The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “We now have a new name for not learning from one’s mistakes…call it the Muff Williams Syndrome. By Brad Eastland

January 23, 2012
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     This is going to be a short column.

     I don’t think my blood pressure could stand the length and vitriol of my usual sermon.   I’m not a well man.

     Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that my all-time number one pet peeve in sports is stupidity.   As in chronic, preventable stupidly.   Well, we got another taste of it on Sunday in the NFC Title Game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.   I tell ya, this one is so hard to believe, so theoretically painful, so easily preventable, that it makes me glad I’m not a 49ers fan.

Kyle, you’re supposed to AVOID a bouncing punt, not try to catch it with your knees….

Kyle, you’re supposed to AVOID a bouncing punt, not try to catch it with your knees….

     Because it was the Niners’ punt returner, rookie Kyle Williams, who made NFL playoff stupidity history on this day.   And forever shall we besmirch his name….

     It was the 3rd quarter and the 49ers were leading 14 to 10.   Their defense was dominating the game.   The Giants couldn’t do a thing.   It was punt punt punt punt punt.   In a game like this, a 4-point lead is huge.   As in more than a field goal.   The Giants might not have scored another touchdown in this game if they played till midnight.   All the Niners had to do was not do anything stupid.

     They failed.

     Perhaps the dumbest thing you can do in football is try to field a bouncing punt in traffic.   There’s very little reward in trying to do this, you’re not going anywhere, but the risk is enormous.   Because if you touch it and then drop it the other team is allowed to recover it, get free points, and turn the emotional tide.   Just last week a member of the Houston Texans tried to field a bouncing punt with a Ravens player in his face and of course he dropped it and the Ravens recovered on Houston’s three-yard-line, then scored.   It was the key play in a very close game.

     Well, Kyle Williams obviously did not watch that game.   The Niners forced yet another Giants punt, but Kyle, for some reason, ran right up to the crazily bouncing ball like he was actually going to try and grab it.   But then, realizing how dumb he was, he tried at the last minute to jump out of the way of it.   Unfortunately it hit his knee, a Giants player recovered it on-the-run, and ran for a touchdown.   I was at a small party watching the game.   Giants fans cheered.   Niners fans groaned.

     It was at this point I had to explain to this small drunken gathering that when the referees got around to sorting out the mess the Giants would indeed get the ball, but would not be allowed to advance it for the touchdown.   Nobody in attendance could understand what I was saying.   “Why the hell not?” the Giants fans seemed to query in unison.   I explained that the rules of the game state that you are not allowed to advance a muffed punt.   There is no advancing of a muff.   Recover it?  Sure.   But you can’t advance it.

     They all looked at me like I was crazy, and several people made crude double entendre jokes about advancing a muff, and I received the usual assaults to my integrity and character.   But I smiled craftily when the referee finally explained it to the TV audience just that way.   Giants’ ball, but no TD—they would start their drive at the spot where Williams “muffed” the ball.   Immediately Kyle had a new nickname; “Muff Williams”.   Someone at the party posted it on Facebook right away.

     Naturally the Giants went right down and scored.   Seven points and a ton of confidence and boundless adrenaline energy they would not have obtained in a million years if the oh-so-generous Niners hadn’t done something proportionately stupid to the Giants’ good fortune.   The G-men won the game by three little points, in overtime, 20-17.

     Here’s where it gets sad and instructive at the same time.

     The reason the Giants won the game in overtime is that Muff blew another punt.   This time he actually caught the ball; he didn’t totally muff it.   He caught the ball, ran about five feet, and fumbled it away.   Poor Muff.   Perhaps no other punt returner in NFL history has ever had such a bad day.   He joined Earnest Byner, Danny White, and Bernard Berrian as sad souls in NFL history who fumbled away a championship game.   But the point is that he did not learn a thing from his previous mistake!   On the fumble play he was carrying the ball like a tuna casserole, in his fingers, out in front of him, away from his body, like he was afraid he’d burn himself or get grease on his fingertips.   Not tucked away solidly in the crook of his elbow with his free and securing it from below, as is the correct way to do it.   Of course they hit it, of course he dropped it.   You’d think if anyone in the world would have gone out of his way to practice the time-honored principles of ball security at that precise moment in Human History it would have been Muff, right?   Why can’t football players learn from their mistakes???   Let’s see if Muff learned anything, even after his second miscue.   Here’s what he said after the game about the play and his careless transport of the ball, perhaps the lamest thing that could have been said about it by, I don’t know, a human being: “It was one of those situations where I tried to turn it upfield and it just didn’t work out.”   Oh dear.

     That’s all I have the strength for.   I can’t go on.

     Except to say that the next time you’re giving one of your kids a life lesson, when you’re talking to your kid about the time you knew a guy who drove drunk and got a warning and then did it again and went to jail, or lost his license or hurt or killed somebody the second time around for the same dumb reason and you’re trying to explain how the guy just didn’t learn from his mistakes, and you’re looking for something to call this curious Human phenomenon of doing the same dumb thing over and over again, now you have something you can call it, a label, a moniker, a slang……..  

     Call it “Muff Williams Syndrome”.    Its contagious, its incurable, but with the ready prophylaxis of common sense and eternal vigilance it can at least be managed and controlled…

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0022

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary giant, and lover of athletes who think.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   He thanks you.





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