One Yard Away

By Michael LeCompte

As the NFL season gets under way Seattle’s loyal fan base is still dealing with the pain of being left one yard away from back-to-back championships. Perhaps forever will still be too soon for diehard fans to discuss the game’s tragic ending. Maybe it is a special pain that can only be assuaged through a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, but the last play of the Super Bowl (the play itself, not the call) offers a valuable, if painful lesson the Seahawks should take to heart.

However many times we watch the replay Super Bowl XLIX never gets any closer than 26 seconds, 3 downs, 1 timeout, and 1 yard away.

All season long, in every inane sports interview we hear athletes speak of execution, of how the game’s just a matter of execution. Well, Seattle’s last-second Super Bowl woes can be chalked up to a lack of execution, both offensively and defensively.

Defensively Seattle failed to execute in the fourth quarter, directly leading to the offense’s need to execute a play from the New England one yard line.

The vaunted “Legion of Boom” surrendered 14 points in the fourth quarter, a feat few outside the Patriot’s locker room would’ve thought possible. Tom Brady cut Seattle to pieces all game long and despite forcing two turnovers the Seahawks couldn’t come up with a stop when they really needed it.

Seattle also failed to execute offensively in the second half of the Super Bowl missing several opportunities to pad the 10 point lead they took into the fourth quarter.

Which brings us to that final, fateful pass. The decision to pass was actually a sound one (New England had its goal line defense in to stop the run so why not throw it?). The problem with that last pass was one of…execution. The failure to correctly execute that slant route is why Super Bowl XLIX will eternally be one yard away from Seattle.

Shocked fans have spent all off-season numbly viewing the disastrous replay innumerable times, unable to look away, constantly wondering: what if? I have viewed it 60 times myself (focusing on one of the three key players: Wilson, Lockette, and Butler each time) and fault can be found with all three.

Some of the fault is Ricardo Lockette’s. He should have ran a crisper route and fought for the ball harder at the point of contact with Butler.

Some of the fault rests on Malcolm Butler. He made an amazing play on the biggest of stages, coming from 5 yards deep in the end zone when the ball leaves Wilson’s hand to make the play at the goal line. Butler’s interception was the kind of play we are so used to seeing Seattle’s secondary make.

We all love Russell Wilson, however, the majority of the blame for the interception lies on his right arm.

Wilson’s problems on the last play are evident as soon as he takes the snap. When Lockette first breaks to the inside he’s open. If Wilson hits him immediately he walks into the end zone. Wilson took a two-step drop before throwing, though, and by then Lockette was less open.

However, the play still could have been a touchdown if Wilson hits his receiver in the chest, sticking the ball between the 8 and 3. Instead he led Lockette way too far…straight into Super Bowl infamy.

If Wilson had just caught the snap and fired with no drop-back (like he did on his touchdown to Mathews right before the end of the first half) Seattle would be opening up a title defense.

Wilson’s fault for the interception goes beyond his pass and back to the play call itself, though, however sound it may be in hindsight. Wilson’s a competitive guy. He desires to be the best and win multiple championships. Which is exactly why, in that situation, with the Super Bowl on the line, he’s got to be better.

At the one yard line he’s got to revert back to the playground and say “I’m the best and we’re winning the Super Bowl.” Then he’s got to either call his own number in the huddle or audible to “Beast Mode” at the line. Defying his coach’s call wouldn’t have mattered if blue and green confetti were falling.

By all accounts Wilson is a good man and a great teammate. He believes he can win and usually does. However, he lacks that hard, fiery edge where he not only wants to win, but refuses to lose. With that edge of iron will he keeps the ball and bulls into the end zone or wins a foot race to the pylon.

Wilson’s been so good and accomplished so much that it’s easy to forget that he’s only 26. He threw a bad pass, it happens. At this stage of his career perhaps he’s not quite comfortable taking control and directly challenging his coaches. He’ll get there.

In July Wilson signed a new $87 million contract (although he’d probably trade all the zeroes on that new paycheck for one more play from the one in the Super Bowl). The key moving forward now is to stay hungry and every indication is that he will, tweeting after the Super Bowl that “at 26 years old I won’t allow 1 play or 1 moment to define my career,” and “I will keep evolving.”

As the pain lingers a new season begins. Forget “I’m In” or “Always Compete,” Seattle’s new mantra should be “ONE YARD AWAY.” They should slap it on posters and signs, little rubber bracelets and T-shirts. They should say it throughout the season. ONE YARD AWAY should always be before their eyes and on their minds.

The painful, but valuable lesson of Super Bowl XLIX should motivate Seattle to not only get back to the promised land of the big game, but to leave no doubt next time. To never be left ONE YARD AWAY again.

Epic Super Bowl Fails

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.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Dallas CowboysDallas 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.”

widerightThe loss was the first of four consecutive in the Super Bowl for Buffalo and the one point defeat would turn out to be their best chance, as they were blown out in the next three.

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.

leonlettitgoAlthough 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.

garoyepremianFortunately for Yepremian the Dolphins hung on to win 14-7 and over a fifteen year career he made 210/313 field goals.

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.