The 20 Most Exciting Plays to See in Sports
Your average game is exciting, sure—but it's just that: average.
If you're lucky enough to be at a game where something truly, undeniably exciting happens, it's pretty remarkable. You're in a small category of the most fortunate fans. It's not every day that you get to see a walk-off grand slam when a berth to the next round of the playoffs is on the line. It's not every day that you get to see a shootout goal, or, even better, a goalie score on himself.
We all love sports because we can find excitement in the mundane details. But the plays like the ones on the list are so spectacular, they can turn anyone into the biggest sports fan ever.
It happens more often than some of the other events on the list, but still, it never loses its magic, no matter how frequently you've seen one.
There's nothing better than seeing a team put everything on the line to execute one play that can completely reverse its fortunes for the better. When it comes in a championship game—like the one above, courtesy of Jimmy V's NCAA champion team in 1983—it doesn't get much better.
Unless you're a reporter who has to completely rewrite his or her game story. Then, it's rather unfortunate.
You can look like the worst team in the world for 99 percent of a game, but if you can pull off the unlikely victory in the final seconds of regulation, everyone will forget about it.
Look at what happened when the Patriots played the Saints a couple of weeks ago. Tom Brady had to go all over the field to eight different receivers to find one that would stick—and he was largely unsuccessful with any single one—and meanwhile, the Saints seemed to have full control of the game with a 27-23 lead and time running out.
Think again. Brady connected with rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds remaining on the clock for the game-winning, 17-yard touchdown pass. Game over.
Penalty Shot: Soccer
Penalty shots are great. There are few situations that come with more pressure—for the shooter and for the goalie. Both of you have to be perfect, but only one of you will be.
Of course, for most fans, it's far more fun to see the shooter score than to see the goalie make stop after stop.
Remember Brandi Chastain's penalty kick against China that won the World Cup for the U.S. women about 14 years ago? It changed women's soccer in America forever. That definitely qualifies as pretty exciting.
Kickoff Returned for a Touchdown
It's not exactly frequent, but it's not incredibly rare either. All you need is the perfect combination of awesome special teams and an unprepared defense.
Part of what makes kickoffs that are returned for touchdowns so exciting is that the hysteria just builds and builds until you realize, holy cow, he really is going all the way. Then, of course, you are customarily rewarded with an awesome end-zone celebration dance.
Or, in very fortunate cases—such as when Jacoby Jones took a kickoff 108 yards in the Super Bowl—you are rewarded with some kind of declaration from Ray Lewis along the lines of: "God told me to touch you."
Seeing a Goalie Score on Himself
How often does this happen? Hopefully, for the sake of the fans' mental health, not that often.
Still, when you see a goalie score on himself—even when he's your goalie—you sort of just have to tip your cap and go with it.
A couple of weeks ago, former Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick became part of this unfortunate club. His moment of non-glory came during a power play, too. He helped give the Rangers a two-goal lead by scoring a short-handed goal for them. On himself.
Well, if you're a Texans fan, you see these plenty.
Pick-sixes can be gut-wrenching or exhilarating, depending on which side you're on. If you're on the right side, any time your defense scores a touchdown, it's cause for raucous celebration.
And depending on how you look at it, the longer Matt Schaub can keep his pick-six streak going (whenever/if ever he gets back on the field), that's cause for celebration, too. In its own special way.
The reason they're exciting isn't because they never happen. It's because they require a scintillating blend of athleticism and timing.
Very few things get an "OOOOOOOH" in-unison from the crowd like an alley-oop. It requires perfect execution and, if you're lucky, the post-play stare-down/celebration can be legendary.
With that, I give you this alley-oop, otherwise known as the Posterization that Led to the Death of Jason Terry, or so Wikipedia will have us believe. Sometimes, you really do just have to bow down to LeBron.
Fake Field Goals
They can go so wrong, but when they go right… it's amazing.
Fake field goals require cojones. They're risky, but the reward is enormous. The reward can be game-changing. For some, it can even be life-changing.
Remember this one, courtesy of the Golden Bears, to kick off the 2013 season? Who goes for the fake field goal when the season has barely started?
Cal does. Because clearly, that's the best time to do it.
Penalty Shot: Hockey
Receiving a penalty shot definitely doesn't mean an automatic goal. You have to be kind of a boss to put a penalty shot into the net.
For a perfect penalty shot clinic, we go to the Bruins' Chris Kelly, whose first goal of the 2013-14 season—and the Bruins' first goal of the season—came on a penalty shot, at the expense of Anders Lindback.
Watch and learn, y'all.
Game-Winning Field Goal
There are some circumstances under which this can be very exciting.
One of them is when the game-winning field goal comes during a playoff game or, better, the Super Bowl. Back during the Patriots' heyday a few years back, it seemed like every single one of New England's critical wins came courtesy of an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Icing the kicker was an impossible feat where he was concerned.
And now, thanks to the NFL's latest and most ridiculous rules, a team like the Jets can get two chances to register the game-winning field goal on little more than a technicality.
So, congrats, I guess?
As long as you're not a fan of the defense that allows a trick-play touchdown to become an actuality, they're pretty cool.
And even if you are a fan of that defense, you still have to admit they're pretty cool.
Missouri pulled off the vaunted trick-play touchdown a couple of weeks ago against Georgia. On 2nd-and-1 at Georgia's 40, they called the double-pass trick play and padded their lead late in the fourth quarter with a 40-yard touchdown pass, eventually scoring a massive upset win.
A Shootout Win: Hockey
It's kind of on the same plane as the penalty shot but way more exciting because, hello, a victory is on the line.
Think about how much over-thinking can go into a shootout from an offensive standpoint. As the shooter, you have to do just enough but not too much in order to evade the goaltender, and if you manage to put the puck in the net, guess what? You're a hero, whether you're a first-liner or a fourth-liner!
And from a fan's perspective, there's nothing like seeing the pressure and the stakes intensify with every missed shot until one finally goes in.
Inside-the-Park Home Run
Generally, this requires a perfect blend of several factors: an inept outfielder, a blazing-fast baserunner and a park with strange dimensions.
Inside-the-park home runs are not incredibly common. According to the Internet, one in every 158 homers is an inside-the-parker. The last time one happened in the World Series was in 1929 (though the last time it happened during the regular season was last month, courtesy of the Pirates).
You never know—maybe this is the year it happens again in the Fall Classic. We do have at least two of the necessary factors: Jacoby Ellsbury and Fenway Park.
Sudden Death Playoff: Golf
Talk about pressure. Golf is already all about nerves and pressure and finding a way to battle both of them while putting the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. (There are always beta blockers for those who can't handle it!)
So, imagine a situation where there's a major on the line, and you're heading into a sudden death playoff.
Then, imagine you hit a terrible shot in the midst of that playoff—like, shrubbery, wood chips, the whole nine yards. Imagine the mental toughness it takes to get out of that situation and win.
Let's all revel in Bubba Watson.
In terms of plays that require the absolute most gall possible, this has to rank near the top.
It's kind of like going for a fake field goal but way harder. Every single factor needs to work out, and then on top of it, you need luck. You need a perfect bunt. You need tons of speed. You need faith from your baserunner that that batter will, in fact, make contact. A suicide squeeze requires fearlessness.
Winning a game on a walk-off suicide squeeze—that's a whole different story. I give you the Brewers.
Holes-in-one are like unicorns. They are the mythical creatures of sports.
They don't happen virtually ever, so seeing one—or executing one—is just about as likely as seeing a unicorn. In fact, it is such a tremendous accomplishment that if you have achieve one, the PGA will send you a personalized certificate.
Now, let us all hearken back to the glory days when Tiger was still good and he registered a hole-in-one on No. 16 at the Phoenix Open in 2008. It's certainly not every day that you hear a gallery react to anything quite like they reacted to this.
Last-Second Goal: Hockey
What happens when you think you have the victory in the bag and let up on the intensity for a second—just one second?
The 2013 Stanley Cup happens.
Last-second goals can be equal parts excruciating and thrilling, depending on which side of the coin you fall on. Last June, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup when they victimized a suddenly complacent Bruins team for not one, but two last-second goals.
There's no more exciting way to win a championship and no more excruciating way to lose one.
Postseason Grand Slam
To be a successful relief pitcher in Major League Baseball, you have to have nerves of steel. You also have to be perfect at the biggest spots, like when a trip to the World Series is potentially on the line and one of the greatest clutch hitters in the history of baseball is staring at you from 60 feet, six inches away.
Momentum during a baseball game is an easy thing to seize and an even easier thing to lose, but that's what makes this sport thrilling. For example, when you're the Detroit Tigers and you have a 5-1 lead in Game 2 of the ALCS—and you have a 1-0 lead in the series—you have all the momentum, right?
Well, yes, until David Ortiz ties it up on an eighth-inning grand slam. The Red Sox had the momentum for pretty much the rest of the ALCS.
A Hail Mary never works. Well, not never, but you never expect it to.
For a Hail Mary to work, you need more than luck. You basically need divine intervention.
The most recent NFL Hail Mary (which we really shouldn't even acknowledge because hello, replacement-ref-fail) occurred early in the 2012 season. Russell Wilson "connected" with Golden Tate, but in actuality, M.D. Jennings intercepted. The refs called a simultaneous catch that resulted in a game-winning touchdown for Tate and the Seahawks.
Normally, though, Hail Mary's are far more exciting than that because they're actually legit. Like the one above.
The Final out in a Perfect Game
Nothing personifies perfection like the aptly titled perfect game.
Obviously, the bulk of the execution of the perfect game falls upon the shoulders of the pitcher. But there are little things along the way that contribute—running down fly balls like there's wind beneath your wings, getting a glove on a sharp grounder. All of that just builds the excitement.
The longer a perfect game lasts, the harder it is to sustain, mostly because of the pressure. But when that final out comes… there's nothing like it. A perfect game is one of the very, very few things in sports that every fan—no matter his or her allegiance—is thrilled to see. So whether you're the home pitcher or the visiting pitcher, you will have the entire crowd on its feet when that final out comes.