Pranking is a time-honored and often welcomed part of sports. Whether it be fans of rival teams or teammates having a laugh at each other’s expense, pranks help us remember that sports, at the end of the day, are a game. And while some pranks run the risk of going too far, some hit that sweet spot between hilarity and mischief so well that they become just as much a part of sports lore as the games themselves.
Here are five sports pranks which stand the test of time.
MIT stole the show at Harvard-Yale football game during 1982 season
Who would have known that MIT would make everyone forget about Harvard and Yale when the two Ivy League rivals met on the football field on November 20, 1982. Attention shifted from the action on the field to the sideline when a black balloon started to grow near the sideline. After it became apparent that the balloon had MIT scribbled all over it, the balloon popped. CBS’s Brent Musberger even mistakenly reported that a bomb had floated onto the field and exploded.
The really admirable thing about the MIT prank is that it took five years to come into fruition. Originally conceived in 1978, the original creators of the electrical device that would cause the balloon to inflate graduated before getting the opportunity to plant it on the field. The project was then uncovered by future MIT students who made sure that the prank was seen through to the very end.
Huskies Fans unwittingly cheered for Caltech at 1960 Rose Bowl
You know a prank is good when it gets its own name. In this case, Caltech’s trolling of the 1960 Rose Bowl is known as “The Great Rose Bowl Hoax.” Caltech students handed out signs to Huskies fans at the game between Washington and Minnesota, promising them that the collective signs would spell out “Go Huskies” when they lifted them simultaneously.
Of course, when the attendees did raise their signs, people all over the nation were perplexed as the signs actually said “Caltech”, a school which not only had nothing to do with the Rose Bowl, but a school which had no football team.
The Lakers set up rookie Tony Bobbitt with Lucy Liu
Rookie hazing is an incredibly common aspect of pro sports. However, sometimes a guy is just asking to be pranked, rookie-status or not.
During the 2004-05 season, Lucy Liu attended a Lakers game at Staples Center and rookie Tony Bobbitt was telling anyone who would listen that Liu was staring at him the whole game. The Lakers veterans immediately sprung into action. They had a ball boy bring Bobbitt a piece of paper with a phone number on it, and they told him to tell Bobbitt that the number was Liu’s.
The phone number actually belonged to Lakers center Vlade Divac.
Divac got an employee to pose as Liu for his phone’s voicemail and the team would message Bobbitt as the actress.
Eventually, Tony got a date with “Lucy Liu”, only to show up at the restaurant to find his teammates waiting for him instead.
Jeff Francoeur thought that his non-deaf teammate was deaf for weeks
In April, Jeff Francoeur found himself playing for the Padres Triple-A team, the El Paso Chihuahuas. The team decided to have a bit of fun at Francoeur’s expense as they had Jorge Reyes stay completely still at practice while all the other players shouted “heads up.” Francoeur was then convinced by players and managers that Reyes was deaf and had gone through his entire life without saying anything.
Reyes’ wife even got in on the fun, telling Francoeur that she communicated with her husband through gestures and texts.
This went on for a good month before the team finally stopped the charade and showed Jeff a video of what was going on behind the scenes. His reaction is priceless.
Stanford trolled Cal fans by creating a fake Cal newspaper which stated that “The Play” was overturned
“The Play” is widely remembered as one of the greatest plays in college football history. The improbable last second touchdown by Cal stunned Stanford students but it didn’t take Stanford Daily’s staff long to think of a great comeback. That very week, the newspaper created a fake Daily Californian which stated that the NCAA had overturned the last touchdown of the game. Stanford students then travelled to Berkeley and posed as Cal students in order to pass out the fake Daily Cal paper.
The Stanford paper even went as far as to fabricate a photograph of one of the referees calling the play dead amidst Stanford’s band, which had run onto the field while the play was in progress. While some Cal students caught on quickly, others were tricked into believing Stanford’s fake story.
“The Play” is an all-time great sports moment but Stanford’s prank following the game definitely helps enrich its legacy.