Sunday morning, little known 49ers backup kick returner Kyle Williams woke up to the exciting news that he would be fielding kicks, with all-world special teams guy, Tedd Ginn Jr. out with an injury. The kid had to be ecstatic.
Just a second year WR out of Arizona State, the 5′10, 186 pound Williams was getting the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to play hero or even to just have a significant impact, in a game that could send the 49ers to the Super Bowl. But like any movie with a hero, the man who comes in to try and save the day, can also be the one who falls victim to the opposite affect: they can also become the villain. The scapegoat. The man everyone tries to run out of town.
So when Williams muffed a critical punt return — correction: misplayed a punt, allowing it to graze off his leg — allowing New York’s Devin Thomas to recover deep in 49ers territory with San Fran holding onto a 14-10 lead in the 4th quarter, he went from loveable backup, to despised f*^$up. The Giants turned the turnover into a touchdown.
But the 49ers came back and Williams seemed to attain for his ghastly error in judgement with a solid return late in the game. Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends. By now, you probably know that Williams — son of White Sox GM Kenny Williams — also fumbled a punt in overtime. Oddly enough it was recovered by who else — Thomas. The sinister begining of a pairing that will likely link Williams and Thomas for the duration of their sporting careers and who knows, maybe beyond. But Williams’ second critical mistake did more than doom the home team and it’s Super Bowl dreams. It made him the scapegoat of all scapegoats. An easy target for the ire of broken-hearted Bay area fans, jilted by two special teams plays that arguably cost their team the NFC title.
So, people turned to social media and with access, comes well, easy outlets for abject hatred — and they began spewing Williams with death threats. Classy folks.
It’s not surprising, it happens too often. It’s the stage. It’s the eyeballs. When you play for all the marbles you can become iconic or be perceived as demonic. Williams didn’t screw up on purpose, it just wasn’t his night. But 49ers fans, like any sports fan, will tell you that you never know when your team will get that chance again, just ask the Cubs. Their irrational anger was pointed directly at the young returner and today a man we hardly knew some 48 hours ago, is the focus of a barrage of hatred.
Of course, had he taken that second punt to the house and sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he’d be a god. They’d give him the key to the city. He’d have his own David Tyree moment in the sun. Instead, the ball was stripped from his grasp, and the chance to be a hero evaporated into the lowest of lows — being perceived as a zero.
His teammates quickly came to his aid, as did many other football players after the game — which was nice — but the damage had been done. We always say that athletes have the ability to tune out just about anything, which makes them so brilliant at what they do. But I find it hard to believe that Williams isn’t shaken by this. There are a lot of nut-jobs out there, meaning that not every threat is baseless. While this isn’t a third world country, where a star might actually get lynched after a costly error, it’s still a place filled with passionate people, who let their heart get in the way of their head.
Sports fans becomes so attached to their teams, that when they lose — especially during an unexpected, out of nowhere thrill ride, like San Fran had this year back to the top — that it rips their hearts out. If you are a hardcore fan of a team you’ve been through those range of emotions — wanting to punch a door, pacing the room, cursing repeatedly, stomping your feet like a 5 year old, even ranting angrily on message boards, Facebook, or Twitter. But the Bill Buckner treatment needs to stop.
It is just a game. Though an escape, it is not the end all. Life goes on, they’ll play another season next year. This will all go away in time.
Threatening a man’s life though because he fumbled a football. That might scar him forever.