‘I Jumped Up, Reached for the Ball … and My Life Changed Forever’
By Brandon Bostick
MINNEAPOLIS — Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind. There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home. I flash back to that moment—I can see the ball floating right in front of me—and I wonder: What if?
I messed up in the NFC Championship Game, and trust me, it hurts. I’ll probably think about my role in the botched onside kick every day for the rest of my life. It haunts me like a recurring nightmare.
Most of America didn’t know my name before Jan. 18, 2015. I grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and played Division II football at Newberry College (enrollment: about 1,000 students). I signed with the Packers in 2012 as an undrafted free agent and spent the entire year on the practice squad. The transition to the NFL is difficult, especially for a small-college guy. My first year in the league was humbling: I busted my ass every week to get better and to help the team, only to watch them play on Sundays, knowing I couldn’t contribute. But by 2013 I had cracked the lineup, and last season I began playing pretty regularly. Still, most people—perhaps even some Packers fans—didn’t know who I was until there were two minutes and seven seconds left to play in the NFC title game.
We led the Seahawks, 19-14, when they attempted an onside kick. Andrew Quarless lined up next to me. “I got this guy, you got this guy,” he said. “You know your assignment?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I got this.”
I was supposed to block for Jordy Nelson, who was right behind me. We had practiced this dozens if not hundreds of times before. But when the ball appeared in front of me, just floating in the air, my mind went blank. I forgot everything I was supposed to do. It’s not that CenturyLink Field was too loud, or that I crumbled under the pressure of the situation. Instinct just kicked in. The ball was in front of me and I wanted to grab it. I jumped up, I reached for it … and my life changed forever.
What transpired next was a blur, an out-of-body experience like watching a train wreck from afar. I remember Jordy coming to talk to me after Seattle recovered the ball, but I don’t remember exactly what he said. I remember retreating to the sideline and just sitting on the bench. I was numb. A few teammates came by to pump me up. They said to keep my head up, that we still could pull this off.
The Seahawks won, 28-22, in overtime.
The visiting locker room was dark and cramped, and I sat at my stall for nearly 40 minutes. The media poured in. They asked question after question, wanting me to walk them through the play. To be honest, I was so numb I began talking and didn’t know what I was saying. I apologized. I knew I had messed up. I got on the plane in a daze.
There have been a few deaths in my family, and when I was in high school, a favorite uncle passed away. When he died, I didn’t cry because it didn’t feel real. The night of the NFC Championship Game kind of felt like that.
I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was a key mistake that cost us a trip to the Super Bowl. But, with all due respect, I think the media kind of took it and ran with it. I became the singular scapegoat. Social media didn’t help, either. I don’t know how many death threats I received, but there have been a lot. I still haven’t read most of the messages that people sent me, but I want to so I can deal with the consequences and use it as motivation. But it is physically impossible for me to read every troll’s comment; the volume is simply too much. So their comments sit there, untouched, maybe forever.
Earnest Byner, whose fumble cost the Browns the 1987 AFC title, called me out of the blue, and now we talk once or twice a week. His biggest advice: Face your mistake, don’t run from it.
It’s weird how people know me for a play but don’t know me as a person. I’m human, I made a mistake, and I’m working my hardest to live with it and learn from it.
In times of adversity you find out who really has your back. One guy in particular has been a big help. His name is Earnest Byner, and you may know him as the running back responsible for The Fumble, which cost the Browns the 1987 AFC title. Byner called me out of the blue, and now we talk about once or twice a week. His biggest advice: Face your mistake, don’t run from it.
I was close to accepting my mistake, and learning to accept my new reality, when my phone rang on the morning of Feb. 16. I had just woken up and didn’t recognize the number. The caller said he was with the Packers organization, and immediately I understood: I was getting cut.
I was surprised. Yes, I was very surprised. I played in 13 games and had a pretty good season, but more importantly, I knew I was improving. But they said they have their guys, and that I didn’t develop as fast as they had hoped. They said the onside kick had something to do with it, but that’s all they said.
I feel as if there’s a little more to it than that. With how close we were to reaching the Super Bowl, I think a lot of people in the organization couldn’t live with me being there. I think seeing me would remind them of losing the NFC championship. I think the Packers wanted a new start, so I got one, too.
The next day my agent called. He said, “The bad news is, you’re staying in the cold. The good news is, you’re going to Minnesota.”
The Vikings picked me up on waivers, and I think it’s a good fit. I’m really close to my agent, Blake Baratz, and his offices are in Minneapolis, so that’s a great support system. It’s also a young team, with a young quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, and another young tight end, Kyle Rudolph, who I can learn from.
I’m excited to get out there and seize the opportunity, but I know 2015 won’t be easy. I will still be haunted by that onside kick, and I will still be remembered as the guy who blew a trip to the Super Bowl. That’s just the way it is.
Even though I will think about it every day, I hope one day I will be remembered for something else. I do know this: If I ever get another chance to play in a conference championship game, no matter what uniform I’m wearing, I will take a moment to apologize to my teammates on the 2014 Packers. I sincerely wish I didn’t jump up for that ball. I wish we were celebrating a Super Bowl right now.
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