The Most Famous Plays in Sports History

I have put together a list (in no particular order) of the most memorable plays in sports history.  To provide a better visual of these plays, you will find videos for each play embedded in this post.  These decisive plays have changed the sporting world in one way or another, and are arguably the most cogently remembered plays of all time.

1. Immaculate Reception

The Immaculate Reception is a neologism that refers to a shoestring catch made by Steelers running back Franco Harris during the AFC divisional playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.  The play marked the beginning of a decade of playoff wins for the Steelers, including four Super Bowls.

The catch happened with 22 seconds remaining in the game.  The Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Oakland Raiders 7-6, and were facing fourth-and-10 on their own 40-yard line.  Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw was looking for Barry Pearson on the play, but he was not open.  Instead, Bradshaw threw in the direction of fullback John “Frenchy” Fuqua, who was hit by Jack Tatum the moment the ball reached Fuqua.  Tatum knocked Fuqua to the ground, and the ball was knocked backward several yards.  Franco Harris, being at the right place at the right time, caught the ball on its descent to the ground (near his feet) and ran it all the way back for Steelers win.

2. The Shot

The Shot refers to a game-winning basket made by Michael Jordan during the 1989 NBA Playoffs vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were behind, 100-99 with 3.2 seconds remaining on the clock.  The ball was inbounded to Jordan, who took the shot from near the foul line to win not only the game, but also the series for the Bulls.  The buzzer-beater allowed Chicago to move on to play the New York Knicks in a best-of-seven.

3. The Ball of the Century

Australia’s Shane Warne bowled a cricket delivery that stirred the entire world of professional cricket.  On the second day of the first Test of the 1993 Ashes series, Warne delivered a bowl that stunned batsman Mike Gatting of England.  The leg spin delivery, characterized by a anti-clockwise spin that causes the ball to drift right (if thrown by a right hander), will strike the ground and move inside the batsman – hopefully to cause the batsman to be bowled.  The closest equivalent, in American sports, would be a sharp moving curveball that resulted in a strikeout.  The significance of this bowl is that the leg spin delivery was thrust prominently back into the spotlight, and its effectiveness was recognized by cricket followers everywhere.

4. The Catch

The Catch refers to a play made by New York Giants outfielder Willie Mays during the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds in New York.  The catch is often considered one of the best plays in Major League Baseball, due to the incredible difficulty of the feat.

Mays was playing shallow center field when Indian’s Vic Wertz crushed the ball to deep center.  At the time, the distance from home plate to the center field wall was almost 475 ft. at Polo Grounds, making it one of the hardest ballparks to hit a home run over the center field wall.  Mays ran with the ball at his back, eventually making the dramatic catch over his shoulder near the 425 ft. mark.  The Catch prevented the Indians from scoring any more runs (the score was 2-2 at the time of The Catch), and the Giants won the game in overtime.  The Giants went on to sweep the series.

5. The Play

The Play refers to a last-effort football kickoff return by the University of California Golden Bears against Stanford University during their 85th rivalry game, dubbed the “Big Game.”  Stanford had taken a 20-19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, and all that remained was time for a kickoff.  The Golden Bears, making use of five lateral passes, returned the kickoff for a touchdown – even after the Stanford marching band had stormed the field thinking their team had won.  The Play is widely controversial, as there are many who say that Cal made illegal lateral passes or was even downed at one point during the run.  However, The Play is still upheld in record books, and is one of the most memorable plays in football history.

One of the most remembered moments in the video below is at the end of The Play, when Kevin Moen slammed into unaware Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrell for the touchdown and the win.

6. The Hand of God goal

The Hand of God goal refers to a ruled goal made by Argentina’s Diego Maradona during the quarter-final match of the 1986 FIFA World Cup.  Argentina beat England, 2-1, not as a result of the goal, but as a result of a later goal dubbed as the “Goal of the Century” scored by Maradona just five minutes after the Hand of God goal.  The Hand of God goal is famous for its inaccurate ruling as a legitimate goal, for Maradona batted the ball into the goal with his left fist.  The goal was dubbed the “Hand of God” goal as Maradona was quoted after the game that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, a little with the Hand of God.”  In actuality, the goal was scored entirely with the hand of Maradona.

7. The Goal of the Century

The Goal of the Century was a goal scored by Diego Maradona during the same quarter-final 1986 FIFA World Cup match versus England.  The goal was voted the “Greatest Goal in FIFA World Cup History” in a poll on FIFA’s website in 2002.  Earlier in the match, Maradona scored a goal with his hand, which was ruled legitimate.  Argentina beat England in the controversial match, 2-1.

8. The Rumble in the Jungle

The Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire was a famous boxing match pitting world Heavyweight champion George Foreman versus the former champion, Muhammad Ali.  Foreman lost much of his stamina after several rounds, tiring because of Ali’s speed and dodging skills.  In the eighth round, Ali landed the perfect combination of punches to put Foreman on the floor, unconscious.  The match signified that then-favored Foreman was still no match for the treacherous Ali.