ARLINGTON, Texas - It's been more than 21 years since Leon Lett unwisely attempted to recover a blocked field goal and cost his team a Thanksgiving Day game against the Dolphins, something that has lingered as one of the more boneheaded plays in Cowboys lore.
On Sunday, he finally may have found some measure of redemption in the person of DeMarcus Lawrence.
But that's only because Lawrence nearly eclipsed Lett for untimely absent-mindedness. After Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked by Anthony Spencer with two minutes left, the rookie defensive end recovered Stafford's fumble, and all he had to do was fall down to seal the Cowboys' victory. Instead, he tried to run with the ball and fumbled it back to the Lions, giving them life.
Pulled from the game. But when he came to the sideline for the two-minute warning, he learned from his coaches -- including Lett, now an assistant defensive line coach for the Cowboys -- that he would be staying on the field. "Coach Leon Lett gave me another chance to go out there and capitalize on the opportunity," Lawrence said, "and it happened."
On fourth-and-3 from the Dallas 42, Lawrence recorded his first career sack, forced a fumble and pounced on the ball with 54 seconds left to secure the Cowboys' 24-20 wild-card win.
Lawrence grew up a Cowboys fan, so he knows Lett's legacy. He just didn't learn from it.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, the Cowboys led 14-13 with 15 seconds left when the Dolphins attempted a field goal on a snow-covered field. It was blocked and went past the line of scrimmage, which made it a dead ball and should have clinched the victory for the Cowboys. But for no apparent reason, Lett ran down the ball, slid toward it and touched it while trying to scoop it on the snowy field, making it a live ball. The Dolphins recovered with three seconds remaining -- and kicked the winning field goal.
Not only did Lett's mistake cost the Cowboys that game against the Dolphins, but he also was involved in another blunder.
Ten months before his Miami gaffe, Lett nearly scored a Super Bowl touchdown on a long fumble return but showboated, was caught inside the 1 by the Bills' Don Beebe -- who never stopped hustling even though Buffalo trailed 52-17 at the time -- and had the ball knocked out of his hands.
Those two events were more embarrassing than devastating. Dallas, after all, won the championship in each of the seasons.
On Sunday, Lawrence's turnaround helped keep them alive to win another. But had he not recovered the second fumble -- had the Lions scored after his fumbled fumble recovery -- he likely would have suffered a fate worse than Lett's.
He said that beyond letting his teammates down, he didn't think about those consequences.
How could he not? "Seeing how my coaches looked at me," he said, including Lett in that group. "They gave me the eye like, 'It's your time.' As soon as they gave me the opportunity to go out there and make another play, I had to capitalize on it."
Speaking after the game, Lawrence stood in front of his locker at AT&T Stadium and relived the two plays. He was able to do so with a sheepish grin, comfortable in the fact that he made up for his error.
Behind him, next to a duffel bag, sat the football he recovered. The second one. The one he didn't give back to the Lions.
"The ball is going to stay with me for the rest of my life," he said. "I'm staying on the ground with it, too."