Sports Lists

The Most Emotional Speeches in Sports History

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

The Most Emotional Speeches in Sports History

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    Joey Foley/Getty Images

    There are times when athletes need a little inspiration to get that extra gear and lift their game to a new level.

    Some may do it through music or by simply taking time to themselves in a pregame routine.

    But one way in which passion really pours out is when a sports figure has a speech that gives everyone hearing it chills.

    And because sports can be so much about motivation from other places, here are the most emotional speeches in sports.

Dan Gilbert

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    OK, so Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s rant after LeBron James leaving the team back in 2010 wasn’t exactly a speech, but that’s probably only because Gilbert would have dropped some serious vulgarities had he actually spoken it rather than typed it.

    This story is about emotional speeches, so Gilbert’s counts in my book, because the dude showed his emotions like no other owner in the history of sports has—even if it did get him fined and didn’t inspire his club to perform any better.

Playoffs?!?

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    Like a few others on this list, one of the most emotion-filled rants of all time came in the form of a silly voice and one repetitive question—playoffs?

    After watching his Indianapolis Colts fall to 2-6 during the 1996 season, then-head coach Jim Mora Sr. didn’t exactly show belief in what his players could do, responding to a reporter’s question about the team’s playoffs hopes in the finest fashion ever.

    If you’re a sports fan, you know this one has gone down in history for being absolutely phenomenal.

Curtis Martin

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    After a playing career that saw great success, former NFL running back Curtis Martin proved why he left everything on the field during his 11 years in the league when he talked during his enshrinement.

    Mentioning overcoming a series of obstacles both internal and external, Martin didn’t leave a single eye dry when he talked about the journey it took for him to get to Canton—which even included his old head coach, Bill Parcells.

Brett Favre Retires

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    I know that all of us eventually got tired of seeing former NFL quarterback Brett Favre waffle back and forth between playing and retiring, but when he made his first announcement while still with the Green Bay Packers, it probably made us all a little choked up.

    Favre’s career in Green Bay included two Super Bowl trips—with one win—three league MVPs, multiple records and a reputation as one of the best signal-callers ever, so when he realized it was coming to an end with the historic franchise, it was understandable why he cried.

Michael Jordan

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    I'm not really sure what people thought they'd be getting when Michael Jordan stepped to the podium to deliver his Hall of Fame speech some years back.

    The guy is the greatest basketball player ever, playing with an intensity that has been unmatched in any sport, so why would he sit back and thank everyone who helped him reach the top?

    Jordan's emotions poured out of him, taking shots at former teammates and opposing players whom he used as motivation to get to the top, proving that MJ is wired a little differently than some people.

Peyton Leaves the Colts

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    After playing 14 seasons for the Indianapolis Colts, where he won a Super Bowl and four of his league MVP awards, it was only natural for Peyton Manning to get teared up in his farewell to the only franchise he ever knew back in 2012.

    In a somewhat bizarre yet unique situation, both the Colts and Manning stood at a podium thanking each other for the opportunities and crying over the good memories they had had together since they drafted him first overall in 1998.

    In a sports world that is often about the biggest buck and greener pastures, both sides showed class and loyalty during his exit from Indy.

Kevin Durant's MVP

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    It has been a long road to the top for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.

    In addition to trying to get over the hump of winning an NBA title, the star actually admitted to being fed up with finishing second his whole life.

    So when KD won the league’s MVP this past season, he let every ounce of emotion come out of him during his acceptance press conference, calling his mom the real MVP and showing tears of both joy and hard work to get to where he finally did.

The Promise

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    Although his pro football career didn’t work out as he would have liked, one thing former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is really good at is motivating other people.

    Whether that means being sent to a prison to talk to inmates and inspire them—as he did while still in college—or personally guaranteeing his team would do what was necessary to win a second national title in three years following a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss his junior year, Tebow’s words have become quite famous around the state of Florida—just as this speech known as “The Promise” did.

Michael Irvin

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    One of football’s biggest trash-talkers and a notorious bad boy during his career, former Dallas Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin showed during his Hall of Fame induction speech that he was actually just a big softy deep down.

    Standing on the podium with tears just pouring from his eyes, Irvin showed the world that his love for the game was more than just all about being brash.

You Don't Live in Cleveland

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    As a Cleveland sports fan, this is one that ruffles my feathers a bit considering it was said by former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche as a knock on Cleveland.

    Following a call during a game against the Seattle Seahawks in 1989, Bengals fans found themselves throwing beer bottles at the refs and taking their frustration out on Seahawks players.

    Trying to help settle the situation, Wyche got on the stadium PA and reminded fans they were expected to have more class than that of their instate rivals up North—which generated cheers from the entire stadium.

Tom Izzo

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    Although it didn’t have the ending anyone ever wants—especially when talking about an eight-year-old—seeing the way the entire Michigan State Spartans basketball team rallied around the passing of Lacey Holsworth was inspiring stuff.

    Over the course of the season, Lacey—who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer—became fond of and grew close to Spartans big man Adreian Payne, writing and talking with Adreian nearly every day.

    When Lacey passed away in April of this year, Coach Izzo proved just how dear the girl was to the entire program, delivering a heartfelt message at a vigil held for her on campus.

Muhammad Ali

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    There are trash-talkers and self-promoters, and then there is boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who pretty much created the art of not only running his mouth, but also using it to psych out his opponent.

    And Ali's "I'm the greatest in the world" speech is hands-down one of the most famous in sports history, often plastered on the walls of college frats as inspiration for dudes everywhere.

    The former heavyweight and Olympic champion knew when he talked, people listened—and that he wasn't afraid of any situation.

Jack Buck

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    One of the most historic voices in sports, Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck represented all that was good with sports, working the mic at games for over 40 years in sports like baseball and football.

    A class act, one of Buck’s finest moments came in the first game back for the St. Louis Cardinals following the events of September 11, 2001.

    Standing in the center of the diamond, Buck recited the poem "For America," which he had written to help lift the spirits of not only the city of St. Louis, but also of every American who was trying to overcome what had happened.

Win One for the Gipper

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    After Notre Dame Fighting Irish great George Gipp died of pneumonia before his final college game against an undefeated Army team, then-coach Knute Rockne told his team one simple message at halftime—“Win one for the Gipper.”

    And that they did, as the Irish beat Army in Yankee Stadium in honor of their fallen teammate to spoil their perfect season.

    The saying has since become synonymous with all underdogs in sports ever since.

Jim Valvano

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    Seeing how former N.C. State Wolfpack men's basketball coach Jim Valvano led his 1983 squad to a national title over the heavily favored Houston Cougars team, one can argue that he's one of the most inspirational men in sports.

    And if there was any doubt, just look at the reaction—and amount of tears—he received during his speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards, leaving athletes and entertainers looking for tissues.

    This speech was the building block on which The V Foundation was based and is the perfect PSA for cancer research.

Lou Gehrig

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    As one probably imagines, Lou Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man" speech was the entire inspiration for this piece, so I'd be foolish not to put it atop my list.

    Just celebrating its 75th anniversary, Gehrig's strong words have become some of the most famous in U.S. history, giving people who never saw him play a lasting image about what type of player and person he was.

    It also allowed fans back then to realize just how deadly and saddening ALS is, as it ultimately took The Iron Horse's life.

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