Sports, whether we’re talking about hockey, baseball, golf, or boxing, are ripe for drama. Over the last century, sports have become televised and amassed legions of fans who use their favorite teams or players as part of their identities. As a result, big-ticket sports games work up a frenzy of emotions and create moments known even to those who hate athletics.
Sports teams aren’t just about a football or a basketball — the heated games carry greater meaning and often represent struggles that encompass race, politics, gender, and health. And sometimes, a timeless sports moment occurs because of the incredible athleticism of just one player.
Here is a rundown of 25 of the most memorable moments in sports history that continue to captivate fans around the world.
1. “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”
The first televised baseball game in history proved to be one of the most memorable. In a tense game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, one home run by Bobby Thomson clinched the game and forever launched Thomson into baseball history. As the bases were loaded, his home run gave the Giants just enough points to steal the game in the final inning.
2. Thrilla in Manilla
There are few sports rivalries as mythologized as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The pair constantly battled it out for boxing supremacy, coming to a dramatic conclusion at the Philippine Coliseum. In one of the final rounds, Ali famously remarked to his trainer that the fight was the closest he had ever been to dying. In a brutal and bloodied match, Ali cheated death and came out a victor.
3. Tiger Woods’ championship at the 1997 Masters
Tiger Woods achieved more at the age of 22 than most achieve in their entire lifetime. The golfing superstar clinched his first Masters championship barely a year after he was able to legally drink. The early win jump-started one of the most impressive careers in golf history.
4. Michael Phelps’ eighth gold medal
As the 2008 Beijing Olympic games were fast approaching, all eyes turned to swimmer Michael Phelps. He was already recognized as one of the greatest swimmers of all time, and Beijing marked his opportunity to nab eight gold medals and set a world record. After winning gold at the 4 x 100-meter relay, Phelps achieved his dream and broke the record for most medals won at an Olympic event.
5. Jesse Owens vs. Hitler
At the 1936 Olympic games, runner Jesse Owens straddled a divide in the history of black freedom. While civil rights were beginning to achieve modest success, Owens faced his greatest challenge in tarnishing Hitler’s doctrine of white supremacy. After winning four gold medals at the Olympics, he tacitly rebuked Hitler and went down in history as one the most revered American athletes.
6. Malcolm Butler’s interception
The interception is one of the most game-changing moves a player can make in football. In a split-second, fortunes can be reversed and histories can change. During Super Bowl XLIX, New England cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass to Russell Wilson. Butler went on to score a touchdown with a scant 20 seconds remaining on the clock.
7. “The Play”
There are some plays that win games, and some capture the imagination of fans forever. One such play occurred during the last minute of an intense game between the University of California’s Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal football team in 1982. After Stanford tried to end the game early with a squib kick, the Golden Bears managed to keep the ball going through multiple passes to score a touchdown and win the game. The play was so unexpected that even the Stanford band marched on the field early to incorrectly celebrate Stanford’s win.
8. Michael Jordan’s send-off to the Bulls
Few players are as photogenic as Michael Jordan. During his final game for the Chicago Bulls in 1998, Jordan executed one of the most iconic plays of his career. As only a few seconds remained, the Utah Jazz were set to win with a thin margin over the Bulls. Jordan landed an impressive jump shot to get a one point edge over the Jazz, winning the game.
9. Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off
The walk-off home run is the one of the most coveted plays in baseball. In order to achieve this feat, a player has to hit a home run in the last inning to steal the game away from the other team. In the 1960 World Series, Bill Mazeroski hit an incredible walk-off in the last game of the series that led the Pittsburgh Pirates to victory.
10. “The Greatest Game Ever Played”
Sports history is packed with memorable games, but only one warrants the title of “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The 1958 NFL championship ignited the league’s popularity thanks to its nail-biting finish. As the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts were tied at the end of the game, it went into overtime, which was a first for an NFL playoff. After a few suspenseful plays, the Colts clinched the game, 23 to 17.
11. Joe Namath’s guarantee
Athletes are notoriously cocky, which usually ends up being their downfall. As the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts were set to square off for Super Bowl III, Jets quarterback Joe Namath quipped that he could guarantee a win. Though the Jets were favorited to lose, Namath’s guarantee paid off as his team dominated the Colts in a massive upset.
12. “Miracle On Ice”
While many like to view sports as removed from politics, some games carry more weight than others. The “Miracle On Ice” was a bonafide proxy war between America and the Soviet Union, with ice hockey players serving as the foot soldiers. America’s team was young and inexperienced compared to the Soviets, but America managed to eke out a win, which remains a legendary victory in American history.
13. “The Shot”
Michael Jordan has enjoyed countless memorable plays in his career, but none so remembered as “The Shot.” In 1989, Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls who faced a serious challenge in beating the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first round of the Eastern Conference. As the Cavaliers were cleared to win in the final seconds, Jordan scored as the buzzer cried out. The incredible shot won the series for the Bulls.
14. Larsen’s perfect game
Pitching a perfect game seems like an impossible feat even for the most seasoned players. New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen went down in MLB history in 1956 when he pitched the first and only perfect game in a World Series. The Yankees went on to win game seven of the memorable series.
15. Brandi Chastain’s winning kick
Over 90,000 people were in attendance for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. As a result, the pressure was palpable as China and the U.S. squared off. The game eventually went into a tense penalty shootout, where player Brandi Chastain made the final kick to barely win the game.
16. The Steelers get super
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most feared teams in the NFL due to their lengthy string of Super Bowl wins. In 2009, the Steelers made history as they locked down the record for most Super Bowl wins in history. The feat almost didn’t happen, as the Cardinals held the lead until the last minute when wide receiver Santonio Holmes landed a surprise touchdown.
17. Battle of the sexes
Tennis is one of the rare sports where men and women have the chance to face off. One of the most notable games occurred in 1973 between Bobby Riggs and Billie-Jean King. King was a noted feminist and wanted to win the match as a statement of the equality between genders. She got her wish when she clobbered Riggs and decisively won the match.
18. “The Catch”
There’s an old saying that baseball is a game won by inches. During the 1954 World Series, center fielder Willie Mays of the New York Giants provided living proof of that saying when he barely caught a ball hit by Vic Wertz. Mays managed to catch the ball at an incredible distance in the back of center field, which prompted fans to memorialize the accomplishment as “The Catch.”
19. DiMaggio’s famous streak
Joe DiMaggio has become immortalized in the lexicon of popular culture. The famous baseball player broke numerous records, but none so legendary as his 56-game hitting streak. He capped the still unbroken record in 1941 when Cleveland Indians third baseman Ken Keltner shut him down.
20. “The Music City Miracle”
The most memorable plays always occur against insurmountable odds. When the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans faced off in 2000, the Bills were set to win with a comfortable lead as 16 seconds remained on the clock. However, Titans player Frank Wycheck threw an incredible pass to Kevin Dyson who went on to run 75 yards, score a touchdown, and win the game.
21. Hank Aaron’s 715th home run
To this day, no baseball player has been skilled enough to top Hank Aaron’s incredible 715 home runs. He set his career-defining record in 1974, when a roaring crowd of fans packed the Braves’ stadium in Atlanta. His 715th home run flew in the face of numerous racists who wanted Babe Ruth to maintain the record.
22. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100th point
Basketball players are cheered for scoring 30 or 40 points in a game, but there was one fateful game where a player scored a whopping 100 points. Wilt Chamberlain set the still unbroken record against the New York Knicks in 1962. Unfortunately, no video footage exists of the game, so only the lucky fans in attendance witnessed the incredible feat.
23. Jackie Robinson’s first game
Jackie Robinson is a bonafide American hero. After the end of the Negro Leagues in the MLB, Robinson was the first African-American to ever play in a non-segregated major league team. On April 15, 1947, he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers where thousands of black and white fans came to witness the historic moment.
24. The helmet catch
Sometimes, the most important football plays aren’t the ones that score the last-minute touchdown, but the ones that make it possible. During Super Bowl XLII, Eli Manning of the New York Giants threw a pass despite being held back by three players from the New England Patriots. Wide receiver David Tyree jumped up and pressed the ball to his helmet, ultimately landing the catch. As a result, the drive resulted in a touchdown that ensured the Giants won the game.
25. Lou Gehrig’s last game
The tale of Lou Gehrig is at once tragic and inspirational. The talented baseball player dominated the MLB in the 1930s. However, his talent quickly diminished as he suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He voluntarily took himself out of baseball after his 2,130th consecutive game, fearing that his decreased performance would negatively impact his team.