The 25 Biggest Fluke Plays in Sports History
Lyle Lovett married Julia Roberts? The Boston Red Sox upended the New York Yankees after digging themselves a three-games-to-none deficit? Nicolas Cage continues to find acting work? What?!
It’s a fluke! Flukes happen in the world of sports all the time.
Here are the 25 biggest fluke plays in sports history; there will be no debate.
25. Randy Johnson Hates Animals
It’s spring training, 2001, and the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are in the midst of one of the most heated scrimmages of all time (not really) when the Big Unit uncorks a 95 mph fastball that obliterates a dove swooping through the strike zone.
Feathers and a carcass were all that remained. The official ruling on the field was “no pitch.”
I don’t know what that bird said to Johnson, but the 6’10” giant sure got his revenge.
24. Adam Czerkas Circus Goal
I know you were wondering when we would get to a Polish soccer highlight. Well, here it is, and so early in the countdown.
Adam Czerkas of Odra Wodzislaw aggressively tries to make a play on a ball when the ball makes a play off him and into the back of the net.
Where you at, keep? Make a read and get a hand up!
23. Phil Dawson’s No-Doubter from 51 Yards Out
The sheer fact that a kicker is allowed onto an NFL field is a fluke in itself, but Phil Dawson’s 51-yarder to send the game into overtime against the Ravens takes the cake.
A deflection off the post and then off the extension behind the crossbar and back into the field of play—all of that nonsensical jabbering equates to three points, thanks to replay.
22. Chris Moneymaker Wins the 2003 WSOP Main Event
OK, so it’s not a play, but a series of terrible luck-box catches and bailouts.
The accountant from Nashville stunned the poker world as he bested a record field of 839 entrants. His $40 buy-in via online satellite tournament win turned into $2.5 million as he made awful calls, bluffed with the worst of it and inspired literally millions of donkeys to drop out of college and play poker professionally.
Watch as he felts the game’s best player, Phil Ivey, en route to his improbable title.
21. Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan: Flukie!
The Shire: home to Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee and the owner of No. 21 on our countdown, Douglas Flutie.
This Halfling shows real pocket composure as he slips away from a defender and lets loose one of the most famous Hail Marys of all time. The pass led BC past Bernie Kosar’s Miami Hurricanes and solidified Flutie as a Beantown hero.
Flutie still employs his rocket arm as the driving force behind the kit for the Flutie Brothers Band.
20. Woman Beats Man (in Tennis)
Bobby Riggs made men look really bad in 1973 when he challenged Billie Jean King to a best-of-five match in front of a nationally televised audience.
First of all, he was 55—an age appropriate for 4:30 p.m. dinners and a condo in Florida next door to Morty and Helen Seinfeld. But Riggs boasted and bragged and challenged a woman 26 years his junior (and a 12-time Grand Slam singles title holder) to a match. King smoked Riggs, downing him in three sets.
So where’s the fluke, you might ask? It’s a man LOSING to a woman! FLUKE!
19. Robert Horry’s Long-Range Demoralizer
It’s hard to spray hate on a seven-time NBA champion, but here goes.
Robert Horry is Johnny on the Spot. Michael Jordan temporarily retires, and the Rockets win back-to-back titles—there’s Horry. The Lakers return to glory as they capture three consecutive championships—there’s Horry. San Antonio needs an aging perimeter shooter to help it win a couple more rings, and there’s Robert f!@$ing Horry!
Let’s set the stage for the fluke play in question. Western Conference finals, Game 4, "Lake Show" down by two and of course they attack the basket to try to force overtime. Kobe Bryant clang, Shaquille O'Neal brick, Vlade Divac taps the ball out and there’s Horry! An off-balance three and the momentum swings back to LA. This one stings.
18. Hard-Hittin’ Mark Whiten
When you hear about a career spanning 10 seasons with 105 lifetime homers, you think middle infielder. You think about a scrappy second baseman who fought his way into the lineup and stayed there on sheer will and Sean Astin-esque qualities.
What you don’t think about is a switch-hitting right fielder who parked four moonshots into the bleachers in one day. But in the late summer of 1993, that’s exactly what happened. Then with the St. Louis Cardinals, Mark Whiten crushed a MLB-tying record four jacks while driving in 12 in the second game of a doubleheader.
Though ’93 was his best season (.253/25/99), Whiten was plagued with injuries for the remainder of his career.
17. Buster Mats Tyson
For eight short months in 1990, Buster Douglas was the heavyweight champion of the world.
The then-29-year-old Columbus, Ohio native got the opportunity of a lifetime when he was informed he would get a title shot against “Iron” Mike Tyson. Tyson was 37-0, having just knocked out Carl “The Truth” Williams in the first round seven months prior.
Somehow on that fateful night, Douglas got it done. In a grueling 10-round bout, Douglas sent Tyson to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. Tyson struggled to his feet but couldn’t beat the count, and the 42-1 underdog won the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles in arguably the biggest upset in boxing history.
16. Eck Serves Up a Tater
I wish this moment would just go away. As a San Francisco native and professed Dodger hater, I can hardly watch this clip without spewing my lunch all over my Christmas sweater. But it belongs on the list.
Kirk Gibson was “injured,” and it was the World Series. But contrary to popular opinion, Gibson’s blast didn’t win the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers—it merely won Game 1.
The funny thing is, Dennis Eckersley (who led the American League with 45 saves) hit Ron Hassey’s target perfectly. Gibson simply guessed right and pulled an outside pitch over the right-field fence in his only at-bat during the World Series. Fluke city.
15. Kevin Bieksa’s Blue-Line Ninja Shot
You don’t have to think too far back for this one, kiddies. It’s the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Canucks and Sharks are battling for the Campbell Bowl. After a hard-fought regulation and nearly two overtimes, the game and series ended with a very fluky goal.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa was the only man on the ice who saw Alex Edler’s dump-in ricochet off a stanchion along the boards. Advantageous as a fat man at a buffet, Bieksa let a shot fly from the blue line, and the puck snuck past Antti Niemi for the game-winner.
The shot was so ninja-like that even the cameraman was panned too far left to catch the shot live. Unreal.
14. Derek Jeter’s Flip “Beats” Giambi
It was Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS at the then-Network Associates Coliseum, and the Yankees and A’s were immersed in a 1-0 game headed into the home half of the seventh.
With Jeremy Giambi leading off first base, Terrence Long laced a two-bagger down the right-field line. The overweight and less accomplished Giambi huffed and puffed his way 270 feet around the basepaths.
An errant throw from right fielder Shane Spencer found its way into the clutches of the evil Derek Jeter, who flipped the ball backhandedly to Jorge Posada, who swiped a late tag on Giambi. Unfortunately for the A’s, home plate umpire Kerwin Danley was sneezing or something and called the portly Giambi out.
13. Fat Legend Calls His Shot
Though the validity of Babe Ruth’s called shot is certainly in question, whether or not it was a fluke certainly isn’t.
It’s the 1932 World Series, and the Yankees and Cubs are knotted at four in the top of the fifth. With a man on, Ruth waddles up to the plate. With Charlie Root on the dirty bump, Ruth works himself into a 2-2 count. Ruth then gestures either to Root, the bench or center field before uncorking a 440-foot home run to the deepest part of the park.
Even though Ruth averaged a homer every 12 at-bats or so over his illustrious career, calling a shot against a 15-game winner on the grandest of stages is nothing more than a conceited brush of luck (aka FLUKE).
12. Fuzzy Zoeller’s Unlikely Ace
Indiana’s own Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller Jr. was a 10-time PGA Tour champion and two-time major champion (1979 Masters, 1984 U.S. Open), but even he couldn’t have planned his shot at Glen Oaks Country Club.
Fuzzy’s 173-yard hole in one is probably the most unlikely ace ever documented. Over the green and in the long stuff, the announcers begin discussing Zoeller’s second-shot chip when the ball inexplicably starts moving.
Maybe it was that Caddyshack gopher that got the ball moving, but then again, I don’t hear Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” pumping in the background.
When the ball finally breaks free of the crabgrass, it finds the bottom of the cup like a Russian heat-seeking missile.
11. Juiced-Up Narc Takes Ball Off Juiced-Up Head
Jose Canseco has become a joke since retiring from baseball, but it should be remembered that he was a joke while playing baseball as well.
In 1993, Carlos Martinez (no relation) of the Cleveland Indians hit a deep fly ball into right field. Canseco drifted back and at the last second, while on the warning track, looked down briefly when the ball struck his enormous Elaine Benes head. The ball then caromed over the fence for a home run and perhaps the greatest blooper since Ryan Leaf’s career.
10. The Curse of the Boonebino
Sorry, Red Sox fans, but Aaron Boone’s fluky jack shot in the 11th inning of the 2003 ALCS belongs on the list. All square at 5-5 in extra innings, Boone’s towering shot over the left-field wall off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will live in infamy in Boston forever.
To add more insult to injury, Wakefield was having a stellar series and probably would have won the ALCS MVP had Boone not homered. Conversely, Boone was playing so poorly that he was left out of the starting lineup for Game 7 and had amassed zero hits against Wakefield in their previous meetings.
Fortunately for the Sox, the pain would only last one year, as they would get their revenge in a most memorable 2004 ALCS and their first World Series title in 86 years.
9. 76 Union Y Sail
Confused by the title? You’ll be confused by the play as well. Again, my apologies to the city of Boston and New England in general, but David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII was one of the flukiest catches ever made. Tyree had only four catches during the entire regular season, as he was mainly used during special teams.
While trailing 14-10 with a minute and change left on the clock, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 44-yard line. From the shotgun, Eli Manning eluded several Patriots before letting a prayer loose down the field. The wobbly floater found the hands and then helmet of Tyree, who secured the catch for a 32-yard gain and even excited the ever-deadpan Joe Buck.
The play set up the game-winning touchdown to pre-leg wound Plaxico Burress and ended New England’s chance of joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated team in NFL history.
8. 11th Time's the Charm
Unlike team sports, skateboarding is about individual expression. Competitors are friends, and they root for each other to push the boundaries of their sport. No other action sports athlete encompasses that spirit more than Tony Hawk, who did the seemingly impossible in 1999.
The 14-time X Games medalist was in San Francisco to compete in the Vert Best Trick Competition. He had one thing on his mind: Land a 900. The two-and-a-half-revolution trick had never been landed before, but the 32-year-old was determined. With his peers cheering him on, Hawk attempted the feat 11 times before landing it to win the gold.
7. Right Place, Right Time
In fairness to Lorenzo Charles (may he rest in peace), the No. 7 fluke play on this list only occurred because Charles didn’t give up on what seemed to be a play gone bad.
While tied with Houston at 52 in the waning seconds of the 1983 NCAA national championship game, Charles and the North Carolina State Wolfpack held for the last possession. With only four ticks left on the clock, Dereck Whittenburg let a 30-foot desperation shot go.
But there was Lorenzo Charles, waiting patiently underneath the basket to field the air ball and dunk it through the iron to send Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Cougars home losers.
6. Hand of God
Diego Maradona might be Argentina’s best footballer of all time; also, his balls are bigger than that one that chased Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona led Argentina past West Germany in the final, but it was his goal against England in the quarterfinals that has spurred conversations for the past quarter century.
After dribbling through the entire English defense, Maradona sent an angled pass to Jorge Valdano that was defended well by Steve Hodge, who misdirected it into the penalty box. Maradona continued his run through the box, and as the goalkeeper attempted to punch the ball out of harm’s way, Maradona leapt and struck the ball with his hand into the goal.
How the referees missed this attempt at sleight of hand is beyond comprehension. The goal stood up, and the Argentines collected their second World Cup in three tournaments.
5. Steve Smith Scores One for Calgary
In the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers were the team to beat. Amassing 56 wins and 119 points, the Oilers were in the middle of a dynasty. That is, until Steve Smith scored a game-winner—on his own team.
During Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs, the Oilers and Flames were all locked up at two. The puck was cleared behind the net, and the rookie Smith attempted to advance the puck, but instead the puck ricocheted off Grant Fuhr and into his own net. It proved to be the series-winning goal and an awful birthday present for the rookie.
4. Bucky Bleepin’ Dent
Bucky Dent is an insult to soft-hitting nine-hole hitters everywhere. The right-handed-hitting shortstop totaled just 40 homers over his 12-year career. But during the 1978 East Division playoff game with the Boston Red Sox, Dent planted a go-ahead home run over the Green Monster.
The unlikely hero went on to lead the Yanks past the Dodgers in the World Series, as he was named MVP.
3. The Play
Stanford and Cal have been at each other’s throats since 1892. But no game was bigger, and in the end flukier, than the 1982 contest.
In a back-and-forth game, the Cardinal took a 20-19 lead after a good field goal left four seconds on the clock. In an attempt to stop a big play from happening, Stanford kicker Mark Harmon squibbed a kick down the middle of the field. Kevin Moen fielded the ball at the 45, and the rest is history.
Five laterals and a flattened band member later, the Cal Bears had upended their rival and taken home the prestigious Stanford Axe.
2. The Immaculate Reception
I bet you thought this was No. 1. I bet you sat there thinking, when is this joker going to get to the Immaculate Reception? Well, here it is, ya bastard.
It's a 1972 AFC Divisional Round game, and a competitive one to say the least. The Raiders had just scored a touchdown to put the game 7-6 in favor of Oakland. With 22 seconds left on the clock, the Steelers faced a 4th-and-10 with no timeouts remaining.
Terry Bradshaw escaped the menacing Oakland line and passed the ball in the direction of Frenchy Fuqua, but Jack Tatum got there at the same time, and the ball was sent end over end. Almost in slow motion, Franco Harris snagged the ball out of midair and tiptoed his way to the end zone for a 13-7 Steeler victory.
1. Bradbury’s Olympic Miracle
If you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a treat. It's the mother of all fluke plays, and it’s to win a gold medal!
Australia certainly doesn’t conjure up thoughts of frozen lakes and glaciers, but Steven Bradbury dedicated his life to short track speed skating. A veteran of four Olympiads, Bradbury qualified for the team in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
After advancing on a technicality in the semifinals, Bradbury readied himself for the final race. His strategy was simple: Stay behind and hope for a crash. Well, it wasn’t until the final turn that his wish came true—all four of his competitors crashed 15 meters in front of the finish line as Bradbury crossed to take home the gold.