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Junkin a giant in defeat

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Trey Junkin delivered one of the most memorable, admirable performances in the history of modern sports this week, and all he did was say three words.

After blowing the Giants-49ers playoff game with a goofy long-snap that never got off the ground, he was the goat, but really he was a hero.

Following the game, he swallowed real hard, stared into the TV cameras that had cornered him in the locker room and delivered a three-word lesson in accepting blame and responsibility.

"I screwed up."

The take-no-prisoners New-York media was ready to pounce on him. As it turned out, nobody had to take him to task or point out his blunder or tell him he had cost the Giants an opportunity they could never have back. He did that for them.

"I'd give everything in the world, except my family, to have stayed retired so these guys could have had a chance," Junkin said, who had been talked out of retirement a week earlier to improve the team's woeful long-snapping duties.

In the waning moments of the game, Junkin had done his best Bill Buckner imitation. With the NFL playoff game between the Giants and 49ers on the line, his long-snap for what would have been the game-winning field goal rolled across the wet grass like a wounded rabbit. The kick never happened.

And Junkin blamed only one person for the loss: The guy in the mirror.

With three simple words, he made the Play of the Day. It took more guts than the 49ers' late drive. You knew he was hurting after letting down teammates and millions of New York fans, but he gamely stepped into the camera lights and pointed the finger at himself. It was a clinic in courage and grace under pressure.

Junkin could have dodged blame. That's what athletes — and presidents and CEOs and actors, for that matter — do these days. He certainly had plenty of big targets.

He could've blamed the wet, slippery conditions, or the giant swing in momentum.

He could have pointed a finger at the Giants secondary for

not covering big-mouth Terrell Owens or for their acts of retaliation that offset 30 yards' worth of penalties on the final drive.

He could have blamed Giants holder Matt Allen for not falling on the ball to give the Giants one more crack at a field goal.

He could have told reporters that just because his blunder was the last play of the game didn't make it any worse than, say, Jeremy Shockey dropping a pass in the end zone.

He could have told reporters to give him a break, that he had been on the job only five days since un-retiring and he was just trying to help out the Giants, and by the way, he's 41.

He could've blasted the referees for blowing a call that would have given the Giants another play.

Instead, he said, "I tried to make the perfect snap instead of a good snap. You don't do that. This is something I've done for 32 years, but not anymore."

What if this sort of thing became a trend? What if everyone started acting like Junkin and accepting responsibility for their actions?

What if Pete Rose said, "Yes, I bet on baseball. I had a gambling problem, and it got the best of me. It's my fault I haven't made the Hall of Fame. I'm never going to gamble again. I'd bet on it."

What if Nolan Richardson, the former Arkansas basketball coach who's suing to get his job back, said, "It was my fault I got fired. I'm just an angry, bitter man, and I've got to change. I play the race card every chance I get, and I overdid it this time. It was my fault I said I wanted to be released from the rest of my contract. I screwed up."

What if the International Olympic Committee stepped forward when the bid scandal first broke and said, "It was our fault. We created an atmosphere of greed and graft. It's the way things get done in the world, and we had no idea it would create such a fuss in the U.S. Don't blame SLOC or the people of Salt Lake City."

What if the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had stepped forward immediately and said, "We did it and we all knew about it, not just Tom and Dave. We shouldn't have played along just because everyone else was doing it."

What if others did the same?

Ben Johnson: "Nobody sabotaged the drug tests. I did steroids, I cheated, I got caught, and now I have to pay for it."

Bobby Knight: "I'm an arrogant fool who thinks he's the only smart mammal on the planet. It's my fault I was fired. They gave me so many chances. I threw a chair, for crying out loud. I screwed up."

Rasheed Wallace: "Nobody else has as many problems with the refs as I do, so I must be the problem, not the referees."

That would be a more deserving legacy for Junkin than a muffed snap.

E-mail: drob@desnews.com