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All the ways Ed O’Neill’s team screwed up against the Little Giants

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The Little Giants were innovative, but the Cowboys were horribly coached.

“Little Giants” character Jake Berman scores the game-winning touchdown with Spike, other players trailing
The Little Giants score the game-winning touchdown on “The Annexation of Puerto Rico.”
Warner Brothers production / SB Nation illustration

The 1994 Urbania Cowboys are the greatest winless team in pee-wee football history.

The fictional gridiron team from the fictional Ohio team is the foil to the plucky, eponymous underdogs of the classic film Little Giants.

Coached by Heisman winner Kevin O’Shea (Ed O’Neill), the Cowboys were the sum of central Ohio’s beefiest corn-fed children. They had the nation’s most roided-up 10-year-old in tailback Spike, a child whose football talent was rivaled only by his sociopathic tendencies. His path was cleared by fullback/linebacker Sean Murphy, O’Shea’s pet project and a human being the movie goes to extreme lengths to remind us is a real POS.

With this unbeatable combination of athletic talent and psychotic behavior, local oddsmakers — a handful of elderly gentlemen who hang out at the local diner — installed the Cowboys as a 40-point favorite in a winner-take-all showdown to determine the town’s lone representative among the state’s pee-wee football ranks.

The Cowboys looked like the 2007 Patriots on paper. The problem was they played like 2007 USC on the field. And much like those Trojans, O’Shea’s team would fall apart against a six-touchdown underdog in a shocking twist.

So how did the Urbania Cowboys squander a 21-0 halftime lead and get run off a field named for their head coach? How were they done in by a trick play that started with a deliberate fumble and ended, one full minute later, with a field-long touchdown run as time expired?

Let’s look at the tape.

The warning signs began to show early

One immediate mitigating factor in this game was the 80-yard field, which the broadcast refuses to acknowledge as being anything less than 100 yards:

This greatly benefitted the Giants, as they had several players who would not be able to run a full 100 without stopping.

There are also several problems we don’t see from the Cowboys. The Little Giants went the entire first half without gaining a single yard, an accomplishment their parents very clearly celebrate in the third quarter once the team gets to a second-and-9 situation. Despite this long list of three-and-outs — including one that was turned into a punt block touchdown — O’Shea’s team only led 21-0 at halftime.

Either the Cowboys were grinding down the clock with a pair of Army-inspired 19-play drives — a tough task on an 80-yard field and what’s likely great field position thanks to a dominant defensive effort — or they’re turning the ball over in a long list of deleted scenes.

I had serious concerns about O’Shea’s coaching from an early point in this movie. Not just because he’s a weird sexist who can’t find a spot on his team for either the best player or the fastest kid in town, but because he owns a Chevrolet dealership and yet owns a Corvette that cannot outrace a go-kart. He may be a celebrated offensive mind, but his defensive flaws were apparent from the outset this fateful Saturday in Urbania.

Just look at all these terrible tackling angles his Cowboys take on their very first snap of the day:

What the hell are you doing, No. 25?

This was a common theme throughout the day. Here’s seven different members of the Cowboy defense taking a completely perpendicular pursuit angle to tackle a Giant ballcarrier along the sideline:

This is even more egregious since two players had already crashed through a Gatorade-covered table with their over-pursuit! This left just two players — the only two Cowboys not prone to hi-jinx, apparently — available to make a touchdown-saving stop. Neither did, and the Giants got their first points of the game thanks almost entirely to the Cowboys’ inadequate grasp of fundamentals.

These flaws would prove fatal on the final play of the game: the decisive Annexation of Puerto Rico.

The Annexation of Puerto Rico only worked because the Cowboys were a bunch of goons

With just four seconds remaining in a tie game, the Giants took the snap at their own 1-yard line and placed it on the ground behind the center, Fumblerooski-style, while faking a reverse in the backfield. This led center “Gasman” (I’m going by jersey nickname for this one rather than his Christian name, for obvious reasons) to rumble ~40 yards downfield before firing a lateral backward to his quarterback, Junior.

He’d get caught and fire a lateral to his team’s smallest player Berman, who just narrowly escaped getting turned into a fine mist by Spike at the goal line.

This is the game-winning touchdown. No. 32 in white is Spike, tamping down his basest urges to launch his opponent into orbit. Like I said, that 80-yard field mattered. 20 more yards and this movie ends at a funeral.

The Cowboys should have seen this all coming. Nearly every single Giants play that had gone for positive yardage up to this point had been some sort of trick play — flea flickers, reverses, you name it. And while the fake reverse was very much on brand for the younger O’Shea brother coaching on the opposite sideline, even the simplest adjustment would have stopped this comeback in its tracks long ago.

Instead, the Cowboys remained stuck in their base 5-2 defense, failed to recognize the ball on the ground directly in front of them (for seven seconds!), and got beaten by a deliberate fumble and two laterals. They deserved this. The elder O’Shea having his team even moderately prepared would have been the day’s real upset.

Consider: facing fourth-and-goal from the 1 in a tie game with 10 seconds left, he called a “38 toss” that the Giants immediately recognized pre-snap.

I’m sorry, did I say Giants? Because what I meant to write was “a childhood friend and tertiary character recognized the play as the same one Kevin ran in to win a state high school championship some 30 years before, then ran down from the stands to tell Danny.” That nonsense was so obvious that moms in the bleachers LITERALLY KNEW what was going to happen before it happened.

Did O’Shea, realizing he’d been had, call in an audible from the sideline? Take a timeout to adjust his team’s offense? Trust a kicker that’s already made three extra points to hit a game-winning field goal from 19 yards out?

Nope! HE RAN THE DAMN PLAY ANYWAY IN AN ACT OF HUBRIS, STUPIDITY, OR BOTH. Star tailback/future murderer Spike was stopped at the goal line. Giants ball. The Annexation — and a lifetime of shame — quickly followed.

Kevin O’Shea was a shitty coach. That — not his state championships or Heisman Trophy win — should be his true legacy.