Friday, February 5, 2010

A Moment of Imperfection

A little while ago, I was reading an article on the TIME website about the "Top 10 Super Bowl Moments."

"In the buildup to Sunday's football finale," read the subhead, "TIME takes a time out to review the greatest catches, tackles, passes and runs in Super Bowl history. As well as a kick to forget."

I could only think of two kicks in Super Bowl history that could fit that description — Scott Norwood's near–miss in Super Bowl XXV and Garo Yepremian's blocked kick in Super Bowl VII. Turned out, TIME was referring to Norwood's miss (by the way, you can see videos of all 10 Super Bowl moments if you read TIME's article).

Unless you were a fan of the Buffalo Bills, though, I don't think I would say that Norwood's kick was one to forget. It was a dramatic moment. The snap was good. It didn't sail over the kicker's head or anything like that. The kicker made a clean kick. No one blocked it. It was long enough. It just didn't go through the uprights.

And the Bills lost the game.

If I had been the one making the list and I had to pick a kick to forget, I would go with Yepremian's kick in a heartbeat.

Now there is a kick that lives in infamy.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins, of course, are the only team to go through a regular season, the conference playoffs and the Super Bowl without losing a single game. But it wasn't easy. They had some real cliffhangers that year — a two–point win over Minnesota in the third game, a one–point win over Buffalo in the sixth game, a four–point win over the Jets in the 10th game. What's more, all three of the Dolphins' postseason victories (including the Super Bowl) could have been lost or tied if the opponent had made one more touchdown.

The Dolphins also had to overcome the absences of several injured defensive linemen and quarterback Bob Griese, who broke his ankle in the fifth game. He missed the rest of the regular season and the first–round playoff game, then returned as a backup for the AFC Championship game. He was ready to return as the starter by the time of the Super Bowl.

In spite of the narrow escapes and the adversity of losing their field general, the Dolphins persevered and entered the Super Bowl with a 16–0 record. They needed only to beat the Washington Redskins to cap a perfect season.

But one moment of imperfection threatened to undo what they had accomplished.

In the fourth quarter, with Miami leading, 14–0, Yepremian prepared to attempt a field goal that seemed likely to put the game away, but the kick was blocked and Yepremian chased the bouncing football, picked it up when he should have just fallen on it and made a feeble attempt to throw it to Larry Csonka. The ball slipped out of his hands and he tried to bat it out of bounds, but, instead, it went up in the air and was picked off by Mike Bass, who ran it back for a touchdown.

With just over two minutes left in the game, the Redskins were within a touchdown of tying the score. On the Miami sideline, defensive lineman Manny Fernandez, considered by many the game's most valuable player, said to Yepremian, "You son of a bitch, we lose this game, I'm gonna f***ing kill you."

To just about everyone's surprise, Washington opted to kick deep instead of trying to recover an onside kick, then used up all of its timeouts before getting the ball back. But the Redskins did have one last chance, with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. Miami's defense stopped Washington, and the legendary perfect season was in the books.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I would rate Yepremian's botched kick as the one to forget, not Norwood's. And, apparently, Yepremian wanted to forget it right away, even though it didn't cost his team the game. From what I have heard, he was so depressed that he went into virtual seclusion for two weeks after the game.

However, "Garo's Gaffe," as it was known, made him famous and brought him speaking engagements and commercial endorsements.

What could have been the costliest mistake of his life turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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