How I Forgave Brandon Bostick
by Walter Rhein
There has never been such a soul-crushing defeat.
January 18, 2015, is a date that will live forever in Packer infamy. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Seattle Seahawks overcame a 19-7 deficit to force overtime and eventually end the Packers’ 2014 season.
I remember turning off the TV and shuffling like a zombie into the kitchen to take a seat in the near-total darkness. I felt physically ill. My wife and kids knew better than to approach me. After thirty minutes I emerged ready to think about something – anything – else.
“Let’s watch ‘Mary Poppins,’ ” I said.
“But, Dad, we don’t want to watch…”
“We’re watching ‘Mary Poppins!’ ”
I sat grinding my teeth, singing along to ‘Chim-Chim Chire-ee.’ My kids began to cry.
That wasn’t a loss you could walk away from. Some people have a bad day at work and they come home and kick the dog. I’m not that kind of person, but after that defeat I paid extreme attention to self-moderation. I didn’t allow myself to raise my voice until the following Wednesday for fear my Packer hang-over might have unfairly eroded my patience with my two- and four-year-old children. Somehow, I think three days of whispers were tougher on them, and they seemed relieved when running into traffic or sticking a fork in an electric socket elicited a sharp, “No!” once more.
There were many plays that lead to the collapse, but the one that stuck in my craw was the fumbled onside kick. It came out later that the last thing Shawn Slocum said to his unit was: “Don’t try to catch the ball unless your name is Jordy Nelson.” Yet, when the kick was in the air Brandon Bostick leaped for it, and it hit him in the hands, and … ungh … To add insult to injury, the man Bostick was supposed to block – Chris Matthews – recovered the loose ball.
Bereaved Packer fans found it was better to avoid cable TV or social media for a while. The loss was so bad that even my friends who are Vikings fans were sending their condolences. Steelers fans I know who are still sore about Super Bowl 45 were texting me, “Are you OK?”
Catch the onside kick!
But life goes on, even after an insufferable Packer loss, and after a week or so I set about trying to break out of the funk.
This is ridiculous, it’s just a football game. The sun’s still shining. Life is good. I’m healthy. Catch the ball you idiot! It hit you in the hands!
Things got a little better when Seattle lost the Super Bowl. That was back in the days when the Packers were considered fundamentally inferior to the NFC West. They’d entered Centurylink Field as underdogs, but completely manhandled the Seahawks and if it hadn’t been for Bostick’s idiot fumble…
Every time I thought about Brandon Bostick, I got unreasonably angry. Nothing seemed to help. I read all the Packers fan pages questing for something to help me deal with the loss. Some of the writers were very sympathetic. They said things like, “Well, it’s never been harder to win a championship. There are more teams now, free agency means you can’t build a dynasty, the Packers were dominant for 56 minutes…”
None of that provided any consolation.
Sitting with friends, we went through the bizarre sequence of plays that lead to the eventual defeat.
With the Packers up 19-7, Wilson threw his fourth interception to Morgan Burnett giving the Packers the ball at the 43. That was the one where Julius Peppers told Burnett to lay down rather than continue to run the ball back even though it seemed like he had a lot of green in front of him.
What if he had run it back to get us into field goal range?
Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve…
Reflecting on that didn’t make me mad at Burnett, he was just doing what Peppers told him to do (not hard to understand if you’ve ever seen the physical specimen that is Julius Peppers). I wasn’t mad at Peppers, the advice actually seemed like a pretty veteran move. I did find, however, that I was a little less angry at Brandon Bostick. The whole thing was just an improbable error that you only perceive in hindsight, but it proved to be the beginning of a trend.
The Packers were only able to run three plays and run 1:12 off the clock with that possession. A first down or two would have finished the game. The Seahawks had used up all their time-outs, but they got the ball back. Still, with the way the defense was playing, they weren’t going to score were they? Wilson had already thrown four picks.
Well, improbably enough, Seattle put together a miracle drive and Wilson ran it in for a TD cutting the score to 19-14. But the short INT return and the late TD were surely the last gasp. There was only 2:09 left on the clock. The Packers could get the ball back and almost run the clock completely out right?
Wrong, next up was Bostick’s onside kick gaffe. Improbable play.
But the Seahawks still had to score. They did so. Improbable play.
Up 20-19 Seattle decided to go for 2. The Packers had Wilson dead to rights, so he just lofted up a prayer that TE Luke Willson happened to bring down. Conversion good, 22-19, highly improbable play.
It could have ended there, but the Packers got the ball back with a chance to put the game away. They had a clutch drive, but were only able to manage a field goal, which would have been the game winner if not for the two-point conversion. Instead, the result was overtime, the bane of the Mike McCarthy era. Guess who won the toss? Hint: not the Packers. Still, the new overtime rules were in effect, which means both teams would get a chance to possess the ball unless a touchdown was scored.
But then Seattle went and scored an improbable TD.
Lining up the sequence of critical events, the outcome seemed almost comical. Bostick’s fumble was the only outright blunder, but it took a whole series of statistically unlikely events for the Packers to lose. Sometimes the universe just has it in for you.
An important lesson you have to learn in life is that sometimes you can fail even when you’ve done everything right. It’s a mistake to evaluate decisions based on bad results because, perhaps, no good result was possible. Sometimes you get into situations where the best decision you make is the one that’s the least bad (this concept is especially relevant to consider in an election year).
I found an improbable corollary playing Texas Hold ‘em. Dealt pocket aces, you’ll celebrate going all-in against suited king/queen. If there are two aces on the flop, you might not even notice that one of them shares the same suit as your opponent’s cards. But when the ten of that suit comes on the turn, followed by the suited jack on the river, you’ll have to come to grips with the fact that your quad aces have just lost to a straight flush.
Highly improbable, but this kind of thing happens. That’s just one game however; what is truly damaging is when you abandon the fundamentals of good play because you’re furious about the bad beat. It takes a long time to build success, but you can destroy all your advances in an instant. Yes, you can lose gambling on the higher odds, but you’ll lose a lot faster gambling on the short ones. It’s important to adhere to this concept when facing a challenge.
The 2014 NFC Championship game was the type of catastrophic event that can derail a whole franchise. But if winning at cards is fifty/fifty, the chance of victory in the ultra-competitive NFL is even less. These days it seems that you can do no better than try to stay healthy and hope you get hot in the playoffs. The 2010 team is a great example of that, but if it hadn’t been for a miracle punt return by DeSean Jackson against the Giants, the Packers would have never even made the playoffs. Incidentally, I believe Tom Coughlin’s last words prior to his team’s punt were, “Don’t kick it to DeSean Jackson.”
If the Packers had listened to the internet following the loss, the whole team would have been sitting out on the street the next day. But Ted Thompson is as unflappable as a wall of stone, and they took the time to evaluate before making changes. Shawn Slocum eventually got the axe, and Bostick was released as well, but that didn’t happen for almost a month.
Nobody likes to lose, and using a loss as a “chance to develop character” is the worst sort of consolation prize. But short of inventing a time machine and using it to lather Brandon Bostick’s whole body with pine tar, there’s nothing else that can be done. The loss wasn’t Brandon Bostick’s fault any more than it was the fault of the other statistically unlikely happenings that led up to the onside kick and beyond. The victory in all of this is that the Packers have not abandoned their way of doing things in a knee-jerk reaction to this loss.
In the long run, success will come from playing the odds, but understanding that sometimes loss cannot be avoided helps enduring those times of defeat.
Don’t blow up the things that work just because you’re on tilt about a bad beat. What goes around comes around. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you throw a miraculous last second Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers or Jeff Janis.
I sincerely hope that Brandon Bostick gets the opportunity to have a more positive defining moment in the NFL (preferably not against the Packers, or with the Vikings). However, I’m really starting to think that when faced with the decision to kick a PAT for overtime or go for two, the Packers should go for two. After all, if the conversion fails, they still have the chance of an onside kick.
I’m not a statistician, but with the longer PAT’s, this might be an example of playing the odds, and, like I said before, Brandon Bostick is still in the league. Kick it to him.
Ed. note: The loss clocked in at just #19 in Hall of Flameout: The 25 worst collapses in sports history, an espn.com story from July 12, 2016. The list was littered with baseball losses and the Chiefs’ wild-card defeat from the same year as the Packers’ debacle ranked 16th.
Walter Rhein is the author of “Beyond Birkie Fever” and “Reckless Traveler.” Both are available at Amazon.com. Rhein can be reached at: WalterRhein@gmail.com