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Column: ‘It brings the taste of vomit back.’
Question of the Day
Trey Junkin spent nearly every minute of his 19 years in the NFL trying to be invisible, and might have succeeded, if not for his very last snap.
That came at the end of a 2003 NFC playoff game, when a New York Giants team he had joined only four days earlier botched a last-gasp field goal to complete an epic meltdown against the 49ers _ and left Junkin to shoulder the blame. Nine years later, he is still toting up the costs and wondering whether even one of those teammates will come forward and share the burden.
“I owned up to it that day and every day since, I’ve owned every bit of it,” Junkin said. “It’s how I was brought up. But I think about that … snap still. Not every day or every night anymore, but every now and then I get jerked out of my sleep and re-live that feeling the second the ball left my hands. And it brings the taste of vomit to the back of my mouth.”
Junkin is back home in Winnfield, La., pop. 5,800, helping out with the high school football team on occasion and watching dozens of NFL games every season with a notepad in his lap _ always _ charting special-teams play. He’ll be back in front of TV set Sunday when the Giants and 49ers meet again in the NFC championship, wondering if the game Junkin loved all his life will ever welcome him back.
“I still feel bad for all 53 guys on that team. And the last thing I want,” he said, “is people to feel sorry for me. I’ve got a wonderful wife, two great kids and my parents are still alive. Football gave me the means to enjoy all of it.
“Do I want to get back in? Absolutely. I’d love to be a special-teams coach. I did it for a year in Canada (with Calgary) and loved every minute. I played every facet of special teams and still study it to this day. Interestingly enough, though, I can’t get an interview. Everybody knows me, but nobody returns my calls? I mean, c’mon,” Junkin said, then paused and drew in a sharp breath.
“I don’t want to lay it on that snap,” he continued, “but I don’t know what it is. I wish I did.”
When that fateful January call came from New York, Junkin was 41 and had filed his NFL retirement papers two months earlier after playing for seven different teams as a long snapper and sometimes special-teams player. By his own count, he had messed up five or six snaps in 281 previous games. The Giants, meanwhile, had already lost three other long snappers during a season that began with low expectations, but thanks to a late surge, began to take on a championship feel. They built a 24-point lead at San Francisco and still led 38-22 beginning the final quarter when everything fell apart. Their last shot at redemption came on third down, trailing 39-38 with six seconds left, as kicker Matt Bryant stepped onto the field to attempt a 40-yard field goal.
What happened next remains a point of contention. All these years later, though, Junkin still is the only guy to take responsibility for his part. But if you made a list of those who blew assignments on the play, he might not even make the top 10.
For one, there’s Giants holder Matt Allen, who could have fallen on the ball and called timeout, leaving enough time for another try. Or, Allen could have run outside the tackle box _ which he did _ and thrown the ball out of bounds, stopping the clock with a few ticks left. Instead, he panicked and heaved an incomplete pass at teammate Rich Seubert.
Next would be the seven NFL officials on the field, backed by a quartet in the instant replay booth. They mistakenly believed Seubert _ normally an offensive lineman _ was an ineligible receiver and so refused to call pass interference when San Francisco’s Chike Okeafor pulled Seubert down from behind on the play. Okeafor practically boasted about his handiwork after the game _ “I wasn’t going to let him catch it, score and be over then,” he said. But it wasn’t until Monday that the league got around to acknowledging its role in the fiasco. Though another Giants lineman was downfield on the same play, Seubert was indeed eligible. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue later called it the worst officiating blunder of his tenure. At the least, offsetting penalties should have been called and the down replayed.
Then there’s the offense, which fizzled after building the big lead, and the defense, which gave it away, and finally, then-coach Jim Fassel, who could have been a little more assertive about the missed call and a lot less conservative in his play-calling.
“It’s still kind of amazing,” Fassel told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger earlier this week. “The referee announced over the PA system that `No. 69 is eligible.’ So there were 90,000 people who knew Seubert was eligible. The only one who didn’t know it was the back judge. We should have had a rekick.”
Instead, Junkin stood dutifully in front of his locker as wave after wave of reporters asked questions.
“I’d give everything in the world, except my family, to have stayed retired so these guys could have had a chance,” he said at the time, then watched a replay and good as his word, promptly re-retired on the spot.
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