A Horrible Thanksgiving Remembrance


You probably don't remember it the same way I do, if you remember it at all. Hardcore Dolphins fans know the most famous

Thanksgiving Day game

the team ever played, and thinking of that day probably brings about a pleasant smile. Not for me though. I grew up in Dallas.

It was 16 years ago. It was the only snowy Thanksgiving I remember. And it is a day Dallas Cowboys fans--and one player in particular--would rather forget.

I was at my aunt and uncle's house in a suburb a few miles from Texas Stadium. The streets were iced over and empty, and there was about two inches of snow built up on the well-manicured lawns around the neighborhood. The family had taken a break between courses (as is the tradition) to watch the Cowboys.

The game was almost over, and Dallas was up 14-13, as Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich lined up for a 41-yard field goal...

The game had been close the entire way. Both teams struggled to move the ball on the icy, convex surface in Texas Stadium. The announcers had a hard time telling what yardline the ball was at on several occasions--Dick Enberg had to count in fives the plowed lines to determine how long the field goal attempt would be.

Stoyanovich was, at the time, the most accurate kicker in league history. I was quite familiar with the work of Mr. Stoyanovich because I had recently picked up a hobby that would come to consume thousands of hours of my life over the next decade and a half--a little game called "Fantasy Football." And Pete was my team's kicker (a fact that led to early success, and possibly an unhealthy addiction). Forty-one yards of ice and snow and steaming Cowboy defenders stood between the diminutive Stoyanovich and the bright yellow uprights though. He had made two shorter kicks earlier that day, but missed one just a few yards longer than this attempt. All of Dallas was glued to the game, hoping, praying for a miracle.

Then it came. In the form of Cowboy defensive lineman Jimmy Jones' hand. The blocked kick bounced into the defensive backfield and rolled to a stop in the snow around the ten yard line. Jerry Jones, pre-major cosmetic surgery, jumped for joy in his sleek black coat on the sidelines. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin embraced in celebration. Don Shula wiped some ice from his over-sized dark sunglasses and began walking to the locker room. The announcers told the world, "The Cowboys will win!"

It would have been true. America's team would have had another win en route to another Superbowl and Dallas would have gone on to have another pleasant, post victory Thanksgiving. If not for Leon Lett.

Lett, who made several Pro-Bowls, was already famous for another bonehead play--ten months earlier in the Superbowl. But getting stripped by Don Beebe before he entered the endzone didn't cost the team a win.

As Cowboy players waved each other off. Since the ball went past the line of scrimmage, so long as no Cowboy touched it, Dallas would take possession and kneel for the win. But out of nowhere came defensive tackle Leon Lett. "Big Cat" (his nickname at the time) dove on the ball. But it was slippery and the pigskin popped out from under him--now a live ball. The Dolphins quickly recovered at the one.

They cleared the line with their cleats. Stoyanovich lined up a kick shorter than an extra point. My fantasy team got three points I would have traded anything in the world to give up at the time. And Cowboy fans sunk backwards into their chairs and couches, dejected. The air outside was suddenly much colder.

In my uncle's living room: silence. The TV went off before Steve DeBerg (filling in for an injured Dan Marino) even realized the kick was good. My cousin and I went outside and tossed a football around in the snow. He was older, and it seemed like he was tackling me extra hard. It was confusing at the time.

The Cowboys' coach at the time, Jimmy Johnson (former University of Miami coach), found Lett in the training room, crying. Johnson reassured him he wouldn't be cut. (All of Dallas wanted to run him out of the state at the time.)

When you see footage of that game, one of the most famous Thanksgiving Day games ever, you probably smirk. It's funny. To you. When I see that tape though, I want to yell out to Leon Lett, "NO! NO! NO! Please, for the love of all that is good, DON'T TOUCH THAT BALL!!"

So as you eat (and watch football) today with your loved ones, and you're going over all that you have to be thankful for, be grateful you weren't Leon Lett 16 years ago.


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