He was standing in the doorway to the locker room, his body limp, his head lowered, eyes on the foot which had betrayed him just minutes earlier.
He was alone. But then, kickers in pro football are always alone — more painfully so after they miss a kick, and agonizingly so when the kick could have meant the game. When the kick could have meant the season — the playoffs, a winning record, everything — it is nearly impossible for an outsider to understand.
Welcome to Ed Murray’s world on Sunday.
He had faced the questions earlier: about the snap, which was high; about the kick itself, which missed to the right; about the effect it had on his Lions teammates, which could only be summarized as “devastating.”
There were, after all, only 68 seconds left in the game and the Lions had just charged 73 yards for a touchdown, a gorgeous long-bomb touchdown, an over-the-shoulder catch by Leonard Thompson that would have left Willie Mays grinning nostalgically.
Oh, what that one play accomplished! It tied the score, 23-23; raised the Lions from the dead; opened the possibility of the playoffs again, and ignited what few fans were left in the Silverdome. Life! Life! All that was needed was the extra point, the candles on the cake of football scoring.
Murray trotted onto the field. Confident. Earlier in the game he had broken the club record for consecutive field goals with a 19-yarder to close the first half. He had jumped high, swung a fist at the air, then run after the referee to retrieve the football. A souvenir. He’d keep it. His day. Yeah!
And no. The point-after snap was high. Eric Hipple struggled to get it down. Murray rushed into it, booted it, and watched it rise to the right, while his heart went in the opposite direction.
“We should be standing here with a win,” he said, his voice choked.
“Instead we’re here with a loss . . . and out of the playoffs.”
‘We never should have lost this’
William Gay was leaning against the wall, his bulky frame oozing out of a gray T-shirt. Gay, a big man with a soft voice, was alone now, too.
He and his defensive teammates had taken the field following Murray’s miss. OK. The game was tied. They had to accept that. Just hold the Packers for 61 seconds and we go into overtime.
Instead, the Packers went through the Lions’ defense as a bull goes through a fence.
“It was in our hands,” said Gay, his face squinting in disbelief. “We should have never lost this.”
But then they never should have let the Packers drive on them the way they did — 71 yards in 61 seconds, the crippler being a trap play by Eddie Lee Ivery, who raced up the middle for 32 yards to the Lions’ 7.
It was frantic. It was nothing new. All game long, it seemed the Packers must’ve showered in axle grease, the way the Lions kept letting them slip out of their grasp.
The Packers sat on the ball, letting the seconds drip away. They brought out their field goal kicker with two ticks left on the clock, and drove a yellow and green stake through the heart of the Lions.
Kick is good. Game over. Final score: 26-23.
“Now nobody has to talk to us about the playoffs,” Gay said softly. “We know we’re out.” Jeers for a wounded warrior
He was standing near his locker, the knee that had forced his surrender still throbbing painfully. Quarterbacks live and die in a solo spotlight, and on this Sunday, the light had been blood red on Eric Hipple. He was as alone as the rest of them. Maybe worse.
For more than any other single player, his performance had put the Lions on the gangplank that led to the final hysteria just described. Despite a barrel full of completions, Hipple threw three interceptions, two of which choked potential scoring drives, one of which was returned 80 yards for a touchdown.
“I lost my composure,” he said. “I got ticked off . . . That one that was returned for a touchdown, I was trying to get the ball to (Leonard) Thompson. I should’ve been more patient.”
Three plays later, Hipple suffered the final indignity. His already injured left knee took another hard shot, and as he doubled over in pain, obviously unable to continue, a thunderous cheer went up from the tasteless Silverdome crowd, who had given up long before the Lions had.
He was done. The team would shortly follow.
For in the end, it was the end. And Hipple and Murray and Gay and everyone else in a Lions uniform knew they had done it to themselves.
Those final two minutes were the Lions’ season in snack-pack size. Unexpected heroics. Unexpected mistakes. And ultimately, a few points and a few seconds short of the big victory.
The playoffs are now a vapor. The winning record is blowin’ in the wind. The “Dome Field Advantage” is an obsolete joke.
The Lions will be home for the holidays. It is something they all have to live with. Together. And alone.