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The 20 Worst Screwups In Sports History

Fred Brown throws away Georgetown’s title, Bill Buckner lets his Sox down, NBC subs Heidi for Joe Namath. Welcome to the Bonehead Hall of Infamy.

Stuff, 2/24/2003
By Jordan Matus

N.Y. Jets vs. Oakland Raiders
November 17, 1968
After the Jets’ Jim Turner kicked a field goal to give his team a 32-29 lead with 1:05 left in a crucial late-season game, NBC figured the fat lady had sung, cut to a commercial — and never came back. What viewers then got was not the conclusion of an amazing AFL shoot-out, but a children’s TV movie that infuriated an entire nation. While stunned sports fans watched Heidi yodel through the countryside, the Raiders scored twice in nine seconds for a jock-dropping 43-32 victory. The scores came on a 43-yard TD pass and a miraculous recovery of a Jets fumble on the ensuing kickoff, leaving NBC besieged with calls from bloodthirsty fans with one thought on their minds: Heidi, Heidi…that ho!

North Carolina vs. Michigan
April 5, 1993
If each person has only a certain amount of luck in a lifetime, former Carolina coach Dean Smith probably shouldn’t bother buying any lottery tickets. In an eerie reenactment of the 1982 NCAA championship, Carolina was once again up by a razor-thin margin. After Tar Heels’ forward Pat Sullivan missed the second of two free throws, the Wolverines had 11 seconds to go for either the tie or the win, since they trailed by two. Michigan forward Chris Webber took the rebound, idiotically dribbled down the sideline and sealed his place in the Brickhead Hall of Fame by calling a time-out — which his team didn’t have. The refs called a technical, awarding two free throws, possession and the game to UNC.

N.Y. Mets vs. Boston Red Sox
October 25, 1986
Never overestimate the potential of a cursed franchise. Up 3-2 in the series, Boston was one out away from clinching a World Championship when they blew a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the 10th, with the score tied at 5-5, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson dribbled an easy grounder to first baseman Bill Buckner, which went between his legs like a five-dollar hooker. An astonished Ray Knight danced home from third base to win the game. Of course, the Mets went on to take the Series, and Buckner went on to become Boston’s version of Salman Rushdie.

Olympic Trials
June 27, 1992
When Reebok poured $25 million into a pre-Games ad campaign to hype decathlete Dan O’Brien as God’s gift to the Olympics, they didn’t bank on O’Brien not even qualifying for Barcelona. After O’Brien dominated the early trials, all he needed to do was register any score in the pole-vault to make the team. But he insisted on starting his vaulting at an arrogant 15 feet, nine inches. Naturally, he blew all three attempts, registered a humiliating “no height” and missed the bus to Spain.

British Open
July 18, 1999
Jean Van de Velde approached the final hole with a fat three-stroke lead. All he required was a double bogey on the par-four 18th to take the title. But Van de Velde took on the task with too much joie de vivre, driving off the tee and onto an adjoining fairway. Then, in a situation where even Evel Knievel would lay up and play for bogey, Van de Velde went for the green. He banked the shot off the grandstand, landing in deep rough, 30 yards from the green. He chipped his next shot into the water, taking the penalty. Stroke five went straight into a bunker. He just about managed to save a triple bogey — but not the title. His final-hole acid trip put him into a playoff in which Paul Lawrie finished three strokes ahead of the fried Frenchie.

The Rose Bowl
January 1, 1929
In the second quarter of a tight game, Georgia Tech’s Stumpy Thomason fumbled after a tackle. The pigskin popped loose and rolled to California’s Roy Riegels, who swept it up and sprinted 66 yards toward the end zone — his own end zone. When teammate Benny Lom tried to stop him, Riegels snapped, “Get away from me! This is my touchdown!” Lom finally got Riegels to pull up at the one-yard line, where a ton of Tech players tackled him. The ensuing Cal punt was blocked for a safety, which proved to be the difference in Cal’s 8-7 loss, giving Georgia Tech the national title.

N.Y. Giants vs.Philadelphia Eagles
November 19, 1978
Tortured New York fans hadn’t seen an NFL title game since 1961 and were burning season tickets to show their disgust. Still, at 5-6, they weren’t out of the playoffs — yet. With a 17-12 lead over the Eagles and just 31 seconds left to play, things were looking good — too good for overconfident Giants offensive coach Bob Gibson. On the third down, instead of having QB Joe Pisarcik kneel down with the ball, Gibson ordered him to hand off to stunned running back Larry Csonka. Naturally, Pisarcik bobbled the snap, Csonka missed the handoff and Philly’s Herman Edwards snatched up the ball and ran 26 yards for a game-stealing TD. Gibson’s next call would be to the unemployment office. He was fired the following day.

N.Y. Giants vs. Chicago Cubs
September 23, 1908
Fred Merkle’s base-running blunder cost the Giants the 1908 pennant and forever associated his name with the words big and dick. The teams were tied in the standings when they met in a crucial game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants’ Al Bridwell smacked a single, driving home what should have been the winning run. Wrong! Merkle, who was on first base, saw 20,000 spectators spilling onto the field in celebration and ran for the clubhouse. Sadly, he forgot to touch second before dashing to the postgame party. Helpful Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers called for the ball, stepped on second and the umps called Merkle out, ruling the game a tie. Naturally, the season ended with the Cubs and Giants dead even — and in the one-game playoff, the Cubs boned the Giants 4-2.

Miami Dolphins vs. Dallas Cowboys
November 25, 1993
Pro Bowler Leon Lett’s biggest lowlight came on Thanksgiving, when he handed all-but-beaten Miami a holiday victory. With 15 seconds left and Dallas up by two, the Cowboys blocked a field goal, causing the ball to sputter and drop at the seven-yard line — apparently sealing a Cowboy victory. That is, until clueless Lett inexplicably slid into the pigskin, making it a live ball that the Fins immediately recovered. Miami nailed an easy field goal on the next play as time expired, stuffing the ’Boys and giving Dallas fans a lot less to be thankful for.

Georgetown vs. North Carolina
March 29, 1982
Is it fair that a team with Michael Jordan got a championship handed to it on a silver platter? No, but it happened. With 57 seconds remaining, freshman Patrick Ewing had carried the Hoyas to a 62-61 lead. Unfazed, the Heels worked 25 seconds off the clock, setting up a play for freshman sensation Jordan, who (surprise!) drilled a 16-footer to put them up by one. But there were still 15 seconds left when Hoya guard Fred Brown brought the rock back upcourt with a chance to win. At the top of the key, he faked a pass inside and hit a wide-open James Worthy on his right. Too bad Worthy played for Carolina — and took the ball and Georgetown’s title hopes back to Chapel Hill.

The Masters
April 14, 1968
Argentinean Roberto De Vincenzo had problems with math. On the 17th hole on the final day of The Masters, he made a birdie three, but his playing partner accidentally put down a four on his scorecard. In a hurry to hit the 19th hole, De Vincenzo didn’t scrutinize the card, signed it and the phantom stroke became official. The error gave him a 278, knocking him out of a playoff with Bob Goalby by a single stroke. The judges ruled that De Vincenzo’s score must stand, giving Goalby the green jacket. The arithmetically challenged Argentinean’s postgame comment? “What a stupid I am.”

Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames
April 30, 1986
The Oilers were steaming along with two consecutive Stanley Cups when rookie Steve Smith caused the biggest oil spill in franchise history. Tied at two with the Flames in the final period of the seventh game in the division championship series, Smith tried to clear a pass from behind his own goal. Unfortunately, he shot the puck cleanly into the back of his own goalie’s skates and banked it beautifully into the Oilers’ goal. The score gave Calgary a 3-2 lead, incinerating Edmonton’s dynasty.

Kentucky Derby
May 4, 1957
Hall of Famer Willie Shoemaker actually prevented his horse, Gallant Man, from winning the 1957 Derby. On the morning of the race, the horse’s owner told Shoemaker that he had dreamed Willie would blow the Derby by misjudging the finish line. Shoe dismissed the dude as a wacko…and then did exactly that. Gallant Man thundered down the homestretch, just ahead of Iron Liege, when Shoe inexplicably stood up to celebrate at the 16th pole. Tiny problem: The 17th pole marks the finish line at Churchill Downs. Gallant Man lost its stride, and Iron Liege won by a nose.

Super Bowl VII
January 14, 1973
Garo Yepremian recalls the first NFL game he ever saw — he was kicking in it. “I had no idea how to put my uniform on,” says the ex-soccer player from Cyprus. That explains his Super meltdown years later. Yepremian’s Dolphins were stomping Washington 14-0 with 2:07 left. Then 90,182 fans went into shock as the kicker scooped up his own blocked FG and — instead of just falling on it — tried to pass over a wall of ’Skins. The ball went to Washington’s Mike Bass, who bolted for a TD. “My mind went blank,” says Yepremian. Luckily, Miami held on to win.

Brooklyn Dodgers vs. N.Y. Yankees
October 5, 1941
Catcher Mickey Owen made the Dodgers’ infamous team motto, Wait ’Til Next Year, stick. In the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Yankee Tommy Heinrich struck out, seemingly giving Brooklyn a one-run victory that would even the Series at 2-2. The catch? Owen didn’t make the catch. The pitch skidded past him, Heinrich reached first and four batters later the Yankees had won 7-4. Demoralized, the Dodgers threw in the towel and lost the Series the next day.

Super Bowl III
January 12, 1969
Trailing 7-0 with just 25 seconds left in the first half, Baltimore QB Earl Morrall would try anything to get back in the game against the Jets. So he called for the freaky flea-flicker play, which had worked in the regular season. Morrall handed off to Tom Matte, who passed it back to the QB, who was then supposed to hit Jimmy Orr at the 10. The problem: Morrall couldn’t see a wide-open Orr in the blue and white background of the Baltimore band lined up in the end zone. After pump-faking to the tuba player, Morrall threw to the wrong guy. The pass was picked off by the Jets, who went on to crush the Colts 16-7 in the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.

Minnesota Twins vs. California Angels
August 3, 1987
Hitters had long been suspicious of the Twins’ Joe Niekro’s nasty pitches — but few suspected that he carried a hardware store in his pocket. When umpire Tim Tschida saw scuff marks on the ball, he wanted to know what kind of carpentry Niekro was practicing. Tschida asked Niekro to empty his pockets, and (whoops!) out flew an emery board and sandpaper. Niekro was so tossed out! He was ultimately suspended for 10 days despite his O.J.-quality defense that he needed the emery board to file his fingernails between innings. The sandpaper was his “backup.”

CFL draft
1995 & 1996
The Ottawa Rough Riders actually drafted a bigger stiff than Rick Mirer when they selected Derrell Robertson in 1995. His key flaw? He’d been dead for four months. The Montreal Alouettes showed similar optimism when they picked James Eggink in the 1996 draft. Eggink had succumbed to cancer the previous December. “I’m upset and embarrassed as an owner,” Montreal boss Jim Speros said of the faux pas. “The research process can be very difficult.” Eh?

L.A. Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks
May 6, 1984
With the score tied in Game Four of the conference semifinals, Dallas rookie Derek Harper (yeah, he’s that old) rebounded the ball with six seconds left for the game-winning play. But dim-witted Harper thought the Mavs had a one-point lead, and despite the shrieks of 20,000 fans, he jubilantly dribbled out the clock. The Lakers accepted Harper ’s gift, won 122-115 in overtime and took the series in the next game.

Mobil Invitational
February 6, 1994
At this meet in Virginia, runners needed to complete eight laps to win the mile. That concept eluded Olympian Suzy Hamilton, who sprinted past the competition at the end of lap seven, then stunned the crowd by doing a Deion Sanders-style victory jig. That every other runner was still doing Mach 3 as they burned by alerted Hamilton that something was wrong. But, by then, she was three time zones behind and didn’t even bother to rejoin the race.

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