The 15 Biggest Blunders in Sports History

It happens all the time in the world of professional sports: one split-second decision costs the team the game, the season, the Super Bowl, or even a player’s career; in some cases, it can even cost someone their life. This mistake can manifest itself in the shape of anything: an unfortunate interception, an ill-advised trade-off, a dodgy landing, or someone literally dropping the ball. Whatever way, that split-second decision can land its doer an unwanted inclusion in the sports history books, as the fifteen blunders listed below have undoubtedly done.

15. The Band is Out on the Field!

We start with a blunder made not by a player, nor a coach, nor a referee, but by the accompanying marching band of a college football game. It was November 20th, 1982, and the Stanford University Cardinal had taken a 20-19 lead against the California Golden Bears, thanks to a successful field goal. With a measly four seconds left in the game, all hope was practically lost for the Golden Bears, and it certainly seemed so when, following a squib kick by Stanford, ball-possessing Golden Bears player Dwight Garner was tackled and swallowed up by five of Stanford’s team.

Believing that the game was over and that Stanford had won, all 144 members of the Stanford marching band rushed onto the south end zone of the field in celebration. In fact, Garner had managed to pitch the ball to Richard Rodgers, the ball eventually ending up in the hands of Kevin Moen, who was forced to charge through the scattering horde of field-invading band members, scoring a winning touchdown for the Golden Bears amidst the calamitous chaos and confusion, hilariously flattening a bewildered trombone player in the process. Much controversy followed the incident (two of the lateral passes may have been illegal), but one thing’s for sure: the California Golden Bears’ last-second 25-20 victory is of the most unforgettable moments in American sports history.

14. Corruption in South Korea

The Summer Olympics of 1988 were held in the megacity of Seoul, South Korea, the first Asian city to host the event since Tokyo in 1964. Representing the country on the light middleweight boxing front was Park Si-Hun, and facing him was America’s hopeful representative, then-amateur fighter Roy Jones, Jr. Their match went on for three rounds, each of which saw Si-Hun being mercilessly pummeled by his Stateside opponent, with the final evaluation showing that Si-Hun got in 32 punches, a measly count in comparison with Jones’ mighty 86. The judges, however, didn’t appear to have this information in front of them; the 3-2 decision was that Si-Hun was the rightful winner, leaving Jones feeling cheated and Si-Hun feeling humiliated – rumour has it that Si-Hun apologised to Jones following the judges’ decision.

There’s actually quite a backstory to this. Apparently, many South Koreans were sick and tired of their boxing representatives losing to American opponents because of American judges’ rulings. It was said that the decision at the 1988 Summer Olympics was a direct reaction to this, with rumours of bribery quickly spreading around, a possibility further solidified when a 1997 IOC investigation found that three of the judges were wined and dined by South Korean officials before the match. These three were suspended, but the IOC nevertheless still stands by the judges’ ruling; Jones never got his gold medal.

13. Premature Celebration

Showboating is rarely a good idea when you’re seconds away from scoring a record-breaking touchdown in any football game, let alone in a goddamn Super Bowl match – this is a lesson defensive tackle Leon Lett learned the hard way, thanks to this foolish error made on January 31st, 1993. It was Super Bowl XXVII, played between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills. Lett, playing for the Cowboys (who were rocking a 52-17 lead), recovered a fumble on Buffalo’s 45-yard line late in the fourth quarter and decided to run it back towards the end zone for a touchdown. If he were to succeed, the Cowboys would break the 55-point record for amount of points scored in a single game.

Confident that he would make it, Lett slowed down upon reaching the 10-yard line and heroically held the ball up for the crowd to see, completely unaware that Bills wide receiver Don Beebe was right behind him, chasing him down. Just as Lett was approaching the goal line, Beebe casually knocked the ball out of Lett’s outstretched hand, resulting in a touchback that cost Lett his prematurely celebrated touchdown. Regardless of the incident, the Cowboys went on to win the game, but an embarrassed Lett was left walking away with his tail between his legs.

12. You’re One Yard Short, Kid

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson thought he had scored a magnificent 61-yard touchdown on the night of September 15th, 2008, while playing against the Dallas Cowboys. In celebration of the touchdown, he sprinted to the end of the field and began to do a smug little dance for the crowd’s amusement, and his own. Trouble was, Jackson had actually thrown the ball down before crossing the goal line, in fact inexplicably throwing the ball behind him while still one yard from the line.

But that wasn’t the only error made during this incident: the nearest official wrongfully signalled that Jackson had scored a touchdown, and the nearest Cowboy, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, blindly assumed Jackson had indeed scored and thus failed to pick the ball up when Jackson stupidly dropped it on the field. Like Leon Lett’s aforementioned screw-up at the Super Bowl XXVII, Jackson’s boneheaded blunder didn’t lose his team the game, but left a previously celebratory Jackson feeling thoroughly embarrassed.

11. He’s Not on Your Team

The concluding minute of the 1982 NCAA basketball final between North Carolina and Georgetown was heart-pounding, much like the rest of the game. With the score sitting in Georgetown’s favour at 62-61, a timeout was called, following which a certain young freshman named Michael Jordan hit an 18-foot jumper from the left wing with only 17 seconds to go, earning Carolina a lead of 63-62. Georgetown, curiously deciding not to take a timeout, took possession of the ball and moved their way back down the court, hoping to score at least once more and thus winning the game before the buzzer sounded.

And then, in one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the history of American basketball, Georgetown guard Fred Brown passed the ball to Carolina’s James Worthy, apparently feeling the pressure of the moment and consequently mistaking one of his opponents for one of his own teammates. A dumbstruck Worthy attempted to go for a final throw for Carolina, but was fouled with only two seconds left on the timer. Following two failed free throws, Carolina won the game and thus the national title, but all that could have been different had Brown passed the ball to an actual teammate and not one of his goddamn opponents.

10. Wrong Way, Marshall

Notice footballer Jim “Wrong Way” Marshall’s oft repeated nickname, and that’s all you need to know to figure out exactly why he is on this list. It was October 25th, 1964, and Marshall was playing defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. During the fourth quarter, the Vikings were doing swell, in the lead with a score of 27-17. Following a dodgy pass by 49ers’ quarterback George Mira, Marhsall scooped up a fumble made by the 49ers’ Billy Kimble and ran with it for 66 yards.

He reached the end zone and, in gleeful celebration of his awesome touchdown, threw the ball in the air, causing it to land out of bounds. It wasn’t until the 49ers’ centre Bruce Bosley ran up to him and gave him an unexpected hug that Marshall realised what he’d done: he’d ran 66 yards in the wrong direction and had in fact scored a touchdown on his own team’s end zone; plus, his celebratory swing of the ball scored a safety for the 49ers. Soon after the incident, Marshall received a letter from Roy Riegels, infamous for a very similar wrong-way run performed in the 1929 Rose Bowl. The letter was short and sweet, simply stating, “Welcome to the club.”

9. The Curse of the Bambino

Here’s one for the superstitious of you out there. In 1918, Harry Frazee, then owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold star player Babe “The Bambino” Ruth to the New York Yankees, the sale completed on January 3rd, 1920. Before the sale, the Red Sox were one of the most successful professional sports franchises playing in North America, having won the first World Series and winning four further series titles thereafter. After the selling of Bambino, this was no longer the case: the Red Sox went over eight decades without a single World Series title to their name, while the previously lacklustre Yankees, with the beloved Bambino on their team, promptly became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports.

Thus, it was said that a curse on the Red Sox had been born with the selling of Bambino, which was apparently completed so that Frazee could pay the mortgage on Fenway Park. Some spoke of the curse in a tongue-in-cheek manner; others did not. The Bambino Curse supposedly ended after 86 years of fan frustration in 2004, when, having beaten the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals at the 2004 World Series, finally gaining the title after a near-nine decade hiatus. Perhaps they’d have done so a lot sooner had Bambino not been sold…

8. No Timeouts Left

Before being indicted by a federal grand jury and stripped of his All-American honours by the NCAA for his direct involvement in the Ed Martin scandal, previously celebrated basketball player Chris Webber was well known for one blunder made in the last 11 seconds of a NCAA championship final. It was April 5th, 1993, and Webber was playing forward for the Michigan Wolverine’s against North Carolina, who, during the concluding minute, had a 73-71 lead.

Following a ghastly example of travelling that went completely unnoticed by the referee, Webber was given a miraculous second chance and found himself double-teamed by North Carolina by Michigan’s bench. In response, he signalled for a timeout. Little did he know that all of his team’s timeouts had been used up, resulting in a technical foul against him that effectively clinched the game for North Carolina, who won with a 77-71 victory after two successful free throws. This marked the end of Webber’s acclaimed two-year collegiate basketball career and was the last time he was seen in a Wolverine uniform.

7. Showboating while Snowboarding

Here’s another example of why showboating is nary a good idea when seconds away from gaining the big prize. The 2006 Winter Olympics were held in Turin, Italy, from February 10th to February 26th. Day 8 of the momentous event saw the women’s snowboard cross, and representing the United States was 20-year-old Lindsey Jacobellis. America got off to a great start and, while approaching the end of the course, Jacobellis had a 43-metre, three-second lead over Switzerland’s representative, Tanja Frieden.

But, on the second-to-last jump, a confident Jacobellis decided to show off to the crowd by performing a method grab while travelling through the air. Unfortunately, she then landed on the side of her board, lost her balance and fell on her back. Frieden swiftly glided past her and was promptly awarded the gold medal, leaving Jacobellis to sheepishly skid down to the finishing line behind her to win the silver. In subsequent interviews, Jacobellis claimed that the move was simply an attempt at maintaining stability. Later, however, she admitted that it was completely unnecessary and stated, “Snowboarding is fun; I was having fun.”

6. You Missed, Anderson!

Minnesota Vikings placekicker Gary Anderson hadn’t missed a field goal for almost two whole years. Having kicked 420 in his 16-year career, he was not only the person with more field goals than any kicker in NFL history, but also the only kicker to go an entire season without a single miss. So, when Anderson was up for a field goal to secure the Vikings’ trip to the Super Bowl, Vikings fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief. And then gasped in horror.

It was during the 1998 season, and the Vikings had a 27-20 lead against the Atlanta Falcons with under five minutes left to play. The Vikings could have easily run the clock and happily headed off to the Super Bowl. Instead, they attempted another touchdown, which ended with the need for a 38-yard field goal, which, if successful, would put them ahead by a nigh-unbeatable 10 points. Out came Anderson, the man with the perfect season, who lined up, took his routine drop, kicked the ball towards the goalpost… and missed by six inches. Whoops. Atlanta then tied with the Vikings with a touchdown, took the game into overtime and they too were given a 38-yard field kick, which Morten Andersen did not miss. The Atlanta Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year; the Minnesota Vikings stayed home.

5. Sam Bowie?!

This is inarguably the single biggest drafts blunder in the history of the NBA. It was the 1984 annual draft, and The Houston Rockets had won the coin toss for first pick: they chose Hakeem Olajuwon. The Portland Trail Blazers got second pick, and their decision was split between two college players: Sam Bowie, whose college career had been riddled with injuries, or Michael friggin’ Jordan, who of course needs no introduction. And, in a decision that completely changed the face of basketball history, the Portland Trail Blazers decided not to go for Michael Jordan, instead picking Sam Bowie. D’oh.

Bowie’s NBA career was, at best, lacklustre and expectedly riddled with injuries, awarding him the status of the biggest bust in NBA history. Jordan, meanwhile, was picked by the Chicago Bulls and went on to become an international phenomenon, now widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Of course, the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t have a crystal ball in their possession and consequently there was no way for them to have predicted Jordan’s godlike fame, but that still doesn’t make their decision back in ’84 any less of a screw-up.

4. The Steve Bartman Incident

The case of Steve Bartman is the only blunder on this list to have been inflicted by an innocent spectator, although some will argue against his innocence. On October 14th, 2003, Bartman was a 26-year-old global human resources company worker from Chicago, Illinois, who went to Wrigley Stadium to watch a baseball playoff between the Florida Marlins and his team, the Chicago Cubs. In the eighth inning, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead in a 3-2 best of seven series, and they seemed set to break their 58-year hiatus from reaching the World Series.

The Marlins’ second baseman Luis Castillo is at the bat and sends a foul ball into the sky. The Cubs’ outfielder Moisés Alou runs to try and catch the ball; if he succeeds, the Cubs will be four outs from reaching the World Series. Alou leaps into the air, stretches out his hand and is about to catch the ball when it is deflected by a spectator sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 11. This spectator was Bartman, whose failed attempt at catching the foul ball effectively cost the Cubs the game, and consequently their chance at getting to the World Series that year. After being pelted with bottles and debris, Bartman was escorted from the stadium and placed into police protection once his name and home address were posted on internet message boards by angry fans. Bartman later apologised for the incident (he claimed he didn’t see Alou trying to catch the ball in front of him) and has since disappeared from the public eye, even declining a six-figure offer to appear in a Super Bowl commercial.

3. The 18th Hole, Hardest of them All

French golfer Jean van de Velde could have made history at the 1999 Open Championship held in Carnoustie, Scotland, by becoming the first Frenchman to win the championship since 1907. At the closing holes, he was the clear leader and was damn near close to achieving an upset victory. So, the infamous events that transpired at the concluding 18th hole were an absolute disaster for the Frenchman, albeit a rather hilarious one.

Van de Velde could have double bogeyed the final hole, which he birdied in a prior round, and still walked away a champion. Things immediately got off to a bad start: Van de Velde used a driver on the tee and was lucky to find land, the ball very nearly falling into the watery depths of the Barry Burn. Shot two saw the ball landing in the heavy rough. Shot three saw the ball sent straight into the Barry Burn, forcing Van de Velde to slip off his socks and shoes and gingerly step into the knee-deep water to reclaim the ball. Van de Velde decided to take a drop, following which he hit the ball into a greenside bunker and finally putted it into the hole for a triple-bogey seven. Van de Velde was thus sent into a three-way playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard, which he sadly lost.

2. Between the Legs

This is probably the most infamous blunder in American baseball history, nay sports history, and it’s all on one man: Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, who, during Game Six of the 1986 World Series, clumsily let Mookie Wilson’s ground ball roll between his legs, allowing the New York Met’s Ray Knight to score the winning run and effectively snatching away the Red Sox’s chances at winning their first World Series in 68 years. The New York Mets went on to win Game Seven, a game which would have never happened had it not been for Buckner’s gaffe, and thus claimed the 1986 World Series all for themselves. Buckner later claimed to have had bad ankles during play, but some cited the aforementioned Bambino Curse as the cause of the error.

Buckner was mercilessly ridiculed by furious Red Sox fans and the media for years following the gaffe (he even received death threats in the mail), but, after the Red Sox supposedly broke the Bambino Curse in 2004, Buckner was publicly forgiven and invited back by his former team. He threw out the first pitch at their home opener as they unfurled their 2007 World Series championship banner. Buckner also parodied himself in a 2011 episode of HBO comedy show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the end of which saw Buckner heroically catching a baby thrown from a burning building. Go Buckner!

1. A Fatal Own Goal

During the 1994 FIFA World Cup match between Colombia and the United States, one of Colombia’s defenders, Andrés Escobar, accidentally scored an own goal when the ball spiralled off his leg. The end result of the match was a 2-1 win for the United States, which apparently lost many gambling syndicates a ton of money. Escobar promptly returned to Colombia, where, on the evening of July 2nd, 1994, 10 days after the match, he was sitting in his car alone in the parking lot of a bar.

Escobar was approached in this parking lot by Humberto Muñoz Castro, a bodyguard, and the conversation became very heated. Castro pulled out a handgun and shot Escobar twelve times, marking each shot by shouting the word, “Goal!” Escobar was escorted to hospital and pronounced dead 45 minutes after arrival. Castro confessed to the murder and was sentenced to 43 years in prison, although good behaviour saw him being released after just 11 years. Specific details on Castro’s motives are unclear (some say he was connected to a powerful drug cartel who lost money because of Escobar’s own goal), but one thing is for certain: it was punishment for Escobar’s blunder at the World Cup 10 days previously. Most of the inclusions on this list cost a team a game or a championship, or a player their reputation; Escobar’s mistake cost him his life.

By Stephen Watson

Comments

  1. Ooh, wait, I’ve got another one! Rangers 30, Orioles 3, on August 22, 2007. Why it was utbdericnaple:1. It was a come-from-behind win. The Orioles led 3-0 after three innings, only to be outscored 30-0 over the final 6.2. The Rangers’ 8- and 9-hitters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez, both went 4-for-6 with a walk, with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs. The only difference in their batting lines is that Saltalamacchia came around to score all five times he was on base, while Vazquez only crossed the plate four times.3. Texas reliever Wes Littleton earned his first career save in this game. I repeat, Wes Littleton earned his first career save in a game his team won 30-3. The rules allow a pitcher to pick up a save regardless of the score if he pitches three innings of effective relief (a subjective criterion), and Littleton pitched three scoreless innings, retiring the O’s in order in both the 7th and the 9th, in relief of starter Kason Gabbard.4. The Rangers were held scoreless in five of the nine innings in which they batted and scored at least 5 runs in each of the other four.5. Littleton entered the game to start the bottom of the seventh. The Rangers scored more runs after this point (16) than they did before (14).6. The Rangers had 10 hits in the 9-run 6th alone. In the previous two games, they only had a total of 7 hits.7. The two teams then had to go right back out there and play another game, as the 30-3 mashing was Game 1 of a doubleheader. The Rangers needed only a modest 7 runs in Game 2 to set a new record for runs scored in a doubleheader, and trailing 7-6 in the eighth inning, they picked up three runs and a 9-7 win, breaking the old record by 3.

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