Commentary

What's it like to be the goat?

Williams, Cundiff and Evans may face a lot of sleepless nights after their miscues

Originally Published: January 24, 2012
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

I feel for you, Kyle Williams. You too, Billy Cundiff. And even Lee Evans, while I'm at it, although his mistake is not being scrutinized quite as much.

I've been there before -- on a much, much smaller scale -- and can only attempt to imagine what you are going through, and will go through, in the coming days, weeks, months, and even years.

Williams, Cundiff and Evans were the goats of the two championship games -- games that were more about the goats than the heroes. Each had a critical error in the closing moments.

In the AFC Championship Game, Evans failed to secure a touchdown pass from Ravens QB Joe Flacco that would have given Baltimore a late lead and almost certainly would have secured a win over the Patriots. Cundiff subsequently hooked his attempt at the game-tying field goal.

In the NFC Championship Game, Williams turned the ball over not once but twice on punt returns. The second led to Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal for the Giants.

Maybe it's just the former player in me, but I had a rather sizable knot in my stomach Sunday night thinking about those guys and what they and their families must be going through. Evans and Cundiff are both former teammates of mine, class acts all the way, and capable of putting it into its proper perspective, no matter how difficult that may be. At least I hope so.

It might be more difficult for Williams. He is only 23 years old and just finished his second season. He screwed up more than once. His Twitter account has already been bombarded by menacing, hateful messages.

It won't be easy for any of them. I know it wasn't for me. As a member of the Dallas Cowboys in December 2002, I still recall getting stood up by 49ers DT Dana Stubblefield late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-1 in an otherwise nondescript regular-season game. Cundiff then missed a 47-yard field goal, and the Niners marched down the field for the game-winning touchdown.

I was disconsolate after the game. In my mind, even though Cundiff had missed a field goal and the defense subsequently gave up a touchdown, I was solely responsible for losing the game. With a better block, we probably could have made the first down, run the clock out and won.

I couldn't sleep or eat all night. I alternated watching the local news and "SportsCenter" for glimpses of the play to see how bad it looked and whether they were calling me out by name. I was just 23, like Williams. My parents and girlfriend at the time -- who is now my wife -- didn't get a great night's sleep, either. I called them multiple times that night, so upset about letting down my teammates and Cowboys fans.

[+] EnlargeBilly Cundiff
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonBilly Cundiff is a veteran, which may help him put the missed field goal in perspective.
Think about that. I was that upset, despite the fact that it wasn't the last play of the game and it wasn't really a marquee game. I was a lineman in the middle of a pile on my poor play. Not only that, but there were still three more weeks of the season, and the nature of the NFL regular season dictates that you have to move on to the next game.

Unfortunately, that will not be the case for the three players who made prominent mistakes on Sunday. The next game isn't until next season. Their miscues were in plain view in front of millions of people -- 69 million, to be exact, for the second Kyle Williams fumble in overtime. Their names, barring their doing something spectacularly positive in the future, will be synonymous with their gaffes.

It's not easy. Eight-year veteran Evans did a good job of explaining why after the game: "Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down. This is the greatest team that I've been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. Yeah, it's on my shoulders."

To their credit, all three guys stepped up to the microphone and faced the music. But that, surprisingly, is the easy part. The hard part will come in the days and weeks to come, when those plays keep popping into their minds. Whether they can ever fully get past it or perhaps even use it as motivation will have a huge impact on their careers.

From the inbox

Q: So Matty Ice Ryan is now 0-3 in the playoffs. Sounds like he can't win the big game. At what point do the media and haters start crucifying him as they did/do Tony Romo? Romo went 1-2 in his 1st three postseason starts, yet 99 percent of the free world considers him a bust. If that is the case, why hasn't Matt Ryan received the same criticism? Is it because Romo plays under a larger microscope in Dallas? Whatever the reasons, don't you think it is time for everyone to cut Romo some slack?

Bryan from Mt. Airy, Md.

A: First of all, I don't agree at all that 99 percent of people out there consider Romo to be a bust. In fact, most rational people will acknowledge that he is one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he hasn't had a lot of postseason success as of yet, and perhaps that is magnified because he plays for the Cowboys. As for Ryan, I believe he and the Falcons are beginning to get their fair share of criticism for their lackluster performances in the playoffs, especially the last two years. Now, to be fair, they weren't expected to make the playoffs his rookie year, and the last two seasons they ran into a pair of hot teams in the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. Still, Ryan needs to perform better, as does the team.

Q: What is the deal with the media in the locker room? I can see no real benefit to having the media in the locker room while players are showering/dressing and feel the players deserve a modicum of privacy in the locker room. The media should be able to conduct the same interviews after the players have gotten dressed. How do players feel about the media in the locker room and, now as a journalist, has your opinion shifted?

Rob from Frisco, Texas

A: I agree, Rob, and being on the other side hasn't really changed my opinion. To be fair, most members of the media respect the privacy of the players enough that they wait until the player is ready. Some players will talk before hitting the showers while others make themselves available after they have finished putting on their clothes post-shower. I never thought it was necessary and always felt that there should be an "interview room" that every player must go to for at least five minutes after the game to see if anyone wants to ask them anything. It just seems unnecessary to have cameras, strangers and women around while players are in towels, changing, etc. Most players feel the same way because I can remember talking about it during my playing days.

Q: I just finished reading your piece, "What does a Green Bay Packers' loss mean?" and I'm impressed with how you answered Chris' question about walk-throughs. Your answer was helpful and didn't belittle him in the least. I've wondered about a lot of the background stuff that is really never talked about. Things such as: team meetings. What do they look like? And what in the world do you talk about? I understand at the start of the season there's a lot of info that'll need to be broadcasted to all, or if there's a major change (coach, player trade, etc.), but outside of that, what is there? And how are they conducted? I chuckle since I picture a team meeting as a super-sized AA-style meeting, folding chairs and all. How often are players in contact with other people on the team? I'd think that with a team of 60+ people, it'd be easy for two players to barely know each other. How often do players interact with the head coach directly? I picture him as a CEO or a captain of a ship: friendly, but you still have to watch yourself carefully. What's the average week look like for a player? I picture them as going all day, the entire week, the entire season and completely relaxed (minus workouts) during the offseason. Many more questions, but I'm sure you get an idea.

Robert from Madison, Wis.

A. That is a lot of questions. Why would I belittle Chris, you or anyone else? This is what I'm here for, and I love answering questions like this because most fans have no idea. How could you? Team meetings are typically conducted in a tiered lecture room like the ones you would see on a college campus, and there's a lot to talk about, based upon the day of the week. If it is a Monday, the head coach spends a lot of time going over what went right and what went wrong from a team perspective, and then the sides of the ball split up so that the coordinators can get into more detail. After that, the players leave the team meeting room and go to their position rooms to get into even further detail. The pattern is the same Wednesday through Friday except that it is all game planning for the next opponent. Different aspects of the game plan are put in on different days. For example, Wednesday might be first and second downs, while Thursday the emphasis is on third down before working on the short-yardage and goal-line packages on Friday.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.