Sports games are played all over the world every single day. Nobody takes the field, court, or ice, wanting to screw up. That includes coaches and officials as well as the players. You can even throw fans in there. They don’t plan to go to a game and screw it up somehow. But everyone is human and mistakes happen. Some of the mistakes are minor, but some of them have a huge impact. The small ones are rarely remembered but the bigger they are, the longer they last in the memories of players and fans. Sometimes, as one person on this list learned, making a mistake can even lead to you getting killed.
In a split second, on one seemingly simple, harmless play, a player can be changed from a Hall of Fame candidate to a lifetime goat. See Bill Buckner for a prime example of that.
A lot of times a mistake occurs because the person involved has a mental brain freeze or –perhaps loses focus for that one splint instant. One thing is certain though, the bigger the stage, the harder that mistake is going to be to forget.
Bad decisions can be made by anyone in life. The only difference between everyday life and professional sports is that the playing area is surrounded by cameras. This means that a costly error can be seen around the world in a matter of just moments. And when you add the internet into the equation, one mistake can live on forever. Don’t believe me? Look at how long ago some of the events I’m about to talk about happened and they’re still being talked about today.
Here are 14 of the biggest blunders in sports history made by players, coaches, officials, fans, and management.
14. DeSean Jackson throws ball away, negates touchdown
DeSean Jackson can be one of the most electric players to watch on a professional football field. His speed and ability to get to the open field is fun to watch. But what’s even more fun to watch about him is what happens when he gets near the goal line. How a player can have so many problems getting the ball across that white line is a mystery. Especially when you consider that some of his biggest bonehead mistakes have occurred with nobody near him.
It all started when he was still in high school. While playing in the Army All-American game he was bringing the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. But that alone wasn’t good enough for him. So he decided to do a flip while entering the end zone and he fumbled the ball. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback and he lost his touchdown.
It didn’t take him long to make a similar impact in the NFL either. In his very first game in his rookie year he caught a long pass from Donovan McNabb and had a clear route to the end zone. Nobody was going to catch him, but before he crossed the goal line he threw the ball in back of him in celebration of the touchdown. The problem is that he hadn’t crossed the goal line before throwing the ball! The referees reviewed the play and determined that he had lost control of the ball before entering the end zone. The Eagles would score on the following play but Jackson’s bonehead move cost himself a touchdown, and would give the world an entertaining play to watch for a long time.
He still didn’t learn his lesson and to this day he continues to risk possession of the football with early touchdown celebrations. And he doesn’t always get into the end zone successfully. One thing is certain: when DeSean Jackson is heading to the end zone, the closer he gets, the more nervous fans, teammates and coaches get.
13. Jose Canseco uses his head to aid a home run
During Jose Canseco’s baseball career he showed the world that he could hit a lot of long home runs. Later on in life he admitted that he cheated and that those home runs were aided by drugs. But that’s not the mistake that we are focusing on here today.
For good reason, Canseco never garnered much attention for his fielding abilities. He solidified that one time as he was chasing a fly ball that was hit by Carlos Martinez of the Cleveland Indians. As Canseco moved toward the wall chasing the ball that was in flight, he lost sight of it. As he reached the warning track the ball came crashing down right on top of his head. Anyone that has ever fielded a hard hit baseball knows that it had to hurt a lot when it came down on his head. But to make the hurt even deeper, the ball bounced off of Canseco’s head and went right over the wall. That gave Martinez a very unlikely home run on a ball that should have been caught for an out.
After the blunder, in a joking manner, a professional soccer team offered Canseco a contract. He should have accepted it because this was just one of a long list of mistakes that he made during and after his career.
12. The Stanford band doesn’t understand football
In what is one of the most bizarre plays in the history of college football, the Stanford band entered the field before the game was over forcing players to run through, around, and over them on the final play of the game.
It was a 1982 game between the Cal Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal. There was just four seconds remaining in the game and Stanford had to kick off. They had just kicked a field goal to take a 20-19 lead. They did a squib kick to prevent a long return by Cal. Kevin Moen returned the kick for the game-winning touchdown after several laterals. But he didn’t have to just contend with the Stanford defenders.
The Stanford band thought the game was over and entered the field of play. ALL of them. While the play was happening there were players, officials, and band members all over the field. When Moen entered the end zone he actually ran over a member of the band.
If you get a chance to watch one of the videos of “The Play” you will be amazed. Nothing suggests that if the band didn’t come onto the field of play, Stanford would have stopped the touchdown from happening. But thanks to the blunder by the band, we will never know.
11. Jim Marshall returns a fumble to the wrong end zone
During the 1960s, the Minnesota Vikings had a ferocious defense. They were called “The Purple People Eaters” and Jim Marshall was a major force on that defense. He had done plenty to cement his place in NFL lore, but during a 1964 game against the San Francisco 49ers he became legendary. But not on a positive play. Well, at least not a positive play for the Vikings.
Marshall recovered a fumble and took off on a 66 yard return to the end zone. The only problem is that he returned the ball to the wrong end zone. When he arrived he thought that he had scored a touchdown and threw the ball in the air. But what he actually did was give the 49ers a safety. The play didn’t cost Minnesota the game as they still won, but “Wrong Way Marshall” was born on that day and he will live on forever in the minds of NFL fans.
10. Leon Lett and snow don’t mix
Leon Lett was a very good player during his time in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately for him though, he is on this list twice. During his career he made two of the biggest blunders in football history.
It was 1993 on Thanksgiving Day when Lett made his second famous blunder in front of a national audience. The Miami Dolphins were trying to kick a game winning field goal against the Cowboys in Dallas. In his defense, the weather was cold and the field was covered with snow. Pete Stoyanovich kicked the ball but the field goal attempt was blocked. This should have been the end of the game and a Dallas victory.
As players surrounded the ball that was lying on the field near the goal line, waiting for the final seconds to tick off, for some unknown reason, Lett blasted through the crowd of players. He slipped in the snow and fell down, unintentionally kicking the football, making it a live ball and keeping the play alive. The Dolphins recovered the ball at the one yard line with only 3 seconds left and used the blunder to try another game winning field goal. Stoyanovich was successful, securing a win for Miami, and leaving everyone around the country shocked as they were digesting their Thanksgiving dinner.
9. Leon Lett’s failed showboat attempt
This was Lett’s first failure and just like his second one, the world was watching. It was late in the game during Super Bowl XXVII and the Dallas Cowboys were blowing out the Buffalo Bills. Lett recovered a fumble and headed toward the correct end zone. There was nobody around him and it seemed a certainty that he was going to score a touchdown. Enter showboating and Don Beebe.
When Lett reached the ten yard line he stuck the ball out in front of himself in celebration and slowed down. When he reached the five yard line he was virtually jogging and he never saw Don Beebe giving chase behind him. Beebe was the fastest player on the Bills squad and he had no problem coming all the way down the field to catch the big man from behind. Beebe reached in from behind and knocked the ball out of Lett’s hand and it went out of the end zone for a touchback. Lett lost his certain touchdown but it didn’t change the outcome of the game. All that did was keep the Cowboys from scoring the most points ever in a Super Bowl.
8. Tommy John makes three errors on one play
When you hear people talking about Tommy John it’s usually a conversation about the surgery he had that allowed him to have a long and successful baseball career. The surgery, ‘Tommy John Surgery’, is equated with Tommy, as he was the first player to ever have the surgery. That’s good news for him, because it means not many people equate his name as being the guy that committed three errors on a single play.
But that’s exactly what he did in 1998. Gold Glove players can get through an entire season without making three errors. And since pitchers are on the field far less, a mediocre pitcher can get through a season or two, or more, without making three errors. This just made Tommy John’s ‘accomplishment’ all the more shocking.
The original play was a tapper to the first base side that John came off the mound to field. He didn’t field it cleanly for error number one. Thinking that he still had a shot at throwing the batter out at first base, he threw over to first base wildly and the ball sailed into right field for error number two. There was a runner on first base when the play began and he tried to score on the play. When the throw came to the plate from right field, John cut it off and threw the ball right passed the catcher for error number three. Luckily for him the Yankees scored 16 runs in the game and won anyway.
7. Roasted Duck
I’m not sure who came up with the idea for this one, but they should never be allowed near other human beings again. In 1995 the Anaheim Mighty Ducks wanted to start their season opener with a bang. They ended up doing it with a roaring quack.
Someone came up with the idea of having their mascot, Wild Wing, use a trampoline to jump over a wall of fire. Now remember that mascot uniforms are made of a furry, rug-like substance. Can you see where this is going yet? That’s right, he didn’t make it.
Wild Wing landed right on top of the wall of fire and his feathers obviously started to burn. Luckily for him the Ducks cheerleaders anticipated the failure and were standing nearby with fire extinguishers.
6. Martin Brodeur allows bad goal in Stanley Cup Finals
Martin Brodeur made a career of handling the puck. During his career he scored three goals and he is the reason that the “Brodeur Rule” is now in place in the NHL. For those that don’t know, that’s the two lines in back of the net that extend to the boards. Goalies can now only play the puck behind the goal line if they are in between those two lines. If they play the puck outside of those lines it’s a two minute penalty.
But you don’t handle the puck as many times as he did over a career without making a mistake once in a while. It didn’t happen often but when he did make one, New Jersey Devils fans knew it didn’t happen often, so they let it slide.
In Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals the Devils had a 2-0 lead in the series over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Devils had just tied the game 1-1 on a goal from Patrik Elias near the end of the second period.
Sandis Ozolinsh of the Ducks dumped the puck in deep from center ice. It was going wide of the net so Brodeur moved to his left to play it. He slid his goal stick down to stop the puck but it ended up sliding all the way out of his hand and he dropped it while falling down. The sliding puck hit the loose stick and bounced slowly into the empty net. Brodeur was sliding away from the net and had no chance to stop it from going in. All he could do was put his head down on the ice in embarrassment.
The Devils tied the game later on but ended up losing it in overtime. After the game Brodeur said that “It was just one of those once in a lifetime things.”
5. Alabama Crimson Tide – the Kick Six
The Iron Bowl between the University of Alabama and Auburn University is one of the biggest college football games each season. The 2013 meeting was another in the long list of classic games between the two rivals. Alabama was the two time defending National Champions and on this day they were in a hotly contested battle.
With only one second remaining on the clock the game was tied. Alabama had the ball and all they had to do was take a knee and go to overtime to try and win. But Head Coach Nick Saban had other ideas. Bad ideas.
He decided to let freshman kicker Adam Griffith come out and try an improbably 57-yard field goal to win the game. The odds against making the kick were high. But the odds against what actually happened on that play were much higher.
As many expected, Griffith’s kick was short of the goal posts. But Auburn’s Chris Davis caught the kick near the back of the end zone. With time expired and nothing to lose in a tie game, Davis started to run the ball out of the end zone. And he ran, and he ran, and he ran. He ran it back 109 yards for one of the most amazing touchdowns in college football history and gave Auburn the shocking victory.
4. Andres Escobar scores in his own goal
Sports blunders, while sad at the time of the incident, can be funny in the months and years to come after they happen. There are plenty of examples of this on this list. They aren’t funny at the time because the big ones usually end up costing a team the game or sometimes even more. The 1994 incident during the World Cup when Andres Escobar scored into his own goal wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny then and now more than twenty years later, it’s still not funny.
Escobar was playing for Columbia in their second group stage match against the United States. The ball was sent across the middle to set up a shot for the USA. Escobar slid down to block the pass, but he ended up sending the ball right into his own net for a goal. Columbia ended up losing the game 2-1, but Escobar ended up losing his life over the mistake.
When the team was back in Columbia, Escobar went out to a club with some of his friends. Apparently everyone was on their way home, heading to their cars, when Escobar was approached in the parking lot. After an argument Escobar was shot six times and killed. Humberto Castro Munoz, a bodyguard for a major drug cartel leader, committed the murder. He served 11 years in prison and has admitted that the murder was because of the mistake made on the field.
3. Roy Jones Jr. drops Olympic bout despite winning it
The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, was the site of one of the most obvious cases of fight fixing to ever take place. Even professional wrestling was embarrassed by the result. Roy Jones Jr. was an amateur at the time and he was matched up against Park Si-Hun in a light middleweight bout. Jones was the favorite to win the Gold Medal in the competition, but three judges would see to it that it didn’t happen.
The bout lasted three rounds and everyone saw Jones pummel Si-Hun every second of the match. He landed 86 punches to Si-Hun’s 32. It was obvious that not only had Jones won the fight, but it should be a unanimous decision. When the official decision was announced the world was shocked. The judges had voted 3-2 in favor of Si-Hun, giving him the victory, even though he had just taken the beating of his life.
Jones was obviously cheated and Si-Hun was humiliated and apologized to Jones, but the decision is still official today.
South Koreans were apparently tired of their boxers losing to Americans because of American judges. So some wining, dining, and bribery were carried out to make sure that Jones would not win this bout. After an investigation the three judges were suspended, but the ruling was never overturned.
2. Steve Bartman screws up foul ball at Wrigley Field
Every fan that attends a Major League Baseball game wants to catch a foul ball. Some fans can attend hundreds, if not thousands of games, and never have one come close to them. Steve Bartman wishes that was the case for him.
It was the 2003 National League Championship Series and the Chicago Cubs were just five outs away from going to the World Series. It would have been their first trip there since 1945.
The Cubbies were leading the series 3 games to 2 and were winning the game 3-0 in the eighth inning when Luis Castillo, of the Florida Marlins, hit a foul pop up. Chicago outfielder Moises Alou reached over the outfield wall to make the catch, for what would have been the second out of the inning. But Cub fan Steve Bartman reached over Alou and tried to catch the ball and it ended up falling harmlessly into the seats. Harmlessly for the Marlins, anyway.
The Cubs immediately begged for fan interference, against their own fan, so they could be awarded the out. But the umpires disagreed and the blunder stood as it was. The Marlins went on to score 8 times in that inning to win the game and even the series. Then they won the seventh game and kept the Cubs out of the World Series.
Nothing says that if Alou had caught that ball that the Marlins wouldn’t have gone on to win the game and the series anyway. We have no idea if another Cubs meltdown was right around the corner regardless of the outcome of that foul ball. But Cubs fans sure love to put the blame on Bartman. His life was threatened and his personal information was published on Major League Baseball message boards. He even had to have police protection for a while.
So you think that you want a foul ball to come your way, huh? He didn’t even catch the ball!
1. “10 cent beer night” in Cleveland
Sometimes management makes bad decision for a sports team and it doesn’t always have to be a free agent or draft pick. Early in the 1974 season the Cleveland Indians had played a game in Texas against the Rangers. The fans were out of control during the game and after a bench-clearing brawl late in the game, Texas fans doused several Indian players with beer and food. After the game when the Rangers were getting ready for a road trip that included a stop in Cleveland, Rangers manager Billy Martin was asked if he was worried about retribution. He replied “They don’t have enough fans there to worry about.” Much like many things Billy gave his input on during his career, he was wrong.
Just six days later, on June 4th, the Indians held a “ten cent beer night.” One dollar got you a 50 cent ticket into the bleachers and five beers. They didn’t have a problem drawing a crowd that night as over 25,000 jammed the stadium to see their beloved Indians play. OK, well, maybe they came for the beer.
Before the third inning had started a woman flashed the crowd, a father-son duo ran out onto the field and mooned everyone, and a woman came out onto the field and tried to kiss one of the umpires. Oh and then there was the guy that jumped over the third base wall and streaked across the field, with the Cleveland police in pursuit. All of this before the third inning.
The Indians brought in some beer trucks to meet the expected demand but they didn’t bring in enough staff. Two poor girls were running the beer table alone. One was pouring and one was taking money. Obviously things weren’t going fast enough to satisfy the fans. Once the crowd became unruly, the two girls just walked away and left the beer trucks unattended. So exactly what you think would happen, happened. The fans started filling up their cups on their own, for free.
By the time the sixth inning arrived people were jumping out of the stands onto the field in groups of 20-30 at a time. Things took a serious turn when fans started throwing cherry bombs into the Texas dugout. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove had an empty gallon jug of wine thrown at him, among other things.
Cleveland had tied the game at 5-5 coming into the bottom of the 9th inning and then all hell broke loose. One Indian fan approached Jeff Burroughs in center field and tried to steal the hat off of his head. As he tried to get away he dropped the hat and made the mistake of coming back to pick it up. Burroughs had had enough and he kicked the fan. Both men went down and that was the beginning of the end.
Billy Martin led a charge of Rangers that came out onto the field, all carrying bats, to protect their teammate. The field was filled with fans wanting to hurt the Texas players and the Indians players ended up having to help the Rangers against their own crowd. During the melee Hargrove got hit from behind. He turned around and handed out a beat down on the fan.
Tom Hilgendorf of the Indians was bloodied after being hit with a chair by one of his own fans, and after an umpire also took a chair to the head, he stopped the game and declared the Indians had forfeited the game.
Cleveland SWAT teams had to be called into the stadium and they ended up having to use tear gas to empty the place.
You would think that the team would swear to never do that again right? Consider it a lesson learned? Nope. The Indians had another ten cent beer night just a month later. Only in Cleveland.