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Thanksgiving Memories: The Twentieth Anniversary Of Leon's Blunder

As much as I love the proud history of the Dallas Cowboys, being the "unofficial" site historian of Blogging The Boys also means that sometimes I have to write about the memories that we would much rather forget.

On the 20th anniversary of his Thanksgiving Day Miscue, Leon Lett will again be on the field in Dallas, this time as an assistant defensive line coach.
On the 20th anniversary of his Thanksgiving Day Miscue, Leon Lett will again be on the field in Dallas, this time as an assistant defensive line coach.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Poor Leon: it wasn't that he made more blunders than any other player in the game, in fact he made less of them than most, it was just that Leon Lett had a strange sense of timing that conspired to ensure that when he did suffer a faux pas, it came at the worst possible time and in front of the biggest possible audience. In the Thanksgiving Day game on November 25th, 1993, Lett somehow managed to top his fumble out of the back of the endzone during the Super Bowl the previous season. At least the Lombardi Trophy was firmly in the Cowboys grasp when his famous fumble occurred, Lett's Turkey Day miscue would not turn out so well.

It was going to be cold, this much everyone knew going in. We’re talking the coldest Thanksgiving on record, before or since, and likely forever and ever, in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. And that, in and of itself, would have made for a heck of a story. The Frigid Bowl on Turkey Day at Texas Stadium: 32 degrees for the 3 p.m. local time kickoff, 24 degrees and dropping by the second half.

However, the lack of Fahrenheit was the least of anyone’s worries. There was freezing rain, snow, sleet, ice pellets, little hail here and there. And, oh yeah, there was the field itself. No, scratch that. There was a slab of cement covered by a green carpet disguised as artificial turf. And two hours before kickoff, there was a tarp covering the aforementioned that was trapped beneath more ice and snow than just about anyone born and raised in Texas had ever seen. - Jeff Sullivan, Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

It is a day I remember well, it was MISERABLE! Growing up in Mesquite, just east of Dallas, that day was perhaps the worst day of winter weather I have ever seen; it was so bad that the Macelli family had put the Thanksgiving feast on hold - but at least there would be Cowboys football that day.

As you would expect, the game was certainly not a thing of beauty. As bad as the Miami Dolphins played under those impossible conditions, the Dallas Cowboys managed to play even worse. None the less, with time winding down in the fourth quarter, the home team found themselves clinging to a 14-13 lead. Unfortunately, the Miami Dolphins had the football, and they were in position to attempt a game winning field goal with just a few seconds remaining. With the ball spotted inside the 25 yard line, Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich trotted out on the field.

Normally, a 40 yard field goal would be pretty much automatic; however, under the miserable conditions that prevailed in the Metroplex that day, nothing was certain. With the field icy in some spots and slushy in others, footing was a challenge. The players had struggled to find traction all game long.

"It was hard to keep footing for both teams. It puts limitations on things you can do." - Daryl Johnston

"It was so bad that we might as well have worn ice skates." - Emmitt Smith

You had to consider the Dolphins chances for a third successful field goal on the day were at best 50/50.

With just 15 seconds on the clock, the Dolphins snapped the ball. The snap was good, the holder got the ball down, and somehow Stoyanovich managed to get the kick off ... and Cowboys defensive tackle Jimmie Jones blocked the kick. Venerable old Texas Stadium erupted in cheers. THE COWBOYS HAD WON!!! Down on the playing surface the football fluttered around on the frozen surface. All the Dallas players were yelling at each other to stay well away from the football while the clock wound down to zero; well, all the players except poor Leon. For some reason, the Big Cat decided to recover that football. He fell all over the frozen pigskin, causing it to squirt forward to where the Dolphins were able to recover the ball at the one yard line. With three seconds on the clock, Stoyanovich returned to the field, splitting the uprights and bringing to a close the most improbable 15 seconds in Dallas football history.

The aftermath was hell for Leon Lett. The first player off the field after his blunder, he went straight to the trainer's room, wanting to be alone in his suffering.

"I was the first one in the locker room. I just wanted off that field. I ran right in and went to the trainers room. I remember hearing helmets flying, hitting the wall, guys yelling in frustration. I lost the game. I was a mess. A few guys came into the trainers room to see me. I remember Nate [Newton] coming in, Michael [Irvin]. Then Jimmy walked in. I didn’t know what to do or say. I thought he was going to curse me out or cut me. He comes over to me, puts his hands on my shoulders and says in a soft voice, ‘don’t worry, Leon. You’re my boy and I’m sticking with you no matter what. As long as I have a job here, you have a job.’ Those words meant the world to me." - Leon Lett

Over the years that I have been following the Cowboys and football in general, very few men have played the game better than Leon Lett; unfortunately, the closing seconds of the 1993 Thanksgiving Day game will likely be remembered for as long as the game of football is played. For better or worse, Lett has become, in a cruel way, immortal. He had a lot of shining moments in his career that should be remembered, but thanks to a momentary lapse in judgement, Lett will always be remembered for the wrong reasons. Perhaps we would do well to remember the aftermath of the '93 game. As a reminder of what ensued, we turn to Harvey Greene, who was the Dolphins vice president in charge of public relations.

"It took us an extra hour to get from the stadium to the airport. Of course, the airport is maybe a 10-minute ride? It’s right there. Few scary moments on the ride, but we were pretty upbeat and pretty emotional. We were 9-2 and thinking we were headed for the Super Bowl. We didn’t win another game that season. Lost our last five and didn’t make the playoffs. And, of course, the Cowboys didn’t lose another game and repeated as Super Bowl champs."

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