The 20 Most Random Sports Heroes
We don't realize why we love sports when Alex Rodriguez, who makes $30 million a year, hits a game-winning home run.
We don't realize why we love sports when Kobe Bryant drops 40 in the NBA Finals because that's what he's supposed to do.
We love sports for the same reason we love guys like Adam Sandler; when a guy who looks like he could be your next-door neighbor becomes immortal, it just makes you feel like anything's possible.
Rosters run deep in every sport, so when the everyman at the bottom of the depth chart hits the game-winning home run, or the scrub who barely qualified goes hole-for-hole with Tiger Woods, it reminds us what makes sports so magical.
They can bring out parts of us that we didn't even know existed.
Here are 20 guys who had no business hanging with the stars, yet they did it any way.
Honorable Mention: Desmond Howard, Super Bowl XXXI
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We start this list off with a guy we always knew was great, yet forgot about.
In college, Desmond Howard was about as dangerous with a football in his hands as Charlie Sheen is with a microphone.
But Howard was always considered a major bust as a pro—well, that was until Super Bowl XXXI.
While Brett Favre was busy trying to think of a way to bang Cameron Diaz, Howard took over that game.
He put the game on ice in the third quarter with his kick return to the house and totaled 244 all-purpose yards for the game.
Not too bad for a bust.
20. Leon Spinks, Feb. 15, 1978
Leon Spinks was—putting it nicely—a mediocre boxer for his career.
By the time he had officially retired his record was 26-17-3.
But it mattered not how he retired, it mattered who he retired.
When Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali, it was essentially the end of Ali as we knew him.
Nobody in the history of sports had more swagger than Ali, yet after the night of Feb. 15, 1978 he would never again be the same.
And who was the man who slayed the king of charisma? Leon Spinks.
Not bad for a mediocre boxer from Missouri.
19. Dexter Jackson, Super Bowl XXXVII
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Going into Super Bowl XXXVII, Dexter Jackson was an afterthought on an absolutely dominant Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.
Most considered his biggest asset to the team his ability to not screw up, since that was all he was ever asked to do.
But on the night that followed Super Bowl XXXVII, Jackson had something that Dan Marino Brett Favre, and Walter Payton never got—a Super Bowl MVP award.
Jackson picked off two passes in the Super Bowl, and now he plays in the UFL.
Talk about adrenaline...
18. Keith Smart, 1987 NCAA Championship Game
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You know Keith Smart. He's been coaching in the NBA for more than a decade.
What you don't know about Smart though, is that he's a former NBA scrub for the San Antonio Spurs. And before that, he was a star at Garden City Community College.
But somewhere in between, for just one year, he played for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Obviously as a community college transfer, he was far from heralded in the Hoosier state, but that changed after the 1987 NCAA Championship game.
Smart etched himself in Hoosier history that night by hitting the game-winning shot, and then he never accomplished another thing as a basketball player in his life.
17. John Druce, 1989-90 NHL Playoffs
John Druce was never really a good NHL player, but you wouldn't know that watching the 1989-1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In his 531-game career, Druce scored 113 goals; through 15 games of the 1990 playoffs, he scored 14 goals.
The only reason he's not higher is because the Caps didn't win the Stanley Cup that year.
16. Rocco Mediate, 2008 U.S. Open
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People tend to forget it these days, but in 2008, Rocco Mediate was the hottest name in sports.
Because unlike Tiger Woods he wasn't a millionaire, he wasn't a big name and he actually seemed like an average guy.
But at Torrey Pines in 2008 he was far from average.
The 46-year-old Mediate was a pinky's-width away from victory several times during his showdown with Woods, and even though he did officially lose to Tiger after seven sudden-death holes, Mediate was a winner on that day.
15. James Washington, Super Bowl XXVIII
Going into Super Bowl XXVIII, James Washington's biggest claim to fame was that his grandfather—George Washington Carver—invented peanut butter.
Okay, I made that up, but the point is that going into that game, nobody cared to know who Washington was.
11 tackles, an interception and a fumble return touchdown later, Washington was etched into history.
And he never had to lie about his relatives again.
14. Dewayne Wise, July 23, 2009
Mark Buehrle probably has one of the strangest careers of any pitcher in MLB history.
He has an all-time web gem, no-hitter, perfect game and World Series ring in his career, yet he's never been in the discussion with the best pitchers in baseball.
That might be because he never should have thrown a perfect game to begin with.
On the night of that game, Buehrle gave up a home run to Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler—it just never left the park.
That's because Dewayne Wise, who had been put in as a defensive replacement, made one of the most impressive and clutch plays in MLB history.
He robbed Kapler of a home run and became a White Sox legend.
13. Mike Jones, Super Bowl XXXIV
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I didn't believe that until I saw the picture to the left.
That's Mike Jones' entire career right there, in one picture.
12. Upset, 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes
Man-O-War was the Bill Russell of horse racing—he didn't lose.
Until the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes, he had literally never lost a race in his life.
Betting against Man-O-War was like trying to fight Mark Wahlberg; if you had common sense, you never even considered it.
If you would have put $10 on Upset to win the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes, you would have came away $990 richer.
That's how unlikely he was to win. He was a 100-1 underdog.
When Upset handed Man-O-War the only loss of his dominant 21-race career, the world stopped spinning for a second.
Anybody who picked against Man-O-War was stupid, but anybody who picked the 100-1 underdog Upset to beat Man-O-War was a new kind of stupid.
Until the race was over, that is.
11. Mike Eruzione, 1980 Winter Olympics
The Miracle On Ice never would have happened if not for the incredible leadership of Mike Eruzione.
He was the heart and soul of the team that helped deliver one of the greatest moments in American sports.
That is pretty impressive when you consider that he was a 25-year-old who had never played a game in the NHL.
Now Eruzione will live on in America long after his death.
10. Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series Game 1
Kirk Gibson was the NL MVP in 1988, yet he was still a shocking hero in the World Series that year.
Why? Because going into Game 1 of the series, he had a stomach virus and injuries to both legs.
With two outs in the ninth and the Dodgers trailing 4-3, Tommy Lasorda sent Gibson to the plate.
He hit a two-run home run.
Talk about a career-defining moment.
9. Don Larsen, 1956 World Series Game 5
Don Larsen was a terrible MLB pitcher. He never won 20 games in a season, but he did once lose 20.
So most everyone was surprised to see the Yankees give him the ball in Game 5 after his implosion in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series.
Perhaps nobody was more surprised than Larsen himself, who didn't even know he was starting that day until he arrived at the ballpark and saw the ball tucked into his glove.
"I couldn't believe he was pitching that day. I still can't believe the look he had on his face when he saw the ball...shock or something," teammate Moose Skowron said.
Later that night Larsen would make baseball history by throwing the first (and to this date only) perfect game in MLB playoff history.
I guess it just goes to show that any MLB pitcher can be great if they get their stuff under control.
8. Bucky Dent, 1978 AL East One-Game Playoff
In his 12-year career, Bucky Dent hit a total of just 40 home runs.
To call him a power-hitter would be to sin by lying.
Yet on the night of Oct. 2, 1978, Dent had all the power he'd ever need.
His seventh-inning home run put the Yankees ahead 3-2, which was a lead they'd never relinquish.
Not bad for a career .247 hitter.
7. Stephane Matteau, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
People love to talk about how Mark Messier single-handedly saved a Rangers franchise from a deep, deep championship drought.
However, what people forget is the fact that he never would have had the chance to do that if not for Stephane Matteau.
Matteau never scored more than 23 goals in his entire NHL career, but that clearly didn't bother him too much in 1994.
First he scored an overtime goal to win Game 3 for the Rangers, but what he did next would forever be etched in time.
In the overtime period of Game 7, Matteau put the puck past Martin Brodeur and sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup.
6. Robert Horry, Time After Time
While everybody else was arguing whether it was Kobe Bryant (five) or Michael Jordan (six) who was the new NBA "Lord of the Rings," Robert Horry was too busy winning his seventh to care.
"Big Shot Rob" averaged seven points per game in his career. Yet somehow, someway, he managed to end up with the ball every time his team needed a clutch shot, and he always delivered.
He hit game-winning playoff shots too many times to count, yet nobody ever thought he would do it.
Every time he got the ball against your team down the stretch, you would say, "Oh no." Before he got it though, you were screaming at your TV that they needed to double cover Tim Duncan, Kobe or Hakeem—never Robert Horry.
He always managed to get open somehow, and that's why we were always surprised to see him sink a game-winner. Maybe if we hadn't been, he'd have two or three less rings.
5. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII
Through the entire 1987 season, Timmy Smith had a total of 29 carries for 126 yards.
During that same season, in Super Bowl XXII, Smith set a Super Bowl rushing record with 204 yards on 22 carries.
Where the hell did that come from?
And the most amazing thing about this story is that Smith was out of football just two seasons later.
4. John "Jumbo" Elliott, Monday Night Miracle
For No.4 on this list let's go with my boy Jumbo Elliott.
These days you can find him over at Powerhouse Gym or at one of the two Dunkin' Donuts he owns over on Long Island, but long before he even had to consider what he'd be doing after football, he became one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of sports.
During a classic Monday Night Football game between the Jets and Dolphins, Miami had a 30-7 lead at halftime, which is when most fans decided to head home.
Not a smart decision.
After an incredible comeback led by Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the Jets were down by only seven with time running out in the fourth quarter.
So who do you go to with your last chance at making something of an incredible comeback?
Wayne Chrebet? Nah. Laveranues Coles? Nope.
Oh I know, what about washed-up offensive lineman Jumbo Elliott? Now you're talkin'.
He made the juggling catch in the end zone to tie the game in one of the most shocking moments in sports history.
3. Aaron Boone, 2003 ALCS
"On a scale from one to Aaron Boone, how shocking was it?"
I had a friend ask me that question recently, and then I remembered just how incredible his series-clinching, Game 7 home run in the 2003 ALCS really was.
Boone had been platooning with Robin Ventura for most of the season at third base, and the only reason he was even in the game was because he had come in earlier as a pinch-runner.
But Boone didn't care, as he made the most of his lone at-bat of the game when he homered off Tim Wakefield to keep the Curse of the Bambino alive for one more year.
What a magical night.
2. Buster Douglas, Feb. 11, 1990
There was a time when you were considered lucky to make it to the second round against Mike Tyson.
That time ended on Feb. 11, 1990 when he was shockingly knocked out by 42-1 underdog James "Buster" Douglas.
Douglas, whose mother had died just 23 days before the fight, clearly went into this one with a heavy heart, and he left it a champion.
This man is as close to a real-life Rocky Balboa as you'll see.
1. David Tyree, Super Bowl XLII
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David Tyree made four catches the entire 2007 NFL season—he made three in Super Bowl XLII.
Two of those three had a big impact on the game.
With 11:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Tyree caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning that put the Giants up 10-7.
At that moment, before anything else happened, I'll never forget asking myself, "Who the hell is that?" And that was coming from a guy who watched almost every game the Giants played that season (as a New Yorker, I was forced to.)
10 game minutes later, I would find out exactly who that was, and I would never forget it either.
With 1:15 left in the fourth quarter, Tyree made the greatest catch in Super Bowl history.
He went up with Hall-of-Fame safety Rodney Harrison and somehow held onto the ball, despite Harrison giving all he had to knock it out. He then pinned it up against his helmet and made the stunning catch.
The Giants went on to win the game.
But my favorite part of this story is that Tyree never caught another pass in his NFL career.
That's one hell of a way to go out.