Why do we love sports? It's impossible to explain.
For the same reasons it can ruin our day when Julio Jones goes down with an injury right before we were about to use him as a trade chip in fantasy, it can make our week when the Red Sox tie a playoff game on a wild pitch. Or when the Pirates make the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades. Or when a Conn Smythe winner scores a goal on himself (because that's just funny).
The reasons are inexplicable, and most of us take it way too seriously, but sports can make us really, really happy. They give us sunshine on a cloudy day. Here are some of the moments that make us smile the biggest.
When: September 14, 2013
Situation: Johnny Manziel Displays His Johnny Manziel-ness
A lot of the time, it's hard to like Johnny Manziel, the person.
Johnny Manziel, the football player, though—that is a whole other beast entirely.
There is a reason they call him Johnny Football, and he showed everyone why during the Game of the Year this September, when his Aggies—the only team to beat two-time defending national champion Alabama last year—faced the Crimson Tide.
So what? The Aggies lost. Manziel still made this ridiculous play early in the second quarter, with the game knotted at 14. On 3rd-and-8, he scrambled for what seemed like hours, eluding tackle after tackle before unleashing a Hail Mary-esque throw, caught by Edward Pope.
You don't have to like him. But you have to respect a spectacular play when you see one.
When: April 2012
The Situation: Bubba Watson Wins His First Major at Augusta
Bubba Watson is a golfer who is very, very easy to like. He has great hair. He has an awesome name. He's self-deprecating and makes videos like this.
It was even more impossible to dislike him after he won the Masters in 2012.
First came 'The Shot': Watson, in a sudden death playoff against Louis Oosthuizen, landed himself deep in the woods, but he somehow chipped out and landed just 15 feet away from the hole. It was the biggest shot of the tournament—maybe even the biggest shot of the year.
But after he won, Watson's completely unbridled emotions were so heartwarming that you couldn't help but yearn to give him a hug as he buried his face in his mother's hair and wept like a baby.
When: October 2004
The Situation: The Red Sox Are On the Verge of Completing the Greatest Comeback in Sports History
It is truly difficult to imagine, but back when this happened, Alex Rodriguez was not universally loathed. So imagine how bad it would be if this happened now.
We all know the story: The Yankees had taken a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS against the Red Sox, but a couple of life-altering walks, steals and sprints had allowed the Red Sox to cling to hope. With every game that the Red Sox won, the pressure amplified for New York. By Game 6, the Red Sox looked like the Team of Destiny and the Yankees looked terrified.
Nobody personified that better than A-Rod, the Yankees' most bloated offseason acquisition, as he sprinted down the first baseline after hitting a ground ball in Game 6. Pitcher Bronson Arroyo fielded it, and A-Rod—realizing that making an out was inevitable—reached out and slapped the ball out of Arroyo's hand. Obviously, he was called out for interference and has been mocked continuously ever since.
The image remains one of the most glorious, and notorious, from Boston's entire World Series run.
When: May 5, 2012
The Situation: I'll Have Another Overcomes 15-1 Odds to Win Kentucky Derby
Most of us can bring ourselves to care about horse racing for one day every year. The Kentucky Derby is that day.
For some, the appeal lies in the excuse to wear a silly hat and throw a party. For others, the appeal is being able to bet on a horse and potentially win thousands of dollars. It's unlikely that I'll Have Another won the casual fans any money in 2012, but the thoroughbred's unlikely victory was still sweet.
Underdogs are always fun. Races are always fun. They don't require much of an attention span and watching the rush to the finish line is just about as exhilarating as it gets. When the horse that gets there first is The Little One That Could, it's pretty cool.
When: February 2007
The Situation: Peyton Manning Finally Gets the Monkey Off His Back, Wins a Ring
Peyton Manning would probably be the first guy to tell you that all of the offensive records in the world don't mean anything if you can't win it all.
Manning wasn't always as beloved as he seems to be now. There was a time when he was seen as whiny and not clutch. There was a time when he simply could not escape the shadow of AFC rival Tom Brady. That all changed in 2007.
Not only did Manning and the Colts stage an epic comeback to take down Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship, but Indianapolis easily defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Manning was named Super Bowl MVP and could finally sigh in relief that he wouldn't go down in history as 'The QB Who Couldn't Win the Big One'.
The Situation: Boise State Improbably Beats Oklahoma 43-42
Everyone loves an awesome bowl game. The only thing better than an awesome bowl game is an awesome bowl game that ends with an impromptu proposal.
Running back Ian Johnson ensured the Broncos would maintain their perfect 13-0 record when he scored the game-winning two point conversion on a trick play. Boise State took the one-point victory, but the magic wasn't over. While Johnson was being interviewed on live TV in the aftermath of the win, he got down on one knee and asked his cheerleader girlfriend to marry him.
The image of Johnson kneeling before an elated Chrissy Popadics while surrounded by microphones and cameras remains one of the most adorable in recent college football history.
When: Summer 2012
The Situation: The U.S. Girls' Gymnastics Team Wins Gold
The Olympics always foster a spirit of excitement and unity, even if you're not the kind of person who is normally interested in triathlons/swimming/gymnastics.
And how can you not love the Fierce Five? They're adorable teenage girls who are ridiculously good at gymnastics.
There was an underdog vibe about this team in London, mostly because the competitors who ended up faring the best—Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas—weren't supposed to be as spectacular as they were. Raisman took home gold in the individual floor competition, Douglas earned gold in the individual all-around competition and the team took home just the second-ever gold medal the U.S. has ever earned in the team competition category.
When: June 2013
The Situation: The Miami Heat Face Elimination vs. San Antonio in Game 6 of the NBA Finals
Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to see a true superstar—one of the best to ever play the game—truly take over. That happened in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
You can love LeBron James. You can hate him. But at this point, you simply cannot deny that he is one of the best basketball players in the history of man, and he showed why against the Spurs in Game 6.
The Heat were supposed to be done. They looked outmatched against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker & Co., and it looked like they were going to be ending the 2012-13 season without a title. Then, LeBron decided he wanted his second straight championship, and if none of his teammates were going to help him get it, he'd just do it himself.
So, he took over. The Heat trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, but LeBron tallied 16 points in the period, including the go-ahead basket with about a minute left. He finished the game with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and of course, the Heat went on to win the title in Game 7.
When: October 2001
The Situation: Cal Ripken Jr. Plays His Final Home Game with Orioles
Remember the days when we used to idolize players like Cal Ripken Jr., before steroids and Mitchell Reports and Biogenesis scandals tainted the sport forever? Cal Ripken was one of the good guys. He was one of the guys that made baseball an easy sport to love.
When he finally hung up his hat, then, it was all the more poignant.
Ripken's final game was supposed to be played at Yankee Stadium, but because of the 9/11 attacks, the schedule was altered and his final game fell at his home park. Ripken, therefore, got to bid farewell to the fans who supported him over the course of 20 seasons.
When: Jan. 10, 1982
The Situation: NFC Championship Game—Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers
Remember the days when the Cowboys were the NFL's Goliath? I know, it's hard for me to picture, too.
Anyway, this is pretty much the moment that reputation came crashing down.
The Niners were down 27-21 and faced a 3rd-and-3 with 58 seconds remaining in the game. Joe Montana took the snap and was scrambling for a receiver. He couldn't go to Freddie Solomon, as originally intended. Nobody, it seemed, was open, and Montana was being chased out of bounds, so he let the ball fly toward the end zone.
Dwight Clark made the impossible grab, giving the Niners the one-point lead with 51 seconds left. San Francisco went on to win Super Bowl XVI, defeating the Bengals.
When: Oct. 2, 2013
The Situation: Cincinnati Faces Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game
So this is why Major League Baseball created all those new wild card postseason rules.
For so long, Pittsburgh was the laughingstock not only of baseball, but of sports in general. This was a team that simply could not engineer a winning season, let alone win a playoff game. For more than a decade, Pittsburgh finished fourth or worse in the division. They had not tasted the playoffs since 1992.
Then, 2013 happened. The Pirates won a whopping 94 games. They finished second in the NL Central. And yet they still had to trump Cincinnati in a one-game wild card playoff in order to advance to the NLDS. They did so decisively, trumping Cincinnati 6-2, courtesy of two Russell Martin home runs and a dominant pitching performance by Francisco Liriano.
It may have been playoff excitement engineered by the MLB masterminds, but it worked, didn't it?
The Situation: Women's World Cup Final is Tied 0-0 At End of Regulation
It's not every day that Americans are compelled to care about women's soccer. During the 1999 World Cup, they couldn't help it.
The U.S. women's team faced China in the World Cup final, and a scoreless game forced a shootout. Brandi Chastain registered the legendary game-winning goal, beating China goalkeeper Gao Hong and whipping off her shirt in jubilation in one of the most iconic images in sports history.
The game was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, and the goal marked one of the best, if not the best, moments in U.S. soccer history.
The Situation: NC State Faces Houston in the NCAA Basketball Championship
When we think about March Madness these days, we usually think about the heavy hitters—the Dukes and North Carolinas and UConns and Kansas' of the world, the teams with the most legendary coaches who seem to compete, and win, year after year.
Then, there's Jimmy Valvano and his 1983 NCAA championship.
The NC State coach commandeered his Wolfpack to one of the most exciting victories in the history of the tournament, punctuated by Lorenzo Charles' dunk at the buzzer to give NC State the 54-52 win. There are very few scenes in the history of college basketball as heartwarming as the image of Jimmy V running around the court in euphoria at game's end—or his "Never Give Up" speech at the 1993 ESPYs, just two months before he died of cancer at the age of 47.
When: Oct. 15, 1988
The Situation: Game 1 of the World Series, Dodgers Down 4-3 against Oakland
There is nothing like a postseason walk-off home run. This is the king of all postseason walk-off home runs.
Kirk Gibson wasn't supposed to play in Game 1 of the World Series against Oakland. He could barely walk, having sustained injuries to not one, but both legs, prior to Game 1. But when Tommy Lasorda called upon his slugger to pinch hit with one on in the bottom of the ninth, he answered the call of duty.
Gibson jacked a fly ball to right field off Dennis Eckersley and hobbled toward first as he watched it sail out of the park, then limped his way around the bases, pumping his fists. It would serve as Gibson's only plate appearance during the entire World Series, which the Dodgers won, four games to one.
When: June 17, 2008
The Situation: Celtics Defeat Lakers to Win 17th NBA Title, 131-92
Kevin Garnett is a polarizing player. It's easy to see why you hate him if he doesn't play for your team.
But nobody could have summed it up better when he had a microphone shoved in his face immediately after claiming the first championship of his career.
As confetti rained down around him at TD Garden, just about a year after he agreed to leave behind his beloved Timberwolves to join Boston's Big Three and attempt to bring the Celtics their 17th NBA title, a tearful Garnett was asked how he felt.
His response? "Anything is possiblllllllllllllle."
When: January 12, 2013
The Situation: 1 Minute Left in Regulation of the Divisional Playoff Game between Denver and Baltimore at Mile High Stadium
The Denver Broncos were supposed to be the team to beat in the 2013 NFL playoffs. They weren't supposed to drop their first game of the postseason—not even to a Baltimore team led by a legendary linebacker who had just announced that he would call it quits at the end of his postseason.
The Ravens were supposed to be done. They had been haunted by heartbreaking turnovers throughout the entire game, and with 44 seconds left and down a touchdown, they faced a 3rd-and-3 from their own 30.
Then, the impossible happened: Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard bomb, and Jones ran it in for a touchdown, tying the game. Eventually, after a critical turnover by Peyton Manning, the Ravens would register the game-winning field goal and would go on to beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
When: Feb. 3, 2008
The Situation: Giants Are Driving vs. Patriots With 2 Minutes Left in the Fourth Quarter of the Super Bowl
There are very, very few things the average sports fan loves more than to see Goliath get absolutely sucker-punched by little old David. David Tyree, to be precise.
When the mighty New England Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII with an 18-0 record and the most prolific offense in football history, nobody expected Peyton Manning's Little Bro and the wild card Giants to have a chance. But then something strange happened: the Patriots defense gave up the most haunting play in team history.
Down 14-10, on 3rd-and-5, Eli Manning somehow eluded the tackle despite being almost sacked by at least three different Patriots and connected with David Tyree on an impossible, one-handed grab that somehow eluded defensive back Rodney Harrison, who had his arms all over Tyree. Tyree secured the catch by famously pressing the ball against his helmet.
Four plays later, Plaxico Burress caught the game-winning TD pass that gave the Giants one of the most epic Super Bowl wins ever.
When: Sept. 26, 2013
The Situation: Mariano Rivera Enters His Final Game at Yankee Stadium in the 8th Inning
The 2013 season was a season of emotional highs and lows for the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball. Knowing it was his last campaign ever, he was determined to make it special, and he did so every single time he visited a ballpark.
But nothing was as special as his final outing at his home park. The results don't matter. The number of pitches he threw don't matter. The fact that he didn't allow a single hit doesn't even matter. All that matters is watching the crowd salute him as his longtime teammates, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, came out to the mound to remove him for the last time with two outs in the ninth.
When: 2007 ALDS vs. LA Angels
The Situation: Game 2, Game Tied 3-3 in Ninth Inning
Manny Ramirez came up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs after Angels closer K-Rod (remember that guy?) intentionally walked David Ortiz to get to him. Manny certainly made him pay, jacking a grand slam, walk-off homer to give Boston the victory. The Sox would go on to win their second World Series in four years.
Whether you like Manny (or the Red Sox) or not, there is still something so awesome about seeing him drop the bat and stand their admiring his walk-off, arms raised, while all of the Fenway Faithful raise their arms around him.
When: 1980 Winter Olympics
The Situation: The U.S. Men's Ice Hockey Team Faces Perennial Champion Soviets
You don't even have to like sports to get chills every time you see this. You just have to have blood running through your veins.
To say the Americans were underdogs in this game is like saying that Michael Jordan was OK at basketball. They were not supposed to win. They weren't supposed to compete. Yet somehow they knocked off a team that had won virtually everything there was to win for almost 30 years.
Just thinking about the crowd chanting "USA!" as the clock ticks down gives you chills.