Nobody's perfect. We all do or say things we regret, sometimes instantly. It's done, though. We can't take those words or actions back.
But in a year overflowing with truly horrific moments we all wish could be undone — the unforgivable killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of law enforcement; the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash; the raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans, wrecked millions of lives and altered life as we knew it on many fronts; arguably the most divisive and surreal presidential election in the history of the United States — here are five sports moments of far less importance that the losers surely wish they'd handled differently:
No. 5: The Dallas Cowboys' onside kick against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 20. Ahead 20-0 early, 29-10 at halftime and 39-24 with 7:57 to play, the Falcons allowed Big D to pull within two points with 1:48 left. Then Dallas booted a desperation onside kick that Atlanta somehow failed to so much as attempt to cover. Just stood and watched the football. The Cowpokes eventually grabbed it, then kicked a field goal at the horn to win, launching a series of even more unbelievable events that eventually led to the firing of Atlanta coach Dan Quinn after the Falcons lost their next three games to fall to 0-5 in his sixth season. Would covering the onside kick have changed that? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly didn't help Quinn's situation.
No. 4: New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' decision to all-out blitz the Las Vegas Raiders on a third-down play in the final moments of a Dec. 6 game, even though the Jets — winless at the time — were ahead by four points. The Raiders' Derek Carr completed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III with five seconds to play, giving Las Vegas a stunning victory and leading to Williams' firing shortly thereafter.
No. 3: Novak Djokovic disqualifying himself from the U.S. Open by inadvertently striking a line judge with the ball after a lost point late in the first set of a fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta. It was completely unintentional, but when he angrily swatted the ball behind him, it struck the line judge in the throat, which caused her to fall to the ground in pain and led to Djokovic being defaulted from the Grand Slam tournament, ending his 29-match winning streak. Djokovic will still be No. 1 in the WTA rankings at the end of the year, but his image — never one of the best in the sport — took a hit that will likely be harder to fix than the winning of his 18th major title sometime in 2021.
No. 2: Former Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn saying six wins for the Tigers would be "solid" in a regular season when all Southeastern Conference schools played 10 league games only. That clearly didn't sit well with fans and administrators, especially because it came after a humbling loss to archrival Alabama. A week later, after a 24-10 win over Mississippi State that accomplished that 6-4 record, Malzahn was fired after eight seasons, despite Auburn having to cough up more than $21 million to get rid of him. One can argue how upset anyone should have been with a coach listing a 6-4 all-SEC season as "solid," given the unique circumstances thrown at Malzahn and his staff by the coronavirus pandemic, but that one word seemed a final straw for War Eagle Nation.
No. 1: Me. Maybe. On Aug. 9, I wrote a column saying the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga should cancel football this fall due to the pandemic, because neither entity could put its players in the same kind of bubble and testing protocols as Power Five conference schools or the NFL. I wrote: "Time to end this colossally stupid game of Russian roulette we football-addicted Southerners keep playing, and losing, against the coronavirus." I also quoted Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, who told The Associated Press: "I'm going to sleep a lot better knowing I didn't put someone else's kid or loved one in harm's way."
Yet at roughly that same time, McCallie coach Ralph Potter wrote something far different, penning a passionate letter in favor of playing. He wrote, in part: "There is a deep, even visceral need among them to return to normalcy." To prove he understood the other side, he also wrote: "There is no doubt that this pandemic is real, is an ongoing threat, and is a great tragedy. If we simply look at rates of positive tests and the total number of deaths, the easier answer is to say we should shut down schools and sports until we get a vaccine. But there are high costs to be paid. Too high, I think."
Thankfully, the TSSAA embraced Potter's stance. Though there were hiccups along the way, the association was able to crown state champions in early December, including McCallie repeating in Division II-AAA. South Pittsburg and Meigs County reached the football title games in Classes 1A and 2A, respectively. With so much taken away from our young people on so many fronts, they were able to play high school football, which surely lifted the spirits of entire student bodies the state over.
Yet even for all that was good about playing, there was one giant negative, and at a cost far too high. Coalfield coach Keith Henry, 54, died of COVID-19, possibly contracting it on a bus ride home from a semifinal loss at South Pittsburg on Thanksgiving weekend.
"Coach Keith Henry was more than a football coach," Coalfield principal Matt Murphy in a school release. "He was a husband, father, an assistant principal, a mentor and a friend."
And now he is one of at least 330,000 dear souls tragically no longer with us in this country as we near the close of the worst year of our lives. Make of that cost what you will.