By Zach Naidu
Ty Montgomery, former wide receiver for the Stanford Cardinal and member of the Stanford class of 2015, made a crucial mistake last Sunday.
With just over two minutes remaining in the game, the undefeated Los Angeles Rams kicked a field goal to take a 29-27 lead over Montgomery and the Green Bay Packers. On the ensuing kickoff, Montgomery fielded the ball just inside the Packers end zone and returned it to the 21-yard line, only to fumble and give the Rams possession.
The fumble dashed Green Bay’s chances of a late game comeback, as Los Angeles successfully ran out the clock to remain undefeated.
Following the game, NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported, “Ty Montgomery was explicitly told by the coaches…if it’s in the end zone take a knee.” In addition, Silver cited star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ outrage over the play, and quoted an anonymous player who said about Montgomery, “They took him out [of the previous drive] for a play and he slammed his helmet and threw a fit… Then [before the kickoff] they told him to take a knee, and he ran it out anyway. You know what that was? That was him saying, ‘I’m gonna do me.’ It’s a f—– joke.”
This report prompted ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to assert on First Take the next morning that Montgomery should be cut. “It has nothing to do with the mistake; it’s the motivation behind which you made the mistake,” Smith said. Smith wasn’t the only mainstream sports analyst to express this sentiment.
Montgomery said his wife and infant son have received threats from angered Packers fans following his late game fumble – all because the sports media has depicted the image that Montgomery cost his team a win due to selfish actions.
Facts can’t be ignored. Montgomery made a poor decision. Objectively, if he doesn’t fumble the ball, the Packers likely win the game on the arm of the best quarterback in the league. Objectively, some blame is warranted for the former Stanford wideout.
But the way in which Montgomery has been villanized shows nothing short of egregious ignorance from the media and Packers fans.
For starters, Smith cited Montgomery’s “motivation” as the reason he should be cut, but did he even stop to ponder the perceived motivation before skewering the athlete on national television?
Why is everybody assuming based on an anonymous report that Montgomery acted selfishly? Why isn’t anybody trying to take a closer look at what exactly happened and examine all of the information – specifically Montgomery’s own explanation?
On Monday, Montgomery gave NFL reporters his first comments on the play: “Before every single return, we say the same thing ‘if it’s in the end zone, keep it in the end zone,” he said. “I made a split-second decision. I don’t know if this is going to land on the goal line. I’m not going to take a knee on the goal line, at the half-yard line and take a chance at putting the game in the ref’s hands.”
Montgomery also said, “I’ve never been a guy to completely disobey what I’ve been told. That’s not the kind of man I am.”
People have attacked Montgomery’s motives because at an initial look, the ball obviously appears to be in the end zone. If Montgomery had fielded the ball five, six yards deep, it would be difficult to accept his explanation. The spot of a fair catch is marked where the ball is, not the player. Yes, from the TV angle it appeared relatively apparent that the ball was in the end zone. But is it ludicrous to think Montgomery – about a yard in the end zone and leaning forward at the time of fielding the kick – genuinely doubted the ball itself was past the goal line and didn’t want to risk costing the Packers 24 yards by taking a knee or calling for a fair catch? The reason the Packers were even down two points was because they suffered a safety running a play from their end zone in the first half.
Is it so absurd to believe that in the heat of the moment, the last two minutes of a professional football game, Ty Montgomery erroneously judged that the ball wasn’t in the end zone? Is it not a possibility that Montgomery was indeed frustrated about his role when he fielded the kick, but didn’t let that impact his decision? Why are the media and Packers fans so easily accepting the fact that he cost Green Bay a chance to win because of selfish reasons rather than simply misjudging a play and fumbling the football?
I have met Ty Montgomery. We both went to St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas and I was a water boy for the football team his junior year in high school. Amid all the jaw-dropping plays Montgomery produced, I have one vivid memory. St. Mark’s was down two scores nearing the end of the game when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown to put us within reach. After the touchdown, on the sidelines, my 12-year-old excited self – caught up in the moment – rushed over to him and said, “You can do this!” to which he responded, “Nah dude. We can do this.” As cliché as that sounds, I’ll never forget that moment because Montgomery demonstrated the mindset of a selfless team leader during that brief exchange.
A lot of time has passed since Montgomery attended St. Mark’s. However, in four years at Stanford, there wasn’t a single negative report about him from Head Coach David Shaw or any players that would’ve discredited the exemplary reputation he established as a teenager.
A more public defense of the running back came from the Packers’ Tramon Williams, who denounced the anonymous criticism and supported his teammate. According to NBC Sports, Williams said, “That’s the reason they are anonymous and not said their name. If they want to say it, put their name by it. That’s them. Whoever that is, it is what it is. But we’re going to have Ty’s back. I know for a fact he didn’t do it selfishly. It may look that way, but he didn’t do it selfishly.”
Why do we put less weight on the comments of Williams, a 12-year veteran and Super Bowl champion, than those of the anonymous player? Why is the course of action here to take every negative comment at face value and shatter the character and professional image of someone who, until now, has been nothing but an exemplary teammate and person?
These are all questions nobody is answering because nobody wants to ask them. Instead, Stephen A. Smith and the rest of the media and fans are doing the easy thing, drawing ill-informed conclusions about Montgomery’s motives after guzzling reports that he did what he did to “prove something” to the coaching staff. That’s the juicy storyline – nobody wants to hear that somebody simply made a mistake at a critical point in a game. As a result, Montgomery’s image has unfortunately paid a price.
On Tuesday, Montgomery was traded to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2020 seventh round pick, swiftly ending the saga and his tenure in Green Bay.
What happened to Ty Montgomery is wrong.
Hopefully Baltimore gives him the warm welcome and second chance he deserves.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu