Athletes Defined by One Iconic Moment
Sports history is a living book—perpetually adding new chapters and undergoing revision. While the past gives us a vantage point to reassess the people and moments that wrote the most compelling chapters, rarely is the story primarily driven by a single moment; by a single play or decision.
Athletes come back from injuries, overcome personal tragedies and arrests; they come out of nowhere and steal the spotlight and then move on.
But, sometimes an athlete's career—their life—is so defined by an individual moment in history, that any caveat is swallowed by it's influence.
For some, their moment is one defined by greatness; by being part of something special or seemingly improbable. For others, their best just can't shine through historic failure, or notoriety.
Regardless of why and how it happened, some of the most iconic moments in sports history are forever tied to a single name; and that name will always be known for that moment.
These are athletes whose legacy was defined by a single, iconic moment.
Eugene Robinson: The Arrest That Rocked Super Bowl XXXIII
The Falcons may have had "The Dirty Bird," but the Broncos had future Hall of Famer John Elway—and a talented roster featuring All-Pro Rod Smith around him—in a clash between the two teams in Super Bowl XXXIII.
So, few gave the Falcons much of a shot to deny Elway a second consecutive championship, before safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute less than 24 hours before the game.
Robinson, who had received the Bart Starr Award recognizing the player "who best exemplifies outstanding character" that morning, became the narrative underpinning the Super Bowl—a storyline that converged with the 34-19 pummeling the Falcons suffered in the game itself.
The result? Notoriety that resurfaces every February.
Kevin Dyson/Mike Jones: The Tackle
Sometimes the final score doesn't tell the whole story—the high drama as time steadily ticks away and single moments take on the weight of the world.
Without knowing the details of Super Bowl XXXIV, the final score, 23-16, portends a competitive—even close—game, but simply cannot fully articulate the mere fraction of distance that ultimately determined the outcome.
In one of the great Super Bowl images of the modern era, "The Tackle" captures how close then-Titans receiver Kevin Dyson came from tying the game in its final play; and how close Rams linebacker Mike Jones came to letting it happen.
Greg Norman: 1996 Masters Collapse
Retired pro golfer Greg Norman is famous for being a great golfer who always seemed to fall apart at the worst possible time...in a sport that is quite capable of inspiring failure without any help.
But no moment truly captures the torturous nature of Norman's career than his defeat-stealing collapse in the final round of the 1996 Masters.
Despite beginning the day 13 under par and with a six-stroke lead over eventual winner, Nick Faldo, Norman unleashed a brutal display of bad golf before a national television audience; finishing with a 78 to Faldo's 67.
Frank Wycheck: The Music City Miracle
"The Music City Miracle" holds a spot in the pantheon of pro football's most spectacular and stunning plays—a play that nearly ran afoul of NFL rules and is still scrutinized by skeptics who think Titan's tight end Frank Wycheck delivered a forward lateral to Kevin Dyson in the 2000 AFC Wild Card game against the Bills.
While Kevin Dyson raced down the sideline and scored the improbable game winner (and would come up short a few weeks later in the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV), it was Wycheck's lateral that set the play up and—based on your opinion—traveled laterally by the slimmest of margins.
Bryce Drew: The Shot
March Madness is one of the few sporting events that seems to transcend the game itself. Casual fans, and the usually disinterested, join NCAA basketball junkies in the annual blood-letting of their tournament brackets.
Tournament brackets are overrated, however, compared to the intense atmosphere that gives us electrifying moments like Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew's buzzer beater against 4th seed Ole Miss in 1998.
Now the head coach of his former alma mater, the image of his ecstatic teammates tackling Drew remains one of the most memorable moments in the tournament's history.
Franco Harris: The Immaculate Reception
A Hall of Famer and a key part of the physical ball control offense that kept the 'Steel Curtain' defense rested helped lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl Championships from 1975-1980, no one questions Franco Harris' status as one of the NFL's great running backs.
But, you can't mention his name without conjuring memories—and a still simmering controversy—of "The Immaculate Reception" that gave the the Steelers the lead over the Raiders in the waning seconds of the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff game.
Bucky Dent: Three-Run Homer Adds Another Chapter to Yankees - Red Sox
Sports lore is filled with stories about unlikely heroes—we love an underdog and when someone emerges from relative obscurity to help their team win it all...their moment of glory often lives on despite the career that follows.
Retired Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent was a solid player, but was no Derek Jeter, even if he chose the perfect moment to be just as clutch.
Down 2-0 in the eighth inning of the 1978 AL East tie-breaking game against the hated Boston Red Sox, Dent (who was simply not a slugger) crushed a three-run homer in the eighth—giving the Yankees a lead that Boston couldn't overcome.
Joe Namath: The Super Bowl III Guarantee
"Broadway" Joe Namath the man was larger in life than Joe the quarterback—and considering he was a Hall of Fame gunslinger, you can only imagine what could have been if his career wasn't plagued by nagging injuries.
Namath claimed his legacy the same way he claimed Super Bowl III—with brash confidence and style.
When Joe Namath told revelers at the Miami Touchdown Club that his underdog Jets would beat the mighty Colts and then backed it up with a convincing victory, his legend was born.
Chris Webber: Fab Five Sunk by Errant Timeout
On paper, Michigan's 'Fab Five' seemed destined to be champions.
With marquee recruits like Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard arriving on campus in 1991, the Wolverines dominated; cruising through the 1992 NCAA Tournament before losing in an upset to Duke in the championship.
Michigan followed the same script in 1993 and was poised to win it all against North Carolina—up 67-64 with just over four minutes remaining. The Tarheels rallied, and down two points with 20 seconds left, Webber brought the ball upcourt.
What happens next would become the thread tying Webber, the Fab Five and failed expectations together: Under pressure and without any timeouts remaining, Webber stumbled and called for one anyway.
He was called for the technical foul and Michigan's championship dreams were dashed.
Buster Douglass: KO's Undefeated Mike Tyson in 10th Round
At the height of his career, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson seemed unstoppable—regardless of the turmoil affecting his personal life. And when the 36-0 champion was slated to defend his title against the unremarkable Buster Douglas, no one really expected the fight to end the way it did.
From the onset, Douglas hurt Tyson—challenging the undefeated title-holder like no other fighter. Then in the 10th round, the previously unthinkable happened: Douglas KO'd Tyson.
The result rocked the sport and Douglas suddenly found himself a top news story and the new heavyweight champion.
It wouldn't last; in his first title defense against Evander Holyfield, Douglas was badly beaten and never duplicated the glory of his stunning defeat of Tyson.
Dwight Clark: The Catch
During the 49ers' historic run of NFL dominance during the 1980s, the teams core nucleus of talent on offense, led by quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice, and an opportunistic defense led by the punishing safety Ronnie Lott, offered little reason to doubt the franchise's greatness.
However, it all began with a unbelievable catch by a receiver not named Jerry Rice—who would be drafted three years later—in the 1982 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys.
Dwight Clark's leaping grab on third down with less than a minute remaining set the 49ers on a course that would see the franchise become a true NFL dynasty—and forever tie Clark and "The Catch" to the team's four Super Bowls during the era.
David Tyree: The Super Bowl XLII Helmet Catch
During the 2007-08 NFL season, the New England Patriots were a mere formality away from becoming the second franchise in the modern era to have a perfect season (joining the 1972 Dolphins).
With only the Colts, Eagles and Ravens losing by less than 10 points to the Pats over the regular season and playoffs, then the Giants—who barely secured the last Wild Card spot in the NFC—were surely just a speed bump in the path of an unprecedented season.
A dog fight from the get-go, the Patriots appeared to finally assert their will with a go-ahead score to make it 14-10 with just over two minutes remaining.
Giants unheralded wide receiver David Tyree made a catch for the ages, in a drive for the ages, when Eli Manning escaped a mob of pass-rushers and heaved a pass downfield.
Tyree, blanketed by safety Rodney Harrison, somehow made a one-handed catch using his helmet to secure the ball. One of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, Tyree never matched that moment and retired in 2010.
Mike Eruzione: Miracle on Ice Game-Winning Goal
The USA hockey team in 1980 wasn't loaded with NHL stars like it is today, which made the "Miracle on Ice" that much more of a improbable victory.
The Soviet Union's team was stacked with the kind of players that would be on par with the NHL elite, but the talent on the USA roster in the 1980 Winter Games was good enough that all but one player would go on to have NHL careers.
The exception? Team captain, Mike Eruzione, whose goal in the third period would be the game-winner in the thrilling medal round battle with the heavily favored Soviet Union, inspired a nation and a generation of aspiring American hockey players.
Steve Gleason: Blocked Punt Inspires New Orleans
Steve Gleason is proof that a person doesn't have to be a highly drafted star or beastly skill-position player to forge an enduring legacy with a team, its fans and the community itself.
While Gleason's tragic battle with ALS has made headlines recently, he transformed from the kind of high-motor, role player guys like Jon Gruden love, to veritable savior of a city on September 25, 2006.
On a night when the traumatized and rebuilding New Orleans reopened the Superdome after the city was devastated by Katrina; Steve Gleason burst through the line and blocked the Falcons' punt on the opening drive.
In that moment, the historically hapless Saints franchise was reborn...as was a city recovering from Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
Bill Buckner: The Error
For decades, the collective psyche of Red Sox fans was defined by the threat of disaster striking at any moment. From Babe Ruth's sale to the Yankees, to Bucky Dent's inexplicable transformation to a power hitter, any Red Sox victory was simply a sadistic ploy to stoke optimism before certain, excruciating defeat.
Unfortunately for former Red Sox player Bill Buckner, he became the penultimate cultural symbol of a city haunted by the "Curse of Bambino."
His error on a slow-rolling grounder in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Mets so ostracized his existence (until the 2004 World Series) that Buckner moved to Idaho.