50 Greatest Sports Moments of All Time


Genesis Magazine 10/31/03


This list is comprised of moments, not necessarily moments in the field of play or during the competitive nature of sports, or particularly grand moments; but moments, either good or ill, where the times, the competition, the era changed in the face of the forever-changing world of sport. Absent due to obvious reasons, the significant, but otherwise boring moments when games and sports were invented or promoted for the first time. We begin in detail with the Top 10.

1980 USA Hockey Team1. 1980 USA Hockey Team Defeats Soviet Juggernaut 4-3 – 2/22/80

Rag tag assembly of mostly teenaged amateurs, barely together a few months and playing a sport invented and perfected elsewhere, take on the most polished, professional and seemingly unbeatable team in the history of international hockey and win; producing the greatest upset in the pantheon of sport in a time of international political tension smack dab in the middle of a Cold War that defined the parameters of the century. What makes the ultimate upset even more unbelievable is the fact that the same two teams played only a week earlier in an exhibition match and the Soviet Union cruised to a 10-3 victory, setting the stage for the expected American embarrassment that never came. Oh, yeah, and the U.S. went on to defeat Finland for the gold in one of the most anticlimactic championship rounds in Olympic history.

Muhammad Ali2. Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston for Heavyweight Championship – 2/25/64

In one of the most amazing upsets in the annals of sport, the brash young, 22-year old Olympic champion speed-talker stood firm against the brooding and seemingly indestructible heavyweight champ, Sonny Liston. The event was more than a mere world championship bout due to Clay’s infectious taunting and media manipulation. It turned into white American conservative boxing circles against the proud, black athlete of his generation, Christianity against Islam, and in its wake the future of the modern celebrity athlete was born. In one night in Miami Florida, the Louisville Lip, Cassius Clay told the world he was the greatest, won in six rounds, despite the alleged cheating of Liston (the champ’s corner was said to have put a foreign substance on his gloves, effectively blinding Clay for the entire fifth round) and became Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, and invented the American icon of latter 20th century sport.

Jackie Robinson3. Jackie Robinson Signs a Major League Contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers – 10/30/45

Breaking the color barrier and paving the way for modern American sport, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson becomes the first African American to garner a Major League Baseball paycheck. Thanks to the efforts of Brooklyn president Branch Rickey, and the indomitable spirit of Robinson, in less than two years the newest Dodger, after enduring trials and tribulations beyond comprehension, failed player boycotts and insidious fan outrage to become Rookie of the Year, while leading his team to the World Series and his race and countrymen into the next stratosphere of social emancipation.

Babe Ruth4. Babe Ruth is Sold from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees – 1/3/20

The greatest player in the history of the game is sold from the powerful Boston Red Sox to the burgeoning New York Yankees for $100,000 to finance a Broadway play produced by Boston owner Harry Frazee. At the time of the deal, the Red Sox had won five world championships and was the toast of American League baseball. The Yankees had only been around for 17 uneventful years and didn’t even have a ballpark to call their own. At the time of the trade, baseball was an inside game of bunts and steals and under media scrutiny and government investigation for gambling infractions when the 1919 White Sox were rightly accused of throwing the World Series. Since, the Red Sox have not won a title. The Yankees built a ballpark in Babe’s honor and on his financial back and have won 26 titles. Baseball became a home run barrage, and Babe its sultan, and was saved from extinction.

Jessie Owens5. Jesse Owens Debunks Aryan Myth – 8/9/36

Son of a sharecropper from Oakville Alabama, world class, black American athlete, Jesse Owens marched into Adolph Hitler’s great Berlin arena and spit in the face of the Third Reich’s claims of Aryan superiority by setting three world records and one Olympic record, earning four track and field gold medals in the same Summer Olympiad, a performance that would remain unmatched for 48 years. In front of the visibly infuriated German dictator and a stunned international audience, Owens won the 100 meters in an Olympic-record 10.3 seconds, the long jump, setting an Olympic record of 26-53/8 and the 200 meters in an Olympic-record 20.7 seconds. Owens won his fourth gold medal, leading off the 4×100-meter relay that would set a world record at 39.8 seconds.

Bob Beamon6. Bob Beamon Shatters Long Jump World Record – 10/18/68

In what is widely considered the greatest individual physical feat in human competition, 24 year-old, New Yorker Bob Beamon obliterated an Olympic/World Record in the long jump by a mind-bending two feet. Fellow American, Ralph Boston established the record years before at 27 feet, 43/4 inches, and it was Boston who coached Beamon through his record leap after he had failed to even qualify for a gold metal in two previous jumps. As the Mexico City crowd watched in stunned awe, Beamon tossed his 6-foot-3, 160-pound 8.90 meters — 29 feet, 21/2 inches for the most lopsided destruction of a world record ever; a record that stood until Mike Powell bested it by two inches at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. Two inches, not two feet!

Roger Bannister7. Roger Bannister Breaks Four Minute Mile – 5/6/54

A 25-year-old British medical student becomes the first man to achieve the heretofore unthinkable; run a mile in less than four minutes. On a breezy afternoon on the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, his miraculously close time of three minutes and 59.4 seconds was achieved during a 15mph crosswind with gusts of up to 25mph. Ironically, this nearly caused Bannister to call off the triumphant event witnessed by about 3,000 spectators and two hearty pacemakers by the names Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, both of whom heralded Bannister’s record sprint as a final 200-yard push for the finish line toward immortality.

Joe Namath8. Joe Namath Guarantees Victory as an 18-Point Underdog in Super Bowl and Wins – 1/12/69

In what is now considered the watershed moment for the pro football in the annals of pop culture and lore, brash and bold Broadway Joe Namath, the richest athlete at the time, uttered the unthinkable and broke the code of centuries of competition; he guaranteed victory. Standing at a podium in downtown Miami, Florida, where he was to be given the upstart pro league, AFL Most Valuable Player, Namath vehemently predicted his team’s easy victory in a game two previous representative from his league had been embarrassed in and whose own team was an unprecedented 18-plus point dog in a championship contest. The New York Jets and Namath convincingly defeated the 13-1 Baltimore Colts and the NFL’s best defense, 16-7 and helped merge both leagues into what is now the premiere professional sports conglomerate in America.

9. Tiger Woods Becomes Youngest Masters Champ in Record and Barrier Breaking Fashion – 4/13/97

Tiger WoodsIn what amounted to a sociological phenomenon as much as a sports event, the 21st century pop culture, social and international celebrity of Tiger Woods was both launched and cemented during a record 18-under Masters victory by 12 strokes over an awed field. At the tender age of 21, and only his fifteenth appearance as a pro, with the eyes of the world watching his every move, the highly touted Woods became the youngest player to win the Masters in the 61-year history of the tournament, winning an event that didn’t even invite a black player until the year he was born at a club that didn’t invite a black member to join until 1990. Woods finished at 270, slicing one stroke off the record Jack Nicklaus set in 1965 and Raymond Floyd matched in 1976. His cultural status as a young Asian/African American catapulted Woods career into media-frenzy mania and helped launch a new, sexy and provocative era in a sport once thought too high brow for most sports aficionados.

Lou Gehrig10. Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Farewell Speech – 7/4/39

In a moment forever held in time for every figure in sports history to heed, a dying man stood before over 60,000 people and the world to impart the genuine feeling that he was “the luckiest man in the world” for having the opportunity to endeavor through the love of his craft. Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, who had not missed a game his entire 13-plus year career (spanning a mind-bending 2,130 consecutive games) lowered his head and became the symbol of what sports, and maybe all of life is about; accepting your destiny, giving it your all, and enjoying every moment, good or ill.

11. Michael Jordan is Drafted by the Chicago Bulls – 6/19/84
The most famous sports figure of his time, and the best player in the history of his sport, becomes a professional as the third overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft.

12. Nadia Comaneci Becomes First Gymnast to Achieve Perfect 10 – 7/13/76
And the 14-year-old Romanian achieves this an unfathomable seven times.

13. The Greatest Game Ever Played – 12/28/58
Baltimore Colts 23 best NY Giants 17 in an overtime thriller that birthed a television sport.

14. Reserve Clause Crumbles – Dec. 23, 1975
Free Agency in baseball and professional sports is born.

15. Bobby Thomson Hits Shot Heard ‘Round The World – 10/3/51
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

16. Ali vs. Frazier I – 3/8/71
Arguably the most anticipated and watched spots event ever goes to Frazier, but Ali got him twice in remarkable rematches.

17. Wayne Gretzky Becomes NHL’s All-Time Leading Scorer – 10/15/89
The greatest team-sport superstar surpasses Gordie Howe’s total of 1,850 points in an unfathomable third of the time played.

18. Notre Dame Rallies to Beat Favored Army 12-6 After Knute Rockne’s Famous Halftime Speech – 11/10/28
“Win won for the Gipper” becomes the anthem of motivational speakers.

19. Terrorists Murder Eleven Israeli Athletes at Munich Olympics – 9/5/72
Worst nightmares realized.

20. Joe Louis Annihilates Max Schmeling in 124 Seconds – 6/22/38
More bad news for Hitler and the Arian Race.

21. Henry Aaron Supplants Ruth as Home Run King with 715 – 4/8/74
And no supplements or drugs, imagine that.

22. Secretariat Wins Triple Crown and Becomes King of Horses – 6/10/73
One for the ages.

23. Eight Chicago White Sox Agree to Throw 1919 World Series – 9/18/19
Black Sox are born and baseball almost died.

24. Gertrude Ederle Becomes First Woman to Swim English Channel – 8/6/26
A record that would become the women’s standard for 35 years.

25. Wilt Chamberlain Scores 100 Points in a Single Game – 3/2/62
Who was playing defense for the Knicks that night?

26. Cleveland’s Ken Kelter Stops Joe DiMaggio’s Hit Streak at 56 – 7/17/41
Joltin’ Joe goes on to hit in 17 more. What if?

27. Mary Lou Retton is Perfect Under Extreme Pressure – 8/3/84
Needing a perfect 10 to win the gold in the floor exercise, the American gymnast nails it.

28. Jimmy V and NC State Stun Heavily Favored Houston for NCAA Title – 4/4/83
In one of the greatest upsets in college sports history, this buzzer beating 54-52 thriller invents March Madness.

29. Jack Nicklaus Wins Masters at Age 46 – 4/13/86
The greatest cements legend in his record sixth and final Masters title.

30. Mark McGwire is First Man to 70 Homers in One Season- 9/27/98
Freak show baseball on parade.

31. Billie Jean King Defeats Bobby Riggs in Astrodome – 9/20/73
Hyped Battle of the Sexes ends in a dud in front of record television audience.

32. Sports Most Prolific Coach Wins Tenth Consecutive NCAA Title – 3/29/75
John Wooden caps incredible .813 career winning percentage at the top of his game.

33. Jim Thorpe Becomes World’s Greatest Athlete – 7/15/12
Native American wins eight gold medals including the demanding Pentathlon and Decathlon.

34. Johnny Vander Meer Pitches 18 Innings with No Hits – 6/15/38
Cincy 22 year-old southpaw completes feat never duplicated.

35. Willis Reed Limps Onto Court And Into Legend – 5/8/70
Knicks with NBA Title after captain’s heroic entrance.

36. Monday Night Football is Born – 9/21/70
American phenomenon begins with Howard Cosell’s nasal intro.

37. Don Larson Pitches Perfect Game in World Series – 10/8/56
Perfection on the grandest stage against the best.

38. Magic Meet Larry – 3/26/79
Johnson and Bird begin basketball’s greatest and most lucrative rivalry in NCAA finals.

39. O.J. Simpson Breaks 2,000 Yard Single Season Mark – 12/16/73
The impossible NFL goal goes down at snowy Shea Stadium on final day of the season.

40. Nolan Ryan Pitches Seventh No-Hitter at Age 44 – 5/1/91
Tall Texan rides high for the last time.

41. Mike Tyson Takes A Bite of Evander Holyfield’s Ear – 6/28/97
Do we need to explain?

42. Soviets Beat USA in Basketball on Controversial Third Try – 9/10/72
Cheating or destiny?

43. Miami Dolphins Complete NFL’s Only Undefeated Season – 1/14/73
Beat Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII 14-7 to achieve perfection.

44. Bud Selig and Baseball Owners Close Shop and Cancel World Series – 9/14/94
Lockout effectively achieves what two world wars, an earthquake, and the 1919 Chicago White Sox could not do.

45. Vince Lombardi Named Green Bay Packers Head Coach – 2/4/59
Six NFL titles and heaps of lore later, he is the quintessential sports leader.

46. Tennis’ Top Two Slug Out Marathon Final – 7/5/80
Number One ranked Bjorn Borg bests number two John McEnroe at Wimbledon’s center court after a gruelingly historic 3 hour and 53 minutes match for the ages.

47. Pete Rose is Banned From Baseball After Gambling Allegations – 8/23/89
The all-time hits leader is disgraced, and the feud continues to this day.

48. Rocky Marciano Retires As Heavyweight Champ Undefeated at 49-0 – 4/27/56
At the ripe old age of 31, The Rock leaves unblemished, never to return.

49. Doug Flutie and Boston College Defeat Miami on Last Desperate Play – 11/22/84
Down by four with 48 seconds left, the 5’9” quarterback heaves to glory. Cue the band.

50. Bucky (bleppin’) Dent Breaks Beantown Hearts Again – 10/2/78
Hey, it’s the greatest sporting event I ever saw, give me a break.

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5 Responses to 50 Greatest Sports Moments of All Time

  1. Matt says:

    Montana to Clark was a greater moment than like 30-35 of the things on this list. A very glaring omission.

  2. Brian says:

    Hank Aaron was far from drug free by his own admission.

  3. Ofelia says:

    excellent blog I’m a big footy fan from Germany

  4. Chris K says:

    Biggest sports event of all time in terms of anticipation and how it transcended sport was Ali-Frazier I. Nothing on this list comes close to that. This country was mesmerized for weeks leading up to that fight. Everyone, including people who hated sports had a rooting interest. The fighters came to represent every conflict swirling in the nation…black vs white, young vs old, hawk vs dove, left vs right. To leave it off this list is incomprehensible.

    • John Costello says:

      16. Ali vs. Frazier I – 3/8/71 Arguably the most anticipated and watched spots event ever goes to Frazier, but Ali got him twice more in remarkable rematches. Way to read Jackie

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