My heart still hurts for Marcus Williams.
The Saints' rookie safety, who inexplicably ducked and whiffed on Stefon Diggs' game-winning touchdown catch in the Vikings' improbable divisional round victory, is still the main topic of conversation and likely will be until the conference championship games kick off on Sunday.
Even after that, his name will be synonymous with that miscue unless he goes on to have an amazing career that includes Pro Bowls and championships. Then again, Leon Lett won three Super Bowls and went to a couple Pro Bowls, and what's the first thing you think of when his name comes up? Exactly.
If Williams doesn't go on to big things, he'll be the next Rahim Moore, the former Broncos safety who's known only for his mistake in the AFC divisional round against the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2013.
I've been thinking about Williams since about 30 seconds after the fateful play, once I realized what happened, and even talked about it with my wife for a while Sunday night. She feels awful for Williams, as well, because she remembers some of the bad times, especially early in my career, and one game in particular that caused a sleepless night for both of us.
It was my "Marcus Williams moment," albeit on a much smaller scale.
The game was in Dallas, and I was starting at left guard for the Cowboys in a 2002 matchup against the 49ers. We weren't a very good team, but we had won two in a row and started to have a little bit of momentum late in the season.
The situation was a third-and-one with a little over two minutes remaining at the 49ers' 28-yard line. We had a 27-24 lead, and a first down would've effectively put the game away.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet called a lead draw behind me, and I didn't get a good enough block on Dana Stubblefield, who wrapped up Emmitt Smith for no gain. That was bad. The series of events afterward made it much worse.
Rather than going for it on fourth down, we attempted a field goal and missed. The Niners proceeded to march down the field for a Jeff Garcia touchdown pass to Terrell Owens and a 31-27 victory with 17 seconds remaining.
I was apoplectic. I felt nauseous.
In my mind, I had cost our team the game and everybody knew it. Even though, in hindsight, people focused a lot on the decision not to go for it on fourth-and-short or the missed field goal or the defensive collapse, at the time I felt as if everybody was looking at me and placing the blame on my shoulders. And even if they weren't, I was.
That night, I didn't sleep a wink. Not only did I feel awful about what happened. but I feared it might cost me my job because I had been cut two months earlier by the Redskins after a subpar performance in a Monday night game against the Eagles.
I called my wife, who has my girlfriend at the time, and parents at least three times each throughout the course of the night. I watched the sports segments on all the local news stations to see if they were blaming me directly for the loss and mentioning me by name. Plus, I was trying to get more looks at the play to see just how bad it was.
It was a lot for a 23-year-old to be able to handle, and so finally, after not being able to sleep at all, I drove to the Cowboys' facility so that I could watch the play at about 4 a.m. That was the first thing that helped me feel a little bit better because I realized I did everything correctly and the best that I could on the play. Still, I was very nervous about what the reaction of my teammates and coaches would be once the meetings started about 8 a.m.
Hopefully Williams is handling it better than I did. He's only 21 years old and had a terrific rookie season. Heck, he even had a game-changing interception in the third quarter of the game. He did a terrific job with the media afterward, which should be commended, and has gotten a lot of support from his teammates and Saints fans.
Still, based on my experience, I wonder what that night's sleep was like when he tried to go to bed alone in his own thoughts. And the next day. And the day after that.
Fortunately, in my situation we still had a game to play that next Sunday and had to move on.
Marcus Williams isn't so lucky.