Beyond Clutch: The 20 Ballsiest Plays in Sports
What makes a play ballsy? Does there have to be a miraculous outcome? Does the performer or team have to defy all odds in order to succeed?
The bottom line is that all of these people were not afraid to lose. You cannot win at the biggest stage, if you are not willing to put it all on the line and do whatever it takes to win.
In all likelihood, these plays were the result of an "act now, think later" attitude. They make this list and have secured a spot in the limelight.
20. Bo Kimble Honors Hank Gathers...Left Handed
Game Situation: Every first free throw taken by Bo Kimble after the death of close friend and teammate Hank Gathers
Result: Made shot vs. New Mexico State
Some players write the name of a fallen teammate on their shoes, or wear a patch on their jersey. Kimble paid homage to Hank Gathers in an entirely different way. Each game that he played, he would shoot his first free throw left handed, just like Gathers tried doing, to show that he was always with him.
This was an incredibly intense and ballsy way of showing your support and respect for someone that is no longer with you.
Ballsy Meter: 4
19. New York Giants Go for It on 4th and 2 in 1990 NFC Championship Game
Game Situation: 1990 NFC Championship game; 13-9 49ers ahead, 4th & 2, fake punt
Result: 30 yard run by linebacker Gary Reasons
Recipe for success:
- -Knock out Joe Montana
- -Run a 30 yard fake punt with a linebacker
- -Have Lawrence Taylor recover a fumble
- -Let your kicker score all your points
Add a little Parcells magic and watch your team win a close one.
Ballsy Meter: 5
18. Michael Jordan Shoots Free Throw with Eyes Closed
Game Situation: Chicago v. Denver; Jordan taunts Mutombo with eyes closed free throw
Result: Nothing but net
Jordan learned this one from Bugs Bunny. When you can do everything in the world physically possible on a basketball court, why not try it WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED. Jordan shot free throws with his eyes closed on a couple of occasions, but when he did it, it was always to make a point. The next logical step would have been for the league to tie one hand behind his back..
If anyone did that today, they would be the lead story on PTI, Around the Horn, and Sportscenter. Imagine if he missed it...
Nah, he is Michael Jordan, forget I even suggested that.
Ballsy Meter: 5
17. Devin Hester Goes the Distance Vs. the Giants
Game Situation: (2006) 4th quarter 52-yard field goal attempt; 24-20 Bears
Result: 108-yard return for a touchdown
You watch something like this and you think to yourself, "Ah too bad, the field goal is short. Oh wait, Hester is back there to return. He made the catch. There’s no way he’s going to take this out. No he won’t…nooooo. Oh wow, he is running. Someone get him. Oh my god someone get him. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! There are no blue jerseys in sight!!!"
I know these guys are big special team lineman, but come on, put up a fight.
For Hester, that was some serious stuff. Without a return, the ball would have been spotted 50 yards ahead of where he caught that ball. Running 108 yards is no joke. That was pure speed and defines what a good return man is.
Ballsy Meter: 6
16. Meachem Gets Redemption on the Redskins
Game Situation: 3rd and 26, Drew Brees pass intercepted at Washington 30
Result: Robert Meachem chases Kareem Moore down, steals the ball, and runs for a touchdown
Have you ever seen the scene in the movie The Replacements when Gene Hackman tells Danny Bateman (Jon Favreau), to “get me the ball.” He goes and rips the ball from the running back and physically brings him the ball. I’m pretty sure that had to be going through Robert Meachem’s mind when he stole the ball from Kareem Moore.
Most wide receivers try to push the defensive player out of bounds, or hopes that he trips over his shoelaces. Meachem pulled off one of the coolest plays you will see, and really showed some guts.
Ballsy Meter: 6
15. Music City Miracle
Game Situation: 2000 Wildcard playoff; 16 seconds 16-15
Result: Kevin Dyson 75 yard kickoff return
The Buffalo Bills are like a cool guy you meet at the party. He seems nice, knows a fair amount about sports, and likes beer. But, when he asks if you want to hangout, he follows it up with, “Hold on, let me see if my mom is cool with us coming over—I still live with her.” Or, “Wait a second, let me get my Member's Only jacket.”
They are always going to disappoint in the craziest ways.
As for the game, the Titans did not just go with your standard toss the ball around in the backyard until someone gets tackled strategy. They threw a lateral, across the field, an unheard of trick, and Kevin Dyson did the rest.
Ballsy Meter: 6
14. Marino Fakes out the Jets...with a Spike
Game Situation: 1994, Week 13, 29 second remaining, 24-21 Jets
Result: Marino throws game winning touchdown
Not only did Marino fake out the Jets, but he even faked out a few of his own teammates that did not the know the play was coming.
It is in the Jets DNA to find new and creative ways to lose a game; this was #748. This is one of those plays only legends make. In a split second, you need to let the receiver know its coming without giving anything away to the defense.
If he is not on the same page as his receiver, the ball can be picked off and the game would be over. He was confident and pretty damn awesome.
Ballsy Meter: 6.5
13. Jeter Dives into the Stands
Game Situation: July 1, 2004 NY Yankees vs. Boston, 12th inning, two outs
Result: Jeter makes running catch and dives into the stands
THE CAPTAIN! Mr. Intangibles. Mr. Clutch. Mr. November. I could go on and on, but I can hear shrilling Mets fans in my ear.
There are rumors that Jeter dove into the stands, signed an autograph, served hot dogs, and found the cure for the common cold, all in those 10 seconds.
This was another one of those magical plays by Jeter in an illustrious, Hall of Fame career.
Ballsy Meter: 6.5
12. Roethlisberger to Holmes Through a Pinhole
Game Situation: Super Bowl XLIII, 23-20 Cardinals, 43 seconds remaining
Result: Roethlisberger to Holmes TD pass
Roethlisberger threw the pass operating with the pocket collapsing, between three defenders, and through a hole the size of the football itself. No big deal. This was a clutch throw that lady luck deserves some credit for. In addition to the amazing throw, there was a great drive that got the team down to the red zone in a very short time.
Not too many quarterbacks could have the ability or the guts to make that throw in the back of the endzone at the end of the Super Bowl, with time winding down and the whole world watching.
Ballsy Meter: 7
11. Ali Farokhmanesh's Three Against Kansas in 2010 NCAA Tournament
Game Situation: Northern Iowa vs. Kansas, 2010 NCAA Tournament 2nd round; N. Iowa up by 1
Result: Farokhmanesh ices a three
Up by a point, game clock to go, with the ball in your hands. 99.9% of basketball players would pass it around, dribble it out, or at the very least, hold it tight. Ali Farokhmanesh lives in that .1%.
In last year's NCAA tournament, up by one, Farokhmanesh put the dagger in hundreds, and thousands of people's hearts and brackets, sinking that three pointer at the least expected time.
If he misses the shot, he is the goat; the player that gave up the game to Kansas and the chance to be remembered forever.
The announcer of the game said it best. "YOU CANT BE SERIOUS WITH THAT SHOT?"
Crazy Meter: 7
10. Kurt Gibson Goes Deep
Game situation: Game 1, 1988 World Series; Dennis Eckersley v. Kirk Gibson, 3-2 pitch
Result: Walk off Home Run in the right field bleachers
Vin Scully said it best. "Talk about a roll of the dice..." It's one of those timeless clips you can watch over and over again (except if you're an A's fan), and never get sick of.
Gibson, with nothing left in his legs, and no physical energy because of his stomach virus, stepped up to the plate and took two straight strikes. After battling back, he took Eckersley's 3-2 to deep right for a home run. A movie director could not have imagined it any better.
Tommy LaSorda had guts to put up Gibson, who had limited physical ability, against one of the greatest closers of all time. I am pretty sure that if you look closely, you can see Christopher Loyd, from Angels in Outfield, come down to hold the bat for Gibson and hit the ball out of the park because what he did was simply miraculous.
Crazy Meter: 7.5
9. Vince Carter Dunks over Fredrick Weis in 2000 Olympics
Game Situation: 2000 Olympics; US vs. France
Result: Vince Carter goes off
Phone conversation with my dad in the summer of 2000:
Dad: Hey you know the guy that Knicks drafted in last year's draft, Frederic Weis?
Me: Yeah I hear he is pretty good.
Dad: Vince Carter jumped over him.
Me: Vince Carter did what!?!? Isn't he 7'0'' tall?
Dad: Yeah, actually he is bigger. But Carter dunked right over him. It was the craziest things I have ever seen.
The French call it the dunk of death, I just call it absolutely sick. I wonder what was going on in Vince Carter's head right when he got the ball.
"Hey this guy is in front of me. I can go around him. Maybe pass it off. Or....I can just go over him. I can clear seven feet, right? Right?!?!?"
This is pretty ballsy, because if he didn't clear his head, not only would Carter have gotten hurt, but he would have gotten to know Weis way too well.
Probably the best dunk of all time.
Crazy Meter: 8
8. Michigan St Vs. Notre Dame 2010 Overtime TD Pass on Fake Field Goal
Game Situation: 31-28 Notre Dame; Michigan State lines up for field goal to tie in overtime
Result: Fake field goal and touchdown pass to win the game
It was the third game of the season and coach Mike Dantonio was calling a do or die play to win the game in overtime. In college football, one loss and you can be done in your conference and this coach decides to put the fate of his season in the hands of his holder.
I will give them some credit. Notre Dame looked completely off guard and the play worked to perfection. The look on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s face was that of someone who just watched his girlfriend making out with the school jock; the “oh $&!% what just happened” look.
Kelly smiled gracefully as he walked off, but that is not the way you want to lose your first road game as a new head coach—with your tail between your legs.
Ballsy Meter: 8.5
7. Closing Moments of 1984 Orange Bowl
Game Situation: 31-30 Miami leads Nebraska; going for 2 pt conversion, the win, and a a perfect 13-0 season
Result: Miami stops them and wins National Championship
You have to realize the oddity of the situation. If Nebraska kicks the extra point, the game would end in a tie (they still had ties back then—I know crazy). At 12-0-1, they will probably would have been crowned the national champion, because they were the only team that had not lost a game all season.
Coach Tom Osborne took an incredible risk that did not pay off, giving Miami the championship and ruining the undefeated season. We can give him props, but come on man, sometimes a tie is like kissing your step sister.
Ballsy Meter: 8.5
6. Federer Through the Legs
Game Situation: 3rd set, Federer up 2-0 in sets, 6-5 3rd set, 30-0
Result: Federer between the legs, back to the net passing shot
How deflating it must have been to play Federer back in his prime. You could hit one hundred beautiful shots, and on the 101st, Federer would embarrass you. This was no different. Up in the match, and all but certain to win, this was the dagger.
Djokavic played the ball over Federer’s head, and instead of running back and trying a defensive lob, Federer basically said “F you, not only am I going to win, but watch this.” Even he seemed surprised at this one. For his next trick, he will play left handed.
Ballsy Meter: 9
5. Ted Williams Playing Last Day of the Season with .400 Average
Game Situation: 1941, last day of the season (doubleheader); Williams with .400 average
Result: Goes (6-8), plays both games; ends the season with .406 average
Let's put some things into perspective. In 1941, there were no unofficial at bats (walks, sac flies, etc. counted). Entering the day, he already was hitting .400, an amazing baseball feat.
In today’s day and age, if a player was hitting .400 going into his last game of the season, he would probably sit out even if it was a pennant race, to preserve this coveted baseball accomplishment.
“.400” t-shirts would be printed by everyone and their mother, and sold by anyone with a trunk to sell it out of. Not only did Williams play on that day, but he played both games of the double header.
Ballsy Meter: 9
4. Mickelson Masters 2010 Miracle
Game Situation: 13th hole, 2nd shot of par 5; behind a tree
Result: Right onto the green
We play sports with emotion, but Mickelson was playing this particular Masters with a heavier heart. His wife had been battling cancer, he had taken time off of golf, and this was his way of returning to a place of comfort when everything else in his life was in chaos.
He had the gall to go for the green when he could hardly see three feet in front of him. The shot itself was masterful. In the rough, between two trees, and over the water the ball soared and landed within three feet of the hole.
It was the shot of the tournament and now everyone else on the tour has an “H.”
Ballsy Meter: 9
3. Boise State Statue of Liberty in Overtime for the Win
Game Situation: 2007 Fiesta Bowl; Boise State v. Oklahoma, 2 pt conversion for the win in overtime
Result: Statue of liberty and Boise State win
I call this the text message game. This is because every time I texted my friend saying, "RIP Boise" I would quickly have to erase it and write "OMG DID YOU JUST SEE WHAT BOISE JUST DID?!"
Mid Majors do not beat BCS schools without going for it in the big time. Chris Peterson is one of the ballsiest coaches in college football, and I can say with confidence that this game changed college football forever.
No longer are we looking at small schools as being incapable of competing in BCS bowls. Just another example of how the BCS is broken and by far the greatest football game I have ever seen.
Ballsy Meter: 9
2. Saints Onside Kick to Start Second Half
Game Situation: Super Bowl XLIV, Saints vs. Colts; Start of second half onside kick
Result: Saints recover
Is Peyton Manning the most feared man in football? Sean Payton clearly thinks so. The Saints coach would rather gamble with the team's field position and get the ball back at the start of the second half, than to give Manning the ball in his own territory.
Whether this is stupid, or brilliant, I still cannot decide. You have to be ready to lose your head for a decision like that. The only reason this is not a ten, is because there was still plenty of time left in the game to be played. This was by far the ballsiest decision ever made in a Super Bowl.
Ballsy Meter: 9
1. Tyree Brings Down a Prayer
Game Situation: 14-10 Patriots with the lead, Super Bowl XLII, 3rd an 5, 1:15 remaining
Result: David Tyree Makes incredible catch up against his helmet
Ballsy Play #1: The lesser Manning (Eli), drops back to pass, and as the pocket collapses, braces for a sack that does not come. Two defenders get a hold of his jersey, but he spins out.
Ballsy Play #2: Throw five yards into the backfield, Eli Manning plants as three defenders come after him like he owes them money.
Ballsy Play #3: Manning throws the bomb down field, to what appears like nobody at the time.
Ballsy Play #4: David Tyree leaps up and grabs the ball. As he does this, Rodney Harrison hits the ball, pinning it back on Tyree’s helmet. Tyree holds onto the ball and makes sure that he holds on for possession.
This was one of the craziest plays I have ever seen and will forever go down as one of the plays where I will never forget who I was with, or where I was when David Tyree made the (last) catch of his career.
Ballsy Meter: 10