In the world of sports, sometimes all it takes is one play to drastically change the outcome of a game, or even an entire season. Some plays go down in history for a player’s heroic performance or feat of athleticism, but others stand out because of a boneheaded move on the part of a player, a coach, an official, or even a fan. Here are some of the most infamous moments in sports that we remember for all the wrong reasons.
Steve Bartman's Interference (2003)
In 2003, the Chicago Cubs seemed poised to end their 95-year World Series drought with a 3-2 lead over the Marlins in the National League Championship Series. It all fell apart in the eighth inning of Game 6, when fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball that outfielder Moises Alou had a chance to catch for the inning’s second out. The Cubs led 3-0 at the time, but the Marlins would go on to score eight runs throughout the rest of the inning and knock the Cubs out of the playoffs the following day. The Cubs' already superstitious fanbase disproportionately blamed Bartman for the collapse to the point that he feared for his safety, but the Cubs made it up to him by giving him a World Series ring after their 2016 victory.
The Butt Fumble (2012)
After playoff appearances in his first two seasons in the NFL, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s career took a major turn for the worse, with his lowest point coming in a high-profile 2012 Thanksgiving Day game against the division rival Patriots. In the second quarter, Sanchez botched a handoff and scrambled toward the line of scrimmage trying to salvage the play. Unfortunately, he ran right into the rear end of his own offensive lineman Brandon Moore, knocking the ball loose for the infamous “Butt Fumble,” which New England returned for a touchdown en route to a 49-19 blowout.
Tony Romo's Fumbled Hold (2006)
The 2006 season saw Tony Romo take over as the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback, coming in hot with a 5-1 record in his first six starts. Romo cooled off toward the end of the season, but the Cowboys still managed to return to the playoffs for the first time in two years. Their postseason run was short-lived, however, thanks to a mistake that would haunt Romo for the rest of his career. Romo was the holder for the Cowboys’ chance at a field goal to take the lead late in the Wild Card game against Seattle, but he fumbled the snap and came up short when he tried to pick up the ball and run in for a touchdown.
J. R. Smith Doesn't Shoot (2017)
The 2017-2018 season was LeBron James’s last chance to bring another title to Cleveland, and the Cavaliers did make it all the way to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors for the fourth time in as many years. The Cavs kept it close in Game 1, with George Hill hitting a free throw to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left. Hill missed the second free throw and teammate J.R. Smith got the rebound, but rather than attempt a shot or call Cleveland’s remaining time out, Smith inexplicably dribbled out most of the clock, sending the game to overtime where the Warriors won handily. Golden State went on to sweep the series, but at least LeBron and the Cavs gave us one of the greatest sports GIFs of all time.
The NOLA No-Call (2019)
Late in the fourth quarter of the 2019 NFC Championship game with the score tied at 20, the New Orleans Saints were driving down the field and into scoring range when one of the most questionable calls in sports history stopped them in their tracks. On a third down pass from Drew Brees to Tommylee Lewis, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman tackled the receiver before the ball arrived in a blatant case of pass interference, but for whatever reason the referees didn’t call a penalty. The Saints were forced to settle for a field goal and later lost in overtime, but the call was so egregious that the NFL added a rule for the current season allowing coaches to challenge pass interference situations, a change which has seen its own share of controversy so far.
The Fail Mary (2012)
The start of the 2012 NFL season was marred by controversy after a referee lockout forced the league to use replacement referees for the first few weeks. The most notable bad call during this stretch came on the last play of a game between the Packers and Seahawks, when Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass to receiver Golden Tate. The replacement refs not only missed an offensive pass interference call on Tate, they also ruled that Tate and Packers defensive back M. D. Jennings landed with simultaneous possession of the football, which resulted in a Seahawks touchdown and victory. Under pressure from fans and teams alike, commissioner Roger Goodell made a deal that brought the regular referees back just two days later.
Jose Canseco's Home Run Off the Head (1993)
MLB star Jose Canseco is mostly infamous for his admitted use of steroids and his tell-all book that outed several other players in the league, but he was also at the center of a play that became infamous for more light-hearted reasons. Playing outfield for the Texas Rangers in 1993, Canseco dropped back to try to catch a fly ball from the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Martinez, but he lost sight of the ball in the air and it landed on top of his head, bouncing off and over the outfield wall for a home run.
The Tuck Rule Play (1999)
In 1999 the NFL instituted the contentious tuck rule, which stated that if a quarterback loses possession of the ball while moving his arm forward in an attempt to tuck the ball back toward his body, it will be ruled an incomplete pass. The rule came into play numerous times before it was repealed in 2013, but never in more dramatic fashion than in a 2002 playoff game in the snow between the Patriots and the Raiders. In the fourth quarter, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson appeared to force Tom Brady to fumble, but the referees invoked the tuck rule to call it an incomplete pass. The call extended the Patriots' drive and allowed them to kick a field goal to tie and later win the game in overtime.
Dez Bryant's No-Catch (2015)
Another questionable interpretation of an NFL rule cost the Cowboys a chance at a playoff victory over the Packers in 2015. Dallas went for a fourth down conversion with a deep pass to receiver Dez Bryant down the sideline, and Bryant made a leaping grab over the Green Bay defender before taking a couple of steps and reaching for the end zone. Initially ruled a touchdown, the call was overturned after a Green Bay challenge as the referees ruled that Bryant lost possession when the ground jarred the ball loose from his hands. The NFL struggled to explain the decision in a way that fans could easily understand, and several more controversial no-catches occurred over the next few years before the league revisited the rule.
Chris Webber's Timeout Call (1992)
After losing to Duke in the 1992 NCAA Championship, the Michigan men’s basketball team known as the Fab Five achieved the impressive feat of returning to the championship game for a second straight year in 1993. They put up a formidable fight against North Carolina for 39 minutes and 49 seconds of play, at which point they trailed by just two points. The final eleven seconds proved to be disastrous, though, as forward Chris Webber got tied up by multiple Tar Heel defenders and attempted to call a timeout despite the fact that Michigan had no timeouts remaining. This resulted in a technical foul and a turnover that sealed the win for UNC.
The Colts' Fake Punt Fiasco (2015)
In a 2015 midseason matchup between the Colts and the Patriots, Indianapolis’s coach Chuck Pagano dialed up perhaps the most ridiculous attempt at a trick play in NFL history, trying to catch New England off guard by lining up receiver Griff Whalen and special-teamer Colt Anderson as a snapper and quarterback in the middle of the field while the rest of the punt unit lined up near the sideline. The Patriots weren’t fooled in the slightest and immediately brought Anderson down, but it turned out the Colts had lined up in an illegal formation anyway.
Russell Wilson's Super Bowl Interception (2015)
Trailing 28-24 against the Patriots in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks managed to march the ball all the way to the New England one-yard line in the game’s final seconds. On second down, the Seahawks made the surprising decision to call a pass play rather than give the ball to their bruising running back Marshawn Lynch, a choice that they would soon regret. Russell Wilson’s quick slant pass was intercepted by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler, allowing New England to run out the clock and clinch their fourth Super Bowl victory under coach Bill Belichick.
Bill Buckner's World Series Error (1986)
The 1986 season saw the Boston Red Sox attempt to break the Curse of the Bambino and win their first World Series since 1918. They entered Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead over the New York Mets and took the game into extra innings, where they pulled ahead with two runs scored in the top of the tenth. It all came crashing down in the bottom of the inning when Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner made a costly error on a Mookie Wilson ground ball, allowing the Mets to score the game-winning run and then close out the series in Game 7, ultimately extending Boston’s drought and the alleged curse until 2004.
The Phantom Tag (1999)
The unlucky Red Sox were the victims of another infamous play in the 1999 American League Championship Series, this time at the hands of the umpires. In the eighth inning of a Game 4 loss to the Yankees, with runner Jose Offerman on first and only one out, John Valentin hit a ground ball to the Yankees’ second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. Knoblauch attempted to tag Offerman and then threw the ball to first base before Valentin arrived. The umpire called both runners out for a double play to retire the inning, but video replays showed a huge gap between Knoblauch’s glove and Offerman. The Yankees went on to score six runs in the ninth to crush the Sox, and carried the series 4-1.
Leon Lett's Super Bowl Fumble (1993)
While it wasn’t as costly as some plays on this list, Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett committed an undeniably boneheaded blunder in Super Bowl XXVII. In the fourth quarter with a 35-point lead, Lett recovered Buffalo quarterback Frank Reich’s fumble and ran it back for over 60 yards, but he apparently let the score go to his head and started celebrating before he reached the goal line, allowing the Bills’ Don Beebe to swoop in and force Lett to fumble. The ball rolled through the back of the end zone for a touchback, but it was ultimately too little, too late for Buffalo.
Patrick Roy Shows an Empty Glove (2002)
Despite an NHL Hall of Fame caliber career as a goalie for the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy is also remembered for making a costly mistake in a critical situation. In Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, Roy believed he had made a save and raised his glove in the air to display the puck. Needless to say, the puck wasn’t there, and Roy’s distraction allowed Detroit’s Brendan Shanahan to score and ultimately lead his team to victory over Roy’s Avalanche.
The Bite Fight (1997)
After upsetting defending heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in a 1996 boxing match, Evander Holyfield returned for a rematch against Tyson in 1997. Holyfield controlled the fight in the opening rounds until Tyson shocked the world by biting a chunk out of Holyfield's ear in the middle of Round 3. After a delay to staunch the bleeding the referee allowed the match to continue, but Tyson, apparently hungry for more, went after Holyfield’s other ear. The dirty move disqualified Tyson from the fight, but Holyfield still carries the scars.
The Malice at the Palace (2006)
Before he changed his name to Metta World Peace, the Pacers’ Ron Artest was involved in one of the most infamous events in NBA history, known to posterity as “The Malice at the Palace.” Late in a 2006 game against the Detroit Pistons, Artest gave Detroit’s Ben Wallace a hard foul, and Wallace retaliated with a shove. The two were quickly separated, but while Artest was trying to calm down at the scorer’s table, Pistons fan John Green threw a drink at him. Artest entered the stands, initiating an all-out brawl that resulted in injuries to nine spectators and the Pacers’ radio broadcaster, as well as suspensions for Artest and eight other players across both teams.
The Miracle at the Meadowlands (1978)
Philadelphia Eagles fans dubbed their November 1978 victory over the New York Giants the “Miracle at the Meadowlands,” but it didn’t really come about as a result of any achievement on the part of the Eagles themselves. In fact, Philly wouldn’t have won at all if the Giants had simply taken a knee to run out the clock in the game’s final seconds. Instead, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik attempted a handoff to running back Larry Csonka, leading to an astonishing fumble that the Eagles’ Herman Edwards returned for a touchdown. The play was so influential that teams throughout the league adopted a new kneeling formation to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future.
Jim Marshall Runs the Wrong Way (1964)
The NFL was a different animal back in 1964, but Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall managed to set a record then that still stands today. Unfortunately, that record is for the most yards lost on a fumble recovery. Playing against the 49ers, Marshall recovered a fumble and maybe got a little overexcited. He started running in the wrong direction all the way to his team’s own end zone, where he dropped the ball out of bounds for a safety. It was only after the fact that Marshall realized his error, but luckily for him the Vikings managed to win the game despite his enormous mental lapse.
Jeffrey Maier Catches Jeter's Home Run (1996)
Twelve-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier managed to avoid Steve Bartman levels of ignominy, but his actions in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series had every bit as much of an impact on the game’s outcome as Bartman’s would seven years later. On a deep Derek Jeter hit to right field, Maier reached over the outfield wall to catch the ball, and the umpire ruled the play a home run rather than what many felt was the correct call of spectator interference. The Yankees went on to defeat the Orioles and win the series 4-1, so it’s arguable whether Baltimore really had a chance to advance regardless, but it was still a moment that neither Maier nor the Yankees would ever forget.
Monica Seles is Attacked During a Match (1993)
Most of the events on this list stand out for being frustrating or disappointing, but tennis star Monica Seles faced an experience that was outright terrifying when deranged spectator Gunter Parche jumped from the stands to stab her in the back in the middle of 1993 match in Hamburg, Germany. The attack kept Seles from competing for the next two years at a time when she appeared to be in her prime. We’ll never know what she could have achieved with an uninterrupted career, but we can be thankful that she did make a full recovery.
The Olympic Basketball Debacle (1972)
The U.S. vs. Soviet Union Olympic rivalry spanned many years and created inspiring moments like the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” but eight years earlier, at the 1972 games in Munich, the Soviet basketball team was awarded a victory over the U.S. under incredibly maddening circumstances. The U.S. took a one-point lead on a free throw with only a few seconds remaining, but the Soviets argued that officials had missed a timeout call during the free throw that should have left them with enough time to run one more play. The officials obliged, and a series of game clock mishaps gave the Soviets not one, but three attempts, the last of which resulted in a layup that gave them a one-point lead as time expired. To this day, the U.S. team has refused to accept their silver medals, and who can blame them?
The Colorado Buffaloes' Fifth Down (1990)
Even casual football fans know that teams are supposed to have four downs to move the football ten yards, but this rule seemed to be lost on the officiating crew of the 1990 college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Missouri Tigers. Down four points with less than a minute remaining, Colorado found themselves in a first-and-goal situation, spiking the ball to stop the clock on first down and running on second down before calling a timeout. However, during the timeout the crew failed to advance the down marker, and Colorado was given three more attempts for a total of five downs, scoring on the fifth to win the game. The controversy carried over to the end of the season when the Buffaloes were voted as co-National Champions despite many questioning the legitimacy of their record.
Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game (2010)
In 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game through 26 batters. With just one more out on the 27th, he would have become the first pitcher in Tigers history and only the 21st in MLB history to throw a complete perfect game. That 27th batter was Jason Donald, who hit a short ground ball between the mound and the first base line, which Miguel Cabrera fielded while Galarraga covered first base for what appeared to be a routine out. Umpire Jim Joyce, however, ruled Donald safe, ruining Galarraga’s perfect game at the last possible second. Joyce was apologetic after the fact, and there were no hard feelings between him and Galarraga, but the call still understandably prompted clamoring for expanded video review rules in Major League Baseball.