Professional athletes are often remembered as icons, heroes and superstars. But off-field transgressions, such as run-ins with the law or other scandals, can sully a career a la O.J. Simpson or Pete Rose.
Off-field episodes can ruin a rosy recollection just as quickly as an on-field mishap. An infamous blunder or an ill-timed mistake can overshadow a successful career and quickly morph that positive memory into a negative one.
Here's a list of 10 athletes who flubbed on the field and would like to get to a place where everybody doesn't know their name.
10. Leon Lett
Defensive tackle, Dallas Cowboys
Leon Lett was a two-time NFL Pro Bowl defensive tackle and he was an inside force upfront on the Cowboys defense during the '90s. Lett finished his career with 22 sacks and seven fumble recoveries, but statistics often fail to measure the effectiveness of a defensive tackle.
Reason to forget: On top of a few drug-related incidents off the field, Lett also smeared his good name with a couple of on-field bloopers.
During Super Bowl XXVII — the Cowboys were commanding the Bills — Lett recovered a fumble and proceeded to run it back for a touchdown. He thought he was alone and started showboating and waving the ball around; a hustling Don Beebe, a receiver for the Bills, caught up to him and knocked the ball out. The touchdown would have set a Super Bowl record for points scored, but instead it went harmlessly out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
The second blunder occurred the following season, when the Miami Dolphins were lining up to kick a game-winning field goal. The Cowboys were ahead 14-13 and blocked the attempt. With seconds remaining, some players started celebrating, but Lett unnecessarily went to recover the football. The Cowboys would have had possession had he left it, but he went for it and lost his grip. The Dolphin's recovered with just enough time for them to set up another field goal attempt, which they made good.
9. Joe Niekro
Pitcher, Minnesota Twins
Joe Niekro, brother of hall of famer Phil Niekro, was a successful knuckleball pitcher in the Major Leagues. Joe finished his baseball career with 221 wins, one of the best totals ever for a knuckleballer, and he is the winningest pitcher in the Astros' history. Joe and Phil are also the most successful combination of pitching brothers in baseball history.
Reason to forget: In 1987, Joe Niekro was pitching for Minnesota when he was approached by the umpire after throwing an uncommon slider that curved like a rollercoaster on the way to home plate.
The umpire found a nail file, which Niekro was quite obviously using to scuff the baseball along with a small piece of sandpaper. Niekro claimed that he was filing his nails between innings and forgot to take it out of his back pocket. Nobody believed his story and he was suspended for 10 games.
While serving the suspension, Joe poked fun at himself by appearing on Late Show with David Letterman with a power sander, an apron and pockets crammed full of sand paper and emery boards.
8. Mitch Williams
Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies
|Mitch Williams walks off the field after serving up Joe Carter's World Series-winning home run. (MLB Photos / Getty Images)|
Mitch Williams was an MLB closer who pitched for six teams in 11 years. Williams finished his career with 192 saves, an All-Star appearance and was in the NL Cy Young race in 1989 and 1991. He was particularly effective in the three years he spent in Philadelphia, where he averaged 34 saves per season.
Reason to forget: Williams was nicknamed Wild Thing because his control of the baseball could be errant.
In Game 6 of the 1993 World Series the Phillies were trailing 3-2 in the series and Williams received the call in the ninth inning to preserve a 6-5 lead. He didn't have his best stuff on that night and allowed two of the first three hitters to get on base before Joe Carter came to the plate. With the count 2-2, Carter connected on a World Series walk-off home run, which essentially ended Wild Thing's career.
7. Steve Smith
Defense, Calgary Flames
Steve Smith was a solid defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers and a key contributor to three Stanley Cup seasons. He was sound in his own zone and is often overlooked as having an offensive aspect to his game, averaging more than 38 points per season in his first eight years in the league. He was also an All Star in 1991 and played nationally for team Canada that same year in the Canada Cup.
Reason to forget: Every hockey player dreams of playing in Game 7, but Smith's tale is more of a nightmare.
It was period three of Game 7 of the divisional final versus the Calgary Flames, a bitter rival. The score was tied 2-2, the clock was waning and all the marbles were still on the table.
Smith, behind his Edmonton net, went to pass the puck up the middle, but it bounced off his goaltender and into the net. He immediately dropped to the ice in disgust and the goal cost the Oilers the series.
6. Roberto Baggio
Roberto Baggio is among the many Italian soccer greats to step onto the field. In 1993, he was the European Footballer of the Year and was the first and only Italian FIFA Player of the Year. He was a key component on three Italian World Cup teams and scored 27 goals for his country.
Reason to forget: In 1994, after a listless beginning to their World Cup, the Italians made a run to the finals. Baggio was quiet in the group stage, but finally saved the day against Nigeria in the Round of 16 match, scoring a late tying goal and the winning goal in extra time.
In the final, Italy met Brazil but both teams didn't score a goal in regulation or extra time and, for the first time, the World Cup was to be decided on penalty kicks. After four rounds, the Brazilians led 3-2 and Baggio needed to score to keep the Azzuri's hopes alive.
He stepped up to the ball, booted it over the crossbar, completely missing the net and offered himself as a scapegoat.
5. Jim Marshall
Defensive lineman, Minnesota Vikings
Jim Marshall was a two-time Pro Bowler and a key constituent of the Vikings' ferocious defensive line, better known as the Purple People Eaters. He started an NFL-record 270 consecutive times for the Vikings at defensive end and set another NFL record with 29 fumble recoveries.
Reason to forget: In 1964, in a game versus the 49ers, Marshall recovered a fumbled ball and immediately bolted 66 yards into the end zone and threw the ball away in celebration. The only problem was that he actually ran the wrong way, returned the ball into his own end zone and the play resulted in a safety. He didn't notice his gaffe until a player from the 49ers hugged him in the end zone.
From that point on he was known as Wrong-Way Marshall.
4. Eric Cantona
Forward, Manchester United
|Eric Cantona lunges at a Crystal Palace fan. (AFP / Getty Images)|
Eric Cantona was one of the main reasons for Manchester United's return to powerhouse status in the '90s. With him in tow, United won four League championships in his five seasons and in 2001, he was voted as the team's player of the century. He scored 64 goals for United in 144 appearances and earned the nickname The King.
Reason to forget: In 1995, in a match against Crystal Palace, Cantona was sent off for harsh challenge on Richard Shaw.
On his way off, Cantona went after a mouthy fan in the stands and gave him a WWE double-leg drop-kick to the chest.
Cantona was suspended for nine months, forced to serve 120 hours of community service for an assault conviction and paid a fine of 20,000 GBP.
3. Scott Norwood
Placekicker, Buffalo Bills
Scott Norwood spent seven seasons as the placekicker for the Bills and he was a steady presence: He made 72.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. During that span he overtook O.J. Simpson as the franchise's all-time leading scorer. Norwood finished his career with 670 points and became a critical component of an offense that was able to move the ball up and down the field.
Reason to forget: Norwood's whole career is typically summed up in two words: Wide Right.
In Super Bowl XXV, the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses by the Bills, Norwood had a chance to win the game with a 47-yard field goal attempt.
In the pregame warm up, Norwood aimed for the right upright and the wind hooked the ball between the uprights. During his attempt with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, he again aimed right; this time the ball remained straight and he missed.
The Bills lost 20-19.
2. Marty McSorley
Defense, Boston Bruins
Marty McSorley, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, was one of the toughest defensemen in NHL history. He was a nasty enforcer and served as a protector for skill players such as Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. When Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, he refused to accept the trade unless McSorley was packaged with him. McSorley ranks as the fourth most penalized player in the NHL with 3,381 minutes.
Reason to forget: In 2000, as a member of the Boston Bruins, in what would become his final NHL game, McSorley chased down Vancouver's tough-guy, Donald Brashear, in the waning moments and hit him in the head with his stick. Brashear fell to the ice and suffered a Grade 3 concussion.
The incident was one of the ugliest in NHL history and earned a one-year suspension as well as 18 months of probation from a court in what was the first trial ever for an on-ice attack by an NHL player.
1. Bill Buckner
First base, Boston Red Sox
Bill Buckner played 22 seasons of Major League Baseball and was named to one All-Star team. Billy Buck was known as one of the better contact hitters and led the league four times in the at-bats per strikeout ratio; he finished first in doubles twice and he won the National League batting title in 1980. He was also solid on defense and finished his career as a first baseman with a fielding percentage of .992.
Reason to forget: In 1986, the Red Sox finally looked like they had a chance to end the Babe's curse as they held a 3-2 series lead over the New York Mets. The Red Sox took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th in Game 6 only to see the Mets fight back in the bottom half of the inning.
After the pesky New York batter Mookie Wilson fouled off several Bob Stanley pitches, he grounded a ball toward Buckner, which rolled under his glove and into right field. The painful error cost the Red Sox the game, momentum and eventually the World Series.
Most people like all of the glory that comes from being in the spotlight, but there is a downside to it. Being the focus of attention means that you have to deal with more criticism than the average person, and often a good name can get dragged through the dirt. A name entails a reputation and it is important to take care of it if you want to be remembered for the right reasons.