Century's Greatest Games


 

Century of Sports

Sports Main Page

Greatest Moments

Infamy and Heartbreak

Greatest Games:

Battle of 18-16

Rumble in the Jungle

Miracle on Ice
Epic in Miami
Thrilla in Manila

Game 6, 1975 World Series

The Ice Bowl

Super Bowl XXIII

Toney-Vaughn
Duke-Kentucky, 1992

Simply Perfect

Game 4, '47 Series

NC State upsets Houston

Game 5, '76 NBA Finals

Super Bowl III

Notre Dame-Army, 1913

The Comeback

Game 7, 1960 World Series

2000 U.S. Open

Greatest Game Ever Played

Greatest Moments:

Gibson's homer
Shot Heard 'Round the World

Summit Series

Immaculate Reception

The Called Shot

Owens - 4 world records

Four-Minute Mile

Game 7, '70 NBA Finals

Beamon's Long Jump
Secretariat Wins Belmont

The Drive

Aaron #715

The Catch

Ben Hogan - 1950 U.S. Open

Game 7, 1969 NBA Finals

The Music City Miracle

Young Woman and the Sea

Cotton Bowl, 1984

Game 6, '98 NBA Finals

Cal-Stanford, 1982

Infamy and Heartbreak:

Game 6, '86 Series
Black Sox Scandal

Oilers-Flames, '87

Harvey Haddix Loses No-No

• Ted Williams, 1949

• 1908 Olympic Marathon

Munich Olympics - Basketball

1957 Kentucky Derby

• Ben Johnson Loses Gold

• 1929 Rose Bowl

• "The Heidi Game"

• The Pine Tar Home Run

• Super Bowl XXV

• Yepremian's Imperfect Play

Theismann's Injury

Gehrig's Streak Ends

Game 6, 1947 Series
Ali-Holmes, 1980

Louganis Hits the Board

Packers-Boys, 1965

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   Written in conjunction with CNN/SI staff writers and ESPN "SportsCentury" staff.

 
1 JULY 5, 1980             McEnroe 18, Borg 16

    It was the most excruciatingly sustained display of brilliance that tennis has ever seen, at the most prestigious tournament in the world, between the two greatest tennis players of all time, each at the peak of their abilities and both at pivotal moments of their careers.  And it all converged at the perfect venue: Wimbledon's fabled Centre Court, which is occupied only two weeks out of the year - it's a theatre in search of a play.

   In 1980, it played host to a masterpiece. The actors were 24-year-old Bjorn Borg, the greatest tennis player ever to set foot in the All-England Club, and John McEnroe, quite possibly the greatest player ever to set foot anywhere (Sampras, Laver and Tilden fans will argue, but McEnroe was about to embark on a four-year run at #1 in both singles AND doubles - the most dominant four years in men's tennis history).

   The two were at opposite ends of their magnificent careers: while #1-ranked Borg would retire within 15 months, at the physical peak of his career, due to a combination of personal problems and an inability to deal with McEnroe's ascendance, the precociously talented challenger (ranked #2 at the tender age of 21) was either too young or too arrogant to realize that Borg was destined to win.

   The fourth-set tie-breaker was the Crown Jewel of their contest, a battle of wills that has never been duplicated. For Borg, it was a gritty display of his skill; for McEnroe, it was a coming of age - the man known as "superbrat" entered the stadium to boos, but departed to cheers.

 

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Honorable mention: 1981 Wimbledon final

2 OCTOBER 30, 1974     Rumble in the Jungle

     Under a pale African moon in Kinshasa, Zaire, the greatest boxing match of all time unfolds.  A younger Muhammed Ali could have run circles around heavyweight champion George Foreman, but at age 32, the 4:1 underdog has to improvise.

     A boxing purist can choose virtually any one of 5 of Ali's fights as his greatest - his three classics with Joe Frazier, his upset of Sonny Liston as a 7:1 underdog, or this one - but in my view it was this fight that defined him as a champion.  If you had taken bets in 1968 that almost 30 years later, Muhammed Ali would be the most beloved athlete in American sports, and that the very sight of him holding an Olympic torch would bring an audience to tears ... well, you'd be rich beyond your wildest dreams today.  A large portion of this phenomenon in American sports began with this battle.

 

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3 FEBRUARY 22, 1980     The Miracle On Ice

     One thing works against this game - the fact that it occurred in an Olympic event.

   I hate the Olympics.  They are over-dramatized, jingoistic and literally amateurish - rarely do they play forum to a real, genuine,

pure, unadulterated sporting event.  Occasionally, something happens that is truly special without the benefit of the sentimental media back-stories, but usually it happens in a pseudo-sport like ice dancing or synchronized swimming.

   I mean, the luge - what the hell is that?  That's just jumping on something that's going to cross the finish line with or without you. I call that hitchhiking.

 

   Still, this was a legitimate event - an upset of colossal proportions that riveted a nation, and it remains the most memorable event of the last half-century for American sports fans.

   The four-time defending gold medalist Soviet team was mostly from the Central Red Army, technically not professionals because they didn't play for money, but they were the Soviet equivalents of Western pros.  They had blown away the opposition in all five of their division games, outscoring their opponents 51-11, and had embarrassed the Americans 10-3 at Madison Square Garden just v13 days before the Lake Placid Games began.  But in the semi-finals, they were victimized by a Cinderella story, a fairy tale so improbable that Hollywood screenwriters would never have imagined it.

 

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4 JANUARY 2, 1982         1982 AFC Playoff Game

     What a roller-coaster.  The AFC semifinal playoff game between San Diego and Miami had a little bit of everything, including the most dramatic play of post-season history: Miami coach Don Shula's gimmicky "hook-and-lateral" - football's equivalent to baseball's "hidden-ball trick" - with zero seconds left in the first half.  It also had more shifts in momentum than just about any game in history.

     Some games need historical context (like the Miracle on Ice) or the passage of time (like the Rumble in the Jungle) to make them a classic: this one was clearly and obviously a momentous occasion from the very first.

 

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5 SEPTEMBER 30, 1975     Ali-Frazier III: Thrilla in Manila

   Ali says of the fight, "It was like death.  Closest thing to dying that I know of."  He and Frazier wrote boxing's most-compelling three-part series; each of their battles were wonderful to watch, but this closing chapter was the most dramatic and exciting fight ever held.

 

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6 OCTOBER 21, 1975    Game 6, 1975 World Series 

     It rained for three days, then ...

     Two hard-luck teams battled on baseball's greatest playing field, Fenway Park, in the World Series. Even the casual fan will remember Carlton Fisk's game-winning home run in the 12th inning, aided by a major dose of body English. Unfortunately, Red Sox fans will also remember the Reds' 4-3 win the next day to win Game 7.

 

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7 DECEMBER 31, 1967       The Ice Bowl

     For the football purist, this is the epitome of what the game is supposed to represent: coach Lombardi's Packers taking on coach Landry's Cowboys in near-Arctic conditions, breath misting heavily in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

     The game was played with no whistles - the little wooden balls had frozen inside the official's whistles. Now, that's cold. The icy conditions meant that the game was decided more by grit than by skill - Green Bay's kind of game.

     Lombardi wasn't a gambler, but his great goal-line gamble, trying for a game-winning touchdown rather a game-tyng field goal attempt off the icy field, was as simple as football gets: a classic blocking play with a dash to daylight for a memorable win.

 

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8 JANUARY 22, 1989          Super Bowl XXIII

   A lot of people think SBIII was the best of all time, but for my money this one had all the elements of the greatest Super Bowl ever played. Even though San Francisco held an advantage in total net yards (453 to 229), the 49ers found themselves trailing late in the game. It was one of the most tense scenes ever to grace a Super Bowl, and the man at the center of it all was Joe Montana.

   For a quarter of a century, the Super Bowl had waited for this: the game's greatest quarterback taking the game's greatest team the length of the field for a game-winning drive.

 

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9 MAY 2, 1917         Toney-Vaugh No-Hitters

     We all know how hard it is to throw a no-hitter - perhaps two or three times a year, a major league pitcher will pull it off. So when the Cubs' Hippo Vaughn went nine hitless innings against the Reds, he was pretty confident of a victory.

     Unfortunately for him, the Reds' Fred Toney chose that same day to throw a no-hitter. In this, the greatest pitching duel of all time, it was another rather famous hitter who settled it. Vaughn finally cracked in the top of the tenth, when Larry Kopf scored on a dribbler by Jim Thorpe (yes, that Jim Thorpe). Toney then threw a 10th inning of no-hit work to get the W.

     Who else but the Cubs could have a pitcher toss nine no-hit innings...and lose?  Ah, the Cubs. The more things change.... At least they would have all those World Series titles to look forward to.

   Oops.

10 MARCH 28, 1992     Duke 104, Kentucky 103 (OT)

     The most exciting basketball of all time: in the Spectrum in Philadelphia, two teams with great basketball traditions left everything they had on the court in this East Regional final. Together, the two teams scored on the last five possessions, swapping the lead five times, and it took Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater to win it.  Were it not for the fact that I had a substantial sum riding on Kentucky, this one might have ranked even higher.

   Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward, "Did that really happen?"

 

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11 OCTOBER 8, 1956     Don Larsen's Perfect Game

   He was an imperfect man. A very average pitcher known more for partying than pitching excellence, his career 81-91 record over 15 seasons is the very embodiment of what baseball calls a journeyman. But on this day, Don Larsen got a chance to redeem himself on baseball's greatest stage, in front of a packed house at Yankee Stadium, during nothing less than the World Series.

   Don Larsen was 3-21 with Baltimore two years previous, and he had come to the Yankees in an 18-player trade. Three days after blowing a 6-0 lead in Game 2, the no-windup pitcher found himself matched up against Sal "The Barber" Maglie.  The Series was locked 2-2, against the Yankees' most bitter rival - the Brooklyn Dodgers.

   Larsen was helped by three outstanding fielding plays.  In the second inning, Jackie Robinson's hard grounder bounced off third baseman Andy Carey's glove, but shortstop Gil McDougald recovered the ball in time to throw out Robinson.  In the fifth, center-fielder Mickey Mantle, whose homer had given the Yankees a 1-0 lead, streaked into deep left-center to make a backhanded catch to rob Gil Hodges of an extra-base hit.  In the eighth, it was Carey's turn to rob Hodges, as he lunged to catch Hodges' liner inches off the ground.  Larsen ended the game by slipping a called third strike past pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell before 64,519 breathless fans at Yankee Stadium.

   The Dodgers rebounded to win an exciting Game 6, behind hurler Clem Labine's 10 innings of shutout baseball, but in Game 7 Yankee pitcher Johnny Kucks tossed a shutout, and Dodger ace and NL MVP Don Newcombe allowed five runs in three innings to take the loss.  On a more negative note for Larsen, his estranged wife filed a court action seeking to withhold his Series money because he was delinquent in his support payments. 

12 OCTOBER 3, 1947     The Bevens-Lavagetto game

   This is why I love baseball: in a World Series filled with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Yogi Berra, and Jackie Robinson, two rather ordinary Americans battled at history.

   Baseball can be a cruel sport. The Yankees and Dodgers couldn't call a time out; they couldn't devise a play to put heir best players on the field; they couldn't sit on the ball, or pass the ball around to kill the clock. At it's most critical moments, baseball chooses the players who will be heroes and goats with the randomness of a Vegas roulette wheel.

   Bill Bevens, an undistinguished fourth starter with a 7-13 record for the Yankees, had a no-hitter going into the ninth inning. While he had permitted a fifth-inning run (on two walks, a sacrifice and a ground ball), he entered the ninth with a 2-1 lead and a chance to put his team up 3-1 in the '47 World Series.

   Bevens walked the first batter (Carl Furillo), his 9th walk of the day, and then retired the next two batters, to get to within one out of the win. Outfielder Al Gionfriddo was sent in to pinch run for Furillo, and promptly stole second. Pinch-hitter Pete Reiser (hitting for reliever Hugh Casey) was intentionally walked, and Eddie Miksis was inserted into the game as a runner for Reiser, who was bothered by a leg injury.

   The underdog Dodgers now turned in desperation to a 34-year-old journeyman pinch hitter named Cookie Lavagetto, to hit for Eddie Stanky, their light-hitting second baseman.  Lavagetto doubled off the right field wall to drive in two runs, and Brooklyn won 3-2 - in one fell swoop, Bevens lost his no-hitter and the game, and the Dodgers tied the Series 2-2.

   Of course, the Yankees won the Series anyway, and nine years later another Yankee righthander, Don Larsen, would throw the first Series no-hitter...against the Dodgers.

13 APRIL 4, 1983    NC State Upsets Houston, 54-52

      The Wolfpack's victory over Akeem and Co. is the granddaddy of them all - the biggest upset in tournament sports this side of Joe Namath's Guarantee and the Miracle on Ice.

 

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14 JUNE 4, 1976           Celtics 128, Suns 126 (3 OT)

    It is likely the greatest game in NBA history, the triple-overtime thriller between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns in the fifth game of the 1976 finals. John Havlicek had a chance to win it in regulation for the Celtics, but he missed one of two free throws with 19 seconds left and sent the game into OT.

   But what really made the game special was the second overtime: an incredible seven points were scored in the final five seconds. Curtis Perry's jumper put the Suns up 110-109, but then Havlicek banked in a lunging jumper to put the Celtics up 111-110. The crowd at Boston Garden stormed the court, thinking the game was over, but the referees put a second back on the clock. An incensed fan attacked Richie Powers, one of the officials.

  Rather than taking the ball out from under the Boston basket, guard Paul Westphal shrewdly called a timeout for the Suns, knowing they didn't have any left. This resulted in a technical, which Jo Jo White converted for a 112-110 Celtic lead, but it also gave the Suns a chance to take the ball out at half court. The strategy worked: Garfield Heard took the inbounds pass and beat the buzzer with a high, arching jumper from beyond the top of the key with Don Nelson's hand in his face.

   In the third overtime, substitute Glenn McDonald, playing only because Paul Silas fouled out, scored six points, and the Celtics broke a 118-118 tie to earn a 128-126 victory.

15 JANUARY 12, 1969          The Guarantee

   The first two Super Bowls were lopsided affairs, with the NFL representatives - the Green Bay Packers - trouncing the representatives of the upstart AFL (Kansas City in 1967 and Oakland in 1968). Packers coach Vince Lombardi summarized the conventional wisdom in 1967 when he said of the Chiefs: "They have great speed, but I'd have to say NFL football is tougher; their team doesn't compare with the top NFL teams."

   So the AFL representatives to Super Bowl III - the New York Jets - were a little sensitive when hecklers lit into them three days before the game at a Miami bar. Jets quarterback Joe Namath, a double scotch in his hand, brassily answered them by saying, "We'll win. I guarantee it."

   Brassy, considering that the Jets were 19-point underdogs to the Baltimore Colts. But Broadway Joe was as good as his word, guiding the Jets to a stunning 16-7 triumph and legitimizing the AFL with an upset for the ages. The Colts inserted the legendary Johnny Unitas late in the third quarter, down 16-0, but it was too late. Namath completed 17-of-28 passes for 206 yards, with George Sauer grabbing eight for 133 yards. Fullback Matt Snell gained 121 yards on 30 carries, including a four-yard touchdown run to give the Jets a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. Jim Turner tacked on three second-half field goals.

16 NOVEMBER 1, 1913    Notre Dame 35, Army 13

   There's so much to say about this game, but maybe this sums it up: of all the legends echoing through history from South Bend, this one rings loudest. The unknown Irish pounded the undefeated Cadet juggernaut, and they did it with a gimmick: the forward pass.

   Notre Dame's Gus Dorais went 14 for 17 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. One went to halfback Joe Pliska, the other to Knute Rockne. Army was bewitched by the aerial attack and couldn't stop the onslaught; maybe they should have turned to one of their halfbacks  - a young man named Dwight David Eisenhower - for advice.

17 JANUARY 3, 1993         Bills 41, Houston 38

     The greatest single game comeback in team sports history played out in favor of the Buffalo Bills, not a team known for playoff success. The Tennessee Titans would exact some measure of revenge six years with the Music City Miracle (Greatest Moments #17).

 

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18 OCTOBER 13, 1960    Game 7, 1960 World Series

   The World Series has had it's moments: Babe Ruth calling his shot, Bob Gibson striking out 17 batters, Christy Mathewson's three shutouts in six days, Willie Mays' incredible catch in 1954 off of Vic Wertz, and Fred Snodgrass muffing a fly ball. Don't forget Bill Wambsganss making an unassisted triple play, and Bill Buckner letting an easy roller escape.

   But there is one moment that inhabits the dreams of kids playing stickball more than any other: winning Game 7 with a ninth-inning home run to defeat a heavily favored Goliath. And in all the years that baseball teams have met in the World Series, there is only one player who has ended a Game 7 of the World Series with a home run - Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates.

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19 APRIL 18, 2000     Tiger Woods Wins U.S. Open

   Tiger Woods is a true phenomenon. Admittedly, it's only golf - it's not like it's a real sport. And much of the Woods legend is built on the fact that he is a minority playing a game long reserved for white men - a fact that is totally irrelevant for the purist like me.

   But Woods' dominance of golf is still mind-boggling. Woods took the lead on 18 on Day 1, and never gave it back. By the end of Day 2, he had a record six-shot lead, and after Day 3, going into the final round, he was up by an astounding 10 strokes (another record).
   On Sunday, Woods was all alone, playing for himself - and for history. His coronation began unspectacularly enough - he played the front nine with all pars. Then, while the rest of the field was playing for second, Woods took aim at the record books. As if sensing records were in range, Woods poured it on with one spectacular shot after another. He birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine, and saved par from a bunker on 17 with a shot that nearly went in.
   Woods made par again on 18, and closed with a 4-under 67, the best score of the day. He became the first player in the 106-year history of the U.S. Open to finish 72 holes at double digits under par - 12-under - and his 15-stroke victory not only shattered the Open mark of 11 set by Willie Smith in 1899, but was the largest ever in a major championship, surpassing the 13-stroke victory by Old Tom Morris in the 1862 British Open.
   Woods *averaged* 299.3 yards off the tee, hit 73% of fairways (41 of 56) and made 71% of greens in regulation (51 of 72). He was so dominant, he didn't make a bogey on the last 26 holes he played. Woods simply made a mockery of a U.S. Open that prides itself in protecting par.
   Three years ago on the other side of the country, Woods had turned in a similarly scintillating performance, taming Augusta National to become the youngest Masters champion with a record 12-stroke victory.

   The U.S. Open, however, was never supposed to look this easy. With his length on the par-5s, Woods simply shortened the course at Augusta. But you don't win the U.S. Open unless you have the whole package - driving, short game, iron play, putting. It is the toughest test in golf. Its aim is to identify the best player in the world.
   Any questions?

20 DECEMBER 28, 1958    Colts 23, Giants 17 (OT)

   The Baltimore Colts' 23-17 overtime victory over the New York Giants for the NFL championship is often called "the greatest game ever played." It may not be that, but it WAS the most important football game ever played because it changed the way America looked at pro football.

 

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