A title, ring, cup, trophy, hardware. These are just a few of the many names for a championship, the ultimate goal of any athlete from the first time they play the sport. As one could imagine, athletes face an immense amount of pressure whenever they find themselves in a championship game. So, when an athlete rises to the occasion and thrives in these high-pressure moments, it goes down in history and they became immortal in the world of sports.
But what about the other side of the coin? What about the athletes (and coaches) who succumb to the pressure of the moment and make costly errors for their team? Those guys go down in history for all of the wrong reasons, as they deprive themselves, their teammates and the fans of the thing that they crave most: A championship.
Unsurprisingly, the first on this list is Earl Joseph Smith III, more commonly known to the public as J.R. Smith. Smith is a fourteen-year-veteran of the NBA and a winner of the Sixth Man of The Year Award. Smith has made a career on his athleticism and ability to make heavily contested three-pointers, but Smith has never been known for his on-court awareness.
Fast forward to Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers are pegged as the largest underdog in recent NBA history against the Golden State Warriors, but, thanks to a historic 51 point performance by LeBron James, the Cavaliers are in the position to escape Game One with a victory. With 4.0 seconds left on the clock with a timeout, the Cavaliers trail 106-107 and George Hill is on the line with a chance to take the lead. Hill makes the first free throw and then misses the second free throw but then J.R. Smith manages to grab the rebound and all he has to do is call a timeout to give the Cavs a chance to win the game.
But this is when everything goes wrong. Instead of passing, attempting to score or calling a timeout, J.R. holds the ball and dribbles out the clock as if the Cavaliers had the lead and had won the game. Cameras would appear to catch Smith telling an extremely frustrated LeBron James that he thought they had the lead. The Cavaliers would go on to lose in overtime and get swept in the series.
The other most notorious gaffe belongs to the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson’s game-ending goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX. Let’s provide some context for this historic Super Bowl. The Seahawks were the defending champions, coming off a dominant season which was capped by a 43-8 victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, and win which was statistically the greatest offense in NFL history.
The Seahawks were fueled by their historically dominant defense known as the “Legion of Boom”, which primarily relates to All-Pro Safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas as well Richard Sherman who was considered the best cornerback in the league at the time. The Seahawks also featured Marshawn Lynch, commonly known as “Beast Mode”, one to the top running backs in the league at the time. Their opponent was Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots.
Fast forward to the game, the Seahawks trail 24-28, but they have the ball on the 1-yard line. It is second and goal with 26 seconds left on the clock and the Seahawks have one timeout and it seems like they are well on their way to repeating as champions. All they have to do is hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. However, the Seahawks mind-bogglingly decided to call a pass on second down that was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Had the Seahawks won this game, the NFL would be radically different. Tom Brady would, at that point, be 3-3 in the big game and would likely not be viewed as the greatest of all time as he is now.
Maybe Brady would have retired after this due to his lack of recent success as the Patriots would fail to make the Super Bowl the next year as well. The Seahawks would also never make the Super Bowl again after this, and the team would slowly crack under chemistry issues that, according to most sources, stem from this infamous Super Bowl blunder.
What could have been? The world may never know.