College Football: The Craziest Game Endings in History

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Why do we watch football? Is it to see our favorite team, the one (or several for some) that we commit all of our loyalties to, be successful? Maybe it’s to unwind from a long week of grinding out long work days and, simultaneously, prepare ourselves for another week of the same situation beginning on Monday? Or is it just because we simply have nothing better to do?

Whatever the answer may be, your reasoning for watching football may have changed after this past weekend of football. While crazy things happen all the time in our beloved sport, what the ending of the Michigan vs. Michigan State game provided this weekend was truly unfathomable. Only needing a simple punt to end the game, the Wolverines instead fumbled it away and allowed their arch rival to run into the end zone for the game winning score. Not only was the loss shocking, it virtually ended any playoff hopes that the Wolverines thought they might of had and kept the Spartans perfect on the year.

That ending now easily ranks as one of the craziest and most memorable endings to a college football game ever. It also allows memories of some of the other wild finishes in the history of the game to flood into our minds. For review of some of those shocking finishes, here are five of the best.

5. The Fifth Down Game (1990)

The Colorado Buffaloes, in the midst of a great season in 1990, came into Missouri to take on the Tigers looking to build upon their high expectations for the season. While they ended up winning the game and going on to split a national championship that season, they also left with one of the most controversial plays in the history of sports.

Trailing late in the game, the Buffs were trying to mount a game winning drive. After getting the ball near the goal line, they appeared to be in good shape. The Tigers’ defense was stout though, holding Colorado out of the endzone on three straight goal line attempts. What happened next was something you will probably never see again in the game of football.

Buffs’ QB Charles Johnson spiked the ball (with the clock winding down) on what was supposedly fourth down. However, he believed it was only third down because the field crew never flipped the marker to indicate it was fourth down. So, the Buffs got a fifth chance to score and took advantage, winning 33-31. It tarnished their championships and provided an ending unlike any other.

4. Colorado’s miracle against Michigan (1994)

Michigan should be accustomed to shocking losses, just as Colorado should be used to winning in unbelievable fashion. After going into the 4th quarter trailing the Wolverines by 12 points back in a contest in 1994, the Buffaloes needed a serious rally to move to 2-0 in a battle of top ten teams. This one provided a shocking and unbelievable ending, yes, but no controversy this time for Colorado.

Down by 5 points with only 6 seconds to play, Buffs’ QB Kordell Stewart launched a pass from about his own 25-yard line to the endzone, just trying to give one of his guys a hopeless chance at a game winning score. It turned out to not be hopless, as the ball was tipped into the arms of Michael Westbrook as time expired, giving Colorado a 27-26 victory. It’s an ending well known as the “Miracle at Michigan” (which may have some competition after last weekend).

3. Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary (1984)

Doug Flutie was one of the most entertaining and enjoyable players to watch in the history of football. He played with a chip on his shoulder and showed a passion for the game matched by few. What he did in 1984 against the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes might be one of the most iconic plays in the history of the sport.

Down 45-41 in the final seconds of a battle between top 15 teams, the Boston College Eagles‘ QB stepped back and heaved a beautiful pass to the endzone right into the arms of receiver Gerard Phelan. It propelled the Eagles to an 8-2 mark on the year and in the process, Flutie became the first ever passer to surpass 10,000 yards in a collegiate career, as he threw for 472 yards in the win.

2. Auburn’s shocker against Alabama (2013)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama is one of the best rivalries in the game. Two proud programs in the same state that always face off near the end of the season. With the 2013 version of this game, the Crimson Tide might still be trying to figure out how they lost.

Known by the masses as the “Kick Six,” Alabama lined up for a game winning 57-yard field goal with 1 second on the clock. After the kick came up short, Auburn’s Chris Davis (who was waiting in the end zone) got his hands on the ball and ran like a man on fire. He scored a game winning, 100-yard missed field goal return touchdown to propel Auburn to the SEC championship and, ultimately, an appearance in the national championship.

1. “The band is on the field!” (1982)

No ending may ever top this one. That’s probably why it’s simply known as “The Play.”

With John Elway leading the Stanford Cardinal to a supposed late game winning drive with just 4 seconds left, the California Golden Bears still had one more chance on the ensuing kickoff by the Cardinal. After receiving the ball inside their own 45-yard line, the Bears conducted a series of five laterals before getting the ball to Kevin Moen inside the Cardinal 25. The Stanford band was already on the field though, which didn’t stop Moen on his way to the craziest game winning score in the history of collegiate (and maybe all) athletics. After much deliberation, the touchdown ended up standing and Cal won 25-20.

*All game information courtesy of