Many of sports’ most iconic moments are remembered for the wrong reasons: an errant play, a bad decision, skullduggery or out-and-out cheating.
Here are 10 of the more memorable moments in sports history that didn’t quite make Sports Illustrated’s 100 Greatest Moments, perhaps for the simple reason that a game or series was lost rather than won or that the victory was tainted.
1912 World Series: Game 8
It can be said the 1912 Fall Classic between the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants did for baseball what the 1958 Colts-Giants overtime championship game and Super Bowl III would do for pro football: bring a higher level of excitement and drama to a sport’s premier event. Four games were decided by one run, another by two runs and Game Two ended in a tie—hence the need for a Game 8.
In Game 8, the Giants scored in the top of the 10th inning for a 2-1 lead, and Christy Mathewson was on the mound. But what should have been a sure thing began to unravel when center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a routine fly ball, allowing Clyde Engle to reach second base. Snodgrass redeemed himself with a spectacular catch off the bat of Harry Hooper as Engle advanced to third. After Steve Yerkes walked, the Giants let Tris Speaker’s foul pop drop for what should have been the second out. Speaker then singled home Engle with the tying run, and Yerkes eventually scored the Series winner on Larry Gardner’s long sacrifice fly.
The 1913 Spalding's Official Baseball Guide said of the 1912 World Series: "No individual, whether player, manager, owner, critic or spectator, who went through the World Series of 1912 ever will forget it. There never was another like it.”
But Snodgrass’ “$30,000 muff”—the financial difference between the winning and losing shares—is what history remembers.
1986 World Series: Game 6
74 years later, the Red Sox were involved in another dramatic World Series with a National League team from New York, this time the Mets. The New Yorkers prevailed in seven games but, as in 1912, it was a miscue that now keeps the Series alive in the memory of baseball fans.
Boston was ahead 3-2 in games and led 5-3 heading into the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6. After the first two Mets were retired the Red Sox’s first World Series title since 1918 was all but won. But it wasn’t. Three straight hits brought the Mets within 5-4. Bob Stanley’s wild pitch scored the tying run and advanced Ray Knight to second. Mookie Wilson, who had battled Stanley through nine previous pitches, then grounded the 10th pitch near the first base line. When the ball squirted under first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove, Knight came around from second to score and the Mets, improbably, had won 6-5, setting up their championship clincher in Game Seven.
A terrific series, yes. However, Buckner’s error is what fans remember.
1988 Olympic Games: Ben Johnson’s shame
The 1988 Seoul Olympics featured spectacular performances by the sister-in-law tandem of Florence Griffith Joyner in the sprints and Jackie Joyner Kersee in the long jump and heptathlon where she set a world record of 7,291 points that hasn’t been threatened in nearly three decades.
But Seoul is best remembered for the drug disqualification of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. Three days after running a world record 9.79 in the 100 meters, Johnson tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol. The gold medal was awarded to Carl Lewis of the U.S., Johnson’s bitter rival. Johnson never again won a major international race and was banned a second time for steroid use in 1993, this time for life.
1972 Munich Olympics basketball final
The most memorable game in Olympic basketball history still ignites debate more than 40 years later. Did the Soviet Union score an improbable 51-50 victory over the United States on a court-length pass and layup by Alexander Belov? Or was the game stolen by incompetent officials who gave the Soviets three different chances to inbound the ball with three seconds to play?
Despite vocal and vehement protests from the U.S., the Soviet victory stood, and the Americans had suffered their first defeat in Olympic basketball. The U.S. team never accepted their silver medals.
1919 World Series: Black Sox scandal
Sometimes cheating and chicanery are done not to gain an advantage but to lose. A lot of things seemed fishy when the heavily favored Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds five games to three in a best-of-nine Fall Classic. A year later the truth came out: eight Sox players were implicated for conniving with gamblers to throw the Series.
The promised payments to the players never materialized, and new Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that all eight, including star outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life. History has named that 1919 team the Black Sox.
1950-51 City College of New York: From heroes to dupes
The City College Beavers of 1950 are the only school to win college basketball’s NCAA and NIT championships in the same year. Players such as All-American forward Irwin Dambrot were nearly as popular with New York sports fans as the Yankees.
However, less than a year after the double triumph, it was learned that many of the CCNY players had accepted money from gamblers, not to lose but to shave points to keep games within a specific point spread. The players were banished, CCNY was banned from playing at Madison Square Garden and Beavers basketball was deemphasized. Today CCNY is a Division III program.
Few individual U.S. athletes have been as honored as cyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Sure, there were accusations of drug use but Armstrong dismissed such talk as whining from sore losers. He often threatened his accusers with expensive court actions.
After a lengthy investigation, however, the United States Anti-Doping Agency ruled that Armstrong was a serial drug user and called him the leader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful drug program that sport has ever seen.”
The disgraced Armstrong had his Tour de France records erased and received a lifetime ban from the sport he had helped raised to the main stage of U.S. athletics.
Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds
It was all great fun in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa attacked Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. Both players flew past Maris’ mark with McGwire belting an improbable No. 70 on the season’s final day. Three years later Barry Bonds, a superior all-around ballplayer to McGwire and Sosa, rewrote the record again by smacking 73 home runs.
Alas, it was too good to be true. McGwire admitted to using anabolic steroids (not forbidden at the time) to beef up and stay healthy. Skeptics suspected Bonds also used steroids, noting that his weight soared from a lithe 185 in 1991 to nearly 230 pounds in 2001. Bonds, however, attributed his late-career surge in size and power to an improved workout regime. He said any steroid use was by accident or without knowing what his trainers were giving him.
Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood wide right
The silver anniversary Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills was one of the best championship games in any sport, yet is best remembered for a final unsuccessful play. The game featured four lead changes as the Giants played keep-away, holding the ball for more than 40 minutes. They led 20-19 entering the final minutes.
A desperate Buffalo drive moved the ball to the Giants 30 where kicker Scott Norwood lined up a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left. The kick sailed wide right by inches, giving the Bills their first, and most painful, of four consecutive Super Bowl defeats.
2003 NLCS Game Six: The Bartman game
How typical of the Chicago Cubs, a team that hasn’t appeared in a World Series since 1945 and hasn’t won a championship since 1908, that one of the franchise’s signature plays didn’t involve a player but a fan.
In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, with the Cubs leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 and only five outs from the National League pennant, Luis Castillo lifted a foul fly down the left field line. Left fielder Moises Alou was in position to catch what would have been the second out but fan Steve Bartman, his head practically hidden by headphones and a Cubs hat, reached atop the brick wall and deflected the ball into the stands.
Castillo walked on the next pitch. After a single drew the Marlins within 3-1, Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a potential double-play grounder. The floodgates were open, and Florida rallied for an unlikely 8-3 win. One night later the Marlins won Game Seven 9-6 and captured the National League pennant. The Cubs also had been ahead in Game Seven but once the series ended all that most fans could remember was the Bartman play.