By Michael LeCompte
Those good enough to make it to the NFL play for many reasons. A pure love of the game drives some, while the opportunity for fame and fortune drives others. Regardless of why they play, the point of the game is to win, the objective of every player on every team is to win the Super Bowl.
Players hope to win and take their place in history. They dream of Super Bowl glory, of making the winning play.
Of course the harsh reality of the NFL is that it is extremely hard to even make it to the Super Bowl, and even more difficult to win. For every long bomb pass and incredible run there are perhaps an equal number of disastrous plays, epic fails on the grandest of stages that go down in Super Bowl infamy, to be cringed at every year.
Here’s a look at perhaps the four biggest fails in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl XIII. Jackie Smith
Over a Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals and Cowboys, tight end Jackie Smith caught 480 passes for 7,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. Unfortunately he is most remembered for a crucial dropped pass in the Super Bowl.
Dallas trailed Pittsburgh 21-14 late in the third quarter when Smith inexplicably dropped a pass when he was wide open in the middle of the end zone. There wasn’t a Steeler within seven yards of him, but he dropped the ball and Dallas went on to lose the game 35-31.
Despite Verne Lundquist’s memorable “bless his heart he’s gotta be the sickest man in America” call of the drop, Smith had nothing to be ashamed of and in hindsight his drop seems natural.
After spending his entire career with the Cardinals Smith was 38 years old when he signed with Dallas in 1978. That season he was used primarily as a blocking tight end and didn’t catch a pass all season.
He retired before the start of the next season.
Super Bowl XXV. Scott Norwood
The Bills trailed the Giants 20-19 when Norwood lined up for a 47 yard field goal with eight seconds left. His kick had the distance, but as Al Michaels exclaimed, sailed “WIDE RIGHT.”
Norwood was waived by the Bills following the 1991 season. He became an insurance salesman before going into real estate.
Super Bowl XXVII. Leon Lett
Lett was a defensive tackle from 1991-2001 and a member of the dominant Cowboys teams of the early nineties. In Super Bowl XXVII Dallas was blowing out Buffalo 52-17 when Lett recovered a fumble at the Cowboy’s 35 yard line with nothing but 65 yards of open field before him.
He rumbled down the field and it looked like he would score when he suddenly slowed down inside the ten yard line, held the ball out in front of him and began celebrating. Don Beebe of the Bills never gave up on the play and caught up with Lett, knocking the ball out of his hands and through the end zone for a touchback.
Although Dallas went on to win 52-17 Lett became a national punch line and the career of “Leon Lett-it go” could serve as a cautionary tale for every young player, imparting valuable lessons such as don’t celebrate before you reach the end zone and don’t do drugs, for which he was suspended a total of 28 games throughout his career.
Lett is currently an assistant defensive line coach for the Cowboys.
Super Bowl VII. Garo Yepremian
In Super Bowl VII the undefeated Dolphins were leading the Redskins 14-0 with just over two minutes left. Yepremian came in for a field goal that would put the game out of reach. The kick was blocked, but Yepremian picked it up and tried to throw it. In what may be the worst pass attempt in NFL history the ball simply popped/slipped straight up out of the 5′ 7” 160 pound Yepremian’s hand into the hands of Washington’s Mike Bass, who returned it for a touchdown.
Following his playing career, the Cypress born Yepremian, who came to America with $10 in his pocket and whose first football game he ever saw was the first NFL game he kicked in, has worked as a motivational speaker.
He has also re-enacted his blocked kick and botched pass with Mike Bass for a Wounded Warrior Project fundraiser.
After his daughter-in-law died of brain cancer he founded the Garo Yepremian Foundation for Brain Tumor Research. In a cruel bit of irony, or perhaps just another unfortunate bounce of the ball in the game of life, Yepremian, now 70, has been battling adrenal cancer and a brain tumor himself.
Are these the four worst plays in Super Bowl history? Perhaps not, two of the players who made the biggest mistakes of their careers in the big game still managed to walk away with rings and all four moments are replayed every year in the buildup to the Super Bowl, these “goats” immortalized forever, right alongside the hero’s.