Throughout sports history, success has been measured by championships and wins. Some of these events mark some of the greatest moments in human history: the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA championship and bringing the first title to Cleveland since 1964; the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year drought by winning the 2016 World Series; the University of Texas and Vince Young defeating the University of Southern California, a team on a 34-game win streak in 2006; the 1985 Villanova men’s basketball team, an eighth seed in the tournament, beating powerhouse Georgetown by two points and setting the record for the lowest seed to win a title.
Each of these events shares a common theme of a team overcoming the odds to become the best, but with each victory lap comes a walk of shame.
The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday in a thriller of a game with huge mistakes on both sides. Three Dallas fumbles, a defense that could not stop an option play, the same defense electing to play a soft zone (which was carved up by Dak Prescott), a terrible decision to go for two at an inopportune time and a wonky onside kick dubbed the “watermelon-kick” that resulted in a winning Dallas field goal as time expired.
In 2018, J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers made the decision to dribble out a rebound off a missed free throw attempt in game 1 of the NBA Finals. This would have been fine, except he did not realize his team had no time-outs and the game was tied. Cleveland proceeded to lose in overtime and ended up losing the series.
During Super Bowl 51 the Atlanta Falcons were up 28-3 against the New England Patriots heading in the fourth and final quarter. With their first Super Bowl victory all but assured, the Falcons snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Tom Brady pulled his magic out from nowhere and proceeded to score nineteen unanswered points on a soft zone defense presented by the Falcons, forcing the first overtime in Super Bowl history. New England drove down the field and scored, giving the Patriots their sixth Lombardi trophy and a long offseason for Atlanta.
In 2016, Jordan Spieth was on his way to a back-to-back major Masters championship win at Augusta National Golf Club. With only nine holes left to play and up by five strokes, Spieth was cruising, but bogeys at 10 and 11 cut into his lead. Spieth then proceeded to hit a quadruple bogey on 12, the grand finale in his collapse. He lost the championship to a lesser-known player on the tour, Danny Willet.
Finally, in 1986 the Boston Red Sox looked to end a World Series drought that had lasted since 1918 against the New York Mets. In-game six in the tenth inning, the Mets were at-bat with two outs, a 3-2 count against outfielder Mookie Wilson, and a man on second. On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson hit a weak grounder toward the first baseman Bill Buckner. The ball looked like a routine grounder that was sure to be an out, impossible to mishandle. The ball proceeded to go right between Buckner’s legs, and the Mets won as the man on second rounded third and scored. The Mets would go on to win game seven, making this one of the most monumental errors in MLB history.
Except for Nelson Cruz in game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but that one still hurts too much to talk about… Google it.
So in times of defeat, remembering the failure of those who came before can ease the burden and allow wounds to heal more quickly.
But Nelly should have caught that ball.