By now, you know about the punter from Michigan. You might not know his name -- Blake O'Neill -- or his nationality -- Australian -- or that he earned a bachelor's degree in Australia before coming to the United States on a football scholarship to Weber State.
You probably don't know that he transferred to Michigan this summer with the aspirations of earning a master's degree in sports management. And you almost certainly don't know he left a successful modeling career behind in Australia so that he could use football as a means of earning an American education.
You know Blake O'Neill, but only for one thing: He's the punter who fumbled the punt and gave away a Michigan win to its in-state rival, Michigan State.
That's the beauty and brutality of sports. Michigan State's dream season takes another step forward, and the Spartans-Wolverines rivalry adds another thrilling chapter that features a 38-yard runback of a fumble as time expired to lift the No. 7 Spartans over the No. 12 Wolverines, 27-23.
Michigan's Jim Harbaugh scowled while Spartans players cried tears of joy. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook wondered aloud to TV interviewers what the hell, exactly, had happened.
O'Neill, meanwhile, walked off the football field, bearing the weight of a rare mistake. Earlier in the game he'd unleashed a stunning 80-yard punt, and his performance at the college level has made him a possible NFL prospect, even with less than two full seasons of American football under his belt.
But for the moment, he's nothing but a scapegoat. He's a whipping boy for fans lacking the depth perception to see O'Neill as a full person, someone -- like anyone -- capable of making a small mistake. And in the context of a football game with so much built up around it -- national championship hopes, local pride and the rest of the country watching on TV -- it's easy to forget how small that pivotal moment was, when O'Neill let an inflated leather ball slip from his fingers and hit the ground.
@blakewoneill What were you thinking dude. Might go down as the worst play in College Football History
— Cameron Sanders (@TheRealCamSand) October 17, 2015
On its own, the mistake is innocuous -- much smaller than any fender bender or dropped dinner plate. But since it happened in the world of sports, O'Neill is receiving death threats.
After the game, Harbaugh borrowed Nixon's famous line to avoid placing blame. "Mistakes were made," he said, before admitting that O'Neill should have fallen on the ball instead of trying to pick it back up after the fumble. But that did nothing to abate Michigan fans, and even social media users with no clear tie to the game, to lash out at O'Neill.
This type of fan reaction is nothing new. But in the social media era, it's much louder, more direct, and far more corrosive. Twitter gives fans a direct line to players -- and they take advantage of it, for better or worse.
"Start chugging bleach my friend," wrote one fan to O'Neill on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but a screenshot of it was saved by CollegeSpun.
"Dipshit loser, you might as well cut your hands off," wrote Twitter user @jaaake_f1, who in a separate tweet wrote, "Jump off of a cliff into a pool of spikes and cyanide."
And by the way, isn't amazing that this harassment can happen with no legal recourse or consequences? But that's social media for you. It was bad enough that Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett was forced to write an open letter to fans.
"Today I awake to the shocking reality that our community who care so much about this program would send hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students, Hackett wrote in the letter, which was released Sunday. "To be clear, such comments come from a small minority, none of whom are reflective of our institution.
"The program I know at MICHIGAN speaks about the team, the team the team. The people I have been associated with my whole life around this fantastic program -- some whom are living and some whom have passed on -- would never, I repeat never, spread blame."
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio also came to the defense of O'Neill, calling on fans to put the game into perspective -- and remembering that these things are more common than it sometimes seems.
"I have empathy for that because we've been on the other end of that stick, as well," said Dantontio in an interview with WDFN-AM. "I will say this: This is a game. This is the entertainment business that we're in. People come to watch, to have a great time with their family and their friends, and to enjoy completion at its highest level. And I think that's what they saw: competition at the highest level.
— Bryson Beery (@BrysonBeery) October 19, 2015
"After it's done, all I ask our players to do is do the very best they can and, afterward, we try to pick up the pieces and try to get better. But it is a game, and other people need to realize that."
Dantonio also said he hoped that "people will let that go, and the young man will get on with his life. He did a great job other than that one play."
It's easy to lose sight of that perspective, particularly in the heat of the moment. But there's no excuse for this kind of harassment. And that harassment, for what it's worth, represents a small minority -- scroll through Twitter, and the messages sent his way are overwhelmingly positive. But those kind regards shouldn't be counted on to balance out the ugly condemnations of the select few who lash out without considering the person on the receiving end of their comments.
Blake O'Neill is a good punter who made a mistake. The game's final play is bizarre, stunning, thrilling, devastating. It's a perfect sports moment -- an ending to a high-stakes game that you haven't seen before, and you might not see again.
It's a moment worth celebrating for its highs and lows. Blake O'Neill played an unfortunate role in Michigan's unlikely defeat, and we can trust he's taking it hard. He doesn't need any help from us. If anything, we'd do well to echo Dantonio: It's only entertainment.
-- Follow Jonathan Crowl on Twitter @JonathanCrowl.