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Mark Sanchez Turned the Other Cheek After the Butt Fumble

He went from Jets savior to punch line in one play, but he always held onto his perspective. Now he gets a new role: analyst.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

The greatest streak in sports history is not Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the Celtics winning eight straight NBA titles, or Joey Chestnut winning the Mustard Belt at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest eight years in a row. It’s Mark Sanchez’s Butt Fumble winning the Worst of the Worst segment on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 for 40 consecutive weeks. For those not familiar, every week ESPN combs the planet for the biggest sports-related failure. The worst of that week’s worst competes with the reigning champion and the winner stays. It’s king of the court for viral failure. Worst of the Worst clips usually last just a few weeks before being usurped by a new champion, but the Butt Fumble was truly The Worst. SportsCenter retired the Butt Fumble clip from competition after it went 40-0. Pregnancies last roughly 40 weeks. Babies were conceived and born during the Butt Fumble’s reign in 2012. It’s fitting for the clip that birthed a new era of viral failure.

Six years after SportsCenter retired the Butt Fumble video, Mark Sanchez is following suit. After four years with the New York Jets and five seasons bouncing around Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Washington, Sanchez is calling it quits. The fifth pick in the 2009 draft, Sanchez led the Jets to two AFC championship games in his first two seasons and became one of just two quarterbacks whose team beat the Brady-Belichick Patriots in the playoffs in Foxborough. But he will always be remembered for his lowlight against New England, not for the highlights. Fittingly, he will work for ABC and ESPN, who did as much as anyone to seal his legacy as Mark Sanchez—you know, the Butt Fumble Guy.

The Butt Fumble is the perfect sports video, for the following reasons:

1. It’s called “the Butt Fumble”
2. It happened to the Jets
3. The Jets were playing the Patriots
4. The Patriots scored a touchdown on the play
5. An estimated 20 million people were watching because ...
6. It happened in prime time, on Thanksgiving
7. He ran into a large man’s butt

“I guess [I was] more stunned than anything,” Sanchez told the Associated Press the week after the incident. “Just like a car accident. I was like, ‘Whoa. What just happened?’ Then, the ball’s gone. It was weird.”

This primordial internet soup created a delicious viral clip. ESPN alone has run an oral history, a video retrospective, and a Sports Science on the incident.

After he became the biggest punch line in the biggest sport in the United States of America at 26 years old, it would have been understandable had Mark Sanchez simply climbed into a hole. He did not. The next week, he said he hoped he and his teammates would be able to laugh about it one day. He was benched for all of 2013, released in 2014, and played five more NFL seasons. In 2017, he served as a mentor to Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Last year, after Washington quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy each suffered a broken leg, Sanchez entered a game in relief and, in a remarkable full-circle moment, made a butt fumble recovery.

The moment was a moving reminder that stories don’t end, they evolve. The next week, Sanchez was named the team’s starting quarterback, the first time he would start a game in more than three years. Roughly 10 minutes into his press conference that week, once all the X’s, O’s, and niceties had been addressed, one enterprising reporter danced around the elephant in the room and asked Sanchez about “a certain fumble in a nationally televised game.”

“I’m not following,” Sanchez said with a smile before getting serious. “Like I said, what are you going to do? It was a crappy play in a game where we’re getting our butts kicked. It’s some low-hanging fruit so that was an easy reach for you. I’m just kidding! I’m just kidding! Come on, you can give it to me, I can give it right back! Come on, now. Thick skin in here, huh? Listen, who cares? It’s one play. You just move on.”

The question begins at the 11:10 mark below. It’s worth watching.

Athletes speak about wrestling with failure constantly. Rarely do they seem so peaceful while they do it. In an age when having our worst moments captured on video is a deep-rooted fear and going viral can change lives for the worse, Sanchez’s attitude about the play is oddly endearing. It’s hard not to root for him to succeed as an analyst. At ESPN, he will find the perfect role model in Dan Orlovsky, who was once exclusively known as the guy who ran out of the back of the end zone for the 0-16 Lions but has quickly become one of the best football analysts on television. Often, the players who did not succeed at the highest level have the best perspective on the game.

Sanchez is a good bet to flourish in his new role. That he earned the opportunity at the same place that dubbed his infamous moment as the ultimate failure is strangely inspiring. Maybe even the worst of the worst isn’t so bad.