It is the moment that is going to be talked about long after the 2015 National Football League season gets underway. The Seattle Seahawks were less than a yard away from defeating the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLIX when the Seahawks curiously elected to throw the football rather than allow one of the more bruising running backs in the business to carry the ball on a play that likely would have resulted in a game-winning Seattle touchdown. That decision is being called the worst in the history of North American professional sports, largely because it is one that guaranteed that cost the Seahawks a championship.
Plenty of athletes and coaches have, throughout history, made regrettable decisions during competitive contests. It is when and how the Seahawks goofed that has so many people talking about that one play call several days after it occurred. Title games have been won and lost on final plays in the past. Millions upon millions of people watching all around the world all knew what the Seahawks should have done in that particular instant, and yet Seattle head coach Pete Carroll went with the one option that, at the time and 72 hours later, makes zero sense to anybody who has watched any significant amount of football.
Elsewhere on this list is what was technically an assault that occurred at the most-watched sporting event in the world. There is an infamous timeout, one that the player who called it still does not want to discuss decades after he made that massive miscue. Don’t forget about a missed field goal that sunk a Super Bowl favorite in the closing seconds of that affair. None of those plays match what occurred in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX, of course, but all are worthy of being featured in a piece that showcases some of the worst plays in the history of sports.
10. Super Bowl XLVI
Perhaps New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick learned from a decision he made on this night, three years before Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots were again on the verge of potentially trailing late in a Super Bowl, this time against the New York Giants, when Belichick told his defense to back off and allow the Giants, specifically running back Ahmad Bradshaw, to score a touchdown so that quarterback Tom Brady could get the ball back with time on the clock. While a sound strategy in theory, it is one that did not work. Looking back at what happened at Super Bowl XLIX, perhaps Belichick would have been wise to play some defense against the Giants in Indianapolis.
9. 2003 ALCS
The Boston Red Sox were leading the New York Yankees 5-2 in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series when Boston manager Grady Little chose to leave starting pitcher Pedro Martinez in the game even though Martinez was already over 100 pitches. While Martinez did get the first out in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees hit the all-time great for three runs, tying the game and leaving Little speechless in the dugout. New York famously completed the rally in extra innings, and Little ultimately lost his job because of a decision that may have cost the Red Sox a World Series championship.
8. Super Bowl XXV
A 47-yard field goal is not a chip-shot, not even in favorable conditions. That said, a professional kicker has to bury such an attempt barring bad weather or an opposing player getting his hand on the ball, especially when a world championship is on the line. Scott Norwood of the Buffalo Bills did not complete that task at Super Bowl XXV, famously hooking his attempt wide right of the goal post with the clock ticking down. The New York Giants celebrated a second Super Bowl title in franchise history, while the Bills began a run that saw the club lose on Super Sunday four years in a row. Ouch.
7. The Miracle at the Meadowlands
All the New York Giants had to do to win at the end of a November 1978 regular season game against division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles was sit on the football. New York instead attempted to run a handoff to Larry Csonka. The play was botched at the exchange point, and Herman Edwards of the Eagles, who played and coached “to win the game,” scooped up the ball and sped down the opposite end of the field for what was a game-winning score. It is a dark memory in the history of the Giants, while Eagles fans refer to that play as being miraculous.
6. 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals
Head coach Rick Pitino stated that he had made a mistake when he did not defend an in-bounds passer at the end of a game while working for Providence College. Pitino made the same decision when he was coaching Kentucky at the end of the 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals, allowing Grant Hill of Duke to have a free look before Hill launched a three-quarter court pass to Christian Laettner. Laettner spun and buried what is one of the most famous shots in the history of college basketball, a bucket that may have never occurred had Hill not had full vision of the court.
5. 1984 Orange Bowl
The Nebraska Cornhuskers pulled to within a single point of the Miami Hurricanes with less than a minute left on the clock at the 1984 Orange Bowl when Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne elected to go for two points and the win rather than kick a game-tying extra point that likely would have set up at least a split of the national championship had the game finished in a tie (there was no overtime in college football at that time). Miami’s Kenny Calhoun broke up the pass play, and the Hurricanes went on to win the Orange Bowl and the National Championship.
4. Zidane headbutt
Athletes sometimes lose their cool in the heat of battle. It happens. France’s Zinedine Zidane had a complete meltdown in extra time of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final when he, seemingly out of nowhere, delivered a crushing headbutt to the chest of Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Zidane was understandably sent off for his crime, and thus he was unable to participate in the penalty shootout that followed the extra time periods. Italy went on to the World Cup on penalties, and Zidane, who was one of the best players of his generation, guaranteed that he would be remembered for much more than the good things he did on the pitch.
Boston Red Sox manager John McNamara was celebrating a World Series victory over the New York Mets in the fall of 1986 when he left first baseman Bill Buckner in the game with the Red Sox leading the Mets, even though McNamara had, in the past, replaced Buckner with a better defensive infielder in similar situations. You know how that ended for McNamara and the Red Sox. A routine ground ball goes between the legs of Buckner, “here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!” The Mets once again rally from behind in Game 7 to win the World Series championship, and Boston baseball fans are left believing that their beloved team was truly cursed.
2. The Timeout
The Michigan Wolverines were trailing the North Carolina by two points late into the 1993 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship when Chris Webber, hardly known for his ball-handling skills, brought the basketball up the court. Webber made his way toward the Michigan bench as Duke prepared to trap him, and Webber reacted by calling a timeout. The problem for Webber and Michigan was that the team was out of timeouts. A technical foul was called, and North Carolina clinched the win and the championship. Webber went on to have a successful career in the National Basketball Association, but he is still mostly remembered for this timeout.
1. Super Bowl XLIX
There is no reason to believe that the New England Patriots would have stopped Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch with under a minute to play in Super Bowl XLIX. Heck, Lynch nearly carried New England defensive players into the end zone on the previous play. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll instead put the ball into the hands of quarterback Russell Wilson, and Wilson threw a pass over the middle into traffic that was intercepted. It was an absolute gift to the Patriots, one that New England head coach Bill Belichick happily accepted before hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time while with the franchise.