The 20 Rarest Sights in Sports
The sports universe is a place governed by rules and routines.
Schedules, rosters, contracts, wins and losses—these are ever changing, yet largely predictable. The major sports are a paradox, because every game, every player, has a story to tell, but the narrative always unfolds within these confines.
This is why so many fans, analysts, and franchises in the 21st century are fascinated with data and statistics, because the numbers—history—can help forecast the future.
However, there are some events in sports that are so rare, so unusual, that it rocks the very foundation of the sports universe when they occur.
These are the kinds of moments that not only lead off SportsCenter, but make the record books and enter the mythology of a particular sport.
In no particular order, these are the 20 rarest sights in sports.
Before the age of salary caps and an emphasis and desire for parity in professional sports, repeat and even three-peat champions were far more common than they are today.
It wasn't exactly a run-of-the-mill event, but the NBA, NFL and particularly the NHL had seen three-peats nearly every decade from 1940s through the 1990s.
In international soccer and college sports, the three-peat isn't nearly as rare today as it is in American professional sports.
In fact, it's been over a decade since the last three-peat occurred, which was the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers. Repeating in this day and age is extremely difficult, so who knows when we'll see the next three-peat.
19. MLB No-Hitters
In the poll, over 42 percent of respondents answered "yes," but personally I voted "no."
Pitching a no-no might be happening more frequently, but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near an everyday occurrence.
From 1901-2009, a no-hitter in MLB was pitched just once in every 794 games, but from 2010-12, one has been pitched once in every 345 games (obviously averaged out).
Verducci makes the case that the steroid era greatly impacted decades of pitching, and now that baseball has worked to eradicate them from the game, pitchers are once again king. If that's the case, we might have to reassess this slide in a few years.
18. The Raiders Hitting on a No. 1 Draft Pick
No disrespect to the late Al Davis, whose early influence in the NFL will never be forgotten, but the last decade of No. 1 draft picks (when they have actually had a No. 1 pick) has been a who's who of who the *%$@ is that guy, or why the #$&% did the Raiders just pick that guy when they could have picked him in the third or fourth round, instead?
Looking through their draft history dating back to 2000, the only No. 1 pick that went on to be a certified star in the league was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in 2003—nearly a decade ago.
We all know that quarterback JaMarcus Russell (first overall) in 2007 was one of the biggest busts in NFL history. Running back Darren McFadden in 2008 was less of a crazy choice at the time, but he's proved he can't stay healthy and be a regular contributor.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009 was one of the biggest stunners, perhaps in draft history, because nobody on earth thought he'd go before the third round. The jury is still out on linebacker Rolando McClain, who was selected in 2010, but his crazy pants arrest in 2011 doesn't bode well.
And then there's the Raiders No. 1 pick in 2000—Sebastian Janikowski, a kicker out of Florida State. Now, I'm not knocking Janikowski, because he might be the second best pick outside of Asomugha during this period of time.
But seriously! Who picks a kicker in the first round? Oh, Al Davis, we miss you and your madcap ways.
17. A City Winning Multiple Championships in One Year
There are plenty of cities out there that would kill for just one championship…ever. But there are a handful of cities that have had the very fortunate distinction of winning multiple championships in a single year.
It rarely happens more than once in a decade, but in the 2000s, there were three American cities that could call themselves champions twice over.
Most recently was in 2009, when the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. In 2004, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, and the Red Sox won the World Series.
And in 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship, and the Angels won the World Series. Prior to 2002, it had been 13 years since the last time this had happened.
16. Hitting 600 Home Runs
Many have said that thanks to the ugly realities of the steroid era, the 600 home run club (and particularly the 500 home run club) just isn't what it used to be. Personally, I tend to disagree with that assertion.
Steroids most definitely gave the likes of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa a boost into the club, but steroids aren't superpowers. Plus, I like to think of those guys as unofficial members of the club.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome are full-fledged members who, in very recent years, joined the exclusive ranks of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only other players in baseball history to hit 600 or more home runs.
Pretty impressive if you ask me.
15. Steelers Changing Head Coaches
With few exceptions, the NFL has been a veritable coaching carousel, particularly in recent years. As of 2011, head coaches in the NFL had an average career 3.25 seasons with their current teams, and an overall average of 4.91 seasons total at the helm.
That may seem awfully short, but just remember for every Bill Belichick there are three Josh McDaniels. In terms of the head-coaching position, the Steelers have had the steadiest hand in the NFL for over 40 years.
Since 1969 they've had just three coaches: Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin—a history of success allows management to remain patient when times are tough.
14. NBA 60-Point Game
Forget Wilt Chamberlain's famous 100-point game. Sure that was a rare feat, but it's only happened once and will never happen again.
So, let's shelve that entirely and talk about the rarity of the 60-point game. It's one of the rarest accomplishments in the NBA, and only a handful of players not named Wilt Chamberlain, who did it on the regular, have ever scored 60 points in a single game.
And a number of them were in overtime—one was in double overtime and two were in triple overtime. Among few players who have netted 60 are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Larry Bird.
The last time we saw it was when Kobe Bryant dropped 61 on the Knicks in 2009.
13. Never Missing an NFL Game
If you've ever seen an NFL game, you know that isn't a leisurely walk in a meadow. It's one of the most violent and hard-hitting games on the planet, and a player's career (or even his life) is on the line during every single play on the field.
It's not an easy accomplishment to start 16 games in a single season, let alone every single game of your career.
So far, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't missed one, but he's only in his fifth season in the league. Flacco has a long way to go if he wants to match the ongoing achievement of Redskins linebacker London Fletcher who, in coming to the end of this 15th season in the NFL, has yet to miss a single game.
There was some concern in October 2012 that a nagging hamstring injury could cost Fletcher his starting streak, but, in the end, it turned out to be much ado about nothing because he didn't actually miss a game.
12. A Perfect Season
In most team sports, there are far too many games in a season to have even the slightest possibility of a perfect season. But in football and (college) basketball, seasons are short enough, and teams are dominant enough for this to be an occasional happening.
We're all well aware that the only perfect season in NFL history belongs to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, mostly because they insist on reminding us once a year.
The Patriots got damn close to becoming the first NFL team to go 19-0 (due to added games on the schedule) in 2008, but were upset by the Giants in the Super Bowl, squashing their dreams.
In college sports, it's more common to go undefeated, but still no small achievement. Each season there is often at least one undefeated college football team.
In the '60s and '70s, the UCLA men's basketball team went 30-0 four times, and more recently the UConn women's team went 39-0 three different times between 2002-10.
11. MLB Perfect Games
If pitching a no-hitter is a big deal, then pitching a perfect game is a big *%$&*#! deal!
Perhaps for the same reasons, there has been a substantial uptick in the number of perfect games pitched in the last several years.
But essentially the perfect game didn't even exist prior to 1981, as there were only nine recorded in nearly 110 years of MLB history—less than one per decade on average.
And since 1981, there's been 14 perfect games, with a major uptick since 2009; six have been pitched since 2009, three of them in 2012.
Even with the so-called end of the steroid era, and pitching dominance becoming the focus of almost every team in baseball, those numbers will likely not maintain themselves.
There will be more perfect games pitched than prior to 1980, but the last three years seem to be a statistical anomaly (so far), rather than permanent seismic shift.
10. Triple Crown (Horse Category)
Ah yes, the Kentucky Derby, the only day of the year that a large portion of the sports-viewing public in the United States pretends to care about horse racing.
That's because in the days leading up to the event, everyone has the opportunity to speculate about whether or not this will be the year of the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed did it in 1978.
Through the '30s and '40s a,nd then again in the '70s, there were a number of Triple Crown winners. But it's been over 30 years since the last.
It's actually a very rare occasion that the winner of the Kentucky Derby even wins the Preakness, although that's exactly what happened with (my favorite-named horse ever) I'll Have Another in 2012. But when it does, it actually manages to create some media buzz.
Unfortunately, I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes for health reasons, which means nobody besides horse owners, jockeys or compulsive gamblers cared a lick about the outcome at Belmont in 2012.
9. Olympic Gold and Stanley Cup in the Same Year
It's extremely difficult to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year, mostly because the Winter Olympics only come around every four years, which decreases the odds significantly.
In the history of the NHL, only six players have this epic achievement on their hockey resumes.
And let's just say, it was a good year to be a Canadian playing for the Blackhawks in 2010, because 50 percent of players who accomplished the feat, did so in 2010. Canadian players Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all played for the Stanley Cup-winning 'Hawks that year, just months after dramatically defeating the United States to win Olympic gold in Vancouver.
Prior to that, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan won Olympic gold for Canada in 2002, and, months later, won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. The only other player to do it was Ken Morrow, who was part of America's 1980 Miracle on Ice, and the Islanders team that won the '80 Stanley Cup.
We'll see in 2014 if anyone can do it again.
8. Decade(s)-Long Droughts
Whether it be a championship, making the playoffs or just finishing above .500, a drought of that nature lasting decades for a team that is legitimately trying to do something is extremely rare. Heck, even if you put together a team that you want to lose, occasionally they'll surprise you and win a pennant (Major League).
But, there are a few teams in professional sorts with reigns of futility so epic that it's a wonder they have any fans left at all.
The city of Cleveland hasn't seen a championship since 1964—stunning for a city with three professional sports teams.
After nearly two decades of absolute dominance by the San Francisco 49ers, they failed to make the playoffs nine straight seasons in the 2000s.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently working their way toward the same sad distinction.
And then there's the Pittsburgh Pirates, who would just settle for finishing a season at or above .500, something they've failed to accomplish for 20 straight seasons.
And, oh good Lord, don't get me started on the Cubs. Sorry, Cubs fans.
7. U.S. Men's Soccer Team Beats Mexico in Mexico
The United States has played 25 games against Mexico in Mexico since 1934, and until recently, their record was an abysmal 0-23-1.
But, that all changed on a historic day in August 2012, when a goal in the 80th minute of play by Michael Orozco Fiscal gave the U.S. an one-goal lead in the waning minutes of the game.
And, thanks to some late-game heroics by goalkeeper Tim Howard, the U.S. men hung onto that lead, and didn't lose to Mexico, in Mexico, for the first time in history. In fact, they won.
So now, their record in Aztec Stadium is a slightly less abysmal 1-23-1 playing against our neighbors to the south. USA! USA! USA!
Hey, here's a thought! Instead of making a big to-do about making Mexicans leave the U.S., perhaps we should keep them here, and make them teach us how to play soccer?
6. MLB Batting Triple Crown
There was a surprising amount of speculation as to who would with the AL MVP in 2012. It seemed safe to assume the Tigers' Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, was a shoo-in, but many were, and continue, to make the case for the Angels' Mike Trout.
Mostly because baseball folk enjoy being argumentative. Whatever case people are making for Trout probably makes sense to them, but Cabrera taking the first Triple Crown since 1967 trumps pretty much everything.
Since 1878, there have been just 16 Triple Crown winners, putting Cabrera in the company of legends such as Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.
5. Winning Four Consecutive Golf Majors
Golf majors date back to the mid-1800s, and just winning back-to-back majors is a rare accomplishment—there have only been 17 golfers who have won two consecutive majors in the last 150 or so years. And since that time, there have only been three players who have won four consecutive major victories.
The legendary Tiger Woods is the only golfer to do so in our lifetime; he won the 2000 U.S. Open, the 2000 Open Championship, the 2000 PGA Championship and the 2001 Masters. The golfers, who have achieved this feat, prior to Tiger, were Bobby Jones in 1930 and Young Tom Morris in 1872.
4. Repeating as Olympic 100m Champion
Maybe this slide should have just been named "Usain Bolt," as he is certainly one of the rarest things in sports.
Everything about him is rare: his talent, his personality, his unshakable confidence. Before Bolt, the only other athlete to repeat as the Olympic 100-meter champion was American sprinter Carl Lewis.
But Bolt distinguished himself from Lewis, and every other sprint athlete in Olympic history, by doing something that nobody had ever done before.
Bolt had one gold in both the 100m and 200m sprint at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but after a disappointing performance at the trials for the 2012 Olympics in London, many wondered if he had enough in the tank to repeat in either event.
It turned out that he was just saving up all his good stuff for London, because Bolt took home gold in both events for the second consecutive Olympics, the first time in history that's ever been done.
3. Unassisted Triple Play
The unassisted triple play is one of the rarest occurrences in MLB and baseball in general.
It's so rare because it requires one defensive player to personally take out all three players himself—and why would someone do that when there's a bunch of other people on the field who are paid to help him out?
Since the inception of MLB in 1869, there have only been 15 recorded unassisted triple plays, which is an average of one every 9.5 years.
But like stars, moles and unexplained deaths, unassisted triple plays tend to come in clusters: There were six in the 1920s, two in the 1990s, five in the 2000s and just one in between.
Which means we've seen about as many as most of us will ever see in our lifetime, but people of the 2800s have something to look forward to.
2. NBA Quadruple-Double
The quadruple-double is one of the most rare accomplishments in the NBA. It's so rare because it requires a player to rack up double-digit numbers in four of five categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots.
A triple-double is impressive, in and of itself, but it happens a number of times each season, with some of the best players in the league racking up five or more per season. But a quadruple-double is a horse of a different color, one that we haven't seen since 1994.
There's only been five recorded in NBA history: Nate Thurmond in 1974, Alvin Robertson in 1986, David Robinson in 1994, and (the only player to do it twice) Hakeen Olajuwon recorded two in 1990.
1. Winning the Heisman Trophy Twice
Since its inception in 1935, the Heisman Trophy, the most coveted individual award in college football, has been awarded 77 times to 76 different individuals. Which means in just over three quarters of a century, only one player has won the award twice.
That gives winners a 2.5 percent chance of repeating as winner (a percentage that declines every year it doesn't happen, of course). Retired NFL running back Archie Griffin, who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to four straight Big Ten conference titles, took home the trophy in 1974 and 1975.
There have been a couple of close calls—like Tim Tebow in 2008 and Matt Leinart in 2005—but even making into the top five in voting more than once is extremely rare.
For more discussion about what's rare in sports (and everything else) Follow @blamberr over on the Twitter.