20 Sports Stories That Broke the Internet
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Sports stories have dominated news headlines for decades, but the Internet has taken our demand for and access to these stories to unprecedented levels. The popularity of smart phones and social media sites allow stories to go viral so fast that they cause servers to crash.
The Internet is more than a conduit for spreading information. It is the very reason that some of the most memorable stories first attracted our attention.
Looking back over the past 25 years, here are 20 sports stories that garnered so much web traffic they temporarily shut down the Internet.
20. Manny Pacquiao Knocked Out by Juan Manuel Marquez
Manny Pacquiao suffers the first knockout loss of his career versus Juan Manuel Marquez.
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When Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez squared off for the fourth time last December, boxing enthusiasts knew that a Pacquiao victory was far from certain. But the ramifications of Marquez’s sixth-round KO on the future of boxing were huge.
Pacquiao’s career is now in serious doubt after a second consecutive defeat.
The loss reduces the hype around a potential bout with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.—a fight that boxing fans have been anxiously awaiting for years. Along with potentially costing both fighters tens of millions of dollars, Pacquiao’s legacy has also taken a major hit.
The KO also sparked a new Internet meme that quickly ran its course.
19. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Fatally Injured in Daytona 500 Crash
NASCAR fans memorialize the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr.
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It is never easy to mourn the passing of a legend. However, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s death during the Daytona 500—NASCAR’s signature event—was one of the most tragic in the history of any sport.
Non-racing fans may have trouble comprehending the passing of a sport’s most popular figure during the spirit of competition. Try to imagine the shock of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady suffering a fatal injury during the Super Bowl.
NASCAR fan or not, February 18, 2001, will always be remembered as one of the saddest days in sports history.
18. Ray Lewis Faces Murder Charges
Ray Lewis expresses relief when murder charges against him are dropped in 2000.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is one of the most polarizing figures in sports, mostly because of his on-field antics. But there are some football fans who will never forgive his connection to a double-murder case in 2000.
Lewis was convicted of obstruction of justice charges in the case, stemming from a fight outside of an Atlanta nightclub. Even the two men that Lewis testified against were acquitted of the crimes.
Despite his innocence, the image of the NFL’s premier defensive player facing murder charges during the peak of his career is something most people will never forget.
17. Adam 'Pacman' Jones Involved in Las Vegas Strip Club Shooting
Adam "Pacman" Jones made David Stern's worst fears come true during the 2007 NBA All-Star weekend.
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If Las Vegas ever had hopes of landing a professional sports franchise, those odds got a whole lot longer after the 2007 NBA All-Star weekend.
NBA commissioner David Stern’s worst nightmare came true when former Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was linked to a strip club shooting that seriously injured two employees.
The All-Star festivities were seen as a chance for the city to prove that it could host a sporting event outside of boxing and college basketball. However, the fear of athletes succumbing to the allure of Vegas’ nightlife was realized in the worst imaginable way.
Jones pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and was later ordered to pay $11 million in damages to the two victims stemming from a civil suit.
Don’t expect to see one of the four major North American professional sports leagues host an event in Las Vegas any time soon.
16. Brent Musberger Introduces the World to Katherine Webb
Katherine Webb stole all the attention away from boyfriend A.J. McCarron during the BCS National Championship game.
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This year’s highly-anticipated BCS National Championship game was already headed towards a blowout when ESPN announcer Brent Musberger livened up the broadcast. He could hardly control himself when the cameras focused in on Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb.
Webb, the 2012 Miss Alabama, instantly put the Internet on tilt thanks to Musberger’s dirty old man rant. Although ESPN felt the need to offer an apology for his behavior, Musberger’s comments were actually very tasteful, more humorous than they were offensive.
If you haven’t seen enough of Ms. Webb at this point, you can check her out in Sports Illustrated's upcoming swimsuit edition.
15. 'Malice in the Palace': 2004 Pacers-Pistons Brawl
The 2004 Pacers-Pistons brawl was serious enough to get the state prosecutor's office involved.
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Another black eye for the NBA occurred nearly 10 years ago, near the end of a 2004 game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.
Following an on-court scuffle between players, former Pacers forward Ron Artest went into the stands to confront a fan after having a beer thrown on him. Other Indiana players quickly followed Artest into the crowd, leading to the worst altercation between fans and players in league history.
Nine players were suspended by the NBA, including an 83-game ban for Artest. Five players also received a year of probation each for criminal charges stemming from the event.
14. Kobe Bryant Charged with Sexual Assault
Kobe Bryant's clean image died the night he was accused of sexual assault by a Colorado hotel employee.
By 2003, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had distanced himself from the field in the “Next Michael Jordan” debate. He was already a three-time NBA champion and four-time All-Star, all before his 25th birthday.
That all changed in July of that year, when he was charged with sexual assault by a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee.
Though the charges were eventually dropped, the negative publicity destroyed Bryant’s pristine image, alienated many of his fans and cost him millions in lost endorsements.
Kobe has continued to build his on-court legacy and largely repaired his public image. But he will never be as popular and universally loved as he was before the summer of 2003.
13. LeBron James Announces His Decision on National Television
Cleveland fans weren't smiling when LeBron James announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat.
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Cleveland’s sports fans have suffered enough over the years without having salt poured over the wound by one of their own.
But former Cavaliers forward and Akron, OH, native LeBron James added to the city’s heartache when he announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat in a nationally-televised event.
Millions of sports fans watched the special live on ESPN as James shared his plan to take his talents to South Beach, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the NBA’s next super team. Never has an athlete gone from favorite son to public enemy No. 1 so quickly.
12. Lance Armstrong PED Confession
Lance Armstrong finally comes clean about PED usage during an exclusive interview with Oprah.
Lance Armstrong did us all a favor by finally admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs during his illustrious cycling career. The seven-time Tour de France winner adamantly denied allegations of PED use for almost 15 years and aggressively sought to discredit the names of anyone who implicated him.
But as the evidence against him became overwhelming, Armstrong rightfully concluded that the ruse was finally up.
His admission does not undo the damage Armstrong has done to the lives of those that he bullied, defamed and sued in an effort to perpetuate the lie. Perhaps, however, it provides some measure of vindication for those people and opens the door for them being compensated for their pain and suffering.
11. Janet Jackson's Super Bowl XXXVIII Wardrobe Malfunction
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake were involved in one of the biggest Super Bowl controversies ever.
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Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII happened so quickly that many people—myself included—missed it when it happened live. Unfortunately for Ms. Jackson, searching for videos on the Internet was a widely-used practice by 2004.
Due to the sensitive nature of the mishap, it was nearly impossible to get accurate visual confirmation of the event from network television replays. But the uncensored world of the Internet showed no such mercy.
Tebowmania reached new heights when the Broncos upset the Steelers in the 2011 AFC Wild Card game.
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Tim Tebow has been a polarizing media presence since his days as a Heisman Trophy-winning, two-time national champion at the University of Florida.
But the phenomenon known as "Tebowmania" reached new heights during the 2011 NFL season.
Tebow assumed the starting quarterback job for the Denver Broncos following a 1-4 start under incumbent Kyle Orton. Tebow led the Broncos to six fourth-quarter, come-from-behind wins—and seven wins overall—in his first 11 starts, the most in NFL history.
The 8-8 record was good enough for Denver to win the AFC West and host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 AFC Wild Card game. "Tebowmania" reached its apex when Tebow connected with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime, giving the Broncos a 29-23 victory.
Although Tebow spent the 2012 season rotting away on the New York Jets bench, he was still one of the most talked-about players in the NFL.
Jeremy Lin went from NBA afterthought to the King of New York in 25 games.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin was the biggest story in the NBA at this time last year. With New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony sidelined due to injury, Lin came out of nowhere to lead the team on a seven-game winning streak and back into playoff contention.
Although the hype around Lin has died down considerably since the Knicks opted not to re-sign him last summer, he is still the most popular athlete in China and Taiwan. Lin is out to prove that his 25-game stint as a Knicks starter was no fluke after signing a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets.
Lin isn't having the type of mind-blowing performances that he displayed last season, but he and All-Star shooting guard James Harden are leading Houston towards the playoffs. No matter how his NBA story ends, Lin's sports legacy is secure as the first American-born player of Asian ancestry to play in the league.
9. 2011 World Series Game 6
The Cardinals and Rangers engaged in one of the most memorable games in World Series history.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Twitter has many useful functions, but it seems perfectly suited for commenting on live sporting events. There was perhaps no bigger evidence of this than Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
The series overall lacked a lot of drama, but this was easily one of the most exciting games in World Series history.
The Rangers were one strike away from becoming world champions not once, but twice. But the Cardinals, led by World Series MVP David Freese, overcame the deficit both times.
Down 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Freese sent the game into extra innings with a game-tying triple. Two innings later, he ended the game with a walk-off solo home run to give St. Louis a 10-9 victory and send the series to a seventh game.
The Cardinals won Game 7 6-2 to claim their National League-leading 11th World Series title.
8. Major League Baseball Testifies Before Congress
Bud Selig had much to answer for when testifying before Congress in 2005.
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As aggressive as Major League Baseball has been in strengthening its drug testing policy over the past few years, it is easy to forget how big of a circus the PED issue had to become before getting to this point.
In March of 2005, MLB commissioner Bud Selig—along with former stars Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling—was forced to testify before Congress about the growing problem of PED usage in the sport.
While many disagreed with the government’s decision to get involved, it remains a pivotal point in the game’s history.
The ramifications of that hearing are still being felt nearly eight years later. The Baseball Writers Association of America failed to select any new members to the 2013 Hall of Fame class, including first-time nominees Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sosa, Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio.
All but Biggio have been implicated in PED usage, although Piazza’s name has never been linked to anything more concrete than unsubstantiated rumors.
7. Michael Vick Implicated in Dog-Fighting Ring
Michael Vick had plenty of time to contemplate his crimes while serving an 18-month sentence in federal prison.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Even before 2007, Michael Vick had a history of minor off-the-field incidents that hinted at his immaturity. But nothing prepared America for the shocking discovery of his involvement in a dog-fighting ring in his native Virginia that spring.
In April of that year, a search warrant was issued for his home in Surry County related to a drug investigation of Vick’s cousin. That investigation led to the discovery of the dog-fighting venture, and by August, Vick and his co-defendants were pleading guilty to multiple federal charges.
He served 18 months in federal prison for his crimes and was suspended indefinitely by commissioner Roger Goodell as a result of the conviction and for lying about his involvement when first confronted.
Although Vick has since revived his NFL career and begun rehabbing his public image, a lot of people will never forgive him for such a heinous crime.
6. Brett Favre Sexting Scandal
This was not the lowest moment in Brett Favre's tenure with the New York Jets.
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Many NFL fans had already had enough of Brett Favre’s constant hedging about his retirement plans by the summer of 2010. But following a 4,200-yard, 33-touchdown season in 2009, he appeared to have at least one more year of good football left in him.
No one saw the Jen Sterger sexting scandal coming when it broke in August of 2010.
In a story first detailed on Deadspin.com, the former New York Jets employee provided voice mails and inappropriate pictures sent by Favre during his lone season in New York in 2008.
Perhaps that had something to do with him quietly fading away after a sub-par 2010 season, in which he threw nearly twice as many interceptions (19) as touchdowns (11) in just 13 games.
5. Giants Upset Patriots in Super Bowl XLII
David Tyree makes the catch that ended New England's hope for a 19-0 season.
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In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII, the New England Patriots were three minutes away from a perfect 19-0 season. However, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver David Tyree combined for one of the most spectacular—and improbable—plays in Super Bowl history.
During New York’s game-winning drive, Manning managed to avoid being sacked before heaving a prayer towards Tyree in double coverage. Tyree was able to secure the ball against the top of his helmet for a 32-yard completion that kept the drive alive.
A few plays later, Manning hooked up with receiver Plaxico Burress for the go-ahead touchdown, leading to a 17-14 Giants victory.
While watching the play live was insane, it is amazing that YouTube didn’t crash as a result of all the subsequent video replays.
4. Seahawks-Packers Monday Night Football Touchdown Controversy
The controversial play that finally pushed NFL fans over the edge.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The NFL is not often swayed by the opinions of outside forces, even when those forces consist of the paying customers that make the league a multi-billion dollar entity.
But that all changed following the controversial end to the 2012 Week 3 Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
After the referees inexplicably awarded Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate with a game-winning touchdown reception—despite video evidence to the contrary—fans took to the Internet to express their displeasure.
Reactions expressed via message boards, Facebook and Twitter were so strong that the NFL settled their dispute with the referees' union less than 48 hours later.
For the first time in league history, fans leveraged the power of the Internet and social media to influence the behavior of NFL decision-makers.
3. Revelations of Tiger Woods’ Serial Infidelity
Tiger Woods' Cadillac Escalade may have been involved in the most expensive car accident ever.
When the news first broke about Tiger Woods’ Thanksgiving Day car crash in 2009, the immediate concern was for the health of the PGA’s top golfer. Thanks to the power of the Internet, however, the story quickly evolved into allegations of infidelity and rumors that Woods’ marriage was in jeopardy.
Over the next few months, we learned more about Tiger’s personal life than many of us ever wanted to know—and the news was not good.
Day after day, the mistress count got higher as more women came forward with tales of their trysts with Woods. The stories detailing his not-so-subtle carousing and partying grew more elaborate by the minute.
Woods eventually reached a very costly divorce settlement with his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. His public image was destroyed, endorsement deals dried up and his golf game fell apart.
Tiger has since worked his way back to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings and has occasionally contended in major championships over the past three years. But the dominant player who won 14 majors is likely gone forever, and Woods’ assault on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 is in serious jeopardy.
2. Manti Te’o Gets Catfished
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was the victim of a cruel and unusual hoax that is one of the strangest stories in sports history.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o falling victim to a hoax involving a fake girlfriend is odd in its nature and complexity alone.
That it happened to a Heisman Trophy finalist at one of college football’s premier programs during the school’s best season in 25 years is even more astounding, to say nothing of how long the charade was perpetuated.
Based on the reaction of the national sports media, the mere concept of a “Catfish” scheme—so named after the 2011 faux documentary and popular spinoff series on MTV—seems implausible to anyone over the age of 40. But as more details about the hoax become available and Te’o has begun to speak publicly about the affair, it appears that he was indeed naive enough to fall for the elaborate prank.
Regardless of how intricate the scheme ultimately reveals itself to have been, there is little question that this is one of the strangest stories we have ever heard involving a high-profile athlete.
1. The Penn State Child Abuse Scandal
Penn State fans observe the site where Joe Paterno's statue once stood.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
As sad, strange and mind-blowing as many of the previous stories were, no story in the history of sports has weighed as heavily on the public conscience as the child abuse scandal at Penn State.
The allegations of sexual abuse (charges for which he was later found guilty) involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were shocking and disturbing in their own right. The cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes orchestrated by powerful Penn State officials—including former head football coach Joe Paterno—made the story so much worse.
NCAA sanctions handed down as a result of the cover-up added a third dimension to the story.
Because of Penn State’s reputation as one of the most admired football programs in America, the discussion about the sanctions took on a life of its own, at times overshadowing the more important issue of child safety.
Stories of off-field indiscretions, performance-enhancing drug use and improbable game endings will always be part of the fabric of sports. But we can only hope that we never again have to hear of another scandal as disturbing, and as preventable, as what occurred at Penn State for so many years.
Brandi Chastain in one of the most famous victory celebrations in sports history.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Brandi Chastain 1999 Women’s World Cup Celebration
Chastain's bra-exposing celebration after the U.S. women's soccer team's World Cup victory was a signature moment for women's athletics.
Plaxico Burress Shoots Himself in the Leg
Another bizarre example of an athlete's poor judgment off the field irreparably harming his career on it. Plaxico Burress literally shot himself in the leg at a New York City night club, a mistake that cost him two years in jail and out of the NFL.
Junior Seau Commits Suicide
Stories of former athletes committing suicide as a result of depression is nothing new. But at a time where the long-term affects of head trauma resulting from participation in sports is receiving unprecedented amounts of attention, Junior Seau's recent death has made him the most prominent face of this issue.