On Sept. 9, 2007, Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett put his head down as he tackled Denver Broncos returner Domenik Hixon. Everett suffered severe injuries to his neck and spine and was paralyzed; doctors weren’t sure the then-25-year-old would walk again. Eventually, the NFL player recovered and returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium, walking in front of his teammates, in December of that year, although he never played football again. Nothing about the event could be described as funny.
On Sept. 11, 2007, Wendell Hollingsworth, an Ohio man accused of robbing a church in January, appeared in a wheelchair for his trial in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus. Almost immediately, Hollingsworth flailed and kicked at his court-appointed attorney before deputies used a stun gun on him and took him out of the courtroom. This, too, wasn’t particularly amusing.
The same day of Hollingsworth’s appearance, West Palm Beach news station WPEC aired its late-night broadcast. Sports anchor Pat Murphy’s lead-in featured an update on Everett’s injury, except it actually didn’t:
It’s safe to assume that the video of Hollingsworth wasn’t supposed to run with the Everett story. The station and Murphy picked up on the error rather quickly. “That’s the wrong video, by the way. That is not the right video,” he said.
Though WPEC may have regretted the error, it was too late. Two deeply serious events came together to create a truly amazing moment. It was destined for countless news blooper compilations forever.
I’ve watched this moment on video many times and because it happened well before I started working here, I’ve wanted to find a way to put it on Deadspin in some fashion. It’s a YouTube staple watched by many—3.4 million views on this particular upload—but if it were new to even one person, that would make it worth it. My most effective idea was to try and track down Murphy, as well as the news crew he worked with, to figure out how they reacted after the mistake, and what they were doing now—not as an oral history, because that might be dull, but a short feature. When I reached out to Murphy, though, who at last check was retired, this was his response:
I am not sure why you would want to do a story on a video mishap that happened well over a decade ago. It is not really pertinent or newsworthy at this junction.
There are half-hour TV shows which build excessively convoluted parallel plotlines which all eventually intersect by the end of the program in hopes of a resolution half as funny as this. Many would kill for a moment of comedic timing this perfect, and all it took here was a minor fuckup. Then there’s the joke within a joke: Past the blooper itself, you have Murphy doing his best to wrangle a program that has gone off the rails. Murphy had every right to decline to talk, but that meant my plan was dashed. (The idea likely wouldn’t have blossomed into a very illuminating conversation, anyway.) That only means we can’t get the rundown of how this happened, however; we can still appreciate the result, perhaps more so for its having retained its aura of mystery.
Update (3:34 p.m. ET): Alex Diaz, currently an employee at NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth, said in an email that he was at WPEC when the blooper occurred. His explanation:
I was working at WPEC as a director the day this clip happened. It’s a boring reason why, but the timing did work out perfectly for the blooper.
We recently changed to an automated newscast system called Overdrive. In order to play a video clip, we had to enter the numerical ID given to that clip through our newsroom system (ENPS, if you care). If the entered number did not match, the wrong clip would play for the story. In this case, the mistake worked out hilariously.