What goes around comes around — but rarely so rapidly.
Earlier this month, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Horn punctuated a touchdown against the New York Giants with a choreographed end zone celebration in which he grabbed a cell phone he had stashed under the goalpost padding and pretended to phone home to announce his accomplishment. It was a cheap, classless stunt — the kind that’s become commonplace around the National Football League — which rubbed salt into the wounds of a Giants team already behind that day and suffering through a miserable season.
Horn claimed he was only trying to have fun and give the fans what they wanted. There’s some truth in this — witness the popularity of souvenir jerseys of perennial showoff, and all around weasel, Terrell Owens. But Horn’s defense utterly misses the point. The nature of competitive sports is that one mans triumph is another’s defeat. Showboating amounts to a boldfaced contempt for the failed efforts of your opponent. It’s a dehumanizing gesture, an inability to put yourself in his shoes, to recognize his pain.
Perhaps Horn recognizes that pain now, after one of the most bizarre finishes in NFL history. Horn’s Saints trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars by seven points — a touchdown and extra point — with only enough time for one play to cover 75 yards for the tying score. The Saints, who needed the win to keep their playoff hopes alive, threw a short forward pass followed by three wild, improvised backwards laterals across the field, with Jacksonville defenders flailing at the ball the entire distance; against all odds, the last lateral found its way into the arms of Saints receiver, Jerome Pathon, who caught it in full stride and sprinted into the end zone. It was a miraculous play, setting the stage for the Saints to send the game into overtime … except Saints kicker John Carney, successful on 403 of 408 extra point attempts in his career, hooked the kick wide right. It was his first missed extra point since 1999.
As the agony of the moment registered in the faces of the Saints players — the loss eliminated the team from a possible playoff berth — perhaps Joe Horn, whose shoulder had been separated earlier in the game, gained a measure of insight into the nature of sportsmanship.