We can have an argument about whether Chris Davis' 109-yard field goal return against Alabama is the greatest play in Auburn football history. What's no longer a question is whether it was the single best play in sports of the last year.
Davis came away with the 2014 ESPY Award for Best Play on Wednesday, winning the fan vote after nearly a month-long process. The top overall seed in a 16-play bracket, Davis' return came out on top of a final four that included teammate Ricardo Lewis' Hail Mary touchdown against Georgia, Paula Creamer's 75-foot putt and Damian Lillard's playoff buzzer-beater against the Rockets.
Congratulations to Chris Davis and Auburn for winning the ESPY for Play of the Year. pic.twitter.com/DUr8ZFh8gx— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 17, 2014
Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com shared a statement from Davis' acceptance speech:
I wish they had 10 more of these so I could give to my other teammates who were on the field at that time."
Without them. I wouldn't be standing here today.
Being nominated for an award is great, but winning one leaves an unbelievable feeling. I want to thank the Auburn family, everybody who helps support it and voted for me to win this award.
Even though all four plays were impressive in their own right, Davis came in as a considerable favorite for good reason.
Sent back on a whim by Gus Malzahn, the Auburn cornerback caught Alabama kicker Adam Griffith's 56-yard field goal attempt with his back foot inches away from the out-of-bounds line. Davis proceeded to allude one tackle around the 20-yard line, another at midfield and go the rest of the way unimpeded as his special teams unit did a marvelous job of holding their blocks.
The touchdown snapped Alabama's 15-game winning streak, ended the Crimson Tide's run at a three-peat national championship run and vaulted Auburn into its rival's place. It also helped cap off one of the more remarkable one-year turnarounds in college football history, as Malzahn flipped the script on a 3-9 team and turned them into the national runner-up.
"He wanted to return punts. He made that very adamant with us," Malzahn told Jim Crepea of USA Today in May. "So I'm glad our coaches gave him an opportunity."
Davis' return tied the longest field goal return in college football history. Some, including Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, called it the single best ending in the history of sport. We're not going to judge the veracity of such claims, but it goes without saying there was a reason Davis' return was considered far and away the favorite.
Chris Davis shouldve won it. Our grandkids are gonna be seeing that play.— D'Brickashaw (@DragonflyJonez) July 17, 2014
Best Play..Chris Davis...WAR EAGLE!!!! #espys— Nick Fairley (@Nick_Fairley251) July 17, 2014
The play that arguably came closest was also from the Tigers' magical season. Down 38-37 with 36 seconds remaining and facing a 4th-and-18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall stepped up in the pocket and threw what could nicely be described as a wildly ill-advised pass. The ball, flung in the middle of three Georgia defenders, bounced into the hands of two colliding defensive backs, popped up into the air and then landed in the hands of Lewis, who just so happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Without that moment—rightly dubbed the Prayer at Jordan-Hare—Davis' touchdown wouldn't have had nearly as much meaning. Given how momentum sometimes works with college athletes, perhaps it wouldn't have happened at all.
My opinion: "Prayer at Jordan-Hare" is more important than Kick 6. Prayer doesn't happen #Auburn loses. If Kick 6 doesn't happen, overtime.— Ryan McCollough (@RyanLMcCollough) July 17, 2014
That said, neither Auburn moment came in the playoffs. The same can't be said for Lillard and Creamer.
The Portland Trail Blazers' game-winner might have been the best single basketball play since Ray Allen's three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. With 0.9 seconds on the clock, and only a catch-and-shoot opportunity awaiting, Lillard came flying off a screen, caught Nicolas Batum's pass in stride and hit a cold-blooded three as time expired.
Of course, it wasn't just the shot itself that was impressive. It was everything the shot represented. The Blazers, having taken a 2-0 series lead on the Rockets' home floor, were suddenly in danger of going back to Houston for a series-deciding Game 7. A Rockets win would have flipped the script of the entire series.
Instead, Lillard continued to cement his reputation as the game's best crunch-time scorer and the ascending Blazers advanced.
We're using wordplay to include Creamer in the transition—her 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions came in a playoff, the golf equivalent of overtime—but it's nonetheless impressive. Her miracle putt went over ridges, up hills, down hills and made one big left swing to go right into the center of the cup.
In previous years, any number of these plays could have been voted the best. But when some are talking about yours in the same breath as the all-time great moments our parents grew up telling us about, that's something special. Davis won and deserved to. There was never a doubt.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.