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The Most Inspiring Moments in Sports History

Zack PumerantzAnalyst IIINovember 26, 2012

The Most Inspiring Moments in Sports History

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    Only sports can instill the same warm and fuzzy feelings that arrive with every Thanksgiving day. The smell of stuffing, burnt turkey and heroism makes every single year special.

    With Thanksgiving just passing, and the holiday season waiting to kick off, let's commemorate the fuzziest holiday with the fuzziest moments in sports. The athletic bookmarks that define true greatness.

    Presenting the most inspiring moments in sports history.

20. Brett Favre Celebrates His Father

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    Date: December 22, 2003

    Why It Was Powerful: For many, sports offers an escape from tragedy. For Brett Favre, the Monday Night Football game that took place one day after the death of his father, football was a chance to celebrate the man who'd taught him the game he dominated for so long.

    Even Oakland fans were cheering on the legendary gunslinger as he teared his way to 399 yards and four touchdowns.

19. Rulon Gardner Wins an Impossible Gold

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    Date: September 24, 2000

    Why It Was Powerful: Russia’s Aleksandr Karelin, arguably the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time, entered the 2000 Games without a single loss in 13 years. Until an unknown farmboy by the name of Rulon Gardner, behind the motto "Never stop pushing," came along and shocked the world.

18. Maurice Cheeks Defines Heroism

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    Date: April 25, 2003

    Why It Was Powerful: It's fair to say that Maurice Cheeks' coaching-career highlight came before tip-off back on this April 2003 day. When 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert forgot the lyrics to the national anthem, Cheeks quickly came to her rescue, forcing tears and claps from an inspired Rose Garden Arena crowd.

17. The Greatest NFL Comeback

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    Date: January 3, 1993

    Why It Was Powerful: Down 35-3 in the third quarter of a playoff game against the Houston Oilers, and stars Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas out with injuries, the Bills were for all intents and purposes finished.

    Until Frank Reich led the greatest comeback in NFL history, giving no future team any excuses to quit. Steve Christie's 32-yard field goal in overtime sealed the miracle.

16. Abebe Bikila Runs Barefoot

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    Date: Late Summer of 1960

    Why It Was Powerful: Adidas, the shoe sponsor at the 1960 Summer Olympics, had few shoes left when Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila arrived. As such, no pair fit.

    But like a true champion, Bikila decided to run the marathon barefoot, the way he'd trained. Bikila proved that it's the man inside the shoes, rather than the shoes themselves that  possesses greatness, when he won gold to become the first black African Olympic champion.

15. Kerri Strug Lands the One-Legged Vault

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    Date: July 23, 1996

    Why It Was Powerful: The Americans were narrowly ahead of the Russians, entering the final day of competition at the '96 Atlanta Olympics, and after Kerri Strug under-vaulted her first try, a collapse seemed imminent. That was, until the fearless teenager regrouped and landed her second vault on a destroyed ankle and secured gold, as well as hearts around the world.

14. Jim Abbott Throws No-Hitter with One Hand

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    Date: September 4, 1993

    Why It Was Powerful: Only 279 Major League no-hitters have been tossed since 1875. When Jim Abbott, born without a right hand, did it, he proved to the world that determination and belief conquers all. There is no impossible.

13. Jason Mcelwain Scores Hearts

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    Date: February 15, 2006

    Why It Was Powerful: Jason McElwain, the autistic basketball manager who spent his high school career cheering on his team, got his shot against Spencerport High School, with Greece Athena High School battling for a division title. In four minutes, the future hero dropped 20 points and touched the hearts of all who heard his story.

12. Jesse Owens Defeats the World

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    Date: August, 1936

    Why It Was Powerful: Adolf Hitler wanted the 1936 Olympics to be a showcase for a resurgent Nazi Germany. Instead, a fearless athlete by the name of Jesse Owens, with the world against him, carried the doubters on his shoulders, winning four gold medals (one each in the 100-meter, the 200-meter, the long jump and as part of the relay team).

    His fixture atop the podium remains the heart and soul of Olympic success. 

11. Jackie Robinson Integrates Baseball

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    Date: April 15, 1947

    Why It Was Powerful: When Negro League star Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line in 1947, to a record Ebbets Field crowd, he paved the way for the future. Robinson's Dodger debut and impending influence helped bring an end to racial segregation in baseball. 

10. A Game of Hope

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    Date: November 7, 2008

    Why It Was Powerful: On one quiet night in Grapevine, Texas, Grapevine Faith coach Kris Hogan sent an email to his fans before their game against the Gainesville State Tornadoes, the largest juvenile correctional facility in Texas.

    For that one game, he asked half of his fans to cheer for the opposing team; a team that never played home games and was used to being judged and disrespected because of past choices.

    "Here's the message I want you to send," Hogan wrote. "You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth." 

9. Terry Fox Gives His Life for a Cause

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    Date: April 12, 1980

    Why It Was Powerful: Despite one leg having been amputated, Canadian athlete Terry Fox set off on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although it cost him his life, his heroic effort resulted in a lasting legacy.

    The annual Terry Fox run remains the largest one-day fundraiser on Earth.

8. Baseball After 9/11

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    Date: September 21, 2001

    Why It Was Powerful: It was a return to normalcy for the world following the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Mike Piazza's monstrous shot infused the crowd with an energy that only sports can offer, and helped fans cope with surreal tragedy.

7. Sportsmanship Defined

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    Date: April 26, 2008

    Why It Was Powerful: In what would become the last at-bat of her career, during a conference doubleheader against Central Washington, Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky witnessed a legendary act of sportsmanship.

    After hitting the first home run of her career, Tucholsky missed first base and, when retreating to touch it, severely injured her knee. What transpired was simply unforgettable.

6. Derek Redmond Perseveres

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    Date: Summer of 1992

    Why It Was Powerful: At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, world champion British athlete Derek Redmond tore his hamstring in the 400-meter semi-final in heartbreaking fashion. As he fought through the pain, his father rushed to his side and helped him complete a full lap to roaring applause. Their persevering lap became the essence of Olympic heroism. 

5. The Miracle on Ice

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    Date: February 22, 1980

    Why It Was Powerful: This underdog American hockey club, stocked with amateurs and college players, was never expected to even compete against the powerhouse Soviet squad, which had won nearly every championship since 1954.

    Down 3-2 after two periods, the U.S. club defied the odds and came back to win 4-3. They would finish the job the following game against Finland, securing the gold medal.

4. The Fenway Crowd Helps Autistic Singer

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    Date: June 30th, 2007

    Why It Was Powerful: Several years ago in the green-wrapped confines of Fenway Park, the purest display of humanity was seen. While Peter Rometti, a young man with autism, sang the Star Spangled Banner during Disability Awareness Day, he got a slight case of the giggles as nervousness took over.

    His inspired crowd helped him up, and showed the world that small acts of kindness can be historic.

3. Pat Tillman Leaves Football for the Army

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    Date: May 31, 2002

    Why It Was Powerful: 2000 All-Pro safety Pat Tillman admirably, albeit shockingly, turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals to join the army following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    He was killed nearly two years later due to what was reported as friendly fire.

2. Team Hoyt's Immortality

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    Date: October 12, 2008 Inducted into Triathlete Hall of Fame

    Why It Was Powerful: Dick, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, and his son Rick, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, have a special bond.

    And after 247 triathlons and six Ironmans, with Dick pulling Rick in a boat as they swim, carrying him in a seat in the front of a bicycle and pushing him in a wheelchair as they run, they've proven to be far beyond invincible.

1. Lou Gehrig's Farewell Speech

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    Date: July 4, 1939

    Why It Was Powerful: A man who played in 2,130 consecutive games, legendary six-time champion New York Yankee Lou Gehrig was an Iron Horse with a humble nature that's been unmatched.

    At 36, he was suddenly stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and withdrew himself from the Yankee lineup he'd headed for over 15 years. Even when facing death, Gehrig remained defiant and an inspiration.

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