The atmosphere in the Green Bay Packers locker room following Sunday’s stunning collapse against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game was funereal. While peeling off their football armor a final time this season, players looked dazed and confused. They spoke in hushed tones, barely above a whisper. Having covered all four of Buffalo’s Super Bowl losses, I have ventured into glum locker rooms like this one before. And each time I did, I couldn’t help but feel for the men who gave it their all only to see it literally slip through their fingers.
For every thrill of victory, there is an agony of defeat. For every hero, there is a goat, as unjust as that may be. And so, while Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson exalted about his second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, in a far less joyous corner of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick answered question after question after question about his role in the defeat.
He explained how his job on the onside kick was to block for wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to catch the ball so Green Bay could run out the clock in the final two minutes. But the kick took a wicked, high bounce and Bostick tried to cradle the football, only to have it slither through his hands, bounce off his helmet and into the arms of Seattle’s Chris Matthews. The Seahawks, who were trailing by five, suddenly had new life. They drove down the field to take a 22-19 lead with 85 seconds remaining, and although the Packers came back to force overtime, Green Bay wound up losing 28-22 on a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse.
“I’ll just try to deal with it the best that I can,” Bostick said, when asked about the flub that will be replayed ad nauseam in his mind and the minds of Packers players and fans for years and decades to come. “I let my team down. I feel like if I would have done my job, my assignment to block, Jordy would have caught the ball and the game would have been over.” Like many of his teammates, Bostick lingered a long time at his locker, lost in his thoughts. “I was just thinking about everything,’’ he said. “The game, my teammates, everybody in Green Bay, my family. I feel like I let everyone down.”
I couldn’t help but flash back to the scene in the Bills locker room at Tampa Stadium 24 Januarys ago following Buffalo’s shattering 20-19 Super Bowl loss to the Giants. I vividly remember standing by Scott Norwood’s locker, listening to the teary-eyed, Pro Bowl kicker recount repeatedly and painfully his 47-yard missed field goal as time wound down. He talked about how he had dreamed about kicking the winning field goal in a Super Bowl since he was a little kid and how his dream had turned into his worst nightmare. I was struck by the class and dignity he displayed as he replayed what had happened for the waves of reporters that came and went. I don’t think I could have stood there, like he did for nearly an hour, and faced the music until every last question had been answered. Most of us would have bolted after a few minutes—assuming, of course, that we would have shown up at all.
Before the next year’s Bills training camp, I contacted Ralph Branca. I figured that if anyone could relate to Norwood’s misery it would be Branca, the former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who served up one of the most famous home runs in baseball history—Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” that catapulted the old New York Giants into the 1951 World Series.
I asked Branca if he had watched Super Bowl 25 and what his reaction was. He told me he initially was elated that Norwood had missed the kick because he had been a lifelong fan of the football Giants. But his elation quickly subsided. He realized that just as he would forever be remembered for the gopher ball he delivered 50 Octobers earlier, Norwood would forever be remembered for the missed kick that would become known simply as Wide Right.
“I had won plenty of games before and would win more games after that pitch,’’ Branca told me. “And I knew Norwood had won plenty of games for the Bills leading up to that moment. But I also knew this was going to be the first thing people would think of when his name came up. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is.”
What’s truly unfair in each of these cases is that we conveniently forget that no game is decided by one onside kick, one field goal, one pitch. There were numerous squandered opportunities and blown assignments Sunday by other Packers, including league MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A completed pass here and another tackle there could have prevented Green Bay from snatching defeat from jaws of victory. And, clearly, the old Brooklyn Dodgers had numerous chances in their three-game playoff series versus the Giants.
Although Bostick’s faux pas was costly, it was hardly the only reason the Packers lost a game they could have won. In victory and defeat, there is plenty of credit and blame to go around. No shortage of heroes and goats.
Scott Pitoniak is a best-selling author, nationally honored columnist, television correspondent and radio talk show host in his 42nd year in journalism. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or online at espnrochester.com.
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