10 of the Best Championship Moments of the Past Decade

Zac WassinkFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2017

10 of the Best Championship Moments of the Past Decade

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    GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

    We remember special moments from previous Super Bowl contests each January as the current year's title game approaches. It doesn't hurt, at the moment, that arguably three of the biggest single plays in Super Bowl history occurred over the past decade. 

    Wide receivers David Tyree and Santonio Holmes both made catches for the ages at pivotal points of Super Bowls. Which, of the two, you believe is the better play is a matter of opinion. Don't forget New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler also retrieved a pass to clinch a championship for his team, and that interception made Butler a household name among football fans. 

    Villanova won a national championship on the final shot of a tournament. Adam Scott tasted triumph at the 2013 Masters after an epic end to 72 holes of competition. Miesha Tate won a title she had chased for years, only to then lose that championship her next fight.

    Oh, and the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.

    A plethora of historic and remarkable championship moments occurred over the past ten years. Which, among them, is your favorite? What moment not mentioned here belongs on the list? 

Sergio Aguero Wins the Premier League

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    Heading into the final day of the 2011-12 Premier League season, we knew either Manchester City or Manchester United would win the league. The two rivals were level on points (86), and City held a commanding advantage in goal difference. All the blue side of Manchester had to do, theoretically, was defeat Queens Park Rangers at home to clinch the title. 

    United defeated Sunderland 1-0, but City trailed QPR 2-1 at the start of stoppage time even though the visitors were down to ten men. Edin Dzeko gave City fans hope when his header hit the back two minutes into stoppage time for an equalizer, but another goal was needed to avoid a devastating end to the campaign. 

    Then came arguably the most famous single kick in the history of the Premier League. In the fourth of what had, originally, been announced as five minutes of extra time, Mario Balotelli slid a pass over to teammate Sergio Aguero inside the penalty area, and Aguero delivered a rocket of a right-footed strike that beat goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and pushed City back to the top of the table. 

    ESPN's Richard Jolly referred to City's last-second title win as the "the greatest escape," but it was more than that. It was one of the best endings to any season, all sports included, we'll ever behold. 

Malcolm Butler Clinches Super Bowl XLIX

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    As USA Today's Chris Chase wrote following Super Bowl XLIX, a lot had to happen for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler to intercept Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to clinch the title for the Patriots. 

    Wide receiver Ricardo Lockette could and possibly should have done better to cut a sharper route and beat Butler to the ball. Wilson could've changed the play at the line or called a timeout. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had enough time to realize handing the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch with a timeout still in his pocket was probably the better call. 

    The pass was run as planned, though, and thus Butler made one of the best defensive plays in Super Bowl history. 

    Criticisms of Seattle electing to pass the ball in that situation sometimes overshadow Butler's heroics. Butler began a diagonal run to intercept Lockette's route right as Wilson received the snap, and the cornerback then maintained possession even though he and Lockette collided right as he caught the ball. 

    Plenty of NFL defensive backs likely would've dropped the ball on a similar play, thus gifting the Seattle offense one more chance to find the end zone for a game-winning score with only seconds remaining on the clock. 

Angel Cabrera Matches Adam Scott at 2013 Masters

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    Adam Scott probably thought he won the 2013 Masters when, per ESPN, he sunk a 20-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole to finish his final round of the tournament. It was a lengthy and legendary putt worthy of winning on such a famous course, and it gave Scott a one-stroke lead over Angel Cabrera. 

    Cabrera, meanwhile, faced a second shot from 163 yards away, one made more difficult by a downpour. The Argentinian masterfully handled the situation, as he dropped his approach only a few feet from the hole. Like Scott before him, Cabrera sunk the putt for birdie to force a playoff, and those watching at Augusta erupted in applause upon witnessing one of the more dramatic finishes of a final round of a major tournament. 

    Scott went on to win the playoff, but what happened on the 18th hole is what will linger in our memories for years and decades to come. 

Villanova Wins the Title on a Buzzer-Beater

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    The 2016 NCAA tournament came down to what team had the final possession. 

    Villanova held a 74-71 lead over North Carolina with seven seconds remaining when North Carolina guard Marcus Paige drained a high-difficulty three-point shot to tie the game. Paige left his feet beyond the arc, pumped to avoid having his shot blocked by a defender and then released an off-balance attempt that circled into the hoop. 

    It would probably be remembered as the best three-pointer from last year's tournament if not for Villanova's Kris Jenkins. 

    With 4.7 seconds to play, Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled up the court and near the top of the key before passing off to teammate Kris Jenkins. Jenkins did well to position his body to shoot as soon as he caught the pass, and the forward sunk a three-pointer as time expired to win the game and the championship for the Wildcats. 

LeBron James Wins Cleveland a Title

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    We sometimes forget sports superstars are just like us. Yes, they're incredible athletes who achieve impressive physical feats, but they're also humans who struggle with emotions, stress, fatigue and other potential setbacks. 

    LeBron James' career story came full circle in the seconds and minutes following Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals last June. James helped the Cleveland Cavaliers erase a 3-1 series deficit and defeat the Golden State Warriors roughly six years after the product of Akron, Ohio broke Cleveland hearts by leaving the Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat. 

    Gone was the title drought that hovered over Cleveland sports for 52 years and that made the city a punchline of late-night talk show hosts. "King James," once a villain in his adopted hometown, became the hero who fulfilled his promise bring a championship to Cleveland as Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today wrote. 

    The greatest basketball player of his generation couldn't contain his emotions while speaking with ESPN's Doris Burke minutes after Game 7 concluded. "Cleveland," James shouted into the microphone, "this is for you!" 

    Cleveland fans who lived through the past decade will get goosebumps whenever they hear those five words. 

Santonio Holmes Wins Super Bowl XLIII

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Arizona Cardinals 23-20 with 43 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIII when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the snap from inside the Arizona seven-yard line. Roethlisberger, who already had a championship on his resume at the start of that night, remained calm and cool for several seconds in the pocket. He then threw a pass toward wide receiver Santonio Holmes even though Holmes faced a triple-coverage scenario in the corner of the end zone. 

    Holmes, incredibly, caught the ball, managed to land in the field of play and maintained possession even though he took a solid hit that knocked him out of play. The score was reviewed, but multiple angles showed Holmes got both feet down in the end zone and also held onto the ball. 

    Roethlisberger did well to place the pass where only Holmes could catch it, and Holmes somehow got both feet where they needed to be while at the same time absorbing a blow and keeping the ball from hitting the ground. 

    It'd probably be the greatest single play in Super Bowl history if not for the moment that tops this list. 

Gareth Bale Wins Copa Del Rey

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    Tottenham Hotspur superstar Gareth Bale made the move from the Premier League outfit to Spanish giants Real Madrid in September 2013, and Bale proved his worth during his first season with his new club.

    Rivals Real and Barcelona were tied 1-1 in the 85th minute of the 2014 Copa del Rey final when Bale continued a counterattack near midfield. The speedster took a single touch to play the ball behind Barcelona defender Marc Batra, and Bale then blew past Batra before entering the box and sliding a low strike past the goalkeeper for the game-winner. 

    It is, to date, arguably Bale's greatest tally because of where the attack the started, his ability to get around and ahead of Batra and then for finishing the sequence with a goal after running such a far length of space in several seconds. That his goal helped Real defeat their hated rivals to win a trophy makes it one worthy of being on this list. 

Miesha Tate Defeats Holly Holm

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    Miesha Tate was often somewhat of a secondary figure throughout her professional fighting career. Even when Tate won the Strikeforce bantamweight title in the summer of 2011, that victory set her up for a future fight versus Ronda Rousey. Rousey defeated Tate in March 2012, and the "Rowdy" one once again submitted "Cupcake" in December 2013, this time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 

    Tate, who became a babyface among pockets of fight fans, in part, because she couldn't topple Rousey, received another opportunity to hold bantamweight gold in March 2016 versus Holly Holm. Holm defeated Rousey in impressive fashion the previous November, and Tate accepted Holm's first title defense as Rousey entered a sabbatical that ultimately lasted 13 months.

    It seemed Holm would leave the cage with her title after battling Tate for four rounds. Per the MMA Junkie staff, Holm began the fifth round of the UFC 196 main event with a 38-37 lead on all three of the judges' scorecards, meaning all the champion had to do to retain her championship was survive the last five minutes of action. 

    Tate caught Holm in a rear-naked choke with under two minutes remaining in the contest, and Holm failed to escape before falling into unconsciousness. The 30-year-old earned the biggest victory of her career and, seemingly, a future rematch versus Rousey. 

    That fight never occurred, however, as Tate lost the title to Amanda Nunes at UFC 200 last July. Tate announced her retirement following a loss to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205 in November. 

Chicago Cubs Win World Series

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    The Chicago Cubs weren't underdogs to win the World Series back in the fall of 2016. Chicago, per Spotrac, sat second in total team payroll among National League teams, and that expensive roster finished the regular season with the best record in all of Major League Baseball. 

    Those players could not, however, immediately eliminate the supposed curse that haunted the Cubs for over 100 years. 

    You probably know at least part of the story. The Cubs won the World Series back in 1908, but the club then experienced a painful title drought. Chicago's last appearance in a World Series before 2016 occurred all the way back in 1945. 

    Nobody could've blamed any Chicago fan for expecting another heartbreak after the Cubs lost three of the first four games of the 2016 World Series to the Cleveland Indians. Those losses merely created the story for an epic comeback, as the Cubs won three games in a row, including two contests in downtown Cleveland, to deliver a World Series to the club's long-suffering fans. 

    Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was an instant classic. The Cubs jumped out to a 5-1 lead after the top of the fifth inning, but the Indians hung around until Rajai Davis tied the game 6-6 thanks to a dramatic three-run home run.  

    Rain stopped the action for 17 minutes following the bottom of the ninth, as Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago explained, and that stoppage gave the Chicago players time to recover from blowing a four-run lead. The Cubs scored a pair of runs in the top of the tenth and then held on for a historic 8-7 victory. 

David Tyree Helmet Catch

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    It may be the most discussed play to ever occur in a Super Bowl. 

    Roughly nine years ago, the New York Giants were 55 yards from scoring a potential championship-winning touchdown with 75 seconds left on the clock when quarterback Eli Manning dropped back to pass. Manning, somehow, escaped from a pair of pass-rushers before launching a pass deep down the middle of the field, and David Tyree rose above New England's Rodney Harrison and completed the catch with the help of one side of his helmet. 

    So much about the play separates it from the others mentioned here. Manning barely escaped what looked, at the time, like a sure sack. A referee could've blown his whistle once Manning appeared to be stopped in the pocket. Harrison could've knocked the ball away from Tyree, a WR unknown to casual football fans before that catch. 

    Last but certainly not least, it's a catch that helped prevent the Patriots from being the first NFL team in history to finish a season 19-0 and as Super Bowl champions.

    Passionate sports fans often believe, in their hearts, fate is either for or against a certain side. For whatever reasons, everything that had to go right for the Giants in those several seconds did, and New York went on to win Super Bowl XLII.