Legacy Plays in Sports: Add Carroll’s Pass Call

Bob Costas: "Pete Carroll, can we talk about that play that cost Seattle the Super Bowl in the final seconds?" Pete Carroll: "I'll pass!"

Bob Costas: “Pete Carroll, can we talk about that play that cost Seattle the Super Bowl in the final seconds?”
Pete Carroll: “I’ll pass!”

“The Butler did it!”

Will New England defensive back rookie Malcolm Butler always be remembered mostly for the interception that saved the Super Bowl “49” victory for the Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks in the final seconds of the game? For that matter, will Seattle coach Pete Carroll most often be remembered for the pass call that led to his team’s defeat when he had three chances at the one-yard line to try to score on the run with the human battering ram Marshawn Lynch at his disposal? We shall see. Legacy plays write their own ticket in our cultural memory bank. They just get there under the force of their own steam of joy and desolation. No other energies can put them in this special bank; no defensive spins on the facts will keep them out.

Legacy plays in sports may be positive or negative, but they all share a common feature. – They overshadow every other reason for remembering the individual who performed them or set in motion the circumstances that caused them.

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca from baseball’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” are the best examples of how the yin and the yang often works in these moments. In direct response to Thomson’s “miracle” homer that delivered the 1951 NL pennant to the New York Giants, Bobby Thomson, an otherwise average to mediocre hitter is now remembered with great embellishing regards for his ability because of those few nanoseconds it took to hit a rather ordinary and shallow-distance home run that changed our image of him forever because of the hit’s extant importance. Similarly, journeyman pitcher Ralph Branca is now most easily recalled as the sympathetic victim of this history-jolting action.

Don Larsen’s 1956 only perfect game in a World Series is another great legacy play, maybe even the brightest star in sports heaven. Don Larsen may have been a mediocre MLB pitcher, but 59 years later, people who get the chance only want to talk about what he did at Yankee stadium on the afternoon of October 3, 1956. I know that personally to be true. About fifteen years ago, Don Larsen spent about an hour with me, one-on-one in St. Louis, talking about “the game.”

Of course, people in New England, especially, might argue that Bill Buckner’s moment in Game Six of the 1986 World Series replaced Don Larsen’s positive moment as the biggest legacy play in sorts history. It certainly ranks high for many of us as the largest, most looming negative legacy play in history. Given the fact that any respectable list of legacy plays would vary somewhat from any other – and that most lists would only grow with continuous contemplation by the person who complied them – we wouldn’t begin to suppose that there is an unarguable first choice as the most remembered.

We just think that it will be a long time, if ever, before the names of Don Larsen or Bill Buckner are forgotten for what they each separately did in 1956 and 1986.

It’s an endless theme in sports and general life. Who wants to be remembered forever for s single act of negative consequence? We feel sure that, if Pete Carroll were here for us to ask, he would certainly answer: “Not me!”

Please feel free to share your own favorite positive and/or negative sports legacy moments below as comments upon this column. We would all love to know what you think.



12 Responses to “Legacy Plays in Sports: Add Carroll’s Pass Call”

  1. Fred Soland Says:

    You know what amazes me most about the ending of the Super Bowl?? Everyone is talking about the horrible play call Pete Carroll made. I am not going to disagree with that, although everyone seems to forget, the only reason they were in position to make the call at all is the miraculous hail mary catch made by Kearse two plays earlier. That ball should have never been caught at all, which means Carroll certainly would have been calling a pass play…. or do you think he would have tried the old 45 yard draw play to Marshawn Lynch??

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Fred, so true! Had “The Killer Pick” not occurred, we would all be talking this morning about Kearse and one of the most incredible catches of all time. I doubt there’s ever been another time in which a receiver used both hands and both legs in direct and separate contact with the ball as prelude to the final “catch.”

  2. Rick B. Says:

    How about Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 homer to win the 1960 World Series? Maz may be in the Hall of Fame, but he has the worst batting average of any 2nd baseman in the Hall. He may have been an excellent fielder, but I’d venture to say he wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer without that WS home run; it took him long enough to get in as it is.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Yes. Everything you said. Mazeroski was one of the biggest legacy play achievers of all time.

    • Tom Hunter Says:

      I must politely disagree. As someone who thinks there’s too much emphasis on offense in baseball, I think Bill Mazeroski belongs in the Hall of Fame. He won 8 Gold Goves, had a lifetime fielding percentage of .983, led the National League in assists 9 times, and holds the major league career record for double plays by a second baseman. Bill James said that Mazeroski’s “defensive statistics are probably the most impressive of any player at any position.

  3. Bobby Copus Says:

    Last nights game is it for me. Being a huge Patriot fan, and after the miraculous catch by Kearse, I could not believe the Patriots were going to lose the Superbowl again on a miracle catch by an opposing player. It made up for the David Tyree catch 🙂

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Have a happy Monday, Bobby! I sided with the Pats because of you and another NE fan/friend of mine in RI. I even predicted by e-mail the Pats winning by 31-28. Then, before the Butler pick to seal the game, I realized that if the Hawks scored, I would have hit the score on the nose, but picked the wrong winner. As it turned out, I’m glad to have only missed the winning point differential by a single point.

  4. Tom Hunter Says:

    The so-called “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” aka “The Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” was a home run that cleared the left field wall. Down the line, the left field foul pole was only 277 feet from home plate. So, the “miracle,” though exciting and historic, would have been a long out in most ballparks.

    Don Larsen was also in Yankee Stadium for Yogi Berra Day in 1999, when David Cone pitched a perfect game for New York.

    And in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in April of 2014, Mookie Wilson said that even if Bill Buckner had fielded the ball cleanly, he would have beaten the throw, because Buckner had “bad wheels” and “was moving laterally away from the bag.”

    Bill, did you ask Don Larsen about his short time with the Houston Colt .45s and Astros?

  5. Doug S. Says:

    A bad memory of a Legacy play is the NC State win in the NCAA Basketball Title game. Another Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary to beat Miami.

  6. Mark W. Says:

    Some legacy plays (which also made by some guys who would have had a legacy anyway even with out the play): Malcolm Butler, Christian Laettner, Bucky $%#&@*! Dent, Franco Harris, James Street, Byung-hyun Kim, Bill Mazeroski, Mickey Owen, John Roseboro, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Dusty Rhodes, Al Gionfriddo, Ray Fosse, Latoya Jackson

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Mark – If you are going to include LaToya Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” as a legacy play, why don’t we also add Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea?

  7. Mark W. Says:

    Fine by me!

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