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NY Post
New York Post
18 Nov 2023

NextImg:Football showboats are still making senseless errors five decades after NFL infamy

I recall that day as if I’d just seen a constellation, something from outer space, something I’d never forget as I’d never see it again. 

This was Monday, Oct. 18, 1971. I had to look up the date but the moment remains vivid. Steelers at Chiefs. It included a play I figured would be the first and remain the only one of its kind. 

I was an impressionable junior, 19 years old, at Waynesburg College in southwestern Pa., watching on our last-gasp TV in the living room of the last-gasp Phi Sigma Kappa frat house. 

The game was of particular interest to some of the older guys, those on the football team who’d played with Dave Smith, a Steelers starting WR that day. Smith, from Brooklyn, played for Waynesburg before transferring to Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania. 

Smith caught a pass from second-year QB Terry Bradshaw, broke free and was headed, alone, to the end zone when he inexplicably raised the ball above his head in jubilation. The ball then dropped — at the 5-yard line. Chiefs’ ball after a frantic touchback. 

KC won, 38-16, Smith’s foolishness landing a lead role. 

I spent the rest of that night trying to reconcile why such a blessed player — a professional — would risk both infamy and his team’s success to create such a senseless scene. 

As a junior, I knew that given the stakes I’d never see anything like that again. Dave Smith taught every coach and player a lasting lesson: Don’t put your cheap-thrills ego ahead of the end zone. There’s no upside to showboating. 

But instead of disappearing as a matter of logic and coaching, it grew to where the premature spike, balls knocked from ballcarriers’ hands as they celebrate themselves too early, and all sorts of self-smitten acts that have led to group ruin have become a semi-regular absurdity within every level of the sport. 

In fact, it’s nearly a given that a game — including the biggest — will be afflicted by excessively counterproductive misconduct, almost as if no coach, no matter how much his team prepares, has the power to prevent it. 

Last Saturday, as seen on Fox, Washington led Utah, 33-28, late in a biggie, when UW LB Alphonzo Tuputala, a fifth-year senior, established his football legacy with an interception he returned all alone to give UW a big lead — if only he hadn’t stylishly dropped the ball inside the 5. The unforced absurdity was recovered by Utah. 

The sophomoric fifth-year senior? He continued into the end zone to lead a celebration of himself for the home fans and the always-happy-to-help TV cameras. 

Like Leon Lett’s 1993 Super Bowl showboating fumble for which, 30 years later, he remains unforgotten despite his Dallas team’s win, Tuputala’s self-imposed load was lightened by UW’s eventual win. 

On Fox, officiating expert Dean Blandino didn’t sound the least bit surprised to have witnessed another reprise of the 52-year-old Dave Smith self-infliction: “It’s not even close [the ball to the end zone]. Every time we watch a play like this, one with a clear path to the end zone, I say, ‘Get in the end zone! Get in the end zone!’” 

Washington linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala (11) fumbles his interception at the goal line by celebrating early as Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi (52) looks on during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Seattle.
Alphonzo Tuputala lost an easy touchdown with the self-inflicted fumble.

In other words, watching highest-level players imperil their teams and reputations because they choose to act like a selfish fool before their largest audience is nothing new. Even a lifer such as Blandino has developed a conditioned response to the recurring sight of unfathomably stupid play as it’s logically, if not easily, preventable. 

And at 71, I remain an impressionable junior. I can’t understand how it would happen again, let alone again and again and again.

Our Game of the Week was Div. 1 SUNY-Albany’s women’s record-breaking 118-27 home win against Div. III Sarah Lawrence. 

Afterward, Albany coach Colleen Mullen told the Albany Times-Union, “It was not my intention to win by 90 [actually 91] points. It’s not my intention to do that. This opponent was gracious enough to play us on very short notice. They had a game the night before.” 

Odd way to reward or respond to grace. Stands to reason that a team good enough to win by 91 is plenty good enough to win by a more civilized total, say, 50. Yeah, 50 should do it. 

If Coach Mullen’s intent was not to win by 91, she might’ve instructed her young women to kill the clock, run their offense but don’t stomp the already fallen in the process. And was taking 34 3-point shots and making 29 steals unintentional? 

But the college and high school national record books are stuffed with needless, unsportsmanlike slaughters directed by adults in the name of sports. 

Another new coach, another same-direction decision: 

Monday, the Raiders claimed CB Jack Jones the day after he was cut by the Pats

Jack Jones was picked up by the Raiders.
Getty Images

Jones last season was suspended for missing a rehab and practice. This summer he was arrested in Boston’s Logan Airport for carrying two loaded .45s in his carry-on. 

Jones, however, has a long relationship with new Raiders coach — they’re all “interim” — Antonio Pierce, a key player in the Plaxico Burress night club self-shooting when both played for the Giants. 

The Raiders in 2021 released 2020 first-round pick Damon Arnette after he was indicted in Las Vegas on felony charges alleging he waved a .45 caliber at casino valets. Prior to that video surfaced of him posing with guns and threatening to kill someone, he was also the subject of several lawsuits alleging assault and a hit-and-run. 

Then there’s former Raiders WR Henry Ruggs III, now serving 3-to-10 for a vehicular homicide in Vegas. He was the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

But that’s the NFL Roger Goodell pretends we don’t know exists, let alone worsens — as if what happens in Vegas actually only happens in Vegas. 

Why the shock that Fox studio regular Charissa Thompson, recruited from ESPN apparently to appear as a cocktail waitress in service to broadcast journalism, would blithely confess to fabricating coaches’ halftime quotes when she served as a sideline reporter

TV is loaded with such cosmetics-first hires, and has been for years. 

In 1984, NBC NFL analyst Reggie Rucker claimed during a Bengals telecast that he had dinner the night before with Cincy head coach Sam Wyche. After the game, Wyche said no such thing occurred. Rucker then admitted he lied. 

Charissa Thompson has been in hot water over her recent revelations.

Fox sideline and pregame reporter Pam Oliver was praised on the air for her get-tough approach to Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, scolding him for a disingenuous answer to her question. Later it came to light that the interview was over — Schottenheimer was gone — when Oliver and Fox inserted her scold. 

And let’s never lose sight of Mike “Let’s Be Honest” Francesa, who for years made a fabulous living concocting all-glory-to-me claims.