Not many words can describe the events that transpired April 14th at Augusta. Around 2:30 p.m. ET, the improbable had been completed. Tiger Woods finally ended his 11-year major slump by winning his 15th major and fifth green jacket at the Masters. As Woods walked off the 18th green, he was greeted to raucous patrons at Augusta chanting “TIGER…TIGER…TIGER.” Even for the average golf fan, Woods’ magical moment spreads goosebumps all across the body. After watching Tiger don his fifth green jacket, I constructed my top 10 sports moments of the 21st century. So readers, sit back and transport yourself to these unforgettable, jaw-dropping moments.
Honorable Mention: The Kick Six
One of the more improbable moments in our list begins in Auburn, Alabama. To set the stage, it is November 30th, 2013. #1 Alabama (11-0) and #4 Auburn (10-1) square off for a bid to the SEC Championship. Following a dismal 3-9 2012 season, a season which Auburn didn’t win a conference game, the Tigers and first-year coach Gus Malzahn have constructed one of the biggest turnarounds in college football lore. After 59 minutes and 59 seconds, the two teams were locked in a stalemate, but the Tide faced a game-tying 57-yard field goal. Due to Cade Foster’s three missed field goals earlier in the game, Crimson Tide coach, Nick Saban called on freshman Adam Griffith for the kick. What followed was absolute bedlam. As Griffith’s boot fell short, defensive back Chris Davis caught the ball and scurried up the left sideline and returned the kick 108 yards to seal Auburn’s first Iron Bowl victory since 2010 (The Camback). This moment not only should be recognized because of its improbability, but Davis’ return also destroyed Alabama’s chances of a 3-peat, something that hasn’t happened since the 1944-1946 Army teams. Without a doubt, Davis’ scamper will be a moment Alabama fans hate to remember but will never forget.
#10 Michael Phelps Wins Eight Gold Medals at the 2008 Bejing Olympics
For Michael Phelps, winning has never been a surprise, as one of the greatest Olympic athletes ever has tallied over 23 gold medals. Even though Phelps entered as the favorite in every race, not many expected the American to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds in the same Olympic games. In dramatic fashion, Phelps inched out Milorad Cavic in the 100-meter butterfly by one-hundredth of a second, winning gold and tying Spitz’s record. The modern day version of Aquaman won his eighth in a 4×100 medley relay, swimming the butterfly to Olympic history. At the 2008 games, Phelps’ overpowering dominance is something that we will never see again.
#9 Ray Allen Sends a Dagger Through The Hearts of San Antonio
Of all people, Lebron James should be the most thankful about this great moment in sports history. At the time, James struggled to escape the narrative of not delivering in big moments, and a game six loss would have continued this unfair narrative. In the final minute, James went 1-3. He also had two turnovers, one of which gave San Antonio the ball up 4 with 28.2 seconds left. After the Spurs split a pair of free throws, James sunk a three that cut San Antonio’s lead to two. Following a Kawhi Leonard miss from the line, Miami trailed by three and had one last hope to salvage their season. After James clanked a game-tying three-pointer to the right, Chris Bosh soared for the offensive rebound and kicked it out to sharpshooter Ray Allen for a ballerina-like like tippy-toed three in the corner. Allen found nothing but the bottom of the net, knotting the game at 95, forcing overtime.
The Heat ended up winning games 6 and 7, securing a second-consecutive title. Without this moment, who knows what the Lebron James narrative would be. Would James still be looked at as a tremendous player that lacks the clutch gene? With only one title, would he have stayed in Miami to keep a more talented core intact? While we will never know the answers to those questions, we can definitively say that Allen’s cold-blooded three is a key moment that altered modern NBA history.
#8 David Freese Walks-off to World Series Immortality
Trailing 7-5 in the 9th inning, the St. Louis Cardinals needed a miracle. With runners on first and second, the Cardinals season rode on 28-year-old David Freese. Down to his last strike, Freese poked a Neftali Feliz heater over the head of Nelson Cruz for a two-run triple, tying the game and extending the Cardinals hopes. Pretty good right? How about a little 11th inning encore? In the bottom half of the 11th, Freese again stepped up and smashed a walk-off home run that flew over Busch Stadium’s 400-foot centerfield wall. The Cardinals went on to ride ace Chris Carpenter to a game seven World Series win. For his performance, Freese was awarded the 2011 World Series MVP, but more importantly, cemented his name in baseball history for years to come.
#7 David Tyree’s Helmet Catch
Super XLII between the Giants and the Patriots was a literal David and Goliath matchup. The Patriots entered with an unblemished 18-0 record, winning by an average margin of 19.5 points per game. Because of their dominance, fans believed that with a win, New England would cement themselves as the greatest team in NFL history. The only roadblock between the Patriots and Super Bowl immortality was Tom Coughlin and the 10-6 New York Giants. In the game, New York’s defense surprisingly stood their ground and sacked future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, five times. Even though New England struggled, they still found themselves on top following Brady’s connection to Randy Moss that fave the Pats a 14-10 lead with just 2:42 remaining. With the ball close to midfield, the Giants faced a 3rd down and 5. As quarterback Eli Manning dropped back, he was swarmed by Patriots defensive linemen but somehow avoided the sack and rolled to the right, setting his feet and firing across his body deep down to the middle of the field. Enter David Tyree. The former 6th-round pick positioned himself like a basketball power-forward, boxing out his opponent and jumping to the heavens for Eli’s prayer all while fending off safety Rodney Harrison. Tyree leaped just an inch higher than Harrison and pinned the ball to his helmet, securing the catch on the Giants 23-yard line.
Tyree’s catch provided a massive momentum boost in the Giants favor. The following play, Manning found Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end-zone to take the lead for good, sealing the deal on one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
#6 Vince Young Shocks the World at the 2006 Rose Bowl
Entering the 2006 BCS National Championship game, the story centered around the USC Trojans. At the time, the Trojans had won 34 straight games led by Heisman trophy winners, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush. But by the end of the night, the narrative shifted to star Texas quarterback Vince Young. In a seesaw affair, USC held the ball up 38-33 with just over two minutes remaining. The Trojans faced a 4th down and Pete Caroll elected to roll the dice and seal the victory on 4th down. The Longhorn defense stood tall, stuffing LenDale White at the line of scrimmage, setting the stage for Young and the Longhorn offense. After methodically marching down the field with relative ease, Young faced a daunting 4th down and 5 inside the ten with only 25 seconds remaining. In other words, this play would either continue USC’s dominant winning streak or become the greatest moment in Texas football’s storied tradition. Young took the snap, and in a split-second, scampered to the endzone clinching a Texas win.
In one of the greatest college football games, Young put on one of the greatest performances, accumulating 467 total yards and three touchdowns.
#5 Cleveland, This is for you
Yes, we have all heard the rather annoying 3-1 lead jokes, but Cleveland’s 2016 championship is one of the most improbable yet memorable moments of the 21st century. In the 2016 season, The Golden State Warriors were a well-oiled machine, tallying an NBA record 73 wins in the regular season and appeared well on their way to winning their second consecutive title after a gutsy 108-97 win at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors had a 3-1 stranglehold on Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cavaliers as the series seemed to be all but over. Previously, no team in NBA history had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit and to do it against arguably the greatest team in NBA history seemed near impossible. After becoming the first duo to have 40 points in the same game, James, Irving, and company stole game five on the road, slaughtering Golden State in game six setting the stage for an epic game seven. James led the way with a triple-double and the Cavaliers shocked the favorite Warriors in one of the greatest seven-game series in NBA history. In his final 3 Finals games, James averaged 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 9.6 assists. Is that good?
#4 A Deflating Comeback
For Tom Brady and the Patriots, Super Bowl LI was not only the biggest game of the year, but it was also personal. Following the highly controversial DeflateGate scandal, the NFL suspended quarterback Tom Brady for the opening four games of the 2016 season. Brady responded with a vengeance, throwing for 28 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, leading New England to its seventh Super Bowl appearance. Shockingly, New England was trounced early and found themselves facing a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons with 8:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter. What occurred in the next 27 minutes of game time was one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of sports. Led by Brady’s mind-boggling 466 passing yards and James White’s 139 total yards and 3 touchdowns, the Patriots roared back, claiming one of the most historic Super Bowl victories in recent memory. Not only did Brady win his 5th Super Bowl ring (tying childhood idol Joe Montana) but Brady also received sweet revenge after commissioner Roger Goodell handed over the Vince Lombardi trophy.
#3 A Tiger Roars Loudest at Augusta
IM NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING!! As I sat in my room, watching Tiger tap in at the beautiful 18th hole at Augusta National, “Holly,” my attempts to hold back the waterworks streaming down my face proved to be fruitless. After 11 years of frustration, injuries, and doubt, Tiger Woods was finally back on top, winning his 15th major championship. A moment that few saw coming, Woods finally regained his edge and narrowly defeating bombers, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson for his 5th Green Jacket. This moment goes full-circle and can be captured in the image of Woods embracing his 10-year-old son, Charlie.
Like 22 years prior, Woods walked off the 18th and was welcomed with a congratulatory victory hug from his loving father, Earl, being the new kid on the block. But now, Woods once again stood at the top and this time was able to embrace his son. Finally, for Woods to end his slump at the world’s most famous golf course… someone grab the tissues.
#2 The Chicago Cubs End the Billy Goat Curse
Contrary to many beliefs, the Chicago Cubs were not always regarded as “The Loveable Losers.” There was a time where Chicago was an absolute powerhouse in the National League. Prior to 1945, Chicago won the NL pennant six times as it looked like no team could stop their dominance. That was all until Billy Goat Tavern owner, William Sianis entered Wrigley Field with his pet goat, Murphy. Because of the odor of the goat, Sianis was asked to leave the ballpark, and as he left cursed the Cubs franchise. For 71 years, Chicago never appeared in a World Series and only made two NLCS appearances. The Cubs were the laughing stock of baseball and frequently found themselves in the basement of the National League. That was all until the arrival of president, Theo Epstein. After breaking the “Curse of the Bambino,” in Boston, Epstein was hired as president in 2011 and turned the Cubs into contenders entering the 2016 season. The Cubs won 103 games and defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games ending the 108-year World Series drought. The fans poured the streets of Chicago as over five million citizens attended the championship parade.
#1 Bye-Bye Bambino
Prior to the 1918 season, the Boston Red Sox dominated Major League Baseball. From 1903-1918, Boston had won five world series championships and were the faces of Major League Baseball and showed no signs of slowing down. But who knew that trading away, star pitcher Babe Ruth for $25,000 would plummet Boston straight down an 86-year rabbit hole of misfortune. Over the course of the next 86 years, the Red Sox were hampered by bad luck, not winning a World Series while Ruth and the rival New York Yankees won an MLB-record 26 world championships. Ruth went on to crush 714 home runs and make every Red Sox fan call for a $25,000 refund. The Red Sox were believed to be cursed as many named this dreadful drought “The Curse of the Bambino.” In 2004, the narrative appeared to stay the same. The Red Sox and Yankees met for the third time in the American League Championship series and after the first three games, it appeared as if the Yankees would easily glide to another World Series appearance. The Yankees took the opening two games in New York, then battered Boston at home, 19-8, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead. At the time, no team in Major League Baseball history had ever rallied and won a playoff series when trailing 3-0. That was all until 2004. Following two jaw-dropping David Ortiz walk-off winners, the Red Sox had life and only faced a 3-2 series deficit traveling back to New York. In game 6, or the “Bloody Sock Game,” to Boston fans, ace Curt Schilling fought through a nasty ankle injury and wielded 7 gusty innings, leading to a 4-2 Red Sox victory. Shortly after, Boston dominated game seven and advanced to the World Series. Boston proceeded to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals, ending the 86-year drought. The World Series ring for Bostonians was sweet, but many believed that the improbable victory over arch-rival New York is what got the team over the hump and ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino.”