Fans love sports because there is always the chance to see something spectacular, unlikely or both during any given game. Typically, feats of greatness are the most memorable, but often times, infamous plays make headlines and leave an indelible mark on fans of both the winning and losing teams. The most infamous plays frequently end up changing the course of sports history. Glory is overrated, and sometimes shame needs its day in the sun — or clouds, as it were. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most infamous plays in sports history.
1 of 40Merkle’s Boner
Chicago History Museum / Contributor
Rookie Fred Merkle’s New York Giants appeared to have a crucial win over the Chicago Cubs after a base hit scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Merkle, who was on first base when the ball was hit, failed to touch second base after a delirious crowd poured onto the field as the winning run crossed the plate. Noticing this, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers managed to find the baseball with assistance from center fielder Solly Hofman, and when Evers touched second base, Merkle was ruled out and the winning run nullified. The Cubs won the makeup game and ended up winning the pennant by one game over New York.
2 of 40Jim Marshall runs the wrong way
Jim Marshall runs the wrong way
Focus On Sport / Contributor
Marshall, a defensive end who at the time of his retirement owned the NFL’s career records for consecutive starts and games played, picked up a fumble against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 25, 1964. He proceeded to run 66 yards to the wrong end zone, throwing the ball out of the end zone in celebration and causing a safety. The Vikings still won, 27-22, thanks to Marshall also forcing a fumble with a sack, one that his teammate Carl Eller picked up and ran (the right way) for a touchdown.
3 of 40Roberto De Vicenzo signs an incorrect scorecard
Roberto De Vicenzo signs an incorrect scorecard
Bettmann / Contributor
De Vicenzo, the reigning Open champion, looked poised for a Monday Masters playoff with Bob Goalby after both men finished the final round at -11. One problem: De Vicenzo’s playing partner, Tommy Aaron, incorrectly marked a four instead of a birdie three for De Vicenzo at the 17 th hole, and De Vicenzo mistakenly signed the scorecard. The rules stipulated that he had to take the higher score and thus finished one shot behind Goalby despite, you know, shooting the same score.
4 of 40 Pete Rose injures Ray Fosse
Pete Rose injures Ray Fosse
Bettmann / Contributor
Rose was known for his all-out play, so much so that it was the inspiration behind his derisive “Charlie Hustle” nickname. His style most notoriously manifested itself at the 1970 All-Star Game, when he barreled into Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the bottom of the 12 th inning. Fosse never had the ball on the play and suffered a separated shoulder, one of many injuries that dramatically affected his career from that point forward.
5 of 40Doug Sanders putts away The Open
Doug Sanders putts away The Open
A. Jones / Stringer
American Doug Sanders had the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews in the bag, needing just a 3-foot putt at the 18th hole for victory. In a moment that produced one of golf’s most well-known photographs, Sanders, normally known for his prowess on the greens, missed the putt, dropping him into a tie with Jack Nicklaus, who would go on to beat him by one in an 18-hole playoff the following day.
6 of 40The USSR gets a re-do, beats USA for 1972 Olympic gold
The USSR gets a re-do, beats USA for 1972 Olympic gold
NCAA Photos / Contributor
At the height of the Cold War, the USSR and USA met in the 1972 Summer Olympics gold medal basketball game, in Munich, Germany. Controversy ensued in the final seconds, after Doug Collins put the USA ahead, 50-49, with a made free throw. The final Soviet possession was ultimately replayed three times, with the Soviets finally scoring the winning basket on the third try. Despite a U.S. protest, the Soviets were awarded the gold, marking the first time in basketball’s history as an Olympic sport that the United States had failed to win gold.
7 of 40The Holy Roller
The Holy Roller
The Sporting News / Contributor
The Oakland Raiders took on the San Diego Chargers in Week 2 of the 1978 season and trailed 20-14 with 10 seconds left. Oakland was on the Chargers’ 14-yard line and won the game with a series of forward fumbles started by quarterback Ken Stabler, and finished by tight end Dave Casper. The officiating crew found it impossible to prove that any of the maneuvers had been intentional and thus allowed the play to stand. The NFL amended its rules the following season so as to prevent such a play from ever happening again.
8 of 40Miracle at the Meadowlands
Miracle at the Meadowlands
New York Post Archives / Contributor
Did you know that quarterbacks were not allowed to kneel as a means of running out the clock in the NFL? The rule permitting them to do so did not take effect until 1987, so many quarterbacks prior to that would take the snap and fall to the ground. In a Nov. 19, 1978, battle with the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants held a 17-12 lead and were running out the clock when things went haywire. Quarterback Joe Pisarcik tried to hand the ball off to Larry Csonka with 30 seconds left, but the two men botched the exchange and Jets defensive back Herm Edwards picked it up and raced 26 yards for the winning score.
9 of 40Jackie Smith drops the ball
Jackie Smith drops the ball
Focus On Sport / Contributor
After a long run with the St. Louis Cardinals, tight end Jackie Smith played out his final season with the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas met the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII, and with the Cowboys down 21-14 in the third quarter, he was all alone in the end zone for an easy touchdown catch that would have tied the game. One problem: The future Hall-of-Famer dropped the ball. Verne Lundquist, take it away.
10 of 40Officials miss Mike Renfro’s touchdown, Steelers escape Oilers
Officials miss Mike Renfro’s touchdown, Steelers escape Oilers
Bob Harmeyer / Contributor
The 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons to cap off an incredible dynastic run, but they easily could have lost the AFC championship game had officials made the correct call. Houston trailed, 17-10, in the third quarter, when quarterback Dan Pastorini hooked up with Mike Renfro for what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown in the corner of the end zone. After some discussion, they ruled that Renfro did not get both feet down despite replays showing that he did. Houston settled for a field goal and ended up losing, 27-13.
11 of 40Fred Brown passes to the wrong team
Fred Brown passes to the wrong team
Wally McNamee / Contributor
The 1982 men’s basketball national championship game between North Carolina and Georgetown is most known for Michael Jordan’s winning shot, but it should be mentioned that said basket was made with 17 seconds remaining. Georgetown pushed the ball back up the court, but Brown threw a pass directly to the Tar Heels’ James Worthy, who was then fouled. Though Worthy missed both free throws, the Hoyas had just two seconds remaining, and their desperation shot was off the mark.
12 of 40The band is out on the field
The band is out on the field
Robert Stinnett / Associated Press.
It’s one of the most famous plays in sports history, as well as one of the most unlikely, but it’s worth mentioning that the Stanford band coming out on the field too early in the 1982 Big Game, while a completely surreal moment, was also an unfathomable blunder that allowed Cal to score an improbable game-winning touchdown. Two of Cal’s laterals are still disputed to this day, but really, all of this is just an excuse to bask in one of the most astonishing moments in sports history.
13 of 40T.C. Chen double hits his way to U.S. Open dismay
T.C. Chen double hits his way to U.S. Open dismay
PGA TOUR Archive / Contributor
Four holes into the final round of the 1985 U.S. Open, T.C. Chen looked well on his way to a shocking victory. He was up four strokes when he got into trouble on the fifth. Chen found the trees with his approach to a par-4, left his third shot short, and then double-hit the ball when trying to hit his fourth shot on. He ended up with a quadruple-bogey and finished second to Andy North by one stroke.
14 of 40 Don Denkinger’s blown call upends the World Series
Don Denkinger’s blown call upends the World Series
Bettmann / Contributor
The St. Louis Cardinals were up 3-2 in the 1985 World Series and held a 1-0 advantage heading to the bottom of the ninth. Kansas City’s Jorge Orta led off the inning by bouncing a pitch just past the mound on the first base side. The throw to pitcher Todd Worrell, covering the bag, beat Orta by a full step, but first-base umpire Don Denkinger ruled him safe. That play started a rally that led to a Dane Iorg two-run single that won the game and kept Kansas City alive. The Royals went on to crush St. Louis, 11-0, in Game 7. Denkinger, unfortunately, was subject to hate mail and death threats in the aftermath.
15 of 40 Bill Buckner hands the Mets Game 6 of the 1986 World Series
Bill Buckner hands the Mets Game 6 of the 1986 World Series
Boston Globe / Contributor
Buckner should be remembered as one of the most underrated players in recent MLB history. He finished his career with a .289 average, 2,715 hits and the 1980 National League batting title. Instead, his name will live in infamy for a blunder that cost the Red Sox Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Boston had already surrendered a 10th-inning lead to the Mets, and the game was tied when Mookie Wilson hit a two-out dribbler up the first-base line. Buckner, who had a very solid defensive reputation, had the grounder go right through his legs, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run.
16 of 40 Scott Hoch’s missed gimme costs him the Masters
Scott Hoch’s missed gimme costs him the Masters
David Cannon / Contributor
Doug Sanders missed a 3-footer that cost him the Open Championship in 1970, and nearly 20 years later, Scott Hoch one-upped him (one-downed him?) at the 1989 Masters. Hoch needed only to make a two-foot putt on the 10th hole to win the tournament in a playoff, but blew it past the left edge of the hole, opening the door for Nick Faldo to win. Before you feel too bad for Hoch, know that he once called St. Andrews “the worst piece of mess” he had ever seen and in 1989 was voted as the tour’s least popular golfer by his fellow pros.
17 of 40Colorado beats Missouri on fifth down
Colorado beats Missouri on fifth down
Keith Simonsen / Contributor
The 1990 Colorado Buffaloes won a share of the national championship after an 11-1-1 season, but Missouri fans understandably feel that championship is fraudulent. Missouri held a 31-27 lead, but Colorado was driving near the Missouri goal line when, after a second-down play, the chain gang failed to properly change downs. Thus, when teh Buffaloes ran their third-down play and failed to score, they spiked the ball on what was actually fourth down. On “fifth” down, Colorado quarterback Charles Johnson plunged in for the winning score. The officials realized the mistake but allowed the play to stand, giving Colorado the victory. Missouri fans tore down the goalposts in anger.
18 of 40Leon Lett celebrates too soon
Leon Lett celebrates too soon
Gin Ellis / Contributor
Poor Leon. Before his second-biggest on-field debacle, there was his even more infamous contribution to sports history. With Dallas putting the finishing touches on a 52-17 victory in Super Bowl XXVII, Lett scooped up a fumble and rumbled toward the end zone. He decided to do a little showboating, slowing down and holding the ball out at his side. Bad idea. Buffalo’s Don Beebe chased him down and knocked the ball loose just before Lett crossed the goal line, making himself an example of never-give-up hustle that would be used by youth sports coaches for years. Lett? Let’s just say everyone had a good laugh at his expense.
19 of 40 Chris Webber calls a timeout he didn’t have
Chris Webber calls a timeout he didn’t have
NCAA Photos / Contributor
Chris Webber was a great NBA player. Webber was one of the league’s best power forwards — a great playmaker, passer and scorer — and the linchpin of the early-2000s Sacramento Kings, one of the most fun groups in basketball history. He also cost Michigan a chance at the 1993 national championship by calling a timeout that the Wolverines didn’t have. Michigan trailed, 73-71, to North Carolina with 15 seconds left. Webber got away with a blatant travel when bringing the ball up the court and then tried to call a timeout when trapped in the corner, which resulted in a technical foul, burying any chance the Wolverines had of winning the game.
20 of 40 Jose Canseco creates a homer – with his head
Jose Canseco creates a homer – with his head
Ron Kuntz Collection / Contributor
Jose Canseco’s 1993 season was limited to just 60 games. It was a down year for the then-Rangers outfielder, who finished the year with a mere .763 OPS, well below his normal production for the time. Still, no statistic was as embarrassing as his most famous misadventure while playing right field. On May 26, with the Rangers in Cleveland to take on the Indians, Canseco drifted back to catch a long fly ball by Carlos Martinez and…didn’t make the catch.
21 of 40Leon Lett slips and slides to infamy in the snow
Leon Lett slips and slides to infamy in the snow
PAUL K BUCK / Staff
For someone who was part of so much team success — he was a valuable member of three Super Bowl teams — Leon Lett certainly found a way to make his share of high-profile blunders. One of his two most infamous happened on Thanksgiving Day in 1993, when the Cowboys tangled with the Dolphins at a surreal, snow-covered Texas Stadium. With Dallas up 14-13 in the waning seconds, Miami lined up for a potential game-winning field goal. Dallas blocked the attempt, but, well, words fail to adequately describe what happened next.
22 of 40 Derek Jeter flies out to right field for a home run
Derek Jeter flies out to right field for a home run
TIMOTHY CLARY / Staff
The New York Yankees trailed the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series when Derek Jeter stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Jeter hit a deep fly ball to right field, and though his back was at the wall, Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco appeared to have room to make a standing catch. However, 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall and caught the ball in his glove. Despite Baltimore’s protests, umpire Rich Garcia ruled the play a home run, and the Yankees won the game 5-4 in extra innings, and the series in five games.
23 of 40 Mike Tyson takes a bite out of Evander Holyfield
Mike Tyson takes a bite out of Evander Holyfield
JEFF HAYNES / Contributor
After Evander Holyfield scored a shocking, yet dominating upset in their first fight, Mike Tyson was out for revenge, and apparently blood, in their June 28, 1997 rematch. Tyson, frustrated by Holyfield’s roughhouse tactics, eventually snapped and bit the heavyweight champion late in the third round. Referee Mills Lane kept the fight going after lengthy deliberation, but when Tyson bit Holyfield again, and Mills discovered it, the fight was stopped, and Holyfield declared the winner by disqualification.
24 of 40Brett Hull wins Stanley Cup with “illegal” goal
Brett Hull wins Stanley Cup with “illegal” goal
Joe Traver / Contributor
See Brett Hull right there? He’s about to score the Stanley Cup-winning goal in the third overtime of Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. One problem: Many people (most of them Sabres fans) felt that the goal should not have counted, as Hull’s skate was in the crease prior to his scoring the goal, which was thought to be illegal. However, the league had circulated a private memo — available only to its member teams — that made clear that such a play was legal if the player was in control of the puck. So does Hull not deserve to have his big moment sullied? Watch for yourself and decide.
25 of 40Jan Van de Velde melts down at Open Championship
Jan Van de Velde melts down at Open Championship
R&A Championships / Contributor
Van de Velde, a little-known French pro, was on the cusp of a shocking Open Championship victory at Carnoustie in 1999 when the wheels completely came off on the 18th hole. Van de Velde needed just a double-bogey on the 18th to secure victory. He made triple bogey instead and ended up losing in a three-way playoff. Words don’t do justice to his meltdown, which is genuinely difficult to watch.
26 of 40The Tuck Rule
The Tuck Rule
MATT CAMPBELL / Stringer
I’m not going to try to explain the nuances of the Tuck Rule, nor am I going to judge whether it was properly applied in this particular circumstance. I’ll allow the video to speak for itself. It’s likely that the Patriots still would have ended up being great had this play not gone their way, but it’s inarguable that they would have one less Super Bowl in their trophy case. And a Raiders team that bounced back from this Jan. 19, 2002, divisional round loss to make it to the Super Bowl the following season might have one more.
27 of 40Steve Bartman goes for a ball, takes blame
Steve Bartman goes for a ball, takes blame
Elsa / Staff
You know the story. 2003 National League championship series. Chicago Cubs up three games to two on the Florida Marlins. The Cubs were up 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning when Cheap Luis Castillo Jersey hit a fly ball into foul territory down the left field line. Chicago’s Moises Alou seemed to have a play on it, but Bartman reached up to try and catch the ball, knocking it away and drawing an enraged reaction from Alou. The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, win the game, and win the series — and eventually, the World Series. Bartman’s life was effectively ruined. I am contractually obligated to remind you that Cubs infielder Alex Gonzalez booted a routine double-play ball shortly thereafter that would have gotten the Cubs out of the inning more or less unscathed.
28 of 40 Tony Romo muffs the hold
Tony Romo muffs the hold
Jed Jacobsohn / Staff
The Cowboys looked ready to win their first playoff game in 10 years. All they needed was a 19-yard field goal from Martin Gramatica that would have given them a 23-21 lead over the Seattle Seahawks in their January 2007 playoff matchup. What they got was a mishandled snap by Tony Romo, a desperate dash for a first down or the goal line, and a shoestring tackle that ended their season. Romo went on to have a fine career with the Cowboys, but this blunder still gets replayed today, for good reason.
29 of 40Armando Galarraga’s imperfect perfect game
Armando Galarraga’s imperfect perfect game
Bill Eisner/Detroit Tigers / Contributor
On June 2, 2010, Detroit’s Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians, except history will forever view it as a one-hit shutout. With Cleveland down to its last out, Jason Donald hit a grounder between first and second base that Miguel Cabrera fielded and threw to Galarraga, who was covering first. Donald was out by a full step, but first base umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. Galarraga retired the next batter, in essence having recorded a 28-out perfect game. One positive? Galarraga’s handling of the situation has become a model of good sportsmanship.
30 of 40 Nasir Robinson’s foul gifts Butler a win
Nasir Robinson’s foul gifts Butler a win
Rob Carr / Staff
NCAA Tournament heartbreak and the Pitt Panthers just go together, or at least they did in the program’s 2008-2012 heyday. Jamie Dixon’s 2011 Panthers were two years removed from heartbreak at the hand of Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds when they again secured a No. 1 seed in the tourney, only to face 2010 finalist Butler in the second round. The teams played an entertaining back-and-forth game, and after an incredibly careless Shelvin Mack foul near half court, Pitt had a chance to win the game with two Gilbert Brown foul shots. Brown made the first but missed the second, and forward Nasir Robinson made Mack’s foul look harmless by comparison when he went over the back on Matt Howard, who made the first of two free throws to win the game.
31 of 40 Buster Posey gets hurt, baseball changes a rule
Buster Posey gets hurt, baseball changes a rule
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images / Contributor
Buster Posey was already one of baseball’s biggest stars by 2011. The Giants catcher was a World Series champion, but in 2011, he and the Giants’ season were derailed by a gruesome leg injury suffered in a May 25 game against the Marlins. The game was tied 6-6 in the top of the 12th when Florida’s Scott Cousins tried to score from home on a flyout to short right-center field. Cousins crashed into Posey, whose leg bent awkwardly and broke as a result. Posey’s injury eventually caused baseball to take drastic measures to reduce the chance of home plate collisions, much to the chagrin of fans and many players, who felt the new rules were vague and made it nearly impossible to play catcher.
32 of 40Jerry Meals says it’s safe
Jerry Meals says it’s safe
Scott Cunningham / Stringer
The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates, though their winning ways were starting to slow down, were still a surprising 53-47 when they took on the Atlanta Braves on July 26. With the score tied at 3 and two outs the bottom of the 19 th inning (the longest in Pirates history in elapsed time), Atlanta’s Scott Proctor hit a bouncer to third, and Julio Lugo was tagged out by Michael McKenry several feet in front of home plate. Umpire Jerry Meals ruled him safe, and with no replay to overturn the play, the Braves won. The Pirates went 8-22 over the next month.
33 of 40The Fail Mary
The Fail Mary
Otto Greule Jr / Stringer
The NFL and its officials were in the middle of a labor dispute at the outset of the 2012 season. That dispute was resolved largely because of the embarrassing performance by replacement officials in the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers “Monday Night Football” matchup on Sept. 24. With the Seahawks trailing 12-7, Russell Wilson heaved up a Hail Mary on the game’s final play, and the officials ruled that wide receiver Golden Tate had caught the pass, despite video evidence that if anything, the ball had been clearly intercepted, and Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference. It remains to this day as one of the worst officiating blunders in recent NFL history.
34 of 40The Butt Fumble
The Butt Fumble
Icon Sports Wire / Contributor
Not every infamous play changes the course of history. Some are just plain funny. The year was 2012, and it was Thanksgiving night when the Jets and Mark Sanchez took on hated rival New England. The Jets were already down 14-0 when Sanchez did this. New York lost, 49-19, by the way.
35 of 40 Dez Bryant’s catch that wasn’t
Dez Bryant’s catch that wasn’t
Rob Carr / Staff
The Dallas Cowboys faced a fourth-and-2 and a 26-21 deficit with just under five minutes remaining in their Jan. 13, 2015 playoff battle with the Green Bay Packers. Tony Romo went for it all, and Dez Bryant shocked the Lambeau Field crowd with an acrobatic catch that put the Cowboys at the 1-yard line. However, the play was overturned and ruled incomplete. To this day, I can’t explain why that would be, so watch the video and see what you think.
36 of 40The Seahawks pass their way to a Super Bowl loss
The Seahawks pass their way to a Super Bowl loss
Focus On Sport / Contributor
Down 28-24 to New England with 25 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks were in good shape. They had second-and-goal from the 1-yard-line and one of the best power backs in the NFL in Marshawn Lynch. Naturally, they chose to pass the ball, and paid dearly for it. Seattle fans, why don’t you just skip this one?
37 of 40 Jesse James’ catch that also wasn’t
Jesse James’ catch that also wasn’t
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Hey, remember the Dez Bryant play? It happened to Pittsburgh’s Jesse James too. Except it wasn’t a playoff game, and it was in 2017 against the New England Patriots. Everything else about it, including the inane interpretation of the rules, was essentially the same. Like Dallas, Pittsburgh lost the game as well as a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
38 of 40 J.R. Smith forgets the score
J.R. Smith forgets the score
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
We all have that one friend who is fun to be around but just a bit absent-minded, right? J.R. Smith is that friend, except he was an extremely talented, streaky NBA player. Perhaps the Cavaliers had no chance anyway against a juggernaut Warriors team in the 2018 NBA Finals. Perhaps they’d have lost just as easily. Still, Smith’s blunder was an all-timer. The game was tied at 107 with seconds to go, and George Hill missed a go-ahead foul shot. Smith got the rebound but instead of going for a put-back or passing to a teammate, he attempted to dribble out the clock, thinking Cleveland was ahead. The game was tied, and the Cavs lost in overtime.
39 of 40Nickell Robey-Coleman gets away with it
Nickell Robey-Coleman gets away with it
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The play spawned one of the worst, most ineffective rule changes in history, one that lasted just a season, but while making pass interferences challengeable plays was a terrible idea, the no-call that kept the Saints out of Super Bowl LIII was even worse. With the score tied at 20 and less than two minutes to go, Los Angeles’ Nickell Robey-Coleman hammered New Orleans’ Tommylee Lewis well before the ball got to him on a third-and-10 play. No flag was thrown, however, and instead of being able to run down the clock for a chip-shot game-winning field goal, New Orleans had to kick with plenty of time left. The Rams tied the game in regulation and went on to win in overtime.
40 of 40 Cody Eakin’s controversial major penalty spurs unlikely Sharks comeback
Cody Eakin’s controversial major penalty spurs unlikely Sharks comeback
Brandon Magnus / Contributor
The Vegas Golden Knights were cruising in Game 7 of their 2019 first-round playoff series, up 3-0 on the San Jose Sharks with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Vegas’ Cody Eakin cross-checked San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, and Pavelski fell awkwardly and bled from his head, which drew a controversial five-minute major, since the play seemed innocuous until Pavelski failed to get up. San Jose scored four goals on the power play to take the lead, and while Vegas tied the game late in regulation, the Sharks ended up getting the victory in overtime.