12 of the Most Improbable Occurrences in Professional Sports
As sports fans, we often become obsessed with the rare occurrences in our favorite games.
It's always fun to see how much better than any other team in the world your No. 1 player or No. 1 team is, by history's standards—or, alternately, how much worse.
But going from a no-name draft pick to a future Hall of Famer isn't that rare. It's cool, and unusual, but this stuff—these are the truly rare occurrences. These are sports' pleasantly freakish happy accidents.
You don't see this stuff every day. Or, in some cases, ever in one lifetime.
There is a reason the world suddenly cared about horse racing when it seemed like I'll Have Another had a chance to seize a Triple Crown (even though he didn't end up getting it done).
And there's a reason Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP last season over Mike Trout. It was because he won MLB's Triple Crown for the first time since Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat in 1967.
Seeing a player (or a horse) win a Triple Crown is something you're lucky to see, if you do. What are the odds that a horse has the stamina and the luck to win the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby?
What are the chances that one MLB player can maintain such a level of dominance over the course of a 162-game season that he finishes as the league leader in home runs, batting average and RBI?
NBA players get pats on the back if they register double-doubles. They make headlines if they register triple-doubles.
Rarely does anyone accomplish a quadruple-double.
Only four players since the 1973-74 season have finished a game with a quadruple-double, which requires a player to finish in double figures in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and/or steals (any four).
There likely would have been more before 1973-74, but that's when records were first kept for steals and blocks. The last guy to do it was David Robinson in 1994; Nate Thurmond recorded the first in 1974.
Holding All Four Major Titles at Once
Novak Djokovic was pretty close to pulling this one off in 2011, but he missed the French Open.
Since the Open era began, only three players have achieved the "Grand Slam," or winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year: Rod Laver, who accomplished it in 1962 and in 1969, Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988).
In golf, the feat is just as rare.
Bobby Jones was the only pre-Masters-era player to register a career grand slam. In the Masters era, a select group of five—Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen—have accomplished it.
Unassisted Triple Play
Registering three outs on the same play with the help of all of your teammates is hard enough. Registering three outs all by yourself is a near impossibility.
An unassisted triple play happens when one defensive player makes three outs in one play, all by himself. It usually happens when a liner is hit to an infielder, who then doubles up one baserunner and tags out another for the third out to end the inning.
Since Cleveland Naps shortstop Neal Ball turned the first unassisted triple play in 1909 by snagging a line drive, touching second and then tagging out the baserunner, 14 players have pulled this off.
The last guy to do it was Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett, who etched his name in the history books in August 2009.
Catching Four Foul Balls in One Game
Most baseball fans will go through life having never caught a foul ball. This Cleveland Indians fan caught four. In the same game.
In early July, Indians diehard Greg Van Niel made headlines when he snagged four foul balls by the fifth inning of a game at Progressive Field. (He was sitting in Row FF, Section 160, Seat 3, for all you ball hawks out there.)
Van Niel told the Tribe Vibe blog:
Three of them were catches and one was a ball I picked up off the ground. The third one I think was the hardest one—I think I ended up sprawled across a few rows, and I got some cheese on myself. But the other ones were just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
According to Darren Rovell, the odds of this happening are astronomical: one in one trillion.
Two Grand Slams in One Inning
A team is very fortunate to register one grand slam in a game. Registering two in the same inning is virtually unheard of.
The last team to accomplish the feat was the New York Mets in 2006. First, Carlos Beltran teed off on the Chicago Cubs for a grand slam, and in the same inning, Cliff Floyd hit one of his own. The Mets would end up scoring 11 runs in that fateful sixth inning.
There have been seven instances of teams hitting two grand slams in one inning: four in the National League and three in the American League.
On April 23, 1999, Fernando Tatis, playing for the Cardinals, hit two grand slams in the same inning!
Registering Double-Digit Points in One NHL Game
A handful of players have registered five or more goals in one game. Plenty of teams have racked up double-digit goals in one game.
But only one guy has ever registered double-digit points in one game, and that honor belongs to Darryl Sittler.
The Hall of Famer's greatest game ever came on Feb. 7, 1976, when he registered 10 points—six goals and four assists—in a win over the Boston Bruins.
It is a record that still stands, surpassing the eight-point records of Canadiens Rocket Richard and Bert Olmstead.
Hitting for the Cycle with a Walk-Off Homer
Hitting for the cycle isn't something that happens every day, but it's not groundbreaking when it does. Hitting for the cycle with a walk-off home run, however, is groundbreaking.
In the history of baseball, five players have registered walk-off home runs to complete the cycle: Ken Boyer, Cesar Tovar, George Brett, Dwight Evans and, most recently, Carlos Gonzalez.
Who cares about getting into Cooperstown when you have a stat like that on your resume?
Winning Game 7 After Trailing by Three in the Third Period
This is the kind of game you remember forever, whether you saw it in person or on TV, whether you are a Boston Bruins fan or a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
It's far more fun to remember it if you're a Bruins fan, though.
When Boston trailed the Maple Leafs by three goals in the third period of Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, everyone assumed the team was dead. Even Milan Lucic's father assumed the B's were dead because he turned off the game and went to bed.
Then, of course, they came back, scoring three goals—including two in the final 90 seconds—to tie the game at 4 before winning it in overtime, extending their own season and sending Toronto packing.
There has now been one team in the history of the NHL to come back from a three-goal deficit in the third period to win a Game 7.
The One-Point Safety
This is a ruling so rare that most football players probably don't even know it exists.
A team can register a one-point safety when a defensive player is tackled in his own end zone after snagging the ball following a blocked extra-point attempt.
Most recently, this happened in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, when Kansas State's Ryan Mueller came up with the ball after the blocked PAT and lateraled it to Allen Chapman, who was tackled in his own end zone.
In college football, the one-point safety has been known to occur just five times ever, two of which were in Division I football.
Rebounding from a 3-0 Postseason Deficit
There is a reason the fans begin to panic when a team suddenly finds itself down 3-0 in a playoff series: the odds of coming back from it are slim to none.
In all of the major North American sports, only four teams have ever managed to overcome a 3-0 deficit, and only one of them was a non-NHL team. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the first to pull it off, winning the final four games of the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit (and scoring nine goals in Game 5).
The 1975 New York Islanders came back against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, allowing the Pens just four goals in the final four games of the series.
In one of the most famous comebacks in the history of sports, the 2004 Boston Red Sox fell behind 3-0 against the Yankees in the ALCS before rebounding for an improbable comeback that featured two consecutive extra-innings wins, a very famous bloody sock and a slap, courtesy of Alex Rodriguez.
And finally, in 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers fell behind the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semis, and not only did they overcome the 3-0 series deficit, they overcame a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to victimize Tuukka Rask and move on to the conference finals.
A Perfect NFL Season
These days, it is a near impossibility to get through an entire season without a loss.
The chances of getting through a season without any injuries to significant players are extremely low. Luck certainly factors in to it—you need a few bounces (and penalty flags) to go your way. Then, on top of all that, there is the pressure.
Even the most talented offensive teams in NFL history run into their kryptonite eventually. Need I remind you what happened to the then-18-0 New England Patriots in 2007?
They had some scares along the way (most notably, a Week 13 win over Baltimore that required a touchdown in the final 10 seconds of the game), but they managed to get to the Super Bowl unscathed.
And then the vaunted offense suddenly fell silent at the worst time.
There is only one NFL team that has ever pulled off a perfect season, and that was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 14-0.