25 Most Memorable Sports Plays In History

Posted by , Updated on May 21, 2024

Although the past century has certainly had its share of memorable moments in sporting, there are certain instances that stand out above the rest. Sometimes it’s something huge like when American sprinter Jesse Owens stood up to the Nazis during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and other times its something much smaller, like an act of incredible sportsmanship. Whatever it is though, from big to small and everything in between, here are the 25 most memorable sports plays in history.

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Lynn Swann’s Juggling Catch (1975)

Lynn Swann’s Juggling Catch 1975

Lynn Swann’s performance during Super Bowl X resulted in him being named as the year’s most valuable player. The highlight moment was his 53-yard juggling reception. As he tipped the ball to himself, he was able to somehow catch it as it fell to the ground and the Steelers took the Cowboys 21-17.


Jesse Owens Debunks Aryan Myth (1936)

Jesse Owens Debunks Aryan Myth 1936

Jesse Owens, an African American athlete, went directly up against the Aryan dominance message of the Third Reich during the summer Olympics of 1936 in Berlin. He showed his dominance by setting three world records and one Olympic record, a feat that remained unmatched for 48 years. He won the Olympic record of 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash, another Olympic record of 20.7 seconds in the 200 meters, and yet another world record 39.8 seconds in the 4×100-meter relay.


Jackie Robinson’s Major League Contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1945)

Jackie Robinson’s Major League Contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers 1945

Jackie Robinson was hailed as the first man to break the color barrier in the world of baseball when he became the first African American to play in the major leagues. After enduring trials and tribulations, he led the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series, while being honored as the Rookie of the Year. Here he was not only credited for his memorable sports plays, but in his determination as well to raise the lot of his countrymen away from social emancipation.


Roger Bannister Breaks Four-Minute Mile (1954)

Roger Bannister Breaks Four-Minute Mile 1954

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man to achieve an unthinkable feat – to run a mile in less than four minutes. A 25-year-old British medical student, his close time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds was accomplished at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England during a 15mph crosswind with up to 25 mph gusts of wind, which at first was the reason why he wanted to call of the event. His feat was witnessed by 3,000 spectators including Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, both of whom made the announcement of his feat in the final 200-yard push and immortalized his record.


The Catch (1954)

The Catch (1954)

This was the name given to the “play” made by New York Giant’s outfielder Willie Mays during the 1954 World Series. One of the most memorable catches in the game’s history, it prevented the Indians from scoring any more runs and the Giants won the game in overtime going on to sweep the series.


Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston for Heavyweight Championship (1964)

Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston for Heavyweight Championship 1964

A one-night event on February 25, 1964 in Miami , Florida holds the record witnessing one of the most amazing upsets in the annals of sports when a brash, fast talking, 22-year-old Olympic champion named Cassius Clay held his ground against a menacing heavyweight champion, the indestructible Sonny Liston. Cassius Clay, or the Louisville Lip, would go on to become “Muhammad Ali,” the poster boy of American 20th century sports.


Bob Beamon Shatters Long Jump World Record (1968)

Bob Beamon Shatters Long Jump World Record 1968

24-year-old New Yorker Bob Beamon made history on October 18, 1968 when he shattered the Olympic World Record in long jump extraordinarily…by nearly 2 feet. Ralph Boston set the record years before at 27 feet 4 3/4 inches and he coached Beamon through his amazing leap after Beamon failed to qualify for gold on his two previous jumps. With his 6’3 160 lbs 8.90 m frame, he tossed himself 29 feet 2 1/2 inches which was the world record until Mike Powell leaped 2 inches farther during the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.


Immaculate Reception (1972)

Immaculate Reception 1972

This shoestring catch was made by Steelers’ running back Franco Harris at the AFC divisional playoff between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, which started the decade of playoff wins for the Steelers, as well as their four Super Bowls. With 22 seconds remaining in the game, the Steelers were trailing behind the Raiders at 7-6, and were on their fourth-and-10 on their own yard line. Franco Harris was in the right place at the right time as he made the interception and ran it all the way back for a touchdown.


The Rumble in the Jungle (1974)

The Rumble in the Jungle 1974

This famous boxing match, which was held in Zaire on the 30th of October 1974, pitted the world heavyweight champion at that time, George Foreman, against the former champion, Muhammad Ali. Foreman was the favored player but lost his stamina after several rounds because of Ali’s speed and dodging skills. In the 8th round, Ali gave off a perfect combination of powerful punches knocking Foreman unconscious.


The Thrilla in Manila Ali vs. Frazier III (1975)

The Thrilla in Manila Ali vs. Frazier III 1975

Though the “Fight of the Century” in 1971 was arguably the most anticipated and most watched sporting event to date as it was the first official fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, their 3rd fight in Manila, Philippines was considered to be their most memorable not only because it was their last fight, but also due to how it played out. As recorded by sport historians, “the pace of the fight and brutality of the blows was unprecedented for a heavyweight match.” Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer, decided to stop the fight in round 14 in spite of the boxer’s protests as he did not want to risk a worse fate for him. Unknown to them, Ali was also signaling his corner to cut his gloves since he didn’t want to fight anymore either. Ali won the fight, however, because Futch threw in the towel first.


Babe Ruth “Live Ball Era” (1920)

Babe Ruth “Live Ball Era” 1920

The popularity of baseball was mainly attributed due to the influence of Babe Ruth, who was dubbed as ”the Greatest All-around Player in the History of Baseball.” During his “live ball era,” his big swing led to swelling home run totals that not only excited fans, but also left him with a career total of 714 HR and an all-time record for 39 years.


Nadia Comaneci Becomes the First Gymnast to Achieve Perfect 10 (1976)

Nadia Comaneci Becomes the First Gymnast to Achieve Perfect 10 1976

Nadia Comaneci will be forever remembered not only as the first gymnast to receive a perfect score of 10 in Olympic competition, but also as the youngest all-around Olympic gold medalist ever. At the age of 14 she went to the 1976 Montreal Games with little expectations. However, she not only scored 10.0 for her performance on the uneven bars, but also went on to record 10.0 six more times.


USA Hockey Team Defeats Soviet Juggernaut 4-3 (1980)

USA Hockey Team Defeats Soviet Juggernaut 4-3 1980

The game of the 1980 USA Hockey team is hailed as one of the greatest sporting events of all time due to its political and social implications. Amidst the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fabled “Miracle on Ice” made an impact on American sport’s history. The rag tag assembly of teenage amateurs took the polished and unbeaten Soviet Juggernaut, which set the stage for an American embarrassment that never came when they defeated the US team in an exhibition match two weeks ago to a 10-3 victory. The US hockey team eventually won against Finland in the most anticlimactic championship game in Olympic history.


The Play (1982)

The Play 1982

One of the most memorable plays in football history was a last ditch kickoff by the University of California’s Golden Bears versus the Stanford University during the “Big Game,” their 85th rivalry game. The Stanford marching band was already on the field thinking their team has won when it was played. At 20-19 lead by the Stanford with four seconds remaining, the Golden Bears made used of the five lateral passes to return the kickoff for a touchdown. The Play even became controversial with many saying that they made some illegal lateral passes, or are downed by one point during the run, but still, it was upheld. If you watched the video of The Play, you will even see Kevin Moen slamming into an unsuspecting trombone player for the winning touchdown.


Michael Jordan Drafted by the Chicago Bulls (1984)

Michael Jordan Drafted by the Chicago Bulls 1984

The Chicago Bulls really made the right move in drafting Michael Jordan on June 19, 1984. You may wonder, however, why the most famous sports celebrity of all time and best player in the history of basketball would rank 3rd overall in the 1984 NBA Draft? Of course, this did not hinder Michael Jordan from scoring like there’s no tomorrow, providing blanket defense, and making picture perfect slams. His best years with the Chicago Bulls had him averaging 37 ppg to lead the Bulls to three straight NBA Championship wins.


The Hand of God Goal (1986)

The Hand of God Goal 1986

Made by Argentina’s Diego Maradona during the quarter-finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup where Argentina beat England, 2-1. It is still famous for its inaccurate ruling as a legitimate goal since Maradona used his left fist to bat the ball into the goal without the referees noticing. After the game he was quoted as saying the goal was “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God,” which led to the name.


The Goal of the Century (1986)

The Goal of the Century 1986

Voted as the “greatest goal in FIFA World Cup History” on the FIFA website, this one eclipsed Diego Maradona’s controversial “hand of God” goal during the same quarter-finals against England. Four minutes after he made that goal, he received the ball a few yards behind the halfway line, spun around three defenders, and hurled the ball into the goal. While the “Hand of God” goal infuriated the English for its deception, this goal left them understandably stunned.


The Shot (1989)

The Shot 1989

This is the game-winning basket that Michael Jordan made during the 1989 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where the Chicago Bulls were behind 100-99 with 3.2 seconds remaining on the clock. The buzzer-beater shot was taken when the ball was in bounded to Jordan near the foul line. The Bulls went on to win the series.


Montana to Taylor (1989)

Montana to Taylor 1989

During Super Bowl XXIII, the Cincinnati Bengals were in the lead with just over three minutes left against the San Francisco 49ers. Joe Montana, nicknamed “Joe Cool,” led the 49ers on a 92-yard scoring drive to beat Cincinnati at the last minute with a pass to John Taylor with just 39 seconds left on the clock.


Mike Jones Tackle (1990)

Mike Jones Tackle 1990

During Super Bowl XXIV where the St. Louis Rams were leading the game 23-16 against the Tennessee Titans with ten seconds left, Steve McNair, a quarterback for the Titans, delivered a pass on a slant pattern to Kevin Dyson who darted toward the end zone but was tackled by Mike Jones at the one-yard line. The image of “The Tackle” where Dyson was reaching out the ball as Jones drags him down stayed on the minds of spectators and viewers alike. Though there are plenty of touchdown-saving tackles in the NFL, “The Tackle,” which denies the Titans a game-tying touchdown, became bigger than the rest.


The Ball of the Century (1993)

The Ball of the Century 1993

In the history of cricket this delivery was considered one of the most memorable plays ever. On the second day of the 1993 Ashes series, Australia’s Shane Warne bowled a cricket delivery that shocked the entire world. With a leg spin, which is characterized by a counter-clockwise spin that causes the ball to drift right, he stunned England’s batman Mike Gatting and the world as well.


Tiger Woods: The Youngest Masters Champ in Record (1997)

Tiger Woods: The Youngest Masters Champ in Record 1997

The sociological phenomena that was Tiger Woods has cemented his social and international celebrity status when he achieved a record 18-under Masters’ victory by 12 strokes. He was only 21, when on his 15th appearance as a pro he became the youngest ever to win the masters in the 61-year history of the tournament. He finished at 270 striking off the record that Jack Nicklaus set in 1965 and was later matched by Raymond Floyd in 1976.


Roddick’s Sportsmanship (2005)

Sportsmanship 2005

Andy Roddick was not only one of the best tennis players in the world, but was also credited for his good sportsmanship, a trait that usually gets unnoticed in the world of sports. In a match against Fernando Verdasco during the Rome Masters tournament in Florida in 2005, there was a match point made by his opponent that a line judge ruled as out of bounds. However, Roddick appealed to the chair umpire to overrule the line judge call as he felt that the ball was fair. He was granted the change and lost the point. The remarkable thing about it was that he ended up losing the match, which he shrugged off as no big deal. He said afterward: “The umpire would have done the same thing if he came down and looked. I just saved him the trip.”


David Tyree Helmet Catch (2008)

David Tyree Helmet Catch 2008

When the Patriots looked like they were going to take the win during Super Bowl XLII, David Tyree made an incredible play that changed the game. The Giants were on their third and 20 to go when Ellie Manning pitched one up for grabs only to see it end in Tyree’s hands pinned against the top of his helmet. This was a huge first down for the Giants as it led them to defeat the unbeatable Patriots.


Harrison Runs for 100 Yards (2009)

Harrison Rumbles for 100 Yards 2009

Though the Arizona Cardinals looked like they were ready to take a 14-10 lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers going into halftime of Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison had other ideas. The clock was running out as he sprinted towards the end zone and after some terrific blocking by his teammates he was able to slide down in for a touchdown just before Larry Fitzgerald tackled him. It was a 14-point swing, which was decided at the last minute.

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