The 15 Greatest Performances in NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA History

Andres CordobaContributor IIIJune 26, 2011

The 15 Greatest Performances in NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA History

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    Sports are great because any game might feature one of the greatest performances in history. Such performances are incredibly rare, and somehow, they also tend to be the games you forgot to TiVo.

    However, perhaps once in your lifetime, you'll watch a game and find yourself rooting for an opposing player—pulling for him to achieve the impossible. This article is all about these games that someday you can tell your grandchildren that you witnessed. They are the types of games you never forget.

    Here are the 15 greatest performances in NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA history.

15. Roger Clemens Strikes out 20 Detroit Tigers

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    Love him or hate him, this was one of the greatest pitching performances of all time. What was expected to be a normal September night in 1996 at Tiger Stadium quickly turned into a historic night for the 34-year-old hurler.

    This pitching performance a huge surprise since that season, Roger Clemens was only 9-12 with a 3.82 ERA and in the final year of his contract with Boston. The only reason this great performance ranks only 15th on this list is because Clemens was facing an awful Detroit Tigers team that finished the season 53-109 (third worst in franchise history) and featured only one player hitting over .300 (Bobby Higginson, .320).

    Still, Clemens struck out each of Detroit's starters, including Travis Fryman four times, to earn the complete game shutout. Detroit amassed a measly four hits.

14. Mr. October Hits 3 Home Runs in Game 6 of 1977 World Series Against Dodgers

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    Obviously, this game had to make the list. Reggie Jackson, also known as Mr. October, had won three championships already with Oakland before he headed to New York. Still, even after being given the biggest contract ever at the time by the Yankees, he had something to prove.

    In Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, he did something that will never be matched as he hit three home runs in one championship game. As if that wasn't incredible enough, with his help the Yankees clinched the series. Further, he hit his home runs on three consecutive pitches. His third was a tape-measure shot of 475 feet and cemented his run at his second World Series MVP award.

13. Scott Skiles' 30-Assist and 22-Point Destruction of Denver

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    Surprisingly, John Stockton does not own the record for most assists in a game. Instead, this honor belongs to Scott Skiles, who had one incredible night in which he accounted for roughly 90 of Orlando's points.

    That night in Orlando, he probably could have had more, but he wasn't able to break the record until the final seconds. Unfortunately, shoulder injuries cut his NBA career short and he ended up going to Europe to play basketball. He is currently coaching the Milwaukee Bucks.

12. Rennie Stennett Gets 7 Hits in a 9-Inning Game

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    If you read the title and said "Who?" then you are not alone. Rennie Stennett was a player who had an incredible game but a subpar career.

    He started his career in Pittsburgh after being discovered in Panama and quickly developed into the team's second baseman for the future. He eventually replaced Bill Mazeroski at the position. In his first full season in the big leagues, he placed second on the team with a .291 average.

    Then, on September 16, 1975, the Pirates pounded Cubs' starting pitcher Rick Reuschel at Wrigley Field and went on to a 22-0 victory that featured Rennie Stennett as only the second player in MLB history to record seven hits in a nine-inning game. 

    His final box score:

    First inning: double off Reuschel
    First inning: single off Tom Dettore
    Third inning: single off Dettore
    Fifth inning: double off Dettore
    Fifth inning: single off Oscar Zamora
    Seventh inning: single off Buddy Schultz
    Eighth inning: triple off Paul Reuschel

    His manager pulled him out of the game following the eighth-inning triple so he could get a standing ovation from the crowd. I chose to rank this performance only 12th on the list because he recorded two RBI (nonetheless scoring five runs).

    This is one of those records that is probably never going to be broken, since it is rare enough for any player to have eight at bats in a nine-inning game. Sadly, during the greatest season of his short career, Stennett fractured his leg and was never the same again. His batting average from then on never exceeded .250.

11. Darryl Sittler Lights the Lamp 6 Times and Adds 4 Assists

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    Darryl Sittler was one of the greatest centers of all time, with 1,121 points in his 19-year career. Out of all those he probably remembers only 10 of them.

    They all came on February 7, 1976 in Toronto againt the Boston Bruins. That night, rookie goalie Dave Reece was in the net because Gerry Cheevers was still tired after coming back for the WHA. And that night, Darryl Sittler became the first player ever to break the nine-point mark and came one goal shy of tying the record for most goals in a single game.

    To put this into perspective, even legend Wayne Gretzky has never exceeded eight points in a game. This record will probably never be matched, let alone broken.

10. Sam LoPresti Makes 80 Saves Against the Bruins

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    When you face an NHL record 83 shots in one night, you have to be incredible or you're going to be put on the bench. Luckily, Sam LoPresti was incredible on March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins as he stopped 80 of the 83 shots made against him. Unfortunately, the team lost the game 3-2. He stopped 27 shots in the first period, 31 shots in the second period and 22 shots in the third period.

    The amazing thing about all this is that he was a rookie at the time. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, and his record has stood for an incredible 70 years. The closest anyone has ever come is Ron Tugnutt with his 70 saves in 73 shots in a later year against the Boston Bruins.

9. Adrian Peterson Charges for an NFL-Record 296 Yards Against the Chargers

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    Already one of the premier running backs of his generation, Adrian Peterson is one of the most versatile backs in the league. He will run over you if he wants to run over you. After being picked seventh by the Minnesota Vikings out of Arkansas, he had a lot to prove.

    The reason this performance ranks so highly on the list is that not only did he rush for a record 296 yards and score three touchdowns, but he did so in only his eighth game in the NFL. On a normal day on November 4, 2007, he started out slow but eventually chipped away at the Chargers' defense with his 30 carries.

    He managed to put together two 17-yard runs as well as a long 35-yard run toward the end of the game. Soon, he rushed for three yards to break Jamal Lewis' rushing record of 295 yards. This truly was one of the most dominant performances of all time.

8. Norm Van Brocklin Torches the New York Yanks for 554 Yards Passing

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    Van Brocklin had a problem during the 1951 preseason: He wasn't the starter. A guy named Bob Waterfield started and seemed content to keep his starting job. Van Brocklin, who was the NFL's leading passer only a year prior, couln't seemed to get a chance to prove his worth.

    Waterfield was named the Rams' starting quarterback, but on September 28, 1951, his knee gave out on him before the game on Opening Day. The Rams sent in Van Brocklin to take over for him, and the rest was history. He shredded New York's defense and threw for 554 yards with five touchdowns, including 46-yard, 47-yard and 67-yard touchdown passes. He capped off the 54-14 massacre with a one-yard scamper into the end zone.

    The Rams would finish the season 8-4 (first in the NFL), led by Pro Bowler Norm Van Brocklin, and capped off the season with a 24-17 win over Cleveland. Norm Van Brocklin would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971. His 554 passing yards in a game is still a record. 

7. Kobe Bryant Torches Toronto for 81 Points

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    On January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant went to Toronto looking to keep his 21-19 Lakers in the playoff race. What he got was something even better.

    In this game, the only Laker making any shots was Bryant, and at halftime the team was down 63-49. Kobe had scored 26 of the 49 points in the first half, but he then went off, scoring 27 points in the third quarter and 28 points in the fourth quarter. He was only four points shy of Wilt Chamberlain's record for points in a half (59), which was broken in his 100-point game in 1962.

    In the end, he had shot 28 of 46 from the field, 7 of 13 from the three-point arc and 18 of 20 from the foul line. It truly was one of the greatest regular season performances in NBA history.  

6. Kerry Wood Strikes out 20 and Only Surrenders One Hit

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    You're probably thinking, "Why is this performance better than Roger Clemens' 20-strikeout game, or any perfect games throughout the years?" The reason is that this 20-strikeout performance was nearly perfect as well. Wood threw a shutout, surrendering only one measly hit and not walking a batter.

    Game score (as featured on ESPN) is an algorithm developed by Bill James that rates pitching performances based on a number of factors, such as innings, strikeouts, hits, runs, walks, etc. Wood's performance earned a game score of 105—the highest in MLB history.

    Furthermore, Wood threw 84 of his 122 pitches for strikes, and the Astros stood no chance of hitting him. It was by far the greatest pitching performance ever.

5. Michael Jordan Scores 63 Points Against the Celtics in the Playoffs

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    The greatest NBA playoff performance of all time goes to Michael Jordan, on April 20, 1986. His Bulls were facing the heavily favored Celtics team, considered by some to be among the greatest teams of all time. That season, the Celtics had the best home record of all-time (40-1) and included four future Hall of Famers among their starting five: Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

    The series was supposed to be an easy series for the Celtics, but in Game 2, the young Michael Jordan in only his sophomore season came out and dominated Larry Bird and the Celtics, going 22-of-41 from the field and an incredible 19-of-21 from the line. 

    Jordan hit free throws at the end of the fourth quarter to extend the game. He was able to keep his team alive in overtime and in the second overtime nearly extended the game before the Bulls ultimately fell 135-131.

    Why is this performance greater than Kobe's 81-point beatdown of Toronto? Kobe did it in a meaningless regular season game against a subpar team. On the other hand, Jordan did this coming back from an injury in his second season and against one of the greatest teams of all time. After the game, Larry Bird famously said, "That was God disguised as Michael Jordan." That's how you know you dominated.

4. Gale Sayers Scores 6 Touchdowns Against the 49ers

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    On a cold, rainy,and muddy day on December 12, 1965, the Bears were getting ready to play the 49ers.

    Those who skipped the game would have missed one of the greatest displays of dominance and athleticism in football history. Young rookie running back Gale Sayers started the offense early by catching a screen pass on his own 20 and running 80 yards for the touchdown on the second play of the game.

    The Bears then drove down the field, and on the 21-yard line, gave Sayers a pitch which he took 18 yards before spectacularly leaping over diving 49ers defenseman Jimmy Johnson for his second touchdown. He finished off the first half with a seven-yard run for his third touchdown.

    Then, in the third quarter, he scored on a 50-yard pitchout, and then added his fifth touchdown with a one-yard run for an easy score. He then went to return a punt but slipped at the 50-yard line, keeping him from scoring his sixth touchdown. Nonetheless, he got a shot at redemption when he received a punt at the 15-yard line and returned it an incredible 85 yards for his sixth and final touchdown as the Bears won 61-20.

    Sayers ended up with 336 total offensive yards, including 113 yards on nine carries, 134 yards on three punt returns and 89 yards on only two receptions. So not only did he get 336 yards, but he did so on a minuscule 14 touches! That kind of performance redefines dominance.

    Gale Sayers would only play six years due to knee injuries but was still inducted into the Hall of Fame at the record age of 34.     

3. Wilt Chamberlain Grabs 55 Rebounds Against the Celtics

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    Sadly, not much is known about this game, as there is no box score showing what else Wilt Chamberlain did this incredible night against Boston. All we know is that he grabbed a superman-like 55 rebounds. To put that in perspective, the Minnesota Timberwolves' entire team led the league in 2010-2011 with 44.4 rebounds per game.

    Kevin Love had the most rebounds in a game last season with what we say is an incredible 31 rebounds. Only three other players have grabbed 40 rebounds in game: Jerry Lucas (once), Nate Thurmond (once) and Bill Russell (eight times). And only one other player has grabbed 50 rebounds in a game, that being Bill Russell with 51.

    This was truly one of the greatest performances for a big man in NBA history.

2. Wilt Chamberlain Scores 100 Against the Knicks

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    Obviously, this performance had to make the list, even if it is surprising that it doesn't rank as the greatest performance of all time.

    What don't people know about this game? One fact is that many people bought these tickets not to see the Warriors take on the Knicks, but to see a football game. Nonetheless, those who showed up for the basketball game saw quite a performance from Wilt Chamberlain.

    Chamberlain had scored only 41 points by halftime. Ironically, Kobe had more points at the end of the first half of his 81-point game than Wilt did in his 100-point game. However, Chamberlain then set the record for most points in a half as he caught on fire and scored 59 points in the second half.

    Late in the game, the Knicks started fouling him but it did no good, as Wilt shot an uncharacteristic 28 of 32 from the line and in total 36 of 63 from the field. In fact, the Knicks were so desperate that they fouled other players so Wilt couldn't get the ball. The Warriors, in turn, fouled them so that Wilt could get the ball back.

    The Knicks' final, desperate stand saw all five men on the court cover Wilt so he couldn't get his 100th point, but he still hit a short shot with 46 seconds left and reached triple digits. One of the greatest moments in NBA history happened that night in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

1. Norm Willey Gets 17 Sacks Against the Giants

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    The reason you might never have heard of this game is that sacks weren't officially counted by the NFL until 1982. Nonetheless, 17 sacks in a game are more than most players get in a season; Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks only exceeds this single-game performance by five sacks. The most impressive thing out of all of this, though, is that 11 of the 17 sacks came in a row!

    The reason we know about this presently is that the Eagles used to count the number of times a player tackled a quarterback with the ball in his hand, and they would give that player $10. Back in 1952, that was good money, and for a player like Norm Willey who never earned more than $9,000 in a season, $170 was big money. According to Willey via The Eagles Encyclopedia, Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly was bleeding, limping and even said he'd had enough at one point.

    The NFL named Norm Willey its defensive player of the week, and he went on to have a good career. In fact, according to Eagles scorekeepers, he would record between 20 and 30 sacks per season! He says on average he would get two to three sacks per game without a problem.

    Sadly, since we have no concrete evidence of some of his statistics, he is not in the NFL Hall of Fame. It was truly one of the greatest defensive games of all-time and by far the most dominant performance in sports history.