Sometimes, when you're watching a game, something happens and you just know,That moment is going to blow up the Internet.
The Buttfumble. Tony Romo's two game-ending interceptions against the Packers this weekend. Tom Brady's failure to complete another epic comeback. You know that those moments are going to blow up the Twittersphere.
Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if Twitter had existed back when some of the much older Epic Moments happened?
The Internet probably would have spontaneously combusted and it wouldn't even exist right now at this very moment.
There are a couple of days every year when you know that virtually everyone in the free world is watching football. One of those days is the Super Bowl. Another is Thanksgiving.
Leon Lett would have broken the Internet on both those days during his heyday with the Cowboys. But let's start with Super Bowl XXVII.
It was a moment that got off to a promising start. The defensive tackle recovered a Bills fumble on his own 35-yard line and took it back toward the end zone. Unfortunately, though, he couldn't resist a little showboating: He held the ball out at arm's length as he approached the goal line, got cut down by Buffalo's Don Beebe, and lost the ball.
The result? A touchback, and perpetual infamy for Lett.
You've already seen how the Red Sox can essentially break the Internet in the present day, when they've won three World Series in the last decade.
Imagine what the Red Sox would have done to the Internet back in 1986, when they were still searching for their first World Series title since Babe Ruth was still a member of the team, when their poor, poor first baseman made an error that cost them a chance at redemption.
Boston held a 3-2 series lead over the Mets. Game 6 went into extra innings, and Boston scored twice in the top of the 10th. All they needed was three outs. Three outs, and the championship would have been theirs.
Then, of course, Mookie Wilson's slow roller to first went right through Buckner's legs, leading to the Mets' winning run. It was like the buttfumble times a billion.
If LeBron James suddenly decided to give up basketball and give baseball a try, what would happen on the day he made his debut?
It would be like those times you're in a stadium filled with thousands of people and you're all trying to text at the same time but no one can get any service. That's what would happen to the Internet.
Michael Jordan's abrupt retirement from basketball shocked the world. It was even more shocking when, in March 1994, he announced that he had signed with the Chicago White Sox. Though Jordan never made it to the big club, he did play a few games with the White Sox' Double-A affiliate, as well as the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.
Fortunately, his lack of success on the diamond was enough to rekindle his desire for basketball.
Whenever any kind of buzzer beater happens, you know what your Twitter timeline will look like. A long succession of "OMG"s. A whole bunch of "holy [expletives]." Maybe even just a collection of exclamation points.
Jimmy V's NC State team pulled off one of the ultimate buzzer beater moments ever in the 1983 NCAA championship.
With time expiring, the Wolfpack's Lorenzo Charles tipped in/dunked Dereck Whittenburg's buzzer beater attempt to give NC State the literal last-second victory over a Houston team riding a 26-game winning streak. Imagine the Patriots' (first) Super Bowl loss to the Giants, except with a bunch of college kids and a head coach that people actually loved.
Whenever an athlete suffers any kind of semi-gross injury, the pictures immediately begin circulating on the Internet. You saw it happen on Saturday night, with Jarome Iginla's finger injury.
Let's take one of the grossest injuries in the history of organized sports and imagine some of the Twitter reaction to that.
Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann saw his career come to an end on November 18, 1985, when he was sacked by the legendary Lawrence Taylor. Theismann was left with a fractured tibia and fibula, providing a gruesome sight for the viewing audiences at home as well as the players on the field.
You know that when LT is screaming in horror, it's gross.
Hail Mary's work sometimes. Most of the time, they don't. Here, we have one of the most famous Hail Mary's of all, at least in the pre-Internet days.
Let's hearken back to the days of 1986, when Doug Flutie was not just a semi-famous CFL quarterback but instead a Boston College stud making a bid for the Heisman Trophy. It was 1984, BC was playing Miami at the Orange Bowl and the Hurricanes held a 45-41 lead with six seconds left.
Flutie sent a Hail Mary into the end zone, and by some miracle, Gerard Phelan came up with it, giving BC an improbable 47-45 win.
Oh, and then Flutie won the Heisman.
In 2004, we were well within the Internet age, but Twitter was still several years off. Therefore, let's imagine the reaction of the Twitterverse in the aftermath of the most infamous play in one of the best postseason series in the history of baseball.
Everyone knows the story: The cursed Red Sox were down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS against the hated Yankees. They staged improbable, late-game comebacks in Games 4 and 5 to decisively swing the momentum back in their own favor.
In Game 6, the Yankees were growing desperate—no one more than Alex Rodriguez, who felt like it was his duty to put the team on his back and close out the series. Unfortunately, his tactics for doing so left something to be desired. A-Rod hit a dribbler toward the mound, which Boston's Bronson Arroyo gloved. Arroyo ran toward the first baseline to tag out A-Rod, but A-Rod slapped the ball out of Arroyo's glove and was called out for interference.
The Twitter analysis, courtesy of all of the at-home umpires, would have been spectacular.
I can't remember the last time during the Internet age when someone got his or her ear bitten off, but I can only imagine that the Internet would have imploded over it.
Just like it would have imploded when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997.
"The Sound and the Fury" was a rematch of a fight that happened seven months prior, in which Holyfield dominated Tyson. Therefore, Tyson was out for blood the next time around. Literally. Tyson bit Holyfield's ear not once, but twice, and he was disqualified for his poor conduct and even had his boxing license (temporarily) revoked.
Imagine the memes that would have immediately resulted from that.
Leon Lett was just such a pro at giving us show-stopping moments. Unfortunately, this is the second of two that were show-stopping for all of the wrong reasons. And it wasn't quite as funny (for Cowboys fans) because Dallas lost the game.
Terrible weather can either bring out the best or the worst in a team. In this case, it was the worst. A snowstorm had sent both the Dolphins and the Cowboys into a bit of a tailspin during the Thanksgiving Day game in 1993, but the Cowboys had managed to cling to a 14-13 lead with 15 seconds left.
Enter Lett. The Cowboys blocked Miami's field goal bid, and while most of his teammates just celebrated with victory in their grasp, Lett tried to be a hero. He tried to pick up the ball and run it back. Unfortunately, he couldn't: He slipped on the ice and Miami recovered the ball on the Cowboys' 1-yard line. The Dolphins got another shot at the field goal and made it this time, securing a 16-14 victory.
This one was the buttfumble times 2 billion.
We've seen some pretty stellar plays from some pretty stellar players, but we're talking about the GOAT here. It's almost unfair that the Internet didn't exist during Barry Sanders' reign.
As far as Sanders is concerned, his entire career was pretty much one long Heisman reel, and plenty of those moments would have likely broken the Internet had they happened in the current era.
One of the best plays of the legendary running back's career came during his college days with Oklahoma State. He and the Cowboys faced The U in September 1998. Sanders took a kickoff all the way to the house, eluding defender after defender before breaking away at about midfield. It was just one of many Heisman moments during a season dubbed the best by any player in the history of college football.
During any era, there are plenty of bona fide superstars to fawn over. But even to this day, Gale Sayers remains one of the absolute greatest of the great.
Sayers' rookie season, in particular, would have set the present-day Twitterverse on fire. We love our rookies, but what Sayers did in 1965 would have been like mutiplying the rookie hype of Alfred Morris by a zillion. It's so rare now to see a rookie running back emerge into the NFL with the same success as Sayers did that year, when he registered the most touchdowns by a rookie in one season (22) and set the then-record for the most all-purpose yards (2,272).
His best performance of that year came in December against San Francisco, when he tallied six touchdowns, tying the record for the most TDs in a single game.
We love our big postseason moments in baseball. The entire complexion of a game, and even a series, can change with one swing of the bat. Look at what David Ortiz's eighth-inning grand slam did to the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS this postseason. Prior to that hit, the Tigers seemed to be destined for World Series glory. One swing later, everything changed.
So imagine the fanfare that would have surrounded Kirk Gibson's infamous 1988 World Series homer if it happened now. Part of the mystique of the moment came from the fact that Gibson wasn't even supposed to be playing, having been hobbled by injuries to not one, but both legs. Still, when Tommy Lasorda called upon him to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning and the Dodgers down 4-3, Gibson answered.
Despite a pulled left hamstring and a swollen right knee, Gibson took Dennis Eckersley's backdoor slider right over the right field fence, giving L.A. the walkoff 5-4 victory and setting the stage for its eventual World Series victory.
Probably the most important lesson I have learned from Twitter is that people who do not live in New England, for the most part, detest Tom Brady. They love to see him fail. They love to pick on him at any opportunity, whether it be when he yells at a rookie receiver, when he swears at a ref or when he uses the word "lube" incorrectly.
If Twitter had been a thing when the Tuck Rule Play happened, I can only imagine the vitriol Brady would have incurred.
It was the 2001 AFC divisional round, Patriots versus Raiders. With less than two minutes left on the clock and the Patriots down 13-10, Brady was sacked by Oakland's Charles Woodson, and he fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Raiders.
But not so fast. In one of the most controversial rulings in the history of the NFL, the officials determined that Brady's arm was moving forward at the time the ball came loose, thus deeming it an incomplete pass. Everyone knows what happened from there. The Pats won that game, and the Super Bowl, and a dynasty was born.
And it may never have happened without the Tuck Rule.
Duke is obviously still regarded as one of the most dangerous teams in the nation come tournament time. But back when Christian Laettner was wearing blue and white, Duke was pretty much the most dangerous team in the nation come tournament time.
Laettner gave the Blue Devils—and the NCAA Tournament—one of their most spectacular moments ever, maybe even one of their most spectacular games ever. It was the 1992 East regional final, and Duke needed a miracle in order to advance past Kentucky.
And it got a miracle, courtesy of Laettner. It was his last-second turnaround jumper that gave Duke the 104-103 win over the Wildcats, and Duke would go on to win its second straight NCAA title.
Jacoby Ellsbury almost broke the Internet when he decided to ditch the Red Sox, the team that raised him, in favor of the Yankees. And he's not the best player in baseball. He also wasn't traded to New York. He went by the power of his own free will.
So yeah, it's safe to say that the time the Red Sox sold the Babe to New York would have absolutely crushed the interwebs.
Babe Ruth was the best player in the game. He won three World Series within four years for Boston. And then, because the Red Sox wanted to finance an ill-fated musical production, they decided to sell Ruth to New York, take the money and run.
The Yankees went on to become the most powerful franchise in baseball, and meanwhile, the Red Sox wouldn't win another title until 2004. Ridiculing the Red Sox on Twitter during those many decades of futility would have been far too entertaining for the baseball-loving world.
So…imagine what would have happened if, during the 2012 NFL draft, Andrew Luck had been like, "Sorry Indy, I really don't want to play for you, so if you draft me, I will straight-up refuse to go."
Because that's pretty much exactly what Eli Manning did in 2004.
Peyton's little bro was going to be the first overall pick, no question. Unfortunately for Eli, though, that pick was in the possession of the San Diego Chargers, for whom he did not want to play. Unaware that the draft doesn't really work like that, Manning stuck to his guns.
And somehow got himself traded to New York because the Mannings have that kind of power.
The Chargers got Philip Rivers, and the Giants got Eli, who would go on to gift them with two unlikely Super Bowl victories and many, many interceptions.
It's a moment that is immortalized by photographs in the homes of countless families across New England (including mine). It was the single-best moment in Boston Bruins history and one of the best in NHL history.
Number Four, one of the greatest defensemen of all time, delivered the Bruins their first Stanley Cup victory since 1941 when he took Derek Sanderson's give-and-go and put it past Blues goaltender Glenn Hall, giving Boston an overtime victory and a series sweep over St. Louis in the Cup Finals.
The image of Orr flying through the air after netting the goal is more famous than the goal itself and would have served as pretty much every Bostonian's Facebook cover photo if it had been taken during the Internet age.
Christian Laettner gave us "The Shot." The Cal Golden Bears gave us "The Play."
Whenever time is running out in a football game, you, as a fan, hope and pray that your team will pull off the kind of lateral-after-lateral play that will get the ball into the end zone for the game-winning score with no time left on the clock. Cal made that a reality—against its biggest rival, no less—on November 20, 1982.
Stanford held a 20-19 lead with four seconds left on the clock, then kicked off the football, figuring that it had the win in the bag. Wrong. Five lateral passes later, Cal had the most controversial 25-20 win in the history of college football.
No boxer, present or future, will ever match the mystique of Muhammad Ali.
Not everyone loved Ali during his heyday, but everyone respected him, partly because of what he did in the ring—becoming a three-time World Heavyweight Champion—but also because of what he did outside of it, where he established himself as a pretty good dude.
No one who watched Ali compete would ever dispute his standing as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, and fortunately, since we have the Internet now, we all get to relive his career.
And just as evidence that he would have broken the Internet during his career: Ali pretty much managed to break it after the fact, with this throwback GIF.
So this one time, there were two elite American figure skaters. Prior to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, one of the figure skaters hired someone to break the leg of the other figure skater so she wouldn't be able to compete, therefore paving a clear path for the first chick to win the championships.
No, this is not an episode recap of an MTV reality show. This is real life. This actually happened.
If Tonya Harding had hired a dude to break Nancy Kerrigan's leg during the Internet age, it's unlikely that anyone would have even believed it. The media frenzy circa 1994 was insane; it's almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like now, given the non-stop nature of the media, thanks, in large part, to the little blue bird.
There is one reason why the Miracle On Ice would have broken the Internet more effectively than any other moment in sports history: because it was the Olympics. Because everyone in America was rooting for one common cause.
The 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team had every necessary element of the rhetoric of redemption narrative. The U.S. was the underdog. It was facing Goliath, aka the Soviet Union. Literally no one believed this team could win that game, yet somehow, by some miracle, time ticked down at the end of the third period on February 22, 1980, and the scoreboard read U.S. 4, USSR 3.
While everyone in the arena counted down out loud along with the clock, everyone in America would have been tweeting a countdown of those final seconds of that game.