The invention of high-definition television and also slow-motion replays have made pausing sports moments an obsolete notion in the 21st century. With that said, video services such as YouTube give us the ability to go back and pause incidents that bewildered our eyes and imaginations and left us scratching our heads. Did that wide receiver make that amazing catch? Who would bite an opponent during a boxing match? How did a referee miss the fact that somebody scored a goal using his hand? These are the types of questions that lead us to pause and review certain sports moments.
Throughout the decades, cameras have unfortunately recorded horrific sports injuries, such as those suffered by former quarterback Joe Theismann and Anderson Silva. But this list only focuses on memories that won’t make any visitors squeamish — well unless you had some money on the particular sporting event and the outcome didn’t go your way. Like life, a competition, league or championship game can be turned on its head in the blink of an eye, and it’s these types of blinks that have led viewers and fans to pause and, in some cases, reflect upon what they just witnessed.
Diego Maradona’s infamous goal at the 1986 World Cup never should’ve counted
Decades before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi competed for the right to be known as the greatest footballer on the planet, Diego Maradona wowed supporters with his attacking flair and dribbling abilities. He was at the height of his powers during the 1986 World Cup, when he captained Argentina and scored what has been referred to as the "Goal of the Century." Before that, "The Golden Boy" tallied one of the most controversial goals ever scored, one that would never stand in a world where video assistant referee is available to officials on the pitch.
During the quarterfinal between Argentina and England, Maradona left his feet to attempt to head the ball past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. It was his raised left hand that made contact with the ball, however, but the referee missed the foul and allowed the goal to stand. Argentina went on to win the match and, ultimately, the tournament via a 3-2 victory over West Germany in the Final. Fittingly, Maradona won the Golden Ball trophy awarded to the competition’s top performer.
David Tyree used his head for a pivotal catch in Super Bowl XLII
A history-making moment occurring at Super Bowl XLII was in the cards before the New York Giants and New England Patriots took the field that fateful evening. The Giants had notched a trio of road postseason victories, including one versus Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, and the Patriots entered the night with an 18-0 record. New England held a 14-10 advantage with 1:15 left to play when New York quarterback Eli Manning dropped back to pass facing a third-and-five situation.
Manning managed to remain on his feet as New England’s Adalius Thomas attempted to pull him to the ground, and the Big Blue signal-caller then tossed a prayer of a pass down the field for wide receiver David Tyree. Tyree rose off the ground at the New England 24-yard-line, caught the throw and then secured the ball using the right side of his helmet as Patriots defender Rodney Harrison hung on Tyree’s arm. Several plays later, Manning connected with Plaxico Burress for the game-winning touchdown in the corner of the end zone, a moment that ended New England’s run toward a perfect 19-0 record and cemented both Manning and Tyree as Giants legends.
Ali’s alleged "phantom punch" had some thinking the fix was in
In May 2015, The Guardian wrote how the alleged "phantom punch" Muhammad Ali delivered to Sonny Liston in 1965 had us "scratching our heads 50 years on." Just one minute and 44 seconds into the heavyweight championship fight between the two, Ali dodged a Liston jab and then threw a straight right that connected with his opponent’s jaw. Ali genuinely seemed shocked as Liston crumpled to the floor, as "The Greatest" attempted to hit a left hook as the former champion went down.
Even before the referee completed his ten count, some in the arena cried out that the bout had been fixed. Days, months, and years later, skeptics, journalists, and fans paused the pivotal moment of the contest to see if Ali had, in fact, made contact with the knockout blow. Zoomed-in footage showed that Ali nailed Liston with a crushing shot before standing over the fallen challenger to create what some have referred to as the greatest picture in sports history. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out, Liston was lunging forward at the wrong time, which made Ali’s punch all that more powerful. Nevertheless, some remain convinced that Liston took a dive to earn a massive payday.
Santonio Holmes made an all-time great Super Bowl catch
The Arizona Cardinals rallied from behind to take a 23-20 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers with under 2:40 to play in Super Bowl XLIII. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, already a one-time champion as of the start of the subsequent drive, got to work. Big Ben took the Steelers inside the Arizona five-yard line with 52 seconds remaining, and he dropped back to pass facing second-and-goal with a title-winning score on his mind.
As the protection in front of Roethlisberger provided him with ample time to scan the field, the signal-caller spotted wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the right corner of the end zone. Holmes got behind three Arizona defenders, stretched out as far as his body would allow, caught the pass and then tapped both feet inside of the end zone before Cardinals defensive back Aaron Francisco could force Holmes out of play. The touchdown stood after review, Pittsburgh went on to win the title, and Holmes was named Most Valuable Player for his efforts. That victory made the Steelers the first franchise to win six Super Bowl championships, a feat matched by the New England Patriots in February 2019.
Mike Tyson once tried to get away with snacking on Evander Holyfield’s ear
At the start of the 1990s, Mike Tyson was the baddest man on the planet, the heavyweight champion of the world who could knock opponents out with a single uppercut or hook. By June 1997, however, the former "Dynamite Kid" was a shell of his former self who couldn’t hang with elite heavyweights such as Evander Holyfield. That month, "The Real Deal" met Tyson in a rematch of a 1996 bout that Holyfield won via stoppage, a result that surprised many who followed and covered the fight game. Little did those individuals know what they’d see when the combatants faced off a second time.
Early into the June 1997 fight, Tyson complained he had been headbutted by Holyfield. Tyson then responded by chomping on Holyfield multiple times and even taking a piece of Holyfield’s ear. Viewers paused the moment in question because they couldn’t at first tell what Tyson had done, but replays showed Tyson’s crime. Perhaps the most shocking thing to occur inside of the ring was Holyfield’s restraint. Any handful of boxers would’ve either kicked Tyson or otherwise retaliated. Referee Mills Lane disqualified Tyson, and any invincible aura that once surrounded the former champion disappeared for good.
The Packers, Seahawks, and replacement refs gave us the ‘Fail Mary’ in 2012
In September 2012, NFL referees were engaged in a labor dispute with the league, and replacement officials were on the field when the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Green Bay Packers for an edition of Monday Night Football. Green Bay held a 12-7 lead with eight seconds remaining when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back from the Packers 24-yard line for what would be the last play from scrimmage. Wilson rolled away from pressure, planted his feet and tossed a lob toward the left corner of the end zone.
Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay defensive player M.D. Jennings both came down with the ball, and the refs on the field ruled the play a touchdown. Upon review, fans who paused multiple moments of the play saw Tate was guilty of offensive pass interference that went uncalled, but also that there was no way anybody examining the incident could overturn the touchdown call. Seattle’s score stood and the hosts won to the despair of Green Bay fans spread throughout the country.
The referee lockout ended days later, and Mike Garafolo of USA Today celebrated with the line: "The NFL’s long nationally-televised nightmare is over."
Did Babe Ruth call his shot during the 1932 World Series?
Did he or didn’t he? It’s a question that may never be answered by baseball fans and historians capable of pausing the moment that Babe Ruth pointed or gestured toward somebody during the 1932 World Series. As the National Baseball Hall of Fame explains, the New York Yankees icon made his way to the plate in the top of the fifth inning of Game 3 of the Fall Classic to face Chicago Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. "The Babe" heard jeers coming from the Cubs dugout, and he responded by pointing two fingers in the direction of center field. Ruth then hit his second homer of the game, seemingly delivering on a promise in the process.
Ever the showman, Ruth later claimed that he called his shot. Doubters said that he was merely showing that two strikes had been called during his at-bat and that he had one remaining. The adage teaches that when the legend becomes fact, print the legend, and Ruth’s alleged prognostication became part of baseball history. It has even been spoofed in media, such as at the end of the cult classic movie Major League.
Usain Bolt created a meme during the 2016 Olympics
One could argue that Usain Bolt embraced his role as entertainer and showman unlike any sprinter before him when he was known as the fastest man on the planet. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Bolt competed in what should have been a routine 100-meter semifinal race. Unsurprisingly, Bolt crossed the finish line first, but he made headlines when he turned toward a camera and flashed his famous smile mid-sprint. Per CNN, Bolt’s pearly whites went viral, as viewers found themselves reacting to the moment via Twitter nearly as quickly as it took for the Jamaican speedster to run the 100 meters.
As explained by the BBC, Bolt went on to make history as the first athlete to win Olympic gold in the event a third time. That August, The Guardian touched upon how Bolt’s smiling face became "the defining image of Rio 2016," adding the paused moment "likened to a smug Roadrunner taunting a hapless Wile E Coyote." As Sky Sports reported, Bolt declared in January 2019 his sports life was over after he enjoyed a cup of coffee with Australian soccer club Central Coast Mariners. We wish Bolt would’ve tried to make it in Major League Soccer. MLS certainly could use the publicity.
The ‘Tuck Rule’ will forever irk fans of the Raiders
Years before the "Deflategate" scandal and well before Tom Brady won six championships with the New England Patriots, he became a villain in the eyes of Oakland Raiders fans following a controversial call late in a 2002 playoff game. The Raiders held a 13-10 lead with under two minutes remaining at snow-covered Foxboro Stadium when Brady dropped back to pass needing yardage to get into field-goal range. Oakland defensive pass Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand, and the Raiders recovered the fumble to seemingly secure the win.
After a video review, however, the referee reversed the call and ruled the play dead via an incomplete pass. Many viewers watching were stunned since a glimpse at a paused moment of the play showed Brady had stopped his throwing motion and appeared to be tucking the ball back toward his body when Woodson knocked it to the ground. New England nevertheless retained possession, kicker Adam Vinatieri tied the game with a 45-yard field goal, and Vinatieri then booted a walk-off field goal in overtime. The Patriots went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship and then beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Brett Hull had to defend his Stanley Cup-winning goal even in retirement
Regardless of when you are reading this sentence, there are probably still some Buffalo Sabres fans who would tell you the 1999 Stanley Cup Final hasn’t officially ended. With 5:10 to play in the third overtime of Game 6 of the championship series, Dallas Stars forward Brett Hull appeared to score the title-clinching goal for the visitors. As Hull celebrated with teammates, replays confirmed that one of his skates was inside of the opposing crease as he deposited the puck past the line, a violation of an NHL rule. Officials determined Hull never lost full possession of the puck, however, so his tally stood.
According to the New York Times, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sided with the referees after the game. "It was a non-issue. Everyone understands it was the right call," Bettman said. In June 2019, The Buffalo News explained how some conspiracy theorists believed the NHL didn’t want to remove the goal from the scoreboard after Dallas players stormed the ice to celebrate winning the Cup. Meanwhile, the "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcast explained why it was a "perfectly legal goal."
As of the start of the 2019-20 NHL season, the Sabres still had never won the Cup a single time.
Jeffrey Maier became a New York celebrity in 1996
The New York Yankees were trailing division rivals the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series when a 12-year-old boy stepped in to save the day. New York shortstop Derek Jeter hit a deep drive to right field, and Jeffrey Maier attempted to catch what he and those sitting around him believed was a game-tying home run. Replays showed Maier had interfered with the play by sticking his glove over the wall and into play, though, so Jeter should have been ruled out.
Unlike in the modern Major Leagues, in 1996, the umpires on the field weren’t afforded the luxury of replay review, and they believed Maier was not in the wrong. The Yankees won the game in extra innings and went on to win the club’s first World Series since 1981, and Maier became a hero among Yankees fans and many within the New York media. In April 2014, Maier penned a piece for Bleacher Report and explained how that famous bobble and the celebrity lifestyle that came with it changed his life forever. "There have been ups and downs along the way, but that day in 1996 helped shape who I am today—so I will never look back on it with any regrets," he wrote.
Chicago Cubs fans were eventually able to forgive Steve Bartman
All Steve Bartman wanted to do in October 2003 was hopefully watch his beloved Chicago Cubs defeat the Florida Marlins in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series and maybe catch a foul ball. His moment to retrieve a souvenir came in the top of the eighth inning when Florida’s Luis Castillo hit a ball down the third-base line. Bartman interfered with Chicago outfielder Moises Alou while attempting to catch the ball, but umpires determined the fan did not reach over the wall and interfere with the play. Castillo’s at-bat continued, the Marlins scored eight runs in the top of the frame and Florida won the game, the series, and that year’s Fall Classic.
Bartman became a hated figure among devastated Cubs fans, but many finally forgave him after Chicago won the franchise’s first World Series since 1908 in the fall of 2016. According to USA Today, Bartman released a statement after Chicago’s victory over the Cleveland Indians in November 2016, explaining that he was "overjoyed" his favorite team had won the championship, but also that he was not going to attend the club’s celebratory parade.
In July 2017, WGN reported the Cubs awarded Bartman with a World Series ring.
Mike Jones kept Kevin Dyson out of the end zone on the last play of Super Bowl XXXIV
One has to wonder how many times fans of the Tennessee Titans have paused the Super Bowl XXXIV highlight with three seconds remaining in the game over the years. The Titans trailed the St. Louis Rams 23-16 when Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair dropped back from the opposing 10-yard line. McNair connected with Kevin Dyson over the middle at the five-yard line, and Dyson carried the ball to the three before linebacker Mike Jones brought him down. Dyson attempted to stretch the ball toward the goal line, but he came up a yard shy of the painted portion of the field.
Unlike many of the other moments spotlighted in this piece, there was no need for review here, nor was there any controversy with the call made on the field. If anything, some wondered why McNair didn’t throw the ball closer to the end zone. They failed to account for the handful of St. Louis defensive players in the end zone.
Jones made one of the greatest tackles in football history, and the Rams won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. The Titans, meanwhile, never returned to the Big Game through the completion of the 2018-19 season.