Playing through Pain and the Performances We've Grown to Love

Gage ArnoldCorrespondent IJune 30, 2008

There's nothing like witnessing a player killing himself, giving it all he has, even with an injury, just to make sure his team wins. It shows us the dedication and heart it takes to play the game, and especially the heart that player has.

It intrigues us, puts us in the mindset of wanting to work that hard and with so much passion. I mean, haven't we all hit a Wiffle ball around our backyard, acting like Kurt Gibson and his walk off HR?

We love these amazing performances. They give us a goal, a reason for us average people to give it our all, even in our daily lives.

So what are the best "playing through pain" moments? There are quite a few that could be on this list, but I have narrowed it down to 10.

So here they are—the top 10 "playing through pain" performances in sports history.


No. 10—We are in Fenway at Game Two of the 2004 World Series. Schilling got the win for the Sox against the Cards. This win really wasn't set apart except for the fact that Schilling pitched the game wearing a bloody sock.

The sutures in his ankle tore and his sock became red with blood. Even through all the pain he still pitched a solid game and got the needed win for the BoSox.

But one of the reasons I drop this so far in my mind is because we are still unsure about what was going on with the sock and if it was completely true.


No. 9—It’s the 1996 U.S. Open quarterfinals. Pete Sampras goes to take on Alex Corretja in a semifinal match. On any normal day, Corretja would have been taken down in three sets. But this, my friends, was not just any normal day.

Sampras was extremely sick and should have been in bed, but it was the U.S. Open, and the only reason he was in the tournament.

So Corretja takes full advantage of this and kills Sampras, making him run around as much as he possibly can. But Sampras holds strong despite throwing up multiple times, he manages somehow to win the match against Corretja in five sets.


No. 8—In the battle of Marshall against Akron Football, ring leader QB Byron Leftwich left the game to have X-rays on his ankle, and they came back negative for one section of tibia.

He returned in the third quarter—his team down 27-10—and tried to mount the comeback. He threw for 200 yards on a broken ankle, but their defense just couldn't stop the Zips and they eventually fell.

But what a great sight to see the two offensive linemen from Marshall carrying Leftwich down the field. Truly remarkable.


No. 7—We now venture to 2002, in the Cardinals stadium. Donovan McNabb, a young up-and-coming QB, was playing a relatively easy Cardinals team in what should have been an easy win.

Well, Donovan was sacked early in the game and came out with a "supposed" sprained ankle. He realized that he wanted to really go, so Donovan marched back out there, going 20-25 for 255 yards and four TDs, leading the Eagles to a win.

After the game he said that the supposed "sprained ankle" was actually a broken ankle. Donovan later stated that he knew it was broken but he wanted to play anyway. Now that’s guts.


No. 6—1988 World Series, Game One, Dodger Stadium. With two outs and a full count, Kirk Gibson was called to pinch-hit against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

Now, Gibson had two bum knees and struggled to walk up to the plate. He waited for the 3-2 pitch and it came right the down the pipe. He lifted it into the right field seats and completely shifted the momentum of the series in favor of the Dodgers.


No. 5—Now we enter the confines of Madison Square Garden. Though painful, there are more severe and debilitating injuries. Willis Reed's return in Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals had more of an emotional and inspiring meaning than anything else.

Yes he helped to limit Chamberlain, but he only played 27 minutes and put up four points. Taking nothing away from this amazing feat, it is still the fourth greatest moment of playing through pain.


No. 4—In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Kerri Strug, a low key gymnast on the U.S. Gymnastics team, injured her left leg on her first jump.

Instead of opting out and just disqualifying herself from the event, she went for her second jump, sticking it perfectly. She hit a 9.7, making the turn to ensure a U.S. Gold.

The image forever burnt in our minds is that of her father, Burt Strug, carrying her to the podium.


No. 3—We now venture to Utah, as the Utah Jazz have the series tied 2-2 in the 1997 NBA Championship. This was the time of Michael Jordan, but the problem was that Jordan was completely bed-ridden with the flu. Somehow he got out onto the court.

He vomited through the whole game and even had an IV at halftime. Still, he managed to keep going. He was weak, dehydrated, and emotionally out of it, but somehow MJ came through again.

He played 44 of a possible 48 minutes and scored 38 points in a huge game for the Bulls, allowing them to win the Championship in front of their home fans. A story book ending.


No. 2—So here we are, the 2002 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. Steve Yzerman was completely dominating these playoffs.

Now this really comes as no surprise as Stevie Y is one of the greatest players ever to lace 'em up.

But what sets this apart is the fact that from the halfway point until the clinching game he played on a completely shredded knee. This is nothing like a knee bruise, or a sprain—we're talking about the most gut-wrenching, body aching, stomach churning injury. And he still dominated.

Steve Yzerman, my hat goes off to you for your performance.


No. 1—This is the most recent in our memories but truly, in my opinion, it will never be topped. It is Tiger Woods' winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, literally.

Now we knew that Tiger had had reconstructive knee surgery just about six weeks prior to his appearance. He went through a very vigorous rehabilitation and it took a toll on him as he had a double stress fracture.

So this man, already with basically no cartilage in his left knee, preceded to walk miles and miles on his 18 hole journey for four days. It was extremely evident by the end of round three that Tiger was in almost unbearable pain.

Still he pressed on and hit his final birdie putt on 18 to force an 18-hole playoff with journeyman Rocco Mediate. Tiger and Rocco battled it out, and Tiger looked in contention at 12, up three strokes.

But then Rocco made a huge run with birdies 13-14-15 and a par at 16, while Tiger bogeyed.

But knowing Tiger, he made another comeback with a birdie on 18, forcing a 91st hole. Rocco butchered this hole, but still managed a chance to force another. In the end, though, he pushed a 22-footer just right and Tiger claimed victory.

We found out two days later that Tiger would be having reconstructive knee surgery. This is, hands down, the greatest performance through pain ever!


Now, let's see your rankings, readers. What is your take on my list? Good? Bad? Either way I'd love to see how you rank these amazing performances.