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Top 10 Most Iconic Moments in Sports History: Which was the Greatest?

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Publish Date: 01/26/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Sports bring people together, whether it’s fathers and sons, close friends or strangers you happen to be sitting next to in a huge stadium. Sports are something that can bring out your innermost emotions, they can make you laugh, cry, shout out in anger. Raw emotion is part of what makes sports so special; that is, anything can truly happen, no matter how absurd it may seem. Today, we will look at the moments that separated them from all the others.

Criteria

The criteria is not the greatest games but the most iconic, which means events are bigger than the games themselves. These are sporting events where the world stopped collectively to see the outcome. Some were great games, too, but historical context is the main criterion in this list.

10) Riggs vs King Battle of the Sexes

The “Battle of the Sexes” was an unforgettable tennis match held on September 20, 1973, between Billie Jean King, an iconic female tennis player, and Bobby Riggs, former men’s world champion. This exhibition match held immense cultural and societal importance at that time.

At the core of “Battle of the Sexes” lay a debate over gender equality and women’s roles in sports. At 55 years old, Bobby Riggs had been an important figure during tennis’ Golden Era of the 1930s and 1940s – yet claimed even at that late stage that he could defeat even top female tennis players! Bobby invited various leading female tennis players for matches he called “battle of the sexes.”

Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in three straight sets 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3 – an unforgettable moment not only in sports history but also for women’s rights and equality.

Video: 20th September 1973: Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in the 'Battle of the Sexes' tennis match

20th September 1973: Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tennis match

9) 1975 World Series

The greatest World Series ever played, and the television audience was enormous and gave baseball a huge boost up until baseball started to destroy itself with strikes, PEDs and gambling. The 1975 series included all-time greats like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Yaz, to name just a few!

It had maybe the most dramatic game in World Series history in game 6, which was settled by an iconic home run over the Green Monster by Carlton Fisk. Game 7 was won after the Reds who came from 3 runs down to win in the ninth. The 1975 World Series is considered by many experts the Greatest World Series of all time.

Video: MLB 1975 World Series Highlights

MLB 1975 World Series Highlights

8) Super Bowl III

Sure, it wasn’t a great game, but a huge upset gave validity to the NFL/AFL merger. Broadway Joe Namath backed up his prediction of beating the seemingly invincible Colts. The game was getting to where people would call it the Super Bowl, and combined with the Super Bowl IV Chiefs upset of the Vikings, it was truly the start of something big in the NFL.

The AFL gained credibility, which made the merger even an easier sell, and that merger has led to the NFL being the most popular sport in the United States.

Video: Super Bowl III New York Jets 16 Baltimore 7

Super Bowl III New York Jets 16 Baltimore 7

7) Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries

Jack Johnson was the first black man to ever win the heavyweight title and at the turn of the 20th century this drove White America crazy. Thus the “Great White Hope” was born! Jim Jeffries was a retired undefeated heavyweight champion who had been working on his farm for the last 5 years but with White America in desperate need of a savior, he was badgered into taking the fight. Johnson was one of the most controversial boxers of all time.

Jeffries had to lose a ton of weight to get in shape to fight Johnson, and the fight was a foregone conclusion, as Johnson toyed with Jeffries until finally stopping him. If Jeffries would have been in his prime this would have been a 50/50 fight.

Video: Jack Johnson vs James J. Jeffries (Full Fight)

Jack Johnson vs James J. Jeffries (Full Fight)

6) 1979 Bird-Magic

The 1979 NCAA Tournament sent what we now know as March Madness through the roof. To this day it is the most-watched championship game in history. It was a tale of opposites, with the white working-class hero against the flashy black athlete. What made it even better was that they were two of the greatest players to ever grace the court.

You also had the fact that Magic was playing for the big school Big Ten champions, and Bird had led the small school Indiana State Sycamores to the final game. On top of it all, the Sycamores were unbeaten! Michigan State went on to win the game. Then, to show how special Bird and Magic were, they basically saved the NBA and played in 3 iconic finals against each other in the 1980s.

5) Ali vs. Frazier 1, “The Fight of the Century”

Circumstances made this historical matchup one that we will never see again from Ali’s controversial refusal to go to Vietnam and the anger that many patriotic Americans had towards him, and the perception of Ali as a draft dodger to the fact that he was now a Muslim.

It was so bad that Joe Frazier was considered White America’s fighter! Both men were Olympic Gold Medalists and undefeated heavyweights that each held a claim to the title. Factor all of this in and throw in that the fight was one of the greatest in the history of boxing and you know what a special night this was in sport’s history.

Video: Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier (I) 1971-03-08

Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier (I) 1971-03-08

4) Jessie Owens in the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was historic for a myriad of reasons. Amid the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Jessie Owens had set out to disprove the German leader’s theory of Aryan supremacy. Despite various obstacles that tried to prevent him from participating in the games, Owens ultimately captured four gold medals that year – 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4x100m relay.

This was such a big moment, not only due to the amazing athletic accomplishment but also as a resounding slap in the face to Hitler’s ideology of the inferiority of minorities.

Video: Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936

Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936

3) Joe Louis beats Max Schmeling

This was the biggest fight in history because it was Nazi Germany against the United States. Schmeling had upset Louis two years before and at that time a lot of White-Americans celebrated because the white man had won. For most people, the rematch became a much different story as the Nazis started storming across Europe and war looked inevitable. Schmeling was not a Nazi, but at the time you couldn’t let that get in the way of a good way to promote the fight. This was ten years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, mind you.

On the night of the fight in 1938 a lot of White America was cheering for Louis. Joe came through with a devastating first-round knockout.

Video: Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, II (Full Film, HD)

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, II (Full Film, HD)

2) Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson was called up to play his first game in the major leagues as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the process, he broke the unspoken color barrier that had previously existed in baseball, as he was the first African-American to ever play in the majors. Robinson opened the door for other African-American players to join him, and it was a major deal across the country.

Remember this was the National Pastime, but up until this time it had excluded African-American players. Hell for almost another 20 years after this moment separate bathrooms and drinking fountains existed for black and whites. So when people bitch about Babe Ruth’s records being broken later on make sure you remind them that Babe Ruth was not playing the best competition available when he was smashing his 60 home runs!

Video: Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier - Decades TV Network

Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier – Decades TV Network

1) 1980 Team USA “Miracle on Ice”

This story has been played over and over again but the sheer absurdity of a group of amateur kids beating a team considered maybe the greatest ever assembled is hard to top. On top of all of that though, you also had the bringing together of a nation at a time when it seemed all hope was lost. The USA was just 5 years removed from the truly tragic Vietnam War when the United States government had sacrificed close to 60,000 of our young people for a cause few could justify. You had inflation at sky-high rates, the Iranian hostage crisis and that’s just to name a few.

By the way, did I mention that the greatest team ever assembled happened to be the Soviet Union’s? Against that backdrop, the Americans would dominate Czechoslovakia, tie Sweden and enter the medal round against the Soviet Union–a game where nobody gave them a shot at victory. With one exception, of course, the USA team themselves. The US went on to trail for most of the game before finally tying the game and taking the lead with 2 goals in the first nine minutes of the final period.

On that Sunday two days later they would once again come from behind to beat Finland, securing gold. Maybe the most powerful moment of all was at the awards ceremony where captain Mike Eruzione brought all 20 players together on a little podium and the crowd chanted USA, USA, USA,USA! It was a day that anybody that was alive at the time will remember forever!

Video: Final Minute of the

Final Minute of the “Miracle on Ice”

 

Honorable mentions

The Bite Fight: Tyson vs Holyfield 2

Mike Tyson’s notorious “bite fight” stands as one of the most dramatic and divisive incidents in professional boxing history. The event occurred during an encounter between Tyson and Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997, at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Was Mike Tyson a Monster or a Myth?

Turning Point of Fight During Round 3 — Tyson took an unprecedented and controversial action during a clinch when frustrated with Holyfield’s tactics and headbutts (which he believed were intentional), bit Holyfield’s right ear during a clinch, tearing away part of its cartilage in one bite – an action which led Mills Lane, refereeing the fight, to stop it immediately and deduct two points from Tyson as punishment for this foul act.

1986 World Cup Hand of God game

The “Hand of God” incident became iconic and controversial during the 1986 FIFA World Cup held in Mexico, when legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona’s hand gesture made international headlines during a quarter-final match between Argentina and England on June 22, 1986.

Maradona scored one of the most iconic goals in football history during the 51st minute of their game by using his left hand to punch the ball into the net, scoring what has since become known as a “Hand of God goal”. Although protests from English players were lodged against this goal being allowed by the referee, who believed Maradona used his head. Maradona later described this goal as having come about “partly through my head and partly from God”, leading many commentators and analysts to coin the term “Hand of God goal”.

The Catch

“The Catch” stands as one of the most memorable and lasting episodes in American football history. This moment took place during the 1981 NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys – it would eventually transform both franchises, leaving an unforgettable mark on both of them and on all NFL fans worldwide.

With only 58 seconds remaining and facing 3rd down and three yards to go at the Cowboy’s 6-yard line, relatively unknown wide receiver Dwight Clark ran a route towards the back of the end zone. Joe Montana launched a high pass that Clark leapt for, stretching his 6’4″ frame out before making an incredible fingertip catch only inches above Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls to seal a 28-27 win for San Francisco and secure Montana’s legacy as one of history’s greatest quarterbacks. This play capped off 14 plays totalling 83 yards that Montana engineered for San Francisco that helped secure victory and solidify his legacy as one of history’s finest quarterbacks ever.

The Shot Heard Round the World

In a 1951 playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Giants player Bobby Thompson hit an iconic walk-off home run that has stood the test of time. Tthe Giants win the Pennant, the Giants win the Pennant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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