One of the great privileges of being a sports fan is witnessing history in the making. Every year, the top athletes in the world break records, perform astonishing feats, and earn hard-fought victories—and generate excitement that keeps us coming back for more, season after season.
Some of these achievements are so extraordinary that people talk about them literally decades after the fact, and the players responsible for these feats become permanent benchmarks that other athletes are compared against. Even today, players like Babe Ruth, Bill Russell, Jim Thorpe, and Maurice "Rocket" Richard still have legendary status, even though the sports they mastered have changed significantly since their glory days. People remember high achievers.
Let’s explore some of the big events in sports—the highlights that made history—and reveal some information about them that you may not have heard.
People still aren’t totally sure what really happened during one of the most famous plays in NFL history. We know that with 22 seconds remaining in the 1972 AFC divisional playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, Terry Bradshaw threw a pass toward running back John Fuqua. Moments later, Franco Harris somehow wound up carrying the ball into the endzone for a game-winning touchdown. It's what occurred in the seconds between those two events that people keep arguing about.
As the ball sailed toward Fuqua, he collided with the Raiders' Jack Tatum. The ball deflected off one of them. According to the rule of the time (which was rescinded in 1978), if the ball hit Fuqua, then no other Steelers player could legally catch the ball—but that rule wouldn’t apply if the ball actually hit Tatum. The controversy about who came into contact with the ball persists to this day.
The deflected ball flipped through the air. Several Raiders players visibly relaxed, certain that the play was over (and there’s probably a lesson to be learned there), but the ball was caught at shoelace level by Harris, who promptly transported the ball to the endzone behind the backs of several prematurely celebrating Raiders. This is another area of controversy, as some people contend that Harris illegally trapped the ball against the ground. Unfortunately, there is no camera angle that shows the entirety of the ball as Harris caught it.
NFL officials argued about the play for fifteen minutes before ruling that Harris' touchdown would stand. Everybody else has been arguing about it ever since. Most people, however, seem to think that the ball hit Tatum.
The Immaculate Reception gave the Steelers their first playoff win in team history.
Pete Rose remains a highly divisive figure in the sports world, but you can’t discount his performance on the field. His 4,256 career hits remains an MLB record. On September 11, 1985, "Charlie Hustle" surpassed Ty Cobb's record of 4,191 hits with a single to left-center field off Eric Show of the San Diego Padres.
The big moment was witnessed by a crowd of 47,237 ticket buyers in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. They gave Rose a seven-minute standing ovation while a Goodyear blimp passed overhead bearing the message “Pete Rose, 4,192.” After the game, Rose received an on-the-field congratulatory phone call from President Reagan.
An odd controversy continues to circle Rose’s big achievement on this day. Baseball statisticians have discovered that Ty Cobb probably had only 4,189 career hits, as the official records for years had accidentally double-counted a game from 1910. If so, Rose actually became the all-time hits leader a little earlier, in a September 8th game against the Chicago Cubs.
March 2, 1962, was the date when Wilt Chamberlain pulled off the most amazing single-game performance in NBA history. A crowd of only 4,124 at the Hershey Sports Arena (which had an 8000+ capacity) saw Wilt score exactly 100 points as he led his Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks—and he did it before the three-point era!
Wilt scored his final basket with exactly 46 seconds remaining and the crowd instantly went berserk, with hundreds of spectators storming the court. Maybe it’s a good thing there weren’t that many people in attendance!
“Wilt the Stilt” would never come close to that total again. Though he had no fewer than 32 regular-season games of 60 points or more, his second-best score was a 78-pointer in a 1961 game against the Los Angeles Lakers (and that game went to triple OT). In fact, the only player ever to get anywhere near Wilt's 100-point performance is Kobe Bryant, who racked up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
There is no known video recording of Wilt’s amazing game, although a partial radio broadcast does exist.
A lot of people have heard about the U.S. Olympic hockey team miraculously winning a gold medal at the 1980 Games by beating the far more experienced U.S.S.R. squad. That’s not quite how it happened, though.
Sure, the U.S. team did beat the Russians, squeaking out a victory that hardly anyone thought was possible. The Russians were powerhouses who had taken the gold in the 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympics. On the other hand, the U.S. squad was so inexperienced that it had exactly one player who played in the 1976 Olympic event.
Even heading into the third period at Lake Placid, victory seemed unlikely for the American squad. They were losing 3-2, had never held the lead, and were having serious trouble mounting any offense. The Russians had outshot them 12-2 in the second period, but the “Miracle,” as it came to be called, began emerging when the U.S. squad took advantage of a power play and scored on Russian goaltender Vladimir Myshkin to tie the game. That goal seemed to turn the tide for the U.S. team. Several minutes later, team captain Mike Eruzione scored, giving the U.S. a 4-3 lead.
There were ten minutes still left. Though the Russians fought back hard, the U.S. managed to hold them off. Some people have argued that the Soviets’ refusal to pull their goalie for an extra attacker—it wasn't a tactic that the dominating Russians typically needed or had experience with—might have cost them. In the final seconds, sportscaster Al Michaels yelled out a phrase that would become famous: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
This victory did not clinch the gold medal for the U.S., however. The 1980 tournament was played under round-robin rules, which meant that the Americans still had to win their next game, against Finland, to grab the gold. That game turned out to be another nail-biter for the U.S. squad, and they once again found themselves needing to come back from behind in the third period.
U.S. head coach Herb Brooks would later enjoy a notable career in the NHL. Incidentally, this wasn't the first time a U.S. ice hockey team managed to trounce the Russians at the Olympics. There was an earlier triumph that has received much less publicity over the years: At the 1960 Games, the U.S. Olympic squad beat the Soviets 3-2 en route to capturing America’s first gold medal in this event. It’s often referred to as the “Forgotten Miracle.”
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