Today is our second-ever installment of “This Day in NFL History.” In addition to bringing you up-to-date, current coverage of the National Football League, we love looking back at some of the history of the league, and what better way to do it?
Everyone loves a good history lesson, right?
For today’s edition, we have a special one. It’s the 20th anniversary of one of the most famous blunders in professional football history, right up there with Jim Marshall’s “he’s running the wrong way!”
Yes, you guessed it, it’s Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving Day blunder in Dallas.
On November 25, 1993, the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the Miami Dolphins in a Thanksgiving Day classic between two of the top teams in the NFL. For some strange reason, it had snowed a lot––in DALLAS––the night before, so it ended up being a sloppy game in the snow for both sides.
Miami’s Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino was out for this game because he had suffered a season-ending ACL injury earlier in the season. So long-time backup quarterback Steve DeBerg was making the start for Miami that day, one of just five starts DeBerg made that season with Tampa and Miami.
DeBerg had an unimpressive day under center (24/41, 287 yards, 2 INT), but had the Dolphins in position to win the game with a field goal on the final drive of the game. With :15 to play in the game, Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich set-up for what would be a game-winning 41-yard field goal in the snowy field conditions. Dallas blocked the kick attempt, sending the ball rolling around on the ground at around the DAL 10-yard line.
As the rules state, it was Dallas’ ball as long as they didn’t touch it. As soon as Dallas touches it, it’s a free ball for anyone to pick it up and advance. The Cowboys defensive players knew this. Well, most of them did at least. They all stood around and watched the ball spinning in the snow, when out of nowhere 6’6″/300-pound nose tackle Leon Lett came dashing in. He attempted to fall on the ball, but instead it bounced off of his knees and into the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
The recovery gave Miami a second try at a game-winning field goal attempt for Stoyanovich. From 19 yards out, Stoyanovich split the uprights for the win.
Miami improved to 9-2 on the season while the Cowboys fell to 7-4. Luckily for Lett and head coach Jimmy Johnson, the ‘Boys got the last laugh when they went on to capture the Super Bowl championship a few months later.
Sadly, this isn’t even the only “blunder” that Lett has made on the big stage.
Other Happenings on November 25 (in NFL history):
*1976: Buffalo Bills RB O.J. Simpson (yes, that O.J.) set a then-NFL record with 273 rushing yards against the Detroit Lions in a 27-14 loss (Simpson scored BUF’s only two TDs). Walter Payton broke that record less than a year later, on November 20, 1977, with his 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that Payton and Simpson’s performances were topped. Now there are four different RBs who have run for more yards in a single-game than Payton’s 275: Corey Dillon (278 in 2000), Jerome Harrison (286 in 2009), Jamal Lewis (295 in 2003) and Adrian Peterson (296 as a rookie in 2007).
*2007: Borderline Hall of Fame and Super Bowl champion quarterback Kurt Warner set a career-high in passing yards with 484 passing yards in a 37-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The career-high passing yardage is tied for the 34th-most in NFL history in a single game, and he did this at the age of 36. Pretty impressive, if you’re asking me.