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The Best Game-Saving Plays in Sports History

K BFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2011

The Best Game-Saving Plays in Sports History

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    Offense always gets all the glory.

    The most famous and iconic moments are usually the buzzer-beaters, last-second field goals or the walk-off home runs.

    But what about the plays that prevent the other team from beating you?

    Like some sort of divine intervention, a defensive game-saving play can turn a game, a series and maybe an entire season around for a team.

    These are the top 25 game-saving moments.

    Some game-saving plays are on here because of the degree of difficulty. Some are on the slideshow because of the situation in which they occurred.

    And some get high marks for both.

25. Theo Ratliffe Block on Jermaine O'Neal

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    Jermaine O'Neal seemed to have a game-winning layup until Theo Ratliff decided to step in.

    This may have been just a regular-season game during the 2003 season, but it is one of the most clutch and impressive blocks I have seen, and it came right at the end of the game.

24. Colt McCoy Game-Saving Tackle

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    With a 16-13 lead, Colt McCoy was responsible for a game-saving tackle after throwing an interception that could have been taken for a pick-six.

    The Texas defense would come through, and McCoy would keep the Sooners off the field for the last 3:31, conserving the Longhorns' perfect season.

    They would eventually lose to Alabama in the 2010 national championship game in Pasadena and McCoy would get hurt in the matchup, but it was a huge play at the moment.

23. Injured Willie McGinest Tackles Edgerrin James Goal-Line Stand

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    Nov. 30, 2003.

    One of the biggest games of the season featured the (9-2) Patriots and the (9-2) Colts in a game that would have large implications for playoff seeding, and also provide a mental edge for the Pats.

    After coming back from 21 points, the Colts and Edgerrin James eventually reached the 1-yard line. That was the farthest the Colts would get.

    The Colts failed to get into the end zone on the first two plays.

    Then, Willie McGinest, who suffered through a sprained knee a few plays earlier, would heroically be the catalyst in stopping the Colts on the next two plays.

    It was one of several moments when critics would declare that Peyton Manning could never beat the Patriots and win a Super Bowl.

    The Patriots would take that momentum at the end of the regular season and eventually defeat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

22. Havlicek Steals the Ball: 1965 Eastern Conference Finals

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    With five seconds left, the Celtics held a 110-109 lead against the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Hall of Famer Hal Greer, while inbounding under his own basket, attempted to throw a pass to Chet Walker. John Havlicek read the pass perfectly, tipped and stole it, giving the Celtics their seventh consecutive championship.

    Although the chances of the 76ers winning were small, Havlicek's steal sealed the victory immediately.

    This also led to one of the most famous calls in NBA history.

21. Alabama Blocks Tennesee To Remain Undefeated

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    I'm sure the Crimson Tide faithful will never forget the name Mount Cody as long as they live.

    The 350-pound nose guard was responsible for blocking two field goals, the most notable being the last play of the game when Tennessee attempted a 44-yard field goal with four seconds left. 

    Alabama went on to win the 2010 national championship against Texas.

20. Walt Weiss Diving Play

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    In the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 3 of the 1999 NLDS, the Houston Astros had the bases loaded in a tie game.

    Shortstop Walt Weiss would make an incredible diving play, then threw home for a force out to conserve the tie.

    The Braves would go on to win the game but eventually lost to the Yankees in the World Series.

19. David Seaman

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    In Seaman's 1,000th career start, he made one of the most incredible saves in soccer history.

    Seaman's goal led Arsenal over Sheffield United in the FA Cup semifinal.

    Arsenal went on to beat Southampton in the FA Cup final.

18. Willie Mays: The Catch

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    Vic Wertz hit a 420-foot bomb to center field.

    If it were anywhere but the Polo Grounds, it may have been a home run.

    But Willie Mays would miraculously chase down the fly ball and caught it over his shoulder.

    Like any coach will tell you, the throw was even better than the catch because it prevented Larry Doby from advancing to third.

    After such an awe-inspiring play, the Giants used the momentum from their win in Game 1 and ended up sweeping the Indians in the Series.

17. Derrick Williams Blocks Memphis

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    Arizona's 2011 NCAA tournament run could have ended in the first round at the hands of Memphis. Granted, the basket was only to tie, but with how unpredictable the tournament can be, anything could have happened in OT.

    With two seconds left, Wesley Witherspoon was ready to take it to overtime.

    But Derrick Williams came out of nowhere and saved Arizona from a first-round upset with a tremendous block (that arguably may have been a foul).

16. Tayshaun Prince Block Party

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    Tayshaun Prince made one of the best and most clutch blocks in NBA history when he chased Reggie Miller down and denied him an easy layup, sealing a Game 2 win in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals.

    Prince would again show his clutch shot-blocking ability in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals when he stuffed Hedo Turkoglu to secure a three-point victory.

15. Kirk McLean and the Vancouver Canucks Version of "The Save"

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    In overtime of Game 7 against the Calgary Flames, Kirk McLean preserved the series when he threw down both his pads to stop a Robert Reichel one-timer. 

    The save helped the Canucks win the game and led to them going on one of their best playoff runs in franchise history.

14. The Save

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    In the first round of the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs, Frank Pietrangelo replaced Tom Barrasso and made one of the greatest saves in NHL history.

    It is so famous in Pittsburgh that it is referred to as "The Save."

    Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup with Tom Barrasso healing and taking back the starting job. But no one in Pittsburgh forgets Frank Pietrangelo.

13. Jim Montgomery Double Save

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    In the 1973 FA Cup final, Sunderland upset Leeds United by a score of 1-0, giving them their second championship in franchise history.

    The upset couldn't have been possible without Jim Montgomery making what many consider the best double save ever

12. The Tackle II

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    After Peyton Manning was sacked by Joey Porter with 1:20 left, all Pittsburgh had to do was run out the clock on the 2-yard-line.

    Miraculously, Gary Brackett of the Colts forced Jerome Bettis to fumble at the goal line. Bettis hadn't fumbled the entire 2005 season.

    Nick Harper picked up the ball with seemingly endless real estate and a chance to give the Colts one of the most memorable touchdowns in NFL history.

    Instead, Ben Roethlisberger came to the rescue, tackling Harper in the open field.

    Mike Vanderjagt would eventually miss a 46-yard field goal, but if Big Ben doesn't tackle Nick Harper, the game would probably end in a Colts victory.

    The Steelers would eventually win the Super Bowl later that year.

11. Jim Craig Final Save of 1980 Olympic Hockey Championship

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    Jim Craig's kick save with 33 seconds left sealed the United States' "Miracle on Ice" over the Russians.

    The famous game is considered by many to be the biggest upset in sports history and continues to be an inspiration to Americans of all ages.

10. Suarez Handball

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    Luis Suárez made the most controversial game-saving play in World Cup history when he extended his hand to bat an impending goal that would have given Ghana a quarterfinal victory.

    Yes it was illegal. Yes he cheated. And yes, the rule should be changed.

    But at that moment, he saved his team from certain elimination in one of the most jaw-dropping ways imaginable.

9. Bob O'Farrell Throws Out Babe Ruth

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    The Yankees were down 3-2 in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.

    With two outs, Babe Ruth walked.

    The Babe then decided to try and steal second base.

    Bobby O'Farrell threw a rope to second where Rogers Hornsby tagged Ruth out by 10 feet, leading to the Cardinals stopping a potential Yankee rally and winning the World Series.

8. Derek Jeter Backhand Against A's

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    In the 2001 American League Division Series, the Oakland Athletics were up 2-0 in a best-of-five series, seemingly in complete control.

    After a Terrence Long double down the line, things were looking dire for the Yankees, but what would happen next would turn the entire series around in the Yankees' favor. 

    Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer made a wild throw that missed two cut-off men. But out of nowhere, Derek Jeter was there to back the throw up and made a perfect flip to Jorge Posada, who then tagged Jeremy Giambi.

    The Yankees not only won the game but eventually won three straight to take the series.

    This is just another iconic play from one of the most iconic Yankees of all time.

7. Dewayne Wise Perfect-Game-Saving Play

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    This game-saving catch may not have occurred during the playoffs or a championship, but it did conserve a perfect game—something that had only happened 17 times in the history of Major League Baseball up to that point.

    What makes this story even more incredible is that Dewayne Wise was a ninth-inning defensive replacement and almost dropped the ball.

    Truly incredible. 

6. Joe Rudi, A's 1972 World Series

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    In one of the most exciting World Series in MLB history, Joe Rudi made one of the most legendary catches of all time when he climbed the wall and caught a potential game-tying double hit by Denis Menke.

    The Athletics would go on to win the game 2-1 and the series in seven games.

5. Ron Swoboda Catch Holds Off Orioles, Leads to Game 4 Win

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    With Frank Robinson at third and Boog Powell at first with one out in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, Ron Swoboda made one of the most clutch and game-saving catches in baseball history. 

    It was so good, in fact, that former Met Cleon Jones described Swoboda's catch as the best he had ever witnessed.

    Although Robinson would score on the play, the Baltimore Orioles could only score one run to tie the game at 1-1.

    The Mets would go not only go on to win the game in 10 innings, they went on to win the World Series, capping off one of the most improbable seasons of all time.

4. Hakeem Olajuwon Fingertip Block on John Starks

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    Patrick Ewing set an NBA Finals record for the most blocks with 30. He also out-rebounded Olajuwon 87-64.

    But Olajuwon would have the biggest block in the series when he miraculously tipped a potential game-winner from John Starks to force a Game 7.

    The Rockets would eventually win the series after a 90-84 victory in Game 7.

    "With his season-long quest at stake, he would search...for the strength...to find...one more...heroic play."

    It can't be described any better.

3. Horace Grant Block on Kevin Johnson

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    After blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Chicago Bulls were facing a 98-94 deficit against a Suns team brimming with confidence and full of momentum.

    Michael Jordan would respond with a breathtaking layup, making the score 98-96.

    After a missed three-pointer by Dan Majerle, John Paxton went on to bury a three with 3.9 seconds left that gave the Bulls a 99-98 lead.

    What many don't remember is Phoenix had the last possession. Kevin Johnson had an open look to the basket, but Horace Grant would make a gutsy block that would give Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls their third consecutive championship. 

2. Hakim Warrick: The Block

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    Jim Boeheim had felt the heartbreak of coming close to winning it all two times before.

    Once in 1987, when he lost against Indiana, and again in 1996, losing against Kentucky and "The Untouchables."

    In 2003, Hakim Warrick would seal a victory for Boeheim when he blocked Michael Lee's potential game-tying three-pointer.

    To this day, I still don't know how he tipped the ball. Lee looked wide open.

1. One Yard Short

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    The unit behind "The Greatest Show on Turf" could only watch helplessly on the sidelines as Steve McNair and the Titans eventually made it to the 10-yard line with six seconds left.

    The final play of Super Bowl XXXIV remains one of the most remembered plays in NFL history.

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