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Dave Astor

Dave Astor

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The "Goats" in Pro Sports Deserve Better

Posted: 02/ 3/11 05:10 PM ET

It was twenty years ago that "wide right" entered the American lexicon. Nope, that phrase doesn't describe an overeating Republican. "Wide right" was the direction of a missed Scott Norwood field goal that would have given the Buffalo Bills a narrow Super Bowl victory over the Giants in early 1991.

Norwood became yet another pro athlete doomed to metaphorically wear "The Scarlet F" (for failure) until the day he dies. And I think that's wrong. Firstly, Norwood's three-point attempt was from a relatively long 47 yards, not from chip-shot territory. Secondly, he didn't miss the uprights by much; it wasn't like he shanked the football towards, say, the belly of abrasive Giants coach Bill Parcells (though that would have been rather fun). Thirdly, a Super Bowl, for those fans who might not realize it, is just a game.

Another athlete who has been unfairly maligned for years is Bill Buckner, whose muffing of a ground ball helped cost the Boston Red Sox the 1986 World Series. Buckner was actually an excellent Major Leaguer (.289 lifetime batting average) who played hurt that day. Cut the guy some slack! Besides, the Sox would've still been baseball's '86 champs if they had beat the New York Mets two days later. Given that disgraced Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff was a close pal of a future Mets owner, time travelers from today would have rejoiced at a Sox seventh-game win. Then again, given that '86 Sox pitcher Roger Clemens was later accused of steroids use, time travelers from today may not have rejoiced.

Then there was Donnie Moore, a California Angels relief pitcher who gave up a crucial home run during the 1986 playoffs that helped the Sox get into that year's World Series. Moore was viciously booed by Angels fans after '86, and committed suicide in 1989 (after the depressed man vented his frustrations by shooting his innocent wife, who survived). If unforgiving fans had decided to "get a life," maybe Moore would still have his.

And way back in 1908, New York Giants player Fred Merkle cost his team the pennant when he made a base-running gaffe in a game against the Chicago Cubs. As the Giants scored a run that (seemingly) won the game, Merkle didn't touch second base. It wasn't always the custom back then to touch a base in that kind of situation. Plus, fans were all over the field and the poor guy was a rookie. Yet Merkle was blasted and ridiculed by newspapers for his human mistake. Of course, no newspaper has ever made a mistake.

There are villains in sports, but they're not the people who unintentionally cost their team an important game. The villains are people like 2011 Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who (while allegedly mending his ways in recent months) has been accused of sexually assaulting women. In a more just world, "wide right" would be better than not doing the right thing.