The Most Bone-Crushing Hits in Sports: NHL, NFL or Rugby?

Austin SchindelAnalyst IIJune 22, 2011

The Most Bone-Crushing Hits in Sports: NHL, NFL or Rugby?

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    There are hundreds of controversial debates that linger in the sports world with no resolution in sight.

    Who is the best heavyweight of all time? What would have happened if Michael Jordan never retired and played baseball? Is Barry Sanders the best running back ever?

    While these questions may never find answers, the powers that be have assigned me to go to the depths of the Internet to discover which sport hits the hardest.

    Is it rugby, where the players have no pads or protection whatsoever?

    How about NFL football, which produces some of the biggest, fastest athletes in the world?

    Or is it hockey? This sport places fierce competitors flying in all directions, on ice, who are mostly…Canadian!

    We will go to the tape and do the research needed to get to the bottom of this debate.

    Unfortunately, two sports will go home unhappy.

Some Perspective: Football and Rugby

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    Watch this installment of sports science to get a better idea of what goes into a football and a rugby hit and what type of impact it has on the body.

Some Perspective: Hockey

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    This episode of Sports Science shows what it feels like to take a shot to the boards and why players jump when they are about to get hit. 


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    Tale of the Tape

    Rugby League

    Originated: 1845

    Teams: 13

    Contact: Full

    Rugby Union

    Originated: 1845

    Teams: 15

    Contact: Full

    Rugby is not nearly as popular in the United States as it is in the UK and the territories it has influenced. While this original game is not played by many in the states, American football can be categorized as a direct descendant of the game.

    The sport is hard hitting and requires a combination of speed, accuracy, toughness and strength that is common in several other sports worldwide.

    The best part is the rawness of the game. There are no pads, and set in rich tradition, it has deep historical significance to those who watch and play. 

10. A Hit You Could Hear from the Stands

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    Whenever you can hear a hit from the stands and feel the impact, you know it was pretty serious.

    Those who play the game would know better than I do about the lateness of the hit, but there was no holding back here. Why doesn’t that kid have a football scholarship? 

9. Blindsided

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    He had what we call happy feet. They always tell you to keep your eyes on the ball and then deal with the defender. Unfortunately for him, he did neither.

8. Justin Hodges Hits Steve Turner

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    Play until he crosses the finish line. And then when he does, deck him.

    Really, the size difference between the two is enormous. Rugby players also do a lot of grappling, and not so much fighting.

7. ...and Stay Down!

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    How can you let that happen to your teammate! He was about to get hit so he passed it along to his buddy, who then got creamed.

    You got to love how he just gets up and passes the ball to his teammate to keep the drive going. At that point, you would think he would punt the ball himself and say I'm done with this.

6. Adrian Morley

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    I love the tenacity and the perseverance. Morley lays the first big hit, sending his opponent crashing to the ground. Once he gets up and gives it to another teammate, it’s the same story, different chapter. 

5. Unstoppable Force Against an Immovable Object

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    Matthew White sees his opponents as things to run over, not as obstacles. The other team knows that it is going to require more than one guy to take down White, but it still does not make it any easier when he is coming at them with a head of steam and a mission.

4. Jerome Ropatis Runs with No Fear

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    It was as if he was looking for contact, found it, and then regretted it soon after. While both players were roughed up by the collision, the man who initiated it got more than he bargained for.

3. Can You Say Horse Collar?

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    This is certainly something that is not allowed in the NFL, much to my chagrin.  Back in the day, NFL players were allowed to do everything short of stab the offensive player to make a tackle. Now, times have changed.

    But getting back to rugby…

2. The Offense Gets in a Big Hit as Well

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    Who says that the big hits are only for the guys on defense? The answer to that question is not Alesana Tuilagi. He ran over the defender like he was a crash dummy.

    I feel bad for the defender, but without this weak performance, we wouldn’t have this wonderful highlight. 

1. Hit Taken, Ribs Broken

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    That will wake you up. This is another case of losing sight of the defender and paying for it. You know a hit is big when the person with the ball looks like he hit a wall.

    In this particular case, it is like a wall hit him.


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    Tale of the Tape

    National Hockey League

    Originated: 1917

    Teams: 30

    Hockey is a sport that was born in Canada, and imported for American enjoyment. We have certainly molded the game for our own, but it is still a Canadian pastime, not unlike baseball is for us.

    Though it is underappreciated, it is a great sport that includes the up-and-down pace of basketball, the scoring of soccer, the toughness of football, and the skill of baseball. I will go as far to say that playoff hockey is the best playoffs in all of sports.

    They have true iron men, who play into their mid-40s and enjoy every second doing it. The sport is a great joy and also one of the toughest in the world.

10. Danny Markov Blasts Jarrett Stoll

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    What is better than a bone-crushing hit? How about one that leads to a turnover and a goal.

    Danny Markov took no prisoners and shellacked Jarrett Stoll to the ice. I can, with confidence, say that I am glad that I do not play hockey.

9. Sean Avery, Meet Colin White

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    I don’t want to say that Sean Avery deserves to get knocked down once in a while, but he does tend to put his foot in his mouth and serve as the NHL’s resident goon.

    I am sure that this does not go unnoticed by his colleagues. Colin White was one of the league’s tough guys and I bet if Avery said something to him, then he got his due punishment.

8. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen Sends Ales Kotalik over the Boards

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    Want to make a statement? Well, how about throwing your opponent off the rink with brute force onto his own bench. It is the best way to say you are not welcome here.

    Besides the impact of the hit, driving someone so hard that they flip over the board shows that you are a man’s man and there will be no retaliation of any sort.

7. Dion Phaneuf Massive Hit on Denis Hamel

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    When I first saw the video, I could not help myself but laugh. Dion Phaneuf not only hit Denis Hamel, but he threw him across the ice.

    There is nothing cooler than a guy inflicting pain and making it seem like he is completely unfazed. Hamel’s body is contorting and rolling across the ice while Phaneuf is standing over him thinking who’s next.

6. Darcy Tucker Knocks out Sami Kapanen

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    We are used to seeing someone laying lifeless on the ice or the field and everyone rushing to his assistance. This is a scary sight that warrants concern, but it is rare to see someone try to get up and then fall like a dog on ice.

    Darcy Tucker put such a jolt into Sami Kapanen that his body turned to jelly. He tried to get to the bench, but was met each time with resistance from his own legs. 

5. Milan Lucic Hits Mike Van Ryn Through the Glass

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    This hit may not be the hardest, but it left the biggest mark. From time to time you will see the glass, which is supposed to give, crack or chip, warranting a replacement.

    But when it shatters and pours down on the fans and the ice, my initial thought is: “Holy *&%#, that looks like something only Chuck Norris could do." The best part about it is that it is totally legal and one of the best parts of the game.

4. Cal Clutterbuck Gives Brad Richards the Buisness

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    This is an open ice hit that Brad Richards never saw coming. Luckily, teammate Steve Ott went right after Clutterbuck and really gave it to him.

    This is another reason why hockey is so great. There is legal, organized fighting that is over once they hit the ice. There are repercussions for their actions, but this allows for players to protect themselves, their teammates, and avoid cheap shots later on.

3. Mike Richards Hits Tom Poti

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    Generally, defensemen are the ones giving the pain. But Mike Richards came flying in from the top of the circle and plastered Tom Poti into the wall. If he hit him any harder he would have joined the advertisements on the boards.

2. Steve Downie Impales Dean McAmmond

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    This hit was so intense that both guys went flying. Downie was like a predator waiting for its prey to come around the corner and unexpectedly attack him.

    I'm pretty sure that even Scott Stevens needed to close his eyes after seeing this.

1. Mike Weaver Levels Patrick Sharp

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    Everyone in the arena saw the hit coming besides Sharp. There is nothing more dangerous than a hockey player with his head down, and hits like this show you why.

    The hit was so vicious, that his teammates forgot about the game and went right after Mike Weaver. He left his feet and threw all of his weight right into the chest of Sharp, who is still wondering where he is.


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    Tale of the Tape

    National Football League

    Originated: 1920

    Teams: 32

    This is America’s game. We love Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, because each day you can root for another football team.

    Tailgating, throwing the ball around, and doing nothing on Sundays are all reasons to love the game. Beyond that, the deep passes, big personalities and even bigger hits are what separate this game from all other sports. 

10. Ray Lewis Stops Dustin Keller in His Tracks

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    When Ray Lewis hits the field, he unleashes an animal that is not only difficult to contain, but flat out dangerous if you anger it. On this particular play, the Jets were trying to conjure up a last minute drive that came to a screeching halt.

    Most teams do not mind giving up the underneath routes in the middle of the field at the end of the game. Lewis had something else to say about that.

9. Brian Dawkins Lays the Hurt on Alge Crumpler

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    Brian Dawkins is another rare breed of football players who believe in tackling through you. This play happened during the NFC championship game against the Falcons.

    Dawkins was not planning on leaving anything on the field that day. Though Alge Crumpler miraculously caught the ball, I think it is because his body was in the process of curling up into a ball and the football just happened to stick.

8. Shawntae Spencer Hits Jon Kitna

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    Cornerbacks are just supposed to be fast…right? While they are responsible for covering deep routes and chasing their men around the field, today’s defensive back can also take your head off.

    There is nothing like a good corner blitz that goes unnoticed and unchecked. Jon Kitna really wishes he would have had some sort of hot route there…or at least not been hit so hard both his legs lifted off the ground.

7. DeSean Jackson Gets Jacked Up

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    These two hit each other so hard that they both got knocked out cold. Concussions have become a serious and noteworthy issue in the NFL these days and helmet-to-helmet hits such as these have been outlawed and levied with heavy fines.

    You can see that even smaller players running at those speeds can cause an impact that looks more like a cartoon than an NFL play.

6. Jack "The Assassin" Tatum Takes out Another

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    The 1970s Oakland Raiders squads had swagger. This was the kind of swagger that other teams straight up feared. The headhunter on that team was none other than Jack “The Assassin” Tatum. You do not get a nickname like that without knocking a few poor guys out.

    In this hit, during Super Bowl XI, Tatum laid the jarring hit on Sammy White that made his equipment fly all over the place. When you hit someone so hard that they lose their helmet and need to be carried off the field with no apparent injury besides having their clock cleaned, it’s a good day at the office.

5. Dallas Clark Destroyed

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    Peyton Manning is not known for leading his receivers into risky situations based on this incredible accuracy and football smarts. But even superman makes mistakes.

    Clark is the rare hybrid tight end that has a low center of gravity and can usually take a hit. When you see him get knocked out like this, you have to hold your breath, because the dude is tough.

4. Ed Reed Says NO

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    There may be no better ball hawk in the entire NFL, but when you play for the Baltimore Ravens, you better be able to knock a guy out. Rookie Dexter McCluster got his “welcome to the playoffs, things are a little more serious here” moment on a ball thrown in the flat. 

3. TJ Houshmandzadeh Gets Thrown Like a Rag Doll

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    Back when Houshmandzadeh was on the Bengals and had to do all the dirty work, Carson Palmer thought it would be a good idea to throw a three-yard out without Houshmandzadeh knowing what was coming.

    Well, the Jets’ David Barrett took full advantage and crashed into the Bengals wideout like a freight train. 

2. Earl Thomas Gives a Welcome Present to Percy Harvin

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    Every rookie wants to make a statement when they get into the league. Earl Thomas’ coming out party took place against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Entering the game, he had to know that there would be at least one terrible pass thrown by Brett Favre that would give him a chance to destroy a Vikings receiver. Favre served Percy Harvin up on a silver platter and Thomas gladly laid a crushing blow.

1. Reggie Bush Lit Up

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    There are few times when you can see the hit coming from miles away and still physically feel the hit through the computer. Reggie Bush was hit so hard that the ball went flying a good 10 yards.

    A good hit is supposed to change the game and shift the momentum. Sheldon Brown scared the life out of Reggie Bush so much, I think I saw him ask for a restraining order when he went to the sidelines.

2nd Runner-Up: Rugby

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    Why they did not win

    Rugby is a great sport that requires an incredible amount of stamina and toughness. That being said, the hits are not nearly as intense as football or hockey. They are trying to get the guy down, but it is more important to do so in an effective way than a flashy one.

    Due to the fact that it is such a rugged sport, it is a grind compared to football, where the game is defined by only a few moments. The hits in rugby are awesome, but they are not the hardest.

    What they go home with

    Nothing. Nobody remembers who came in third place.

1st Runner-Up: Football

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    Why they did not win

    Everyone take a deep breath…

    OK, have you relaxed? Then I will proceed. Football is awesome and there are incredible hits that knock guys out and create interceptions. But I have a few gripes.

    1. With the new rules in place, most hits are not legal anymore, making them more and more rare
    2. Only a few guys are capable of really laying someone out. Compared to hockey where everyone is tough, there are a lot of guys that shy away from the big contact
    3. They are only moving so fast. Sure they are incredible athletes, but it does not take place on ice, moving at 25 miles per hour

    I hope that was convincing enough, but I know that I will be taken to be burned at the stake by the football Gods.

    What they go home with

    The title of losers to the Canadians…Ouch

Winner: Hockey

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    Why they did win

    Congratulations hockey fans, all 32 of you, you have the biggest and hardest hitters in the sports world.

    What separates hockey from the rest is the degree of difficulty to skate at the speed that they do and navigate the puck. When you put your head down for a few seconds, you get leveled, plain and simple.

    It is a chess game when it comes to hitting. Everyone is gunning for the stars, and there are players brought in to protect them and hunt for the other team’s top gunner. They move so fast and are so strong that when two guys collide, it is electrifying.

    Hockey hits are a game within a game and can happen at any time when you least expect it.

    What they go home with

    The title of the sports world’s hardest hitters and some much needed respect.


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