Fans know that sports are unpredictable and constantly surprising. There is no shortage of the spectacular in sports, and this fact keeps fans coming back for more, as every new season and play could turn out to be wholly different than what they expected. Woody Allen, everybody’s favourite neurotic filmmaker, once said that, if he had to pick between watching films or sports for the rest of his life, he would pick sports because films are formulaic, whereas sports are not. Humans are both fallible and capable of unexpected feats; perhaps more than anything in our rigidly structured society, sports illustrates this point.
And every sports fan has a host of memories of incredible things they have seen at games or on television. Since sports are constantly pushing forward into the realm of the unexpected, fans can only grip their beers tighter, embrace each other closer, yell louder, and stand with more passionate attention. No game is over until that fat lady sings, and she’s always singing contrary to one side’s expectations. The recent Super Bowl that just passed surprised everyone; who would have thought that the Denver Broncos would implode like that? That’s why they play the game.
The unexpectedly spectacular (or is it the spectacularly unexpected?) in sports oftentimes incites effusive responses from fans. Expletives, for whatever reason, always convey the surprise that fans feel over amazing plays. Eye contact made between two incredulous fans is not adequate at expressing these feelings. And so, when the spectacular, the unthinkable, and the unbelievable happens, fans tend to express themselves with the opposite of class: “Holy Sh**! I can’t believe that just happened!” Even the fan in the bathroom—you know, the one who always misjudges their bathroom breaks or drinks too much and can’t help it (we all know someone like this)—will express their dismay at missing the big play in similar terms: “Holy Sh**! I can’t believe I was taking a leak!” One thing is certain: sports will never cease to provoke fans to be less than classy, and that’s the way it should be.
In celebration of sports’ ability to make fans lose their minds, this list looks at ten unforgettable “Holy Sh**” plays. These plays undoubtedly surprised fans and incited effusive responses. They illustrate the transient greatness of sports, as no replay can every capture the excitement that fans felt when seeing these plays live. Let us know your favourite “Holy Sh**” plays. Without further ado…
10. Doug Flutie — Hail Flutie
On November 23, 1984, the tenth-ranked Boston College Eagles marched into the Orange Bowl to play the defending National Champions, the twelfth-ranked Miami Hurricanes. The game pitted a team from a Jesuit university from the heart of Colonial America against a team that will always be known for its bad-boy image. Two future NFL quarterbacks—Bernie Koser and of course Doug Flutie—matched up in this one, so the stage had already been set for a classic. Trailing the Hurricanes with under a minute to go, the Eagles had to rely on their “little engine that could.” With eleven seconds left, Flutie threw an incomplete pass that would have put the Eagles in field-goal position. No matter: Number 22, from his own 49 yard line, dropped back with 6 seconds left, was flushed from the pocket, and threw a bomb from his own 37 yard line to Greg Phelan, who caught the ball in the end zone and capped off one of the most memorable plays in football history.
9. Alexander Ovechkin — The Goal
Alexander Ovechkin is widely known for his spectacular goals, which he seems to score every season. On January 15, 2006, playing against Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes, the Russian superstar scored the best goal of his career—so far. Whether you were a Phoenix fan that night, a Washington fan, or even Wayne Gretzky, you probably had to go rinse your mouth out with soap. After a mid-ice giveaway by Phoenix, Ovechkin stormed in to the Coyotes’ zone with only Paul Mara and the goalie to beat. Somewhat unsuccessfully, he put the puck through Mara, who knocked him down, but Alexander the Great, while falling, controlled the puck on his backhand and slid it into the net for one of the most spectacular goals in NHL history.
8. Franco Harris — Immaculate Reception
On December 23, 1972, in the AFC playoffs, the Steelers needed some last-second heroics from Franco Harris to beat their bitter rivals, the Oakland Raiders. John Madden’s Raiders were a bad bunch, and the Steelers, at this point, were trying to move into the stratosphere of professional football. With the Steelers trailing in the last minute of the game, Terry Bradshaw dropped back and threw prayer to John Fuqua, but the ball was batted. Fortuitously, Franco Harris was behind the ball, and, when it was batted back in the direction of the line of scrimmage, he was there to scoop it up and gallop into the end zone. NFL Films has named this the best play in NFL history.
7. Tennessee Titans Special Teams — The Music City Miracle
Doug Flutie was involved in another play on this list, but he was on the wrong end of this one, in more ways than one. After leading the team to a successful regular season, Flutie was benched by Wade Phillips, who inexplicably started Brad Johnson in Flutie’s place. Nevertheless, the game looked to wrapped up for the Bills, but, in the final minute, the Music City Miracle Happened. The Bills squib-kicked the ball to Frank Whycheck, who ran to his right before turning and throwing a lateral (well, that’s the “official” story) to Andre Dyson, who caught the ball and ran it to the end zone for an improbable last-second play. This was the last time the Bills were in the playoffs, and it hangs over the team like a specter as they continue to flounder year in and year out.
6. Diego Maradona/Lionel Messi — The Argentines Do It Alone
Both Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi scored similar goals years apart, but the similarities between the two players and the goals make neither goal better than the other. Both are Argentine, and both, starting with the ball in their own end, scored their goals from the right side and dribbled by numerous defenders and the respective goalies. Maradona scored his goal for the Argentine National Team, so his had more significance. But Messi scored his goal as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, so his was perhaps more unexpected. In any case, there is one conclusion to draw from these spectacular goals: Argentines are really good at soccer!
5. Roberto Carlos — Free-Kick Goal
In 1997, Roberto Carlos, an ex-footballer who was the best offensive left back of his generation, scored one of the most unbelievable goals in soccer history. Playing for Brazil, Roberto Carlos lined up to take a long free kick against France, a country that has a storied rivalry with Brazil, as the two nations have met many times in international competition throughout the years. After a long run to strike, Carlos kicked the ball, which looked to be going well wide of the goal’s right post. Unbelievably, however, the ball bent back to the left, though Carlos kicked it with his left foot. Fabien Barthez, France’s goal keeper, didn’t even dive. Carlos had a knack for putting an unexpected “banana” curve on the ball, so maybe the phrase should read, “Bend it like Carlos.”
4. Derrick Fisher — Buzzer Beater with 0.4 Seconds Left
With under a second left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Semi-Finals, the game looked to be wrapped up for the San Antonio Spurs, as Tim Duncan had just hit an incredible shot to beat the buzzer. Duncan, however, beat the buzzer a little too quickly. With 0.4 seconds left—just enough time for a heave—Derrick Fisher caught the in-bounds pass, as the Spurs did an admirable job of denying Kobe Bryant the ball. Fisher turned and heaved a prayer, which miraculously swished through the net. Fisher triumphantly ran to the locker room immediately after the shot, as even he didn’t believe that he beat the buzzer.
3. Vince Carter — Dunk De La Mort
In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, nothing was going to stop the USA Men’s Basketball Team from capturing gold, as the roster was packed with superstars like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Tim Hardaway. The youngest player on that squad was Vince Carter, who was a fledgling superstar at the time. Carter put on a show the whole tournament, but his best play, perhaps the best in-game dunk of all time, came when he stole the ball against France, gathered, and jumped over 7’2″ center, Frédéric Weis, to dunk the ball. He literally jumped over Weis. For the benighted, watch the replay on youtube with French commentary; the announcers lose their minds: “Regarder ca! Regarder ca!”
2. UC Berkeley Golden Bears — The Stanford Band Play
“The band is on the field!” No, this was not uttered by a music fan glad to see their favourite collegiate marching band, but by the announcer calling the improbable end to the 1982 matchup between the Cal Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal. Down a point with less than ten seconds to go, the Cal Bears’ special teams pulled off a play full of laterals to march (no pun intended) down the field and win the game. The catch: the Stanford marching band woefully misjudged things and marched out onto the field as the play was still going on! The Cal Bear who scored the touchdown capped the play by marching all over one of the band members in the end zone (ok, pun intended)—a spectacular play, indeed.
1. Jose Theodore — The Save
In the first round of the 2002 NHL playoffs, José Theodore made one of the greatest saves in NHL history. The Montreal Canadiens were heavy underdogs in their matchup against the top-seeded Boston Bruins, but the teams have a storied playoff rivalry, so Theodore was anything but shook. With their Stanley Cup hopes slipping away, the Boston Bruins threw everything they had at Theodore. In Game 6 in Montreal, with Boston pressing hard, Theodore made the initial save on a shot from the point; the rebound was shot at the post and bounced back to a Bruin’s stick. Flustered, Theordore twisted his body, desperately turning himself around to make an improbable blocker save, one of the best saves in NHL history.