is likely that Billy and Kyle will rest on the shelf right below Norwood, Buckner and Moore. But they are there. They always will be. Taking the weight of the failures of others.
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