Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 1 of 2)

Hi there! This is Part One of a Two-Part Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan feature: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, and 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time. Around midnight of December 18th, I sat back with a fairly comprehensive Bleacher Report article (as they go), my laptop, a bottle of whiskey, a recliner chair, a big screen TV, and a YouTube to investigate what makes the “All Time Classic Plays” just so. Eight hours later, I had many thoughts, maybe even answers!1 Here’s Part One:

Turns out a couple of weeks ago my good friend Victor Gutwein, renowned corporate strategist at Claire’s, as well as a long-time avid reader and email subscriber of Crossroads, dropped me a line for a column suggestion:

Hey Colin- I love your blog and always learn something new. I was thinking about some of those great “Miracle Plays” you referenced in one of your recent articles, and it made me think of a few questions you might be able to answer.

I’ve seen some amazing football plays, but only some have been immortalized and given names (like “The River City Relay” “The Music City Miracle” or even some so definitive to just be called “The Catch”). Why do only some amazing plays becomes legends, whereas other (seemingly just as amazing) plays aren’t remembered? Is it the crowd, importance of the game, importance of the play, etc? Also- when I went back to watch some of these plays, I hardly recognized any of the receivers/runningbacks that made them happen- it was almost as if they were a “one-hit wonder” (e.g. the “helmet catch” with David Tyree). The guys that make these plays don’t seem to be all-star players (obviously they are good if they are in the NFL, but they aren’t rewriting record books). Does this “little guy” effect help create the legend and immortalize the play?

Even if I’m completely wrong about my assumptions, can you just talk about the impact of immortalized plays?

Thanks Colin- you are amazing!

-Victor

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you buddy, it’s just that even though I created it I have no idea how my own website works I’ve been busy. But here I sit, up late on this brisk Chicago night (soon to be Wednesday morning), no work tomorrow, and there’s nothing good on TV. Conditions are perfect to answer Victor’s question: why do some plays become legends? Building upon his query, I propose the following factors for consideration: atmosphere, game significance, originality, play significance, star factor, and Vegas panic. A quick rundown:

Atmosphere

Victor said the crowd; I’m thinking the complete environment of the game. Red Sox vs Yankees? Celtic vs Rangers? Ohio vs Michigan? The season opener or just a humdrum afternoon? A basketball court, or Madison Square Garden? Once a player on my high school soccer team shot and scored from midfield one touch after the kickoff with fewer than five minutes left to make it a 4-3 game; but maybe twenty or thirty people were in attendance.2 We lacked atmosphere, and goal scorer John Lee did not become a legend outside our own small circles. (Well, not yet.)

Game Significance

What’s at stake? A playoff spot? Staving off elimination? Winning the championship? Or is it just a regular game, or even a preseason game? This is NOT the same as atmosphere. A Red Sox-Yankee game can still have atmosphere, even if one or both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs.

Originality

It’s easier to type than “OH MY WORD WHAT JUST HAPPENED???”, but that’s what I’m going for. A catch? A jumping catch? A one-handed catch where the receiver impossibly got two feet in bounds? And sticks the ball against his helmet? The more original, the more likely a play finds its way into our memories, I suspect.

Play Significance

Does the play significantly affect the outcome of the game? Successful Hail Marys certainly do; long touchdown passes in the third quarter of a four touchdown game usually don’t.

Star Factor

Who pulls off this play, and who do they pull it off against? Gordan Banks, former goalkeeper of the England national soccer team, is commonly credited with the greatest save of all time. Banks was certainly good, but it’s the man whose header he stopped (this Brazilian named Pelé, maybe you’ve heard of him) that cemented his save in history.

Vegas Panic

Something along the lines of an upset factor, but more comprehensive. It’s not only an upset, it could just be something really unexpected and unusual. For example, it’s pretty common to see a losing NBA team hurl a desperation shot at the final buzzer, even if they’re down by more than three points. Sometimes those shots are made, and sometimes they swing the gambling outcome of the game if the losing team subsequently covers the spread. Of course, long-shot underdogs pulling through is probably how Vegas hysteria usually reaches us.

Which of these factors is the most important? To answer, I’m going to go through each of the 50 plays in the Bleacher Report article “The 50 Most Amazing Plays of All Time”.3 This was published on February 2, 2012, but that’s alright, it’s still a sample of 50 quite amazing plays, that must have been documented and remembered on some scale if some dude (Austin Schindel) at Bleacher Report can track them all down. I’ll rank each of the plays on each of the factors from 1-10, completely arbitrarily, without looking anything up for technical analysis (with the possible exception of getting some numbers for a Vegas Panic Index, but nah, I’ll just go with what feels right), and in no way following anything that resembles a scientific method of any sort. At the end I’ll tally up the scores and see which factors were most important. As an added bonus, I will be taking a sip4 of whiskey for every play that I have never seen before. Best get to it!5

#50: Nicks Catch Against WVU
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 8
  • Play Significance: 2
  • Star Factor: 3
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

That is a really, really ridiculous catch, AND it’s Hakeem Nicks, and we know he went on to become a big star in the actual NFL. But everything else looks like some UNC football game, because that’s all it is.

#49: Bluegrass Miracle
  • Atmosphere: 3
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 2
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Well that was probably the most depressing play I’ve ever seen. Also I’m already getting confused by my factors. Is there “Atmosphere” if the play goes completely against the crowd? (Remembering the Stanford Band…) Yes, yes there is. And is there Vegas Panic if the play ends up (at least partially) restoring what everyone thought before hand was the extremely likely outcome? Yeah, a little bit, why not? Also I’m curious to see if Play Significance is dominant on this list; I don’t see how that can’t be a ten as it completely changed the outcome of the game. Also an originality of four because that Hail Mary was from the LSU 25! It’s pretty normal for it to bounce off like 20 dudes and the receiver to somehow walk scarcely touched into the end zone, but 75 yards? Damn.

#48: DeSean Jackson Punt Return
  • Atmosphere: 4
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 5
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

The Miracle at the New Meadowlands! Note that DeSean actually fumbles the punt first, and then in classic DeSean fashion runs the width of the field at the one yard line and is almost tackled (well, sorta) before actually scoring. Pretty original for a punt returned for a touchdown.

#47: Derek Fisher 0.4 Shot
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Game Significance: 6
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 4
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

The Western Conference Semi-Finals, on the road against the defending champion Spurs in a packed house… the turnaround jumper is fairly solid as well. Goodness.

#46: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 2
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Ehhh, Maradonna did it against more dudes on a better team, in the World Cup quarterfinals. Just sayin’.

#45: High School Hurdle
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 0 (Forget the 1-10 scale!)
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Okay, the football hurdle has been around. Vernon Davis did it twice in one game a couple of weeks ago. But, Sam gets bonus points for going over a kid who was pretty much standing up at the time, way before he got close to tackling Sam.

#44: Malik’s Penalty Shot
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

This guy is a straight B0$$! I think he’s what they used to keep the rink from melting, ’cause he’s so cool. Definitely one of the one’s where not being a star helped his claim to fame. Because, damn. Those moves from someone who hadn’t scored a goal all season. Also only an eight for play significance, as though it won the game, missing it didn’t mean they would have lost.

#43: Joe Washington (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 5
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

WOW! I lost my mind like 12 seconds in, or whenever he decides the best way to proceed is BY GOING BACK UP THE SIDELINE, and not cutting across the field as I was expecting. Goodness gracious. The very best part: he actually lost three yards on this return. I just… love it so much. He gets it at the 48, and goes back to his own 18 (!!!), and makes it all the way back to his 45, without going more than a few yards laterally. I think this is one of the most amazing plays in the history of football. Wow.

#42: Bobby Ryan (The Bleacher Report link is dead, something lame about copyright infringement.)
  • Atmosphere: 4
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 2
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

When you do the same move on the same guy in two seconds, it’s pretty damn impressive, even if that guy lost his stick on the first move. (Hey, that’s his fault!) Also hockey playoffs! And a go-ahead goal in the third period! (Why don’t more people watch hockey? The puck isn’t that hard to follow these days. It’s really fun!)

#41: Kevin Mitchell Bare-Handed Catch
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 2
  • Play Significance: 2
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Okay that seriously wasn’t that impressive. Like, yes, it’s a bare handed catch in the outfield of a MLB game, but… come on. I have seen that before, and I’m no baseball announcer.

#40: Bird Scores on Own Miss
  • Atmosphere: 4
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 2
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Definitely a star factor play. I think if some Joe does this, even in the NBA, it’s forgotten, even by the Internet.

#39: Rene Higuita Saves Ball with His Feet (I replaced another dead link.)
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 10
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 4
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Ahh yes. Ahhhh yes. The Scorpion Kick… save! I think it’s a pretty significant play in the game because if he f&%$s that up, England gets a goal! Dude had some serious cojones.

#38: Amazing Japanese Baseball Player Catch (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 3
  • Vegas Panic: 0 (I’m still going with the 1-10 scale but Japanese baseball?)
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

WOW!!! Wow. I hold back from a perfect ten in originality because technically, we’ve seen guys climb the wall before, but… wow. Also it’s at this point that I’ve added a (MUST WATCH!) next to plays that I just completely lose my *#%@ over.

#37: Travis Pastrana Double Back Flip (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Game Significance: 7
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 0 (Yeah, yeah…)
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Mini-confession: I have always been high on the X Games since being bored and having cable TV (well, Dish Network) as a kid. That is truly amazing, Travis Pastrana was an enormous icon in the sport even before that (if you didn’t know), and f&$% you if you don’t think that atmosphere is a 10. “I’m just having fun.” AAUUGGHH!

#36: Roger Federer Through the Legs (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Game Significance: 9
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 9
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Okay, relax because I only designated eight (MUST WATCH!)s in the whole bunch, but AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH!!! IN THE US OPEN SEMIFINALS? Against a fierce rival and one of the best players in the world? Trying to put him away in the third set? That was profound. Look at Djokovic’s face! Absurd.

#35: Oklahoma State Interception
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Game Significance: 8
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Great rivalry, great teams. Just a great play. To quote John Madden:

When you have great players, playing great, well that’s great football.

#34: Brad Johnson TD Pass to Himself
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 4
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Decidedly meh. What’s next?

#33: Bears Decoy
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 10
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 7
  • Vegas Panic: 3
  • I’ve seen this before: No. (Incredibly.)

I’m just angry. This is an incredible, brilliant play, fabulously executed by Hester and Knox, and terribly executed by the scumbag who decided to hold. HOW DO YOU HOLD ON THIS PLAY? Devastating. The Eagles ran a somewhat similar play on a kickoff return last year, with an across the field pass, only ruined it as the pass went forward by maybe a half yard. But this, the Hester decoy, taking advantage of that unique skill set he brings and completely fooling the other team, all ruined… I really am devastated. A sure-fire (MUST WATCH!) but for the stupid holding penalty… grrr.

UPDATE: Upon seeing this, I emailed the link to a Bears fan friend of mine. All I said in the subject was “Surely you know this happened???!?!?!!”. His response? “I knew what this was going to be before I even clicked.” I am so proud of my friends.

#32: Michael Vick Lights It Up
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 7
  • Star Factor: 7
  • Vegas Panic: 5
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Some pretty serious bonus points for getting two defenders to run into each other… head first.

#31: Stefan Misses Empty Net
  • Atmosphere: 3
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 5
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Oh my. HOW DO MORE PEOPLE NOT LIKE HOCKEY??? I couldn’t help but look this one up, and yeah, the Stars came back to win the game in a shootout. Please, anybody, explain to me momentum in sports again?

#30: Orton Throws Game-Winning TD
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 2
  • Play Significance: 9
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 5
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Ehh, exciting, but… ehh.

#29: Devin Harris Buzzer Beater
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

It’s the double clutch that does it. A desperation heave, fine… but it’s rejected, so he throws up another one on the fly? Preposterous.

#28: Roberto Carlos Free Kick
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 5
  • Star Factor: 5
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes. (So many times.)

First off, even as far as weird individually produced YouTube sports clip videos go, that was pretty weird/hilarious. Second off, it’s the perfect free kick. I guess that should probably be another category, something to do with execution/preparation of the play as opposed to just dumb luck. Oh well.

#27: Saints Lateral
  • Atmosphere: 3
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Wow, now I’m just really, really sad. Oh jeez.

#26: Chris Moore
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 5
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Gotta’ hand it to the man, pulling off the double between-the-legs crossover, a slick move to get you into the paint, previously unappreciated on the football field.

Well that’s it for Part One! Check back tomorrow to see how the rest of my night (/morning) went as I finished up the plays and tallied the results.


  1. And of course a great deal of questions as well. Why are people so awesome and put together all these YouTube videos? How could Bleacher Report do this to me? Is it light outside? 
  2. My Midland Oaks actually ended up tying those Laguna Blanca scumbags 4-4 that day, way back in my senior year of high school, I believe in late 2008 but possibly early 2009. Yes, I’m still angry we let them back in the game. (Twice.) 
  3. Note: The cover picture for this article is of Tiger Woods. I’m not usually inclined to rank a golf shot high on any of the factors I’ve identified (unless the shot in question is from Happy Gilmore), but I’ll try to keep an open mind. If something from NASCAR gets in there, well… we’ll see. (Curling and other ridiculous Olympic sports? Definitely okay with that.) 
  4. A sip shall constitute between roughly one-tenth and one-half of a shot, depending upon how many of these plays it turns out I actually haven’t seen, how bad@$$ a play makes me feel just watching it for the first time, and my general mood. 
  5. Disclaimer: I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be a single female sporting occurrence on the list until after I was done. I think that’s pretty dumb. Surely the US Women’s National Soccer Team alone is good for a couple, plus Olympic sports (Dara Torres much?), college (basketball in particular), great stuff in women’s hockey, actual women’s professional leagues like the former WUSA and the current WNBA… I dunno why it’s a men only list, but it’s what I worked with initially. Next time I’ll do better. 
4 comments
  1. Victor said:

    WOW! This is great. But they better include at least one of the great races of Michael Phelp’s 2008 Olympic run- either Jason Lezak’s 4×100 come-from-behind win or Phelp’s out-touching Cavic in the 100 fly.

  2. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that I made a bet with myself about certain plays I expected to see, and was quite disappointed. All shall be revealed tomorrow when I review the Top 25.

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