The Ultimate List of Sports Unicorns

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2016

The Ultimate List of Sports Unicorns

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    Unicorns are mythical creatures. Or are they? A recently discovered fossil indicated the extinct "Siberian unicorn" may have actually lived among humans back in the day.

    Using their Siberian compadre as a reference, sports unicorns are defined here as incredibly rare, but not impossible feats.

    Here, "incredibly rare" means there have been five or fewer documented instances of an event occurring, e.g. MLB's 40-40 club. No disrespect to perfect games and unassisted triple plays, but more than five of each have occurred in baseball's history. Also, take note, zero is fewer than five, and therefore, some of these instances have not occurred at all.

    That leads to the "not impossible" part of the criteria. Not to argue with Kevin Garnett, but no MLB team is going to win 162 games, and no one is going to sink 400 threes in a sea…scratch that. No one is going to throw for 20 touchdowns in an NFL game.

    These sports achievements are not necessarily athletic (isn't a perfect bracket the ultimate sports unicorn?), but most are. And all fall on the positive side of achievement. A winless NFL season might be rare, but who wants that? 

    Something awesome that is ultra-rare but could happen—got it? Here are the sports unicorn all-stars, ranked from "has happened and probably will again" to "has never happened and man, it would be shocking if it did."

    First up, John Oliver's Yankees fans (kidding, but they were fantastic). 

Honorable Mention: Knocking the Cover off a Baseball

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    Knocking the cover of a baseball gets an honorable mention because, well, why would anyone realistically want to achieve this? And yet, for all those Sandlot aficionados out there, it's one of those oddball sports occurrences that seems impossible but isn't.

    This has actually happened a handful of times in real life. Milwaukee Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado did it in 2014, and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen followed suit in 2015.

Coming Back from an 0-3 Postseason Hole

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    Coming back from an 0-3 hole in a seven-game postseason series is nearly impossible, but it has been done, five times to be exact.

    The Boston Red Sox famously became the first MLB team to accomplish this feat when they stormed back to take the 2004 American League Championship Series from their rival New York Yankees.

    The NHL is home to the other four instances: the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings in 1942, the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers over the Boston Bruins in 2010 and the Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in 2014.

Calendar Year Grand Slam

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    In 2015, the sports world watched as Serena Williams almost completed a calendar year Grand Slam and Jordan Spieth got halfway there in golf. 

    According to Lily Rothman of Time, only five singles tennis players have won all four Grand Slams in the same calendar year, and Rod Laver did it on two occasions, in 1962 and 1969.  

    In golf, the feat is even rarer and has actually never happened in a modern sense, meaning achieving victory in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. According to Victor Mather of the New York Times, only seven golfers have even gotten as far as winning the Masters and U.S. Open.

    Tiger Woods held all four major titles at one time, but that achievement spanned 2000 and 2001. Bobby Jones won four titles in 1930, but two of those events were in the amateur category.  

Quadruple-Double

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    A quadruple-double is like the recently discovered unicorn fossil. It definitely exists, but it's rare. Only four players in NBA history have achieved it: David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon (who had two), Alvin Robertson and Nate Thurmond.

    Robinson's 1994 line of 34 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks in a game was the last time it happened. Michael Carter-Williams, then with the Philadelphia 76ers, came close in 2013, putting up 22 points, 12 assists and grabbing seven rebounds and nine steals in his first-ever NBA game.

    If a quadruple-double is a unicorn, what is a quintuple-double? According to Shane Ryan of Grantland, it has never happened, but Olajuwon came close in 1987 with this absurd line: 38 points, six assists, 17 rebounds, 12 blocks and seven steals.

40-40 Club

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    Only four players in MLB history have hit 40 home runs and stolen 40 bases in a single season: Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006).

    The 40-40 club is almost as rare as they come in sports, but what about the 50-50 club? No player has ever hit 50 home runs and swiped 50 bags, and it wouldn't be surprising in the least if no one ever did.

    Still, A-Rod hit 42 homers and stole 46 bases in his 40-40 year. Of starting the 50-50 club, outfielder Matt Kemp said in 2012, "I think I'm capable of doing it," per Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. Then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kemp battled injuries that year and fell significantly short (23 home runs, nine stolen bases in 106 games), but the confidence is admirable.  

    Forty-40 is unicorn enough. Fifty-50 is just plain cockamamie.  

80-Point NBA Game

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    Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game in 1962.

    In fact, Chamberlain scored 70 or more points six times in his career, but only four other players joined him in that achievement: David Thompson (73 in 1978), Elgin Baylor (71 in 1960), David Robinson (71 in 1994) and Kobe Bryant (81 in 2006).

    In 2012, college sophomore Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a Division III game—impressive, but no NBA.

    Really, 80 points in an NBA game is a unicorn. In February, Kevin Cottrell Jr. of NBA.com wrote several current players (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant) seem like plausible contenders to achieve the feat. Time will tell.

Undefeated NFL Season

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    The 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season but failed to win the Super Bowl. Only one team in the NFL's history has won every game en route to a title: the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

    The regular season was just 14 games long back then, but still, the fact remains. Because of the Dolphins, fans know a perfect NFL season is possible. Every so often, a team flirts with the achievement—recently, the 2015 Carolina Panthers—but all have come up short.

    An undefeated NFL season might never happen again, but this unicorn seems far more likely than some other things on this list.

400 NBA Threes

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    Before the 2015-16 NBA season, draining 300 threes on the year would have qualified as a unicorn (and still does, really).

    Then, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry went absolutely off, sinking 402 threes on the year on 45 percent shooting from behind the arc.

    As the professional game continues to evolve, who knows how likely 300 is to occur again? But man, another 400? That seems as impossible as it did before Curry went and did it.

10 Points in an NHL Game

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    Only one person has ever scored 10 points in an NHL game, proving it can be done, but also that it might never be done again.

    Darryl Sittler, then a center for the Toronto Maples Leafs, achieved the feat in 1976 by scoring six goals and notching four assists in a win over the Boston Bruins.

    In 2013, the Hall of Famer said, "To see the number of players who've gone through the League, guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, even today's players like Sidney Crosby—I still hold the record. ... I'm proud to hold the record. I hope it lasts a lot longer," per John Kreiser of NHL.com.

No. 16 Seed Upsetting a No. 1

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    A No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed in the 64-plus-team men's college basketball tournament. And yet, there have certainly been some close calls.

    Prior to the 2016 tournament, Dana O'Neil of ESPN.com reported, according to ESPN Stats & Information, four No. 16 vs. No. 1 games over the previous four years had resulted in single-digit winning margins. 

    Furthermore, a No. 2 falling to a No. 15 has happened eight times since the current seeding process started in 1985.

    There were folks who thought the parity of the 2016 NCAA tournament could result in the first instance of a No. 16 vs. No. 1 upset. It didn't, but that doesn't mean it won't eventually happen.

    Michigan State could easily have been a No. 1 seed in the 2016 tourney, and the Spartans fell to Middle Tennessee State in a shocking No. 15 vs. No. 2 upset.  

300 Rushing Yards

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    The 2,000-yard rushing season has happened seven times in NFL history, just barely edging it off this unicorns list.

    Included instead is the elusive 300-yard game, a feat no NFL running back has accomplished. 

    Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings came the closest, racking up 296 against the San Diego Chargers in 2007. Jamal Lewis, then with the Baltimore Ravens, ran for 295 in 2003, and no one else has cracked 290.

    In 2011, Peterson told the Associated Press (via NFL.com) he believed he could breach the 300-yard barrier.

2-Hour Marathon

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    A two-hour marathon may seem impossible, but then again, there was a time when folks thought the four-minute mile was impossible. Then Roger Bannister came along and squashed all that.

    The current world record for the 26.2-mile distance is 2:02:57, set by Kenya's Dennis Kipruto Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon in 2014.

    In his 2015 book Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, Ed Caesar wrote, "The feat appears to be within the range of human possibility, in terms of physiology. But understanding physiology is only one aspect of understanding running. Human beings are more than hearts and lungs and legs, and the quest for virgin territory more than a battle of swift feet," per Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post.

5 Homers in a Game

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    Only 16 players in major league history have hit four home runs in a game, most recently Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers in 2012.

    No one has ever hit five home runs in one game. However, Hamilton smashed a deep double in his four-homer outing. If he can come within the width of the warning track, someone will eventually do this, right?

PGA Tour 58

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    A handful of professional golfers have scored a 59 for an 18-hole round, including, but not limited to, Annika Sorenstam, Stuart Appleby and David Duvall. However, none have shot a 58 on the PGA Tour.

    That's not to say it's not possible, of course.

    According to the Golf Channel, Ryo Ishikawa scored a 58 at a Japan Golf Tour event in 2010, Jason Bohn did the same at a Canadian Tour event in 2001, and Shigeki Maruyama achieved a 13-under 58 during 2000 U.S. Open qualifiers.

Sweeping the Postseason

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    Sweeping the postseason en route to the title isn't impressive in say, the NFL or NCAA tournament, since it's required to win the championship in single-elimination format.

    However, in terms of the North American big four, minus the NFL, has any champion ever gone undefeated in a contemporary postseason format?

    The Los Angeles Lakers came close, going 15-1 in the 2001 playoffs.

    In 2014, the Kansas City Royals became the first team to win eight games to kick off an MLB postseason, but they failed to win the World Series. The 1976 Cincinnati Reds swept the postseason, but that was back when they only needed seven wins to do it.

    Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939, 20 teams have swept the Stanley Cup Final. The Montreal Canadiens swept the entire NHL postseason in 1960, but that was when a title required just eight playoff wins.

    No team has accomplished the feat in the 16-game format.

MLB Home Run Cycle

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    Most baseball fans have heard of the cycle—a single, double, triple and home run in one game. This has happened quite a few times in MLB's history.

    Rarer is the natural cycle, which means achieving the necessary hits in order, from single to home run. This has happened at least a dozen times, according to MLB.com.

    The true cycle unicorn, however, is the home run cycle. One would need to hit a solo shot, two-run homer, three-run homer and a grand slam in a single game. This has never happened at the major league level, although New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez came close in 2005, as did Edwin Encarnacion of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.

    The home run cycle was achieved in the minors by Tyrone Horne in 1998.

Condor

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    Bill Schildge/Associated Press

    The condor—it just sounds mythical, doesn't it? In golf terms, a condor is achieved through a four-under par score on a hole. This could, hypothetically, be done by notching a hole-in-one on a par five or using just two shots on a par six.

    In 2008, Golf Today reported the former had been achieved just four times, and never on an official tour. 

    In 2005, Brenda Gillen of the University of Denver Magazine wrote about Mike Crean's historic, 517-yard ace in 2002, calling it the "longest hole-in-one in American history."

    It's worth noting, a hole-in-one on a par four is pretty darn rare, too. 

Striking out Every Batter

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    Associated Press

    There have been 23 perfect games in MLB history, and the most strikeouts ever recorded in a single game has been 20 (done twice by Roger Clemens and once by Kerry Wood).

    Is it possible to strike out 27 batters en route to a perfect game? It seems, well impossible. However, consider this.

    Ron Necciai struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning minor league game in 1952. In 2014, high schooler Mike Delio struck out each of the 21 batters he faced in a seven-inning game.

    Will this ever happen in the majors? It seems highly unlikely, stress on the highly. (In fact, if this ever happens, it will be a miracle of epic proportions.) Still, it has happened at lower levels. And much like unicorns, it's fun to dream about.  

A Perfect Bracket

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    According to Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight, the odds of choosing a perfect NCAA tournament bracket vary based on who you ask, but whatever it is, it's an absurd number. For instance, it could be one in 128 billion, or it could be one in 9.2 quintillion.

    So, it's impossible, right? Maybe, but then again, when Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone who picked a perfect bracket in 2014, there had to be those who thought, "What if?" Indeed, Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight wrote, "Announced on Jan. 21, the contest grabbed far more attention than any perfect bracket competition ever had before."

    In March, Mike Benzie of NCAA.com reported the longest verified perfect streak to start the tournament occurred in 2015 when someone chose the first 34 games correctly. According to Bialik, one Yahoo bracket got 58 of 63 games correct in 2007.

    It could happen.