The following story is from NFL.com's Fantasy Football 2008 Preview magazine, which is currently available on newsstands everywhere, as well as on NFLShop.
Larry Fitzgerald spoke for millions (thousands, anyway) of people in the NFL world when he told Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook at the 2008 Pro Bowl, "You ruined my fantasy football team."
The Cardinals' receiver was one of many people on the wrong side of the NFL's version of "The Play." It was fantasy's answer to Jim Marshall running the wrong way, or Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett to strip him of a sure touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. If fantasy football ever had a "Where were you?" moment, this was it. But what was it?
Late in the fourth quarter of a week-15 game at Dallas, with Philadelphia leading by four points, Westbrook took a handoff and broke through the Cowboys' defense. It looked like a certain 25-yard touchdown run. The score would have given the Eagles a 17-6 lead, but the Cowboys would get the ball back. However, if Westbrook didn't cross the plane of the goal line, it would simply give the Eagles a first down and the ability to run out the clock (the Cowboys having already spent their time outs). As fantasy fans began to rejoice (early) with this late score, Eagles fans watched in delight as Westbrook simply fell down on the 1-yard line. His thoughtful, heady, unselfish play let the Eagles run out the clock, and Philadelphia defeated its longtime rivals, 10-6.
Westbrook's fantasy owners, however, wept.
A play like that, at any point of the season, would normally be cause for great discussion -- who is this guy playing for, me or the Eagles? But because it came in week 15 -- a playoff week in many fantasy football leagues -- it was monumental.
For his part, Westbrook was focused on the Eagles gunning for the playoffs (that would be the real NFL playoffs, the ones that count most for NFL teams), but he does admit that the thought of ruining fantasy football teams across the country -- or the globe, even -- did cross his mind when he sat down on the team bus following the game. That just goes to show how deeply ingrained fantasy football has become inside today's NFL.
And in the months following, everybody still wants to talk to him about it.
"Everybody has a different opinion on it," Westbrook said. "If it helped them win, they love it. But if it helped them lose, they hate it. I get guys asking me, 'Why did you have to go and ruin my season?'
"It definitely will be one of those plays that people remember. It helped out a lot of people, but it also hurt a lot of people, too."
Remember, for all the fantasy teams that lost out on 6 points when Westbrook didn't make it into the end zone, there were an equal number of teams that reveled in the moment, a moment that might have turned a playoff loss into a playoff victory.
Westbrook was a star for his owners in 2007. He led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 touchdowns. But he has been portrayed as a villain by many fantasy owners for his play. Here's a secret, though: He wasn't the mastermind behind the fantasy and real-life game-changer. Eagles tackle Jon Runyan was the one who suggested that Westbrook lie down to eat up more clock. Figure that -- an offensive lineman, normally far away from the football, coming up with the most selfless play imaginable to win a game. On the replay, Runyan can even be seen chasing Westbrook down the field instructing him to hit the turf.
|Hunter Martin / Getty Images|
|Brian Westbrook probably had no idea how many fantasy players were affected when he intentionally went down at the Dallas 1-yard line at the end of Philadelphia's Week 15 win last season.|
"Maybe I wasn't on his [fantasy] team," Westbrook joked. "But no, that's just Jon. He's always coming up with stuff like that. He's a smart guy. He told me that if I break the play [through the defense], I need to go down at the one."
For some, Westbrook will forever be their Scott Norwood. And for others, he's Adam Vinatieri. But no matter which side you were on, Westbrook will always be remembered for "The Play."
Kudos, by the way, to the radio and television announcers sending the news out to fans around the country and back in Philadelphia and Dallas. They didn't "call" the touchdown early and force themselves to issue an instant correction. Instead, they, like many astute fans, recognized the play for what it was. A TV shot a moment later showed Eagles coach Andy Reid giving Westbrook the thumbs up. He backed that up by praising his running back during the postgame press conference.
"It was brilliant," Reid said. "He used that Villanova education and transferred it to the football field."
"I hear people talk about it all the time, but it's always in good fun," Westbrook said. "It was one of those plays that worked out for me. It kept the ball away from them, and we won the game.
"I'm sorry about [fantasy football players], it's just one of those deals. But it is a play that will always be remembered. The next time it happens, I will be known as the guy who started it."