Crowds have roared. Tears have fallen. Records have been broken. From a 109-yard kick return in the Iron Bowl to a victorious 16-seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, this decade in sports has been one to remember and unique in its own right.
Based on cultural impact, height of the moment and various other factors, here are TKC’s top 10 moments in American sports over the past decade.
With so many iconic moments, it is difficult to exclude those just outside the top 10. In chronological order, here are five significant moments that need recognition.
Ray Allen’s three-pointer, 2013 NBA Finals; June 18, 2013
No call other than ESPN NBA announcer Mike Breen’s signature “Bang!” could suit this moment. With time running out in Game 6, the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh rebounded a missed three-pointer by LeBron James and saw Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, floating to the corner. Bosh passed to Allen, who hit a perfect swish to tie the game. The Heat would win in overtime, then won the following game for the championship.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed catch, Sunday Night Football; Nov. 23, 2014
Arguably the greatest catch in NFL history, Odell Beckham Jr. put his name on the map in 2014 with “the catch that broke the internet.” As two referees threw flags to indicate defensive pass interference, Beckham reached back to snag Eli Manning’s 43-yard pass with one hand as he fell backwards into the end zone. From this moment on, Beckham’s name and the one-handed catch were linked in sports culture.
Patriots’ comeback, Super Bowl LI; Feb. 5, 2017
Super Bowl LI held the greatest comeback in NFL history by the New England Patriots and, in turn, the biggest choke in NFL history by the Atlanta Falcons. Losing 28-3 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots went on a 31-0 run for the overtime win.
“Minneapolis Miracle,” 2018 NFL playoffs; Jan. 14, 2018
The Minnesota Vikings should not have advanced to the 2018 NFC championship game. Down 23-24 to the New Orleans Saints at their own 39-yard line with 10 seconds remaining in the game, Vikings QB Case Keenum threw a dart to Stefon Diggs, who leapt as Saints safety Marcus Williams made the tackle on nothing but air. Diggs kept his feet in bounds and ran it in for a 61-yard touchdown as time expired, stunning the Saints as the Vikings survived.
Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater, 2019 NBA playoffs; May 12, 2019
Had this shot been a swish, it wouldn’t have made the cut on this list. But after Kawhi Leonard drifted to the corner and shot the fadeaway over Joel Embiid, the ball took four bounces off the rim before dropping. The first Game 7 buzzer beater in NBA history kept the Toronto Raptors’ season alive, and they went on to beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
The top 10:
10. 16-seed UMBC defeats 1-seed Virginia, 2018 March Madness; March 16, 2018
After defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2018 ACC Tournament championship, the Virginia Cavaliers entered the NCAA Tournament as the first seed overall. But the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers had other plans. In one of the biggest NCAA basketball upsets ever, they defeated the Cavaliers 74-54, becoming the first 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed in the history of the Men’s NCAA Tournament.
9. USWNT’s two World Cups, FIFA Women’s World Cup; July 2015 and July 2019
The U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019 meant more than just a victory on the field. After fighting for equal pay for several years, the team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March for gender discrimination. Defeating Japan 5-2 in 2015 and The Netherlands 2-0 in 2019, the USWNT continues to succeed in the face of the struggling men’s team.
8. Malcolm Butler’s interception, Super Bowl XLIX; Feb. 1, 2015
Down 24-28 to the New England Patriots with 24 seconds left at the 1-yard line, the Seattle Seahawks had no reason not to run the ball on 2nd & Goal. They had one of the best NFL running backs in Marshawn Lynch, and still had one timeout left just in case the run were to fail. But for whatever reason, the Seahawks’ coaching staff decided to carry out a pass play, where Russell Wilson threw the ball right into the hands of Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler, ensuring a Patriots’ victory.
7. St. Louis Blues’ comeback, 2019 Stanley Cup; June 12, 2019
From worst to first. The St. Louis Blues’ comeback in 2019 was one of the most remarkable stories in the history of the NHL. On Jan. 3, 2019, the Blues had the worst record in the NHL. On March 29, 2019, they clinched the playoffs. And on June 12, 2019, they defeated the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, winning their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
6. LeBron’s “The Decision,” live on ESPN; July 8, 2010
LeBron James’ declaration of “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” rocked the sports world, so much so that his “decision” in free agency had a 75-minute national TV slot on ESPN and has its own Wikipedia page. His move from Cleveland to Miami brought many Cavaliers fans to burn their LeBron jerseys. But all’s well that ends well, as LeBron returned home four years later and earned the first championship in Cavaliers franchise history.
5. Auburn’s “Kick Six,” 2013 Iron Bowl; Nov. 30, 2013
With one second left in a 28-28 game, Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal to win it, but the kick fell short. Auburn’s Chris Davis was waiting in the end zone to field the kick, and he ran it all the way back for 109 yards, the longest possible play in football, to win the prominent rivalry game over number-one ranked Alabama.
4. David Freese’s Game 6 performance, 2011 World Series; Oct. 27, 2011
Nelson Cruz’s stretch and David Freese’s pose over third base became legendary in sports history after Freese’s game-tying two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6. But Freese didn’t stop there, as he came back up in the 11th inning and ended the game with a walkoff home run to center field, where fans scurried to grab the ball while Joe Buck pronounced, “We will see you tomorrow night!”
3. Tiger Woods’ triumphant return, The Masters 2019; April 14, 2019
It was nearly impossible not to root for Tiger Woods in 2019. After a decade of struggles, including four back surgeries and several personal dramas, Woods returned to glory at The Masters in 2019. An improbable win, Woods captured his 5th Green Jacket and 15th major title overall, trailing only Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list.
2. Chicago Cubs finally victorious, 2016 World Series; Nov. 2, 2016
The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was president, World War I hadn’t happened, and Babe Ruth was barely a teenager. But in 2016, Theo Epstein’s stellar roster, composed of both solid draft picks and acquisitions through free agency and trades, won the last three games of the World Series to break the curse and end their 108-year World Series drought.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers’ historic comeback, 2016 NBA Finals; June 19, 2016
LeBron James cried as he hugged teammate Kevin Love when the buzzer sounded. The 2016 NBA Finals concluded with LeBron the champion over the Golden State Warriors, who had the best regular-season record (73-9) in NBA history that year. LeBron carried his team (essentially, he *was* the team) throughout the season and certainly deserved the successful outcome, as this instance was the first time a team overcame a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals.
Unbelievable plays, moments and stories across many sports, professional and collegiate, marked a memorable decade in sports. Let’s hope the 2020s can bring just as much joy, wonder and surprise to sports fans across the country.