The 20 Biggest Mental Lapses in Sports
Swing and a miss!
Few other activities require you to be as consistently on-point as athletics. Once you're in the game, you're locked in until the last whistle blows and the stadium lights dim.
Or at least you're supposed to be.
But sometimes the brain short-circuits, signals get crossed and the next thing you know you're looking at a slow-motion replay of you throwing the game away on the Jumbotron.
Brain farts happen, but fortunately for most of us, when we drive off with a cup of coffee on top of the car it doesn't end up on SportsCenter (or Internet slide shows).
The following are some of the most mind-numbing, true mental lapses we've seen in sports—true mental lapses, where poor luck or motor skill malfunctioning had nothing to do with the outcome.
Try not to shake your head too much over these—you might sprain something.
20. Soccer Player Forgets the Basic Tenants of the Game
This South Korean defender forgot the most basic rule of the game: If you’re not the goalie, you can’t touch the ball.
After a shot from one of the German strikers pings high off the goal, this defender just snatches the ball out of the air and begins dribbling with it.
I’m not sure if she thought the ball was out and was just positioning it for a goal kick, but you can’t just grab the ball before it lands out of bounds.
19. Jared Dudley Forgets His Free Throws
After being on the receiving end of a foul in a game against the Detroit Pistons, Jared Dudley completely forgets to step to the stripe and take his free throws.
The Phoenix Suns forward wanders around pumping up his teammates as the referees confer, and eventually Goran Dragic just takes the line to shoot. Others noticed the mishap and let the referees know before the mistake took place, fortunately.
18. Sports Anchor Says Game Ends in Tie
Basketball games don’t end in ties much these days—or at all.
17. Russell Westbrook Chucks Up Half Court Garbage
Oklahoma Thunder guard Russell Westbrook’s brain didn’t shut down during this play, but his path of logic was pretty skewed thinking his plan would work.
With 18 left on the shot clock in the third quarter of a game against the San Antonio Spurs, Westbrook crossed the half court line and heaved up a shot.
Obviously, he was looking to draw a shooting foul, but there’s not a referee in the league who’s going to give him a continuation on this kind of gamesmanship. There wasn’t even an on-the-floor foul called.
16. Kent State Player Returns Ball the Wrong Way
Kent State returner Andre Parker bricked the bed in 2012 when he recovered a fumbled ball during a game against Towson University.
Parker ran the ball 58 yards in the wrong direction before being brought down by two Towson players who took chase for some reason.
All in all the return only amounted to an embarrassment for both teams. The ball was spotted where Parker grabbed it, as a muffed punt cannot be retreated from the spot where the kicking team recovered it.
15. DeSean Jackson Drops Ball Before Crossing the Plane
Call it a “brain fart.” Call it “arrogance.”
Call it what you will, but DeSean Jackson pulled the anti-Rookie of the Year move when he dropped the balls on a wide open touchdown during his first year in the league.
14. Vikings Lose Track of Time, “Trade” Down
During the 2003 NFL Draft the Minnesota Vikings became carried away with negotiations and ended up missing the deadline for their No. 7-overall pick.
The Vikings ended up taking defensive tackle Kevin Williams with the ninth pick in the draft (the guy they said they originally wanted). I guess it turned out as planned for the Vikes, but c’mon man—you’ve got how many months to figure this stuff out beforehand?
13. Todd Hollandsworth Forgets How Many Outs Are Left
Former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Todd Hollandsworth forgot how many outs were left in a game against the Chicago Cubs and his team paid for it.
After falling back and catching a deep ball, Hollandsworth put his head down and began trotting to the dug out, allowing Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa to run in for a pair of easy scores.
12. Josh Morgan Throws the Game Away
Cortland Finnegan strikes again.
Josh Morgan lost his temper and cost his team a chance at overtime during the fourth quarter of 2012’s Week 2 matchup between the Washington Redskins and the St. Louis Rams.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III dropped back on third down and hit Morgan on a short out pattern. Morgan was brought down short of the first down marker and received a shove to the face mask by the Rams’ Cortland Finnegan as he tried to gain his feet.
In a moment of pure reflexive frustration, Morgan’s brain shut off and the Redskins wide receiver slung the football at Finnegan.
Referees don’t like to make calls that change the course of the game, but Morgan’s reaction was completely inexcusable, and he was assessed a 15-yard penalty.
The ‘Skins ended up having to attempt a 62 yard field goal, which was short and wide right. The Rams got the ball back with a minute left on the clock and ran out the time.
11. Leon Lett’s Fumblerooski
After picking up a fumble in Super Bowl XXVI, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett thought he had a clear truffle-shuffle all the way to the end zone.
As he neared the goal line, Lett appears to slow down (allegedly to look at himself on the Jumbotron) and the Buffalo Bills’ Don Beebe catches up to him right before the line to swat the ball out of bounds.
The play was ruled a touchback for the Cowboys, and Lett’s gaffe went down as one of the most moronic plays in Super Bowl history.
10. Lindsey Jacobellis Overestimates Herself
After building a healthy lead on second place in the snowboard cross finals at the 2006 Winter Olympics, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis decided to pull a method on the second-to-last jump before the finish, and ate snow.
The fall cost Jacobellis a gold medal, with the second place rider streaking past her as she attempted to get back on course.*
*I consider this much more a mental error more than a physical one, considering throwing in a trick had nothing to do with completing the event she was participating in.
9. Jim “Wrong Way” Marshall's Famous Return
Former Vikings defensive Jim Marshall punched his ticket into the “Sports Blunder Hall of Fame” in 1964 when he recovered a fumble during a game against the San Francisco 49ers.
The two-time Pro Bowler picked up the ball and seeing only open green grass in front of him, headed for the Promised Land of the end zone. Unfortunately for Marshall and the Vikings, it was the wrong end zone.
Marshall’s 66-yard breakaway cost the Vikings a safety, and his only reward was a warm embrace from one of the 49ers.
8. Raul Mondesi Jr. Forgets to Touch Home Plate
Watch the video here.
Someone got caught counting their chickens.
Raul Mondesi Jr. became careless after hitting a game-tying homer out the park in the ninth inning of a minor league baseball game against the Missoula Ospreys in June, 2012.
The Helena Bruins player rounded the bases and strode to home, which he crossed without touching the plate.
The Ospreys’ catcher as well as the umpire noticed Mondesi’s blunder, and after some hymning and haw-ing over what exactly can be done in this situation, the umpire allowed the pitcher to throw in and record the out.
The out erased the home run and gave the Osprey’s the victory.
7. Fred Merkle Misses Second Base
Freddie boy, Freddie boy... What are we going to do with you?
During a 1908 game against the Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants' Fred Merkle went up for his first big-league at-bat with teammate Moose McCormick (what a name) on first.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score tied up. Merkle knocked a single, and McCormick advanced to third. The next batter, Al Bridwell, smacked out another single that brought ol’ Moosie on home to score.
Fans began rushing the field, and in the confusion Merkle neglected to touch second base—choosing to run into the dugout instead.
The second baseman noticed the error, tagged his base and recorded a force-out. The game was called a tie (on account of the fans on the field and the encroaching darkness of night) and was replayed later in the season.
The Cubs won the replay, taking the National League pennant out the grasp of the Giants.
6. Fred Brown Passes Away National Championship
Late-game heroics by Michael Jordan along with a monumental blunder by Georgetown point guard Fred Brown ended up costing the Hoyas the 1982 NCAA National Championship game.
Jordan—clutch as ever—nailed a jumper with 17 seconds left in the ball game. The Hoyas had one last shot to win the game or tie, and Brown dribbled the ball back to run a play.
A flurry of cuts and defensive movement ensue, and in the heat of the moment Brown passed the ball away to UNC’s James Worthy, who probably looked like a teammate out of the corner of his eye.
5. The Steve Bartman Incident
Steve Bartman may now be a ghost for all we know, but what remains of his legacy is still all too present in the minds of Chicago Cubs fans.
Bartman, a Chicago Cubs fan, was in attendance at the 2003 playoff series between the Cubs and Florida Marlins. Bartman was sitting in the left field stands during Game 6 when a foul ball cracked off the bat of Marlins' second baseman Luis Castillo in the eighth inning of the game.
The ball looked to be catchable for two people—Bartman and Cubs' outfielder Moises Alou. Unfortunately for the Cubbies, Bartman’s glove deflected the ball out of play and into the stands, costing the team what looked like an easy out.
The Cubs went on to allow eight runs during the inning and drop the game, as well as the entire series. And Steve Bartman—the turtleneck geek who just wanted a ball—was escorted from Wrigley Field for his own safety, an instant boogeyman in the city of Chicago.
4. Bill Buckner’s Infamous Error
Ah, the almighty Buckner Ball.
Bill Buckner’s error during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox will forever go down as perhaps the king of all mental slips.
With the game tied 5-5, a runner on second and a full count at the plate, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a slow roller to first.
What happened next is all controversy and disappointment. Buckner slid to catch the ball and missed it, which allowed the Mets’ Ray Knight to run in for the score, winning the game.
The Red Sox would go on to lose the series, and Buckner’s error is still being made light of today.
3. The Fifth Down Game
This one is on the sideline officials.
A series of timeouts and spikes led to the Colorado Buffaloes receiving a fifth down and defeating the Missouri Tigers in a 1990 Division I national championship game.
A spike on second down by Colorado seems to be the down that slipped through the cracks with the chain gang, and the Buffaloes ended up receiving three more downs, punching the ball into the end zone on the false “fifth down.”
At 3:57 you can hear the commentators mistakenly calling first down.
2. Chris Webber Calls the Phantom Timeout
One of the longest, most ripping-est of all brain farts.
With seconds left in the 1993 NCAA tournament championship game and his team down two points again North Carolina, Chris Webber called one too many timeouts and potentially cost the Wolverines a banner.
The Wolverines star forward snatched down a rebound with 19 seconds on the clock and traveled with the ball.
Fortunately for Webber, the referee didn’t notice the violation, and he dribbled across the court. Unfortunately for Webber, he ended up trapped in the corner by two Tarheels players.
Panicking, Webber called a timeout—a commodity his team was fresh out of—and is assessed a technical foul. The Tarheels went on to win the game 77-71, and Webber’s phantom timeout went down in the annals of sports history as one of the most boneheaded plays of all time.
1. Roberto DeVicenzo Signs Away a Green Jacket
Samsonite! I was way off!
Former Argentinian golf pro Roberto DeVicenzo absentmindedly sacrificed his chance to be the first man from his country to don the green jacket.
DeVicenzo was out of contention for most of the 1968 Masters when he suddenly caught fire in the fourth round, playing out of his mind and climbing his way to the top of the leaderboard alongside Bob Goalby.
The two were tied after the final hole of the tournament, and an 18 hole playoff was supposed to be held the next day.
Unfortunately for DeVicenzo, his playing partner Tommy Aaron had tallied the co-leader’s stroke count incorrectly, writing down a four-stroke par on 17 instead of a three-stroke birdie for De Vicenzo.
The Argentinian pro hadn’t noticed the error when he signed off on the score card, and ended up losing the green jacket to Goalby.
“What a stupid I am!” De Vicenzo yelled after realizing his error.
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