HOUSTON (CBS Houston): Since the AFL and NFL announced they would merge their two leagues on June 8, 1966, there have been so many indelible moments that have been permanently etched in the minds of football fans all over the nation.
Some of the greatest moments include Joe Namath’s “Guarantee” in Super Bowl III, Franco Harris and “The Immaculate Reception” in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoffs, Dwight Clark with “The Catch” from Joe Montana in the 1982 NFC Championship Game, and the standard by which all clutch performances are judged – John Elway and “The Drive” in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.
While all of these moments show the greatness of the game and the players who made the memories, there is an equal and opposite side to these moments. Moments we remember in horror, in anger, in disgust, and in bewildered amazement. Moments that left us holding our breath for the wrong reasons, moments that to this day (Thanks to the genius of NFL Films) are forever etched in the minds of football fans young and old.
It was very hard to whittle this list down to just 5, but after untold painstaking hours of anguish, here are the 5 Worst Memorable Moments in the NFL.
5) “The Fumble”. People in Philadelphia call this “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”, but they are the only ones. This was quite possibly the worst way an NFL team has ever lost a football game.
November 19, 1978. Giants Stadium. The Giants led the Eagles 17-12 with 31 seconds to go in the 4th quarter. Philadelphia was out of timeouts. The Giants had a 3rd down and 2 from their own 29. Oft-scrutined Giants Offensive Coordinator Bob Gibson called “Pro 65 Up”, a handoff to fullback Larry Czonka, in to his quarterback, Joe Pisarcik.
Czonka didn’t want the ball. He and many other players in the huddle asked Pisarcik to change the call, and just take a knee. Pisarcik, however, reluctantly called the play, as a week earlier, he had changed a play and Gibson threatened to have the second year starter waived if he ever did so again.
Czonka claimed he told Pisarcik he wouldn’t take the ball, even if Pisarcik tried to hand it to him, in an attempt to get his quarterback to take a knee. What happened next was the kind of disaster even the Keystone Cops would be proud of. Here’s the transcript of the call from CBS commentator Don Criqui:
“It’s Giants football now, third and two. We thank our producer Bob Rowe, our director Jim Silman, and our CBS crew, spotter and statistician John Mara and Tom McHugh here at Giants Stadium. As the clock winds down on the Philadelphia Eagles, a game they thought would project them into a possible wildcard position, it would bring them 7–5 had they won, but a late interception by the Giants will preserve a Giant victory, an upset win as the Giants lead 17–12, we’re inside 30 seconds, the Eagles have no timeouts. [At this point, the snap and fumble take place.] Wait a minute… here’s a free football, I don’t believe it! The Eagles pick it up and Herman Edwards runs it in for a touchdown! An incredible development!”
In an inconceivable turn of events, Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards (yes, THAT Herman Edwards) scooped up the ball and went 26 yards to score the game-winning touchdown, saving the Eagles playoff chances (they would make the second wild card spot) and sending the Giants into a freefall that saw them lose 4 of 5 to finish a last place 6-10 and ended Head Coach Jim McVay’s tenure with the team.
It’s unquestionably the worst way a team has ever lost an NFL game.
4) “The Fumble, Part 2”. While this play didn’t directly lead to a loss of a game, as the previous play did, the “Who, When and Where” of this play make it even worse.
January 17, 1988. Mile High Stadium. The AFC Championship Game. Two bitter rivals, the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns had not won a title since 1964. The year before, in the AFC Title Game, at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Dawg Pounders watched in horror as John Elway marched 98 yards in 15 plays on the Broncos’ final possession to tie the game at 20 with just 37 seconds remaining. The Browns would go on to lose the game in overtime, 23-20.
With the game at Mile High Stadium the next year, Browns players and fans had revenge on their minds. Down 21-3 at the half, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar led a furious comeback with 4 second half touchdowns. He would get the ball one more time, after John Elway had hit Sammy Winder for a 20 yard touchdown to give the Broncos the lead again 38-31 with 6 minutes to go.
Kosar went to work, and with 1:12 remaining, he had the Browns knocking on the door at the Bronco 8 yard line.
Earnest Byner was having a monster game, and was probably the biggest reason the Browns were able to climb back into the game. He had already scored twice in the second half, and he would get the call again. Byner took the handoff, and the history happened to the Browns all over again.
As it appeared Byner was about to charge in for the touchdown, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille stripped Byner at the 2 yard line. Castille had come free because Browns receiver Webster Slaughter, who was supposed to take 10 steps to block Castille out, according to then Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer, instead chose to just watch the play.
The Broncos recovered the ball at the 2, then took an intentional safety and went on to win 38-33, ending the Browns season in catastrophic misery for the second straight year when they were one win from the Super Bowl.
The Browns would lose a 3rd AFC Championship to Elway’s Broncos two years later. They have not won a playoff game since the 1994 Wild Card round.
3) Chuck Hughes dies on the field. To date, he is the only player to die on the field of play, but October 24, 1971 is a date the NFL will never forget.
Hughes was a 4th round pick in 1967 out of Texas Western College (now UTEP) where he still holds several school records, including most all-purpose yards in a single game (401), most receptions in a game (17), most all-purpose yards per game for a season (204), and highest yards per reception in a single game, 34.9, which is also an NCAA record.
In 1971, Hughes was in his second season in Detroit, having been traded prior to the start of the 1970 season to the Lions by Philadelphia.
The Lions were hosting the Chicago Bears at old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. In the final minutes of the game, Hughes was jogging back to the huddle when he suddenly collapsed at the Bears 15 yard line. Some thought he was initially faking an injury to stop the clock with his team down 28-23, until legendary Bears linebacker Dick Butkus started to frantically calling for help.
Unknown at the time, Hughes had advanced arteriosclerosis, and his coronary arteries were 75% blocked. His teammates were told of his death while at the stadium.
Hughes is buried in San Antonio. His number 85 is retired by the Lions, and the team’s Most Improved Player award is named in his honor. Hughes was inducted in to the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.
2) The Fail Mary. The start of the 2012 NFL season will forever be marred by the NFL Referee Lockout. The league, in a vulgar display of power and pathetic display of penny-pinching that only Ebenezer Scrooge would approve of, hired replacement officials to officiate games while trying to force the league’s normal officials into an awful deal.
It was clear during the preseason that the replacement officials were terribly unprepared, yet the league chose to go forward with them into the regular season, trying to put the squeeze on the league’s regulars.
By Week 3, it was so apparent the league had to end its hardline stance and bargain in good faith the officials, and this one play the was the catalyst that made it happen.
September 24, 2012. Monday Night Football. National Spotlight.
The Seattle Seahawks were trailing the Green Bay Packers 12-7 at CenturyLink Field with 8 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. The Seahawks had a 4th and 10 from the Packers 24.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary to the back of the end zone, looking for Golden Tate. What happened next was the most obnoxious display of inept officiating NFL fans had ever seen.
Two different officials, both standing right on top of the play, ruled the play differently. The side judge ruled touchdown. The back judge signaled time out, seeking replay assistance. As a result, the play on the field was officially ruled a touchdown, with Tate and Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings maintaining simultaneous possession. Both ignored the obvious push off by Tate that was clear offensive pass interference.
During the review, Referee Wayne Elliott concluded that the replay was not sufficient to overturn the call, and let the incorrect call stand, allowing the Seahawks to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden was beside himself during the broadcast, saying, “Golden Tate gets away with one of the most blatant offensive pass interference calls I’ve ever seen. M.D. Jennings intercepts the pass. And Tate’s walking out of here as the player of the game. Unbelievable.”
The putrid call would eventually cost the Packers a playoff bye, as the extra loss left them as the 3rd seed in the NFC, and therefore had to play in the Wild Card Round. They lost on the road the following week in the Divisional Round.
Former Houston Oilers quarterback and current Seattle Seahawks broadcaster Warren Moon’s speculated, “This could be the game that gets a deal done. Something like this, on the league’s biggest stage, on Monday night, it’s just not good for the game. You could argue the officials had a hand in the outcome, that they cost Green Bay the game or would have cost the Seahawks.”
Two days later, the NFL made Moon’s words prophetic, as they came to an agreement with the NFL Referees Association on September 26. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in one of his great “Captain Obvious” moments, reluctantly acknowledged the game “may have pushed the parties further along” in negotiations. You think?
1) Joe Theismann’s Broken Leg. If you saw this play live or were watching it live on Monday Night Football, I hope you weren’t eating.
November 18, 1985. RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. It was the most gruesome injury I had ever seen, and that is a sentiment shared by just about anyone that has ever had the displeasure of watching it.
The Giants sniffed out a Redskins flea flicker, and Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was charging like a freight train on a blitz. Two ‘pops’ later, Theismann’s career was over.
While taking Theismann down, Taylor’s knee went straight into Theismann’s lower right leg, fracturing both the tibia and the fibula. The injury was completely caught on film. Theismann’s leg from the middle of his lower leg down was flat on the ground, while the rest of his leg was at a 45 degree angle.
Taylor, seeing Theismann’s gruesome injury up close, began wildly screaming and waving for help. The bad blood between the two teamsactually led many Redskins players and coaches to think he was taunting them, but that turned out not to be the case.
Theismann described the injury in a 2005 interview with the New York Times, saying, “The pain was unbelievable, it snapped like a breadstick. It sounded like two muzzled gunshots off my left shoulder. Pow, pow! It was at that point, I also found out what a magnificent machine the human body is. Almost immediately, from the knee down, all the feeling was gone in my right leg. The endorphins had kicked in, and I was not in pain.”
The injury was so bad that it actually left Theismann’s right leg shorter than his left, as his bone was not able to grow properly while healing, ending his career at 36.
The play has been voted the NFL’s “Most Shocking Moment in History” and was named by The Washington Post as “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget”.
Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate and Creight” Sundays 2-5pm on Sportsradio 610. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1