Top 25 "Where Were You When . . .?" Moments in Sports

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst IJuly 15, 2010

Top 25 "Where Were You When . . .?" Moments in Sports

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    Whether wonderful or horrible, magical or sorrowful, agonizing or triumphant, we always remember where we were and what we were doing for the truly landmark world events.

    The Kennedy Assassination, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, man walking on the moon, 9/11, and so on.

    And so it is with sports as well.

    The question naturally arises—will "The Decision" be one of those moments?

    Years from now, will we remember where we were and what we were doing when we found out that LeBron James was taking his talents to South Beach?

    I think not.

    Here's a look at the Top 25 such moments, at least according to this guy.

Honorable Mention: The Blocked Punt

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    Late in the summer of 2005, the whole world watched as Hurricane Katrina devastated the City of New Orleans and, with it, the Louisiana Superdome. The future of the city and its residents was uncertain, and it was thought that the Saints may have played their last game in New Orleans.

    Just over one year later, with a new coach, a new quarterback, and a new running back, the Saints returned to the Superdome in a Monday Night Showdown against their division rival Atlanta Falcons in front of 15 million viewers, including many still displaced New Orleanians, across the country

    The Falcons came into the game favored, but everyone involved knew that the emotional return of the Saints to their home might be enough to carry the day.

    After emotional introductions, the raucous Superdome crowd watched as the Falcons received the opening kickoff and went three and out, which led to arguably the Greatest Moment in New Orleans Saints History.

25. Mike Tyson Bites Evander Holyfield's Ear

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    In June of 1997, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield met in a rematch of their bout seven months earlier, in which Holyfield floored Tyson for only the second time in Tyson's career.

    Once one of the most feared boxers in the history of the sport, this was the match in which Tyson became known as one of the craziest boxers in the history of the sport.

    Ostensibly in reaction to head-butting by Holyfield, in the third round Tyson hauled off and bit a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear off. Somehow, the fight was allowed to continue, and Tyson bit him again.

    Tyson's career and, to some extent, the sport of boxing, have never recovered.

24. Mark McGwire's 62nd Home Run

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    Forget, for the moment, that Mark McGwire would later embarrass himself in front of Congress, and then ultimately admit to having used steroids during his career.

    And forget, for the moment, that while McGwire and Sammy Sosa were "saving baseball" in 1998, what they were really doing was making fools of us all.

    On September 8, 1998, we all witnessed a piece of baseball history that was, at the time, truly magical.

    Knowing now what I know, I still remember where I was that day.

    It was my 21st birthday.

23. Dale Earnhardt Killed at Daytona

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    In February of 2001, Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500. This was obviously an awful moment for the Earnhardt family and for all of NASCAR.

    For many people in America, the first time they'd ever heard of Dale Earnhradt was when his face was on the front page of every newspaper in America the following day.

    People who paid no attention whatsoever to NASCAR knew that Earnhardt had died, and that whoever he was, that was a big deal.

22. LeBron James Makes His Debut

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    In November of 2003, after a full two years of hype, LeBron James played in his first NBA game for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Facing the Sacramento Kings, James recorded 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and four steals, while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

    The next day, one of the criticisms levied against James was that he was going to have to work on getting to the foul line more.

    That this was the worst anyone could say about LeBron was truly a testament to his abilities.

21. The Dream Team

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    It was the summer of 1992, and Team USA was being represented at the Olympics by the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

    The Dream Team was Team USA's response to having their strictly amateur teams routinely outclassed by professional players from other countries.

    The original Dream Team was pure greatness, elite players enjoying the hell out of playing with each other for once.

20. Steve Bartman

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    With the whole world tuned in for the special privilege of watching the Chicago Cubs clinch their first trip to the World Series since 1945, die-hard Cubs fan Steve Bartman placed his name in the history books by bungling a foul ball that Moises Alou was about to catch for the second out of the eighth inning.

    When the play happened, the Cubs were up 3-0 and five outs from the World Series.

    The play spooked the team, leading to a wild pitch, an error on a surefire double-play ball, and eight runs.

    And the Cubs didn't go to the World Series.

19. Joe Namath Guarantees Victory

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    The quarterback of an 18-point underdog, "Broadway Joe" Namath boldly predicted an unlikely New York Jets victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

    The whole world was watching on that January day in 1969 when, lo and behold, the Jets actually knocked off the Colts, 16-7.

18. Dave Roberts Steals Second

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    The Boston Red Sox trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS on October 17, 2004. Suddenly, they were down to their final half-inning in Game Four, bottom of the ninth inning, trailing 4-3 and facing Mariano Rivera.

    Kevin Millar led off the ninth with a walk, and was lifted for pinch-runner Dave Roberts.

    On Rivera's first pitch to the next batter, Roberts took off for second base. If he had been thrown out, the game would have been over. Instead, he was safe, the Red Sox tied the game, and then won it in the 12th.

    The Red Sox then won the next three games to complete the most improbable comeback of all time, and easily beat the Cardinals for their first World Series victory since 1918.

17. Willis Reeds Limps Out of the Tunnel

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    On May 8, 1970, prior to Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in Madison Square Garden, the injured Willis Reed, who had missed Game Six, walked onto the court during warmups and electrified the crowd.

    Reed started the game and scored only four points, but the inspiration he provided dictated the outcome of the game, as the Knicks won their first NBA Championship.

16. Roberto Clemente's Plane Crashes

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    Roberto Clemente ended the 1972 baseball season with exactly 3,000 hits. Just 37 years old at the time and having hit .312 on the season, Clemente expected to return in 1973 and continue to add to his hits total.

    But when an earthquake struck Nicaragua in December of that year, Clemente loaded a plane with relief supplies in his native Puerto Rico and took off for the struggling nation.

    The plane crashed shortly after taking off and baseball lost one of its legends.

15. Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown

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    One of the ways in which you can measure truly dominant performances in sports is by how easily a non-fan can appreciate what is taking place.

    A non-basketball fan could appreciate Jordan's Flu Game. A non-football fan could appreciate the 49ers' 55-10 shellacking of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.

    And when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by a record-setting 31 lengths, setting the world record for the fastest mile-and-a-half on dirt and setting the Belmont record by more than two seconds, and in the process winning the first Triple Crown in 25 years, even a non-fan could see that Secretariat was a one-of-a-kind stallion.

14. The Helmet Catch

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    Super Bowl XLII featured a matchup of the undefeated New England Patriots, one of the greatest teams of all time, and the New York Giants, an improbable wild card team that had won three straight games on the road to get to the championship round.

    With the second-largest television audience in American history watching, the Giants trailed 14-10 with 1:15 left in the game and faced a third-and-five from their own 44-yard line.

    Under pressure from the Patriots defense, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was about to be sacked to bring up a potentially game-clinching fourth down when he improbably escaped the clutches of three different Patriot defenders.

    Even more improbably, Manning then heaved the ball downfield to special teams specialist David Tyree, who jumped along with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.

    Tangled up with Harrison and falling onto his back, Tyree pinned the ball against his helmet and somehow held on.

    Moments later, the Giants scored the winning touchdown and ended the Patriots' dreams of a perfect season.

13. Tiger Woods Wins His First Masters

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    In April 1997, Tiger Woods became the youngest player ever to win the Masters, and the first African-American to do so. He also set a record by finishing 18 under par, and another record by winning by a margin of 12 strokes.

    All told, Tiger set 20 Masters records and tied six others.

    At the age of 21 years old, Tiger Woods had arrived.

12. Kirk Gibson's Home Run

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    Perhaps the most improbable home run of all time.

    Kirk Gibson, with two injured knees and a stomach virus, came in as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner on first, the Dodgers trailing by one run.

    On the mound was Dennis Eckersley, who led the major leagues in saves with 45 and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

    Gibson got behind in the count 0-2 and could barely shift his weight.

    Nevertheless, he hit a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for a game-winning home run. The Dodgers never looked back in the World Series.

    I think we all agreed with Jack Buck when he said, "I don't believe what I just saw!"

11. Bill Buckner

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    With two outs and a tie score in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, Mookie Wilson hit a slow roller to first baseman Bill Buckner. If Buckner scoops up the ball and tags first base, we go to the top of the 11th inning.

    Instead, the ball got by Buckner, the Mets scored the winning run, and they went on to win Game Seven and the World Series two nights later.

10. The Fight of the Century

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    Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali were both undefeated going into their title bout at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971.

    Ali-Frazier was about so much more than boxing. By 1971, Ali had become a bit of a counter-culture icon, having assumed his Muslim moniker and having been stripped of his heavyweight titles won years before as a result of his denouncing the War in Vietnam and refusing to join the Army.

    Frazier, meanwhile, represented mainstream America as a sort of conservative, pro-War stalwart.

    The fight was to be broadcast in movie theatres throughout the country on closed-circuit television, with no less than Burt Lancaster doing play-by-play; when fans in some cities learned that they would not have access to the closed circuit broadcast, rioting ensued.

    As much of a spectacle as the fight was outside the ring, it was an epic battle inside the ring. It was a brutal 15-round battle, which Frazier won by decision, and both fighters ended up in the hospital afterward. Rumors even circulated shortly after that Joe Frazier had died.

9. The 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany

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    It was supposed to be a joyous and open Olympics hosted by West Germany in an effort to erase the memories of the 1936 Olympics, which had dripped with images of Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda.

    Instead, the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, will forever be remembered for one of the most haunting images in sports history. It was that of one of the members of the terrorist group Black September, which kidnapped and later killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

8. The Shot Heard 'Round the World

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    On August 11 of the 1951 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers led the New York Giants by 13.5 games.

    The Giants won 37 of their last 44 games and finished the season tied with the Dodgers, having come all the way back.

    In fact, it was only a 14-inning victory over the Philadelphia Phillies that allowed the Dodgers to even finish tied.

    The Dodgers and Giants played a three-game playoff series to determine which team would go to the World Series. With the series tied 1-1, the Giants entered the bottom of the ninth trailing, 4-1.

    The Giants scored a run and then put two on for Bobby Thomson, who cranked a three-run home run to win the game and send the Giants to the World Series.

    Part of the reason we all remember where we were that day (rhetorically speaking, of course) is that the game was the first-ever live coast-to-coast broadcast of a major league baseball game, though Russ Hodges' iconic call—"THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!"—was heard only by Giants fans.

7. Hank Aaron's 715th Home Run

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    It was a coming-of-age for baseball and for America. At some point after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but before Barack Obama was elected President, Hank Aaron became the all-time home run king.

    The most hallowed record in all of sports was now owned by a black man, a mortal, playing baseball in living color in the modern era.

    Baseball's home run record was no longer held by Babe Ruth, that mythological figure from a long-ago sepia-toned era.

    In a positively surreal moment that would never occur in today's game, Aaron was accompanied for part of his home run trot by a couple of fans who had run onto the field to congratulate him.

    Aaron, who had received hate mail, boos, and death threats during the run up to 715, wasn't completely convinced the two fans weren't there to kill him.

6. The Greatest Game Ever Played

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    The 1958 NFL Championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts at Yankee Stadium has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played, and it marked the beginning of the NFL's ascent to the top of the sports ratings world.

    Trailing by three with roughly two minutes left, quarterback Johnny Unitas drove the Colts from their own 14-yard line all the way to the Giants' 20, setting up a game-tying field goal with seven seconds left.

    Then, in overtime, Unitas led the Colts on an 80-yard drive which culminated in Alan Ameche's game-winning one-yard dive into the end zone.

    The game was the first ever sudden-death overtime game in the history of the NFL, and to this day is the only championship game ever decided in overtime. The game was broadcast nationally by NBC and seen by 45 million fans across the country.

5. Magic Johnson's Press Conference

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    Early in the day on November 7, 1991, the Los Angeles Lakers called a press conference. Word had gotten out to the media that the purpose of the press conference was to announce that Magic Johnson had contracted HIV and would be retiring from basketball immediately

    The basketball world spent the day trying to convince itself that the rumors couldn't possibly be true. Then Magic Johnson came out and informed the world that they were.

    It was one of the most humbling days in professional sports history, the most startling evidence to date that athletes are humans, too.

4. The White Ford Bronco

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    For all of the moments that professional athletes have had us glued to our television sets, this one might unfortunately be the most memorable.

    Way before Mike Tyson entered what ESPN's Bill Simmons has dubbed "the Tyson Zone," before Tiger Woods flushed his billion-dollar image down the drain overnight, and before LeBron James lost millions of fans in one hour of primetime television, O.J. Simpson showed us just how far and how fast a beloved athlete can fall from grace.

3. Jordan's Final Shot

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    Somehow we knew.

    We knew that Michael Jordan would will the Chicago Bulls to their third straight championship and sixth in eight years.

    We knew that Karl Malone would find a way to blow it in the biggest moments of Game Six against the greatest player, greatest coach, and one of the greatest teams of all time.

    And we knew that we had just seen the final shot of MJ's amazing career, even before Bob Costas raised the possibility for everyone on national television.

    I was in a restaurant in New Orleans, and I'll never forget it. The entire dining room—including the "what's going on?" crowd—was transfixed, while the cooks and dishwashers had come out from the kitchen to watch Jordan set up his final shot against Bryon Russell.

2. The Miracle on Ice

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    A David and Goliath tale for the Cold War Era.

    Do you believe in Miracles?


1. The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

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    Weeks after having retired from baseball and knowing that he was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig addressed Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day on July 4, 1939.

    Displaying grace and courage in the face of fear and adversity, Gehrig told the crowd on hand that, despite "the bad break" he'd gotten, he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

    Incidentally, that may have been the most well-attended ballgame in the history of baseball.

    Thirty years ago, if you had surveyed every living New Yorker, you probably would have found no fewer than two million people who would have told you they were there that day.


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