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2012 nfc championship game

On Kyle Williams, Billy Cundiff, and Becoming a Legendary Goat

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Kyle Williams #10 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after he fumbled the ball on a punt return which the New York Giants recovered in overtime during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Ouch.

The signature takeaway from yesterday's terrific NFC and AFC Championship Games — other than that, holy crap you guys, the Giants are in the Super Bowl — was the creation of two goats for the presumed ages. In New England's win over Baltimore, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. In the Giants' win over the 49ers, kick return Kyle Williams fumbled two punts — one that bounced off his knee in the fourth quarter and one more traditionally taken away in overtime — that led to ten Giants points in a defensive struggle, including the game-winning Lawrence Tynes field goal. It's tough to be much more of a goat than that.

Thing is, though, both Cundiff and Williams — who, we didn't realize until this morning, is the son of Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams — lack a crucial component in becoming historical, legendary, lifelong despised goats: They don't play for traditionally tortured franchises.

Last week, we talked about how all four teams in the conference championship games had a history of franchise success; three of the entrants (New York, New England, and Baltimore) had won titles in the last decade, and the other (San Francisco) had a lifetime 5-0 Super Bowl record. There was no chance of any of those teams having any sort of credible claim on being tortured, star-crossed, or somehow sadsack.

That's crucial to cementing goat status. Sports history's most famous goats are ones who somehow deny history, who cost their long-suffering fans the opportunity at oft-delayed redemption. You need to have a fanbase that's desperate for a championship, and to have you personally take that away from them, to achieve true rarefied goat status.

These goats are rare. Scott Norwood. Bill Buckner. Ernest Byner. Gary Anderson. Steve Bartman. (Unfairly, of course.) They often require a championship years later to be redeemed, and even then, as in the case of Buckner, it's wrapped up in the bow of "forgiveness," as if the goat somehow deserved to have his life ruined. (Which always happens to goats; if they were able to just chuckle off their misfortune, they wouldn't be goats.)

Williams and Cundiff, as grueling as it was to watch their malfunctions, don't rise to that level. The Ravens have won their Super Bowl; the 49ers have won five. A good corollary here might be a man Giants fans are all-too-familiar with: Trey Junkin. The long snapper who cost the Giants a 2003 playoff game against San Francisco — though in reality, it was some staggeringly bad officiating that was the real culprit — earned him a place in Giants lore. (It's really quite a sad story; Junkin had unretired just for those playoffs, and immediately retired again right after. By the way, Trey Junkin is 51 years old today.) But that place is only in Giants lore. That game didn't cost the Giants a championship, and they would win one outright (in the most exciting fashion imaginable) five years later. He is not an all-time historic goat. He's just a guy who made a mistake at a bad time, whose name raises the hair on a hard-core fan's neck, but will never reach Bartman level.

So good for him, and good for Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff. It might not seem like it today, but eventually they'll be allowed to have a normal life again. And this is why no one should ever wish to play for the Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, or Minnesota Vikings.

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Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images