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Dear Saints Fans: Don’t Treat Marcus Williams Like Bill Buckner

No one deserves the death threats, hate mail, and negative press these players have endured. Saints fans can learn from Buckner’s experience and choose to back the second round pick that exceeded all our expectations...except one.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For going on two weeks, Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams has taken the brunt of the blame for the team’s epic collapse in the final 25 seconds of the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. These have probably been the longest two weeks of Williams’ young life, and I’m here to implore Saints fans not to waste one more minute blaming the rising star.

Williams’ fourth quarter mistake on the final play all but erased, in many fans’ eyes, what had previously been viewed as an absolutely stellar season. Before the “Minnesota Miracle” play, Williams had racked up five interceptions, 10 passes defensed, missed only two tackles, and given up zero touchdowns. With 10 seconds to go, Williams missed just his third tackle of the season and gave up his first touchdown.

The initial amount of vitriol Williams sustained from fans reminded me of another unfortunate sporting scapegoat, former Red Sox first baseman, Bill Buckner. I knew Buckner had been a longtime workhorse who has been most remembered over the past thirty years as the reason why the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series. But I didn’t realize that prior to the Mookie Wilson single between his legs in Game 6, Buckner had quietly compiled an all time great Major League career.

On April 8, 1974, Buckner, then a Dodgers left fielder, climbed the wall in an effort to catch Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run. During his first season as a Cub, Bucker won the National League batting title hitting .324 in 1980. He was an All-Star the following year and led the league in doubles in both 1981 and 1983.

In 1983, he tied the record for assists in a season while also driving in 110 runs. In 1985, he broke that record with 184 assists and tied another record for most games played at first base with 162. His record for assists wasn’t broken for almost 25 years until sure-fire future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols broke it in 2009 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

During the 1986 season, Buckner was crucial to the Red Sox making the playoffs by driving in 102 runs and hitting 18 home runs. Before Buckner arrived mid-season, the Red Sox were 19-25 and in sixth place in the American League East.

By the end, they were 67-51, in fourth place, and playoff bound. Buckner’s eighth inning single RBI in Game 5 of the 1986 World Series helped the Red Sox secure a 3-2 series lead over the heavily favored New York Mets. But for thirty one years, all Red Sox fans seem to remember is Mookie Wilson’s single bouncing through Buckner’s legs as the Mets scored in extra innings to win Game 6 and push the series to a final Game 7.

They forgot Roger Clemens had allowed only two runs in seven innings, before leaving the game with a blister, after which the next two pitchers gave up tying runs. They forgot that the Red Sox manager had previously used a more spry back up first basemen, Stapleton, for defense in games one, two, and five; but now inexplicably left a physically ailing Buckner in.

They forgot right fielder Dave Sax didn’t adequately back up Buckner which could have stopped the Mets runner, Ray Knight, from scoring from second base. They most definitely forgot that after moving from outfield to first base, Bucker had made only 128 errors in 13,901 chances spread over 1,555 regular season games.

They forgot they were watching a team sport in which victory comes with the intricate amalgamation of thousands of plays made by dozens of players. Football, like baseball, is much the same.

Don’t forget Wil Lutz missed a field goal in the first half. Don’t forget Drew Brees had a 0.00 QBR at the end of the first quarter and led multiple three and outs to start the game. Don’t forget Willie Snead missed a WIDE OPEN Alvin Kamara on a trick play midway through the fourth quarter.

Instead of blaming Williams’ poor tackling, take a second look at the defensive play call that needlessly rushed four and negated the linebackers altogether. I don’t blame the coaches either, because winning football games is hard and game-hinging decisions need to be made within seconds. No athlete or coach is perfect. Mistakes will happen. How we respond is what truly defines us.

Williams isn’t going to let this one play define him as a player. Red Sox fans made that mistake with Bill Buckner, and real Saints fans shouldn’t make the same mistake with a young and promising player whose third quarter interception made the Saints’ improbable playoff comeback possible. Or did you already forget?