The ‘clutch’ moment. It is perhaps the most exhilarating moment in sports, when an athlete, facing seemingly insurmountable odds, with everything hanging in the balance, digs deep down and somehow finds a way to conquer those odds.
There have been countless such moments throughout the course of history, from buzzer-beaters to overtime goals, walk-off home runs to game-winning touchdowns. But only a select few of these have been truly "special," leaving sports fans with indelible memories that will stand the test of time. Here is a gallery of the most iconic clutch moments in sports history.
To the say that the heavily favored New York Yankees outplayed the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a gross understatement. The Bronx Bombers had outscored the Bucs by a combined margin of 38-3 in their three victories, and 55-27 overall for the series. New York's ace, Whitey Ford, had pitched two complete-game shutouts. And yet, against all odds, the resilient Pittsburgh squad managed to stretch the World Series to a seventh and deciding game.
With the game tied at 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth, the first batter up for the Pirates was Bill Mazeroski, who wasted little time in making history. With a count of one ball and no strikes, Mazeroski swung on the next pitch he faced and hit the first ever World Series-clinching walk-off home run.
In the series opener of the 1988 Fall Classic, the Los Angeles Dodgers were trailing the Oakland Athletics 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. In a somewhat questionable decision, L.A. skipper Tommy Lasorda called on hobbled star Kirk Gibson, who was nursing two injured legs and coping with a stomach virus, to pinch hit for reliever Alejandro Peña. With the count at three balls and two strikes, Gibson hit Dennis Eckersley’s next pitch out of the ballpark for a two-run, walk-off home run that would give the Dodgers a 5-4 victory.
The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series in five games.
The Toronto Blue Jays were leading their hotly contested series with the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2, and wanted to avoid going to a seventh game at all costs. But in Game 6, the Blue Jays were trailing 6-5, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Joe Carter stepped up to the plate. With the count even at two balls and two strikes, Carter hit a three-run, World Series-clinching walk-off home run, making the Blue Jays the first repeat champions since the Yankees of the late 1970s.
Late in the fourth quarter of a game that had proven to be a true war of attrition, the Dallas Cowboys were leading the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 27-21 and seemed poised to be the NFC representatives at Super Bowl XVI. Joe Montana had other ideas. With his offense regaining possession at their own 11-yard line, “Joe Cool” orchestrated an 89-yard drive which culminated in Dwight Clark’s unforgettable fingertip catch in the back of Dallas’ end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The 49ers won the NFC Championship Game, 28-27, and would go on to defeat the Bengals two weeks later in the Super Bowl.
The Catch is arguably the moment that launched the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s.
The New York Giants were heavy underdogs against the New England Patriots heading into Super Bowl XLII. The 2007 Patriots had been shattering all types of records and were on course for the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins. The widely held belief was that the Giants, although a pretty solid team, didn’t stand a chance against the juggernaut Patriots on the brink of history. And this, in spite of the fact that the Giants had given the Pats their stiffest test of the regular season, a narrow 38-35 New England victory in Week 17.
Ultimately, the Giants proved their naysayers wrong in the Super Bowl, going toe-to-toe with the Patriots yet again. With less than three minutes to play in the game and his team trailing 14-10, New York quarterback Eli Manning led his team on a 12-play, 83-yard, game-winning drive. The signature moment occurred on third down and five yards to go, with 1:15 remaining and the ball at the New York 44-yard line. Manning miraculously eluded several Patriots in hot pursuit and threw a pass to David Tyree, who somehow pressed the ball against his helmet to make the catch. This pivotal, drive-sustaining play led to Plaxico Burress’ game-winning touchdown three plays later.
This college football classic pitted Doug Flutie’s Boston College Eagles against Bernie Kosar’s Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes had dug themselves a hole early but came back, tied the game and eventually took a 45-41 lead with less than a minute left to play. Boston College took possession of the ball at their own 22-yard line with 28 seconds left. A couple of plays later, with six seconds remaining, the Eagles had the ball at the Miami 48-yard line. On the last play of the game, Flutie scrambled backwards – thereby increasing the level of difficulty tenfold – eluded a would-be tackler, and threw a Hail Mary pass that was caught in the end zone by BC wide receiver Gerard Phelan for the game-winning score.
The Eagles won 47-45. The following week Doug Flutie was awarded the Heisman Trophy, in no small part thanks to this game.
Michael Jordan could have a whole list of clutch moments dedicated solely to him. But of his myriad clutch moments, none was more indelible than this championship-clinching jump shot. With the Chicago Bulls trailing the Utah Jazz 86-85 with less than 20 seconds to play in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, and with the ball in Utah’s possession, it looked as if the Jazz would extend the series to a seventh and deciding game. But Jordan somehow managed to steal the ball from Karl Malone, dribble down the court and, with ten seconds remaining, pull up for a contested jump shot. Nothing but net.
The Bulls would win the game 87-86, capping their second three-peat of the 1990s.
On the final of the day of the women’s gymnastics team competition, the Americans and Russians were embroiled in a heated duel to determine which country would claim gold. Going into her final vault, Kerri Strug, who’d injured her left ankle during her previous attempt, had to land her second vault cleanly in order to ensure an American victory. In a remarkable display of grit, she attempted and ''stuck" her final vault.
Her resulting 9.712 score would secure the gold medal for the U.S. in what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments in U.S. Olympic history.
The Bruins were looking to win their first championship in 29 years. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues were trying to avoid getting swept in the finals for a mind-boggling third consecutive year (you read that right). The fourth game of the series was deadlocked at 3-3 after three periods. Forty seconds into overtime, the legendary Bobby Orr beat St. Louis goalie Glen Hall to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup for the hometown Bruins.
This game, which unfolded at the height of the Cold War, pitted the upstart Team USA, comprised primarily of college hockey players, against the vaunted Soviet team in the medal round of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Team USA was given little chance of competing with, much less defeating, their formidable opponent. Most experts predicted that the youthful Americans would wilt under the enormity of the moment. And yet, they gave the Soviets a stiff challenge, keeping the game close throughout the contest. Going into the third period, Team USA trailed the Soviets 3-2. At the 8:39 mark of the third period, the Americans tied the game on a power play marker. Less than 90 seconds later, at the 10-minute mark, team captain Mike Eruzione fired a shot past Soviet goalie Vladimir Myshkin to put the Americans ahead 4-3. This goal, arguably the most important in the history of U.S. hockey, would prove to be the eventual game-winner.
Team USA would go on to earn the gold medal by defeating Finland in their following game.