Play It Forward

Sports' smallest acts often come laced with giant implications

What if Jose Cortez made the field goal?

You know the one, the 29-yard chip shot that would've given the Cowboys a 10-point lead over the Seahawks late in the game back on October 23. Instead of losing 13-10, Dallas wins 13-10. And that whopping 180 is merely a link in the drastically altered chain of events.

With improved self-confidence Cortez not only avoids becoming a scapegoat but boots the game-winning 34-yarder to beat Denver on Thanksgiving. And on the last Sunday of the NFL season, the motivated Cowboys obliterate the Rams, clinching the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

Presto! Next season is still this season.

Instead of worrying about Bill Parcells' dedication, Cowboys fans could be dreaming of his preparation. As in, "How will Dallas stop Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers?" Unfortunately, Cortez yanked the kick, the Cowboys yakked the playoffs and it's those same Seahawks who will play Pittsburgh in Sunday's Super Bowl XL.

Whether it's personal lives or professional sports, destiny often rides shotgun as we careen toward forks in the road. It could be decisions with negligible implications like choosing paper over plastic. Or the time you overslept and missed your breakfast meeting, only to watch the restaurant--and both Twin Towers--crumble to the ground. In sports, it might be the Hail Mary that was caught (Drew Pearson), the touchdown that was dropped (Jackie Smith), the home-run hero traded for dryer lint (Sammy Sosa) or the Hall-of-Famer bypassed in the draft (Karl Malone).

Hindsight is 20/20 but even more visionary when you play it forward. So put on your "hypothetical" hat and ponder a revisionist's future born from a history that never happened...

What if Earl and Tida Woods gave birth to Tigress? What if doctors found Lance Armstrong's tumors too late? What if Adam, Eve and Elvis had willpower?

And what if the Rangers hadn't traded Sammy Sosa?

ARLINGTON--The Rangers today re-signed perennial 60-homer slugger Sammy Sosa to a contract keeping him in Texas for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career. That's the same Sosa that owner George W. Bush actually flirted with trading for has-been Harold Baines and never-was Fred Manrique in 1989. Without Sosa's bat, the Rangers' pitching rotation of Kevin Brown-Nolan Ryan-Wilson Alvarez-Kenny Rogers-Rick Helling wouldn't have been so imposing during their World Series title in '93. After vetoing the trade and being named Baseball Executive of the Year, Bush decided to forgo a career in politics. The only blemish on his regime came in '98 when he unfurled a huge "Mission Accomplished!" banner at Bush Ballpark after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead over the Cubs, only to lose the next four games and the World Series. Said Bush, "Sammy's the heart and soul of this organization. When he hits a homer, he really un-corks it." In an unrelated item, President Gore, flanked by Arizona Governor Pat Tillman, announced talks with Saddam Hussein on the countries' improving oil relations. The September11 summit will take place in New York.

What if the Red Sox never traded Babe Ruth and the Blazers never passed on drafting Michael Jordan? What if Cassius Clay had gone into the Army and Roger Staubach had stayed in the Navy?

And what if the Mavericks had drafted Karl Malone?

DALLAS--The Mavericks today christened new Carter Coliseum by retiring the two most successful jerseys in team history: Karl Malone's No. 32 and Roy Tarpley's No. 42. Malone, selected over Detlef Schrempf in the 1985 NBA Draft, retired as a 15-time All-Star power forward. And with his unique blend of speed, size and skill, Tarpley helped revolutionize the center position. Sparked by Mark Aguirre's gutsy performance with a sprained thumb in the 1988 Game 7 victory over the Lakers, the Mavs won four consecutive titles from'88 to'91. It was Malone, remember, who took Tarpley under his wing and later formed the NBA's most dominating duo. "Without Karl, it's scary to think where I would've ended up," said Tarpley. "The only drug I've ever used is Rogaine." Owner Don Carter raised the banners alongside the one commemorating Dick Motta, the NBA's all-time winningest coach. In an unrelated item, bizarre billionaire Mark Cuban bought the rights toThe Fish That Saved Pittsburgh before petitioning the NBA for an expansion franchise in his hometown.

What if Jack Ruby hadn't pulled the trigger? What if Hugh Hefner was gay? What if Paris' name was LaQuinta and Vince Young's school was Texas A&M?

And what if the Cowboys' Jackie Smith caught the pass?

IRVING--The Steel Curtin is Still Hurtin'. Today at Landry Stadium the Steelers missed the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season with their 11th straight loss to the Cowboys. Dallas, which steams into the post-season seeking its NFL-record ninth Super Bowl, continued a mastery of Pittsburgh that started with tight end Jackie Smith's sliding touchdown catch and the dramatic comeback in Super Bowl XIII. "At the time, it just seemed like a simple, easy catch," said Smith, the Cowboys offensive coordinator under coach Roger Staubach. "But looking back now, I guess it was a real turning point." While the Cowboys have dominated the NFL the last three decades, the hapless Steelers have been relegated to launching pad. The Raiders won a Super Bowl after Franco Harris' ill-fated Immaculate Deception, and the Bills beat Pittsburgh on their way to a title clinched when Scott Norwood sneaked a game-winning field goal inside the right upright against the Giants. Unable to find family members willing to take over the floundering franchise, interim owner Mickey Rooney said he will seriously consider an offer from Arkansas oil man Jerry Jones. Apparently Jones is considering any of 500 coaches, including Notre Dame's two-time championship boss, Jimmy Johnson. In an unrelated item the NFL has sympathetically decided to put former Packers coach Vince Lombardi's name on a trophy--the Tokyo American Bowl. Lombardi, you'll remember, sent his franchise into a tundra tailspin by forgoing a game-tying field goal for a risky quarterback sneak late in the Ice Bowl against the Cowboys. Quarterback Bart Starr slipped on the frozen field, sending Dallas to its first title and ensuring the engraving of the Tom Landry Super Bowl trophy.What if everything in sports--from Maria Sharapova's sex to Kobe Bryant's skills to Jose Cortez's shanks--occurs not by happenstance, but for a preordained purpose attached with far-reaching tentacles and incomprehensible, domino-effect ramifications?

Or what if we're just kidding ourselves? Just like shit, sports happens.

 
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