Ranking the Greatest Finishes In Sports
Roughly once a year, sports fans are treated to one-of-a-kind moments that will be replayed for decades. We can add this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship to that list.
Kris Jenkins’s buzzer beater to clinch Villanova’s first title since 1985 had everyone launching out of their seats in excitement (well, I suppose everyone except for North Carolina fans). However, let’s not forget how great the rest of this game was. Of course, there was Marcus Paige’s heroic double-clutch three, a play that was so absurd yet ultimately indecisive that it evoked memories of Jermaine Kearse’s catch in Super Bowl 49. Paige and teammate Brice Johnson also had a couple of other important shots that helped UNC erase a ten-point deficit with less than five minutes to play.
The final moments of this game easily rank as some of the most thrilling I have ever seen. But was Villanova/UNC the greatest finish in sports history? Without further ado, here is my take on the greatest sports endings; and for the fun of it, they will be joined by comparisons to famous movie climaxes that aroused similar feelings of emotion. Click on the links to be directed to each clip. Fair warning, spoiler alert!
10. Michigan State Shocks Michigan- “The Muffed Punt Game”
The Context: Up two points and facing fourth down, Michigan just needed to successfully punt the ball away to secure the win over one of their biggest rivals, Michigan State. This game was so over that local television stations started running news segments on Michigan’s win. And yet, in the aftermath of the game’s bizarre final play, even Lou Holtz, who has been watching football for like 120 years, said he had never seen anything like it.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Se7en
With regards to Se7en, it’s hard for me to think of a more disturbing ending to a movie. And if you bleed maize and blue, I am not sure if you will ever get over last year’s loss to the Spartans.
The Context: The poor Buffalo Bills were up by one with a few seconds play in the 2000 NFL Wild Card Round. And then one “lateral” later, Titans receiver Kevin Dyson is racing up the sideline for the winning score.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Vertigo
First off, go see Vertigo if you haven’t already. It’s an unbelievable film. And as for how the ending connects to this game, what happens in Vertigo perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a Bills fan. Around and around they go, and yet the results always stay the same.
The Context: With just over a minute to play, Tom Brady and the underdog New England Patriots marched down the field to set up a 47-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri to beat the heavily favored Rams.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Die Hard
Bruce Willis’s John McClane once embodied what it meant to be an underdog. But after Die Hard’s thrilling finale, I suppose things started to change a bit for Mr. Willis.
The Context: Down to their last strike on multiple occasions, the Cardinals came back from two two run-deficits in both the 9th and 10th innings. This set the stage for David Freese to launch a walk-off home run into centerfield. In addition to being a phenomenal ending, some hail it as the greatest World Series game of all time. I would agree.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Hoosiers
Both the Hickory High basketball team and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals had that “little engine that could” charm, making them two of the best underdog stories ever.
The Context: Down by one in the ninth inning, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies looked to be heading to a winner-take-all game to decide the World Series. That is until Joe Carter launched a three-run walk-off to clinch the Blue Jays’ second straight title. Talk about a Hollywood ending.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Major League
Now for an actual Hollywood ending. Granted, I’m not sure if a walk-off bunt single is as cool as a walk-off homer, but nonetheless, Major League’s ending is about as good as it gets for a sports film.
The Context: It doesn’t get more epic than a walk-off grand slam in Game 7 of the World Series to beat the New York Yankees. So why isn’t this ending higher? Look, if a walk-off grand slam to win the World Series happened this year, it would probably be ranked number one. But since this list is heavily-biased towards recent events because, after all, I am the one doing the rankings, Mazeroski’s heroics settle for number five.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Gladiator
In dramatic fashion, the Emperor is dead.
The Context: It was a true David vs Goliath matchup in this BCS bowl game, but that did not stop the Boise State Broncos from pulling one off one of the more miraculous wins of all-time. Talk about having guts: the Broncos pulled off three trick plays in do-or-die situations. I wouldn’t even have the courage to do that in a game of Madden!
Movie-Ending Comparison: Rudy
Rudy is the story of the ultimate underdog: a walk-on who dreamt one day of suiting up for his beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It’s hard not to get the chills when re-watching this finale.
The Context: The stakes were about as high as possible for this matchup between Alabama and Auburn: the winner would have the inside track to the national championship and the loser would see its title hopes dashed. In a thrilling back-and-forth contest, the game ended in about the most unlikely way possible, with Auburn’s Chris Davis returning a missed field goal 100-something yards for a touchdown. We will likely never get another ending like this one.
Movie-Ending Comparison: Rocky
I guess the only thing actual sports endings lack is the Rocky theme song- they are good for automatic goose bumps. As for how this relates to the Auburn/Alabama thriller, the fact that Auburn later went on to lose the national championship reminds me how Rocky ultimately didn’t “win” his showdown with Apollo. That is until the second time around…
The Context: There’s no need to describe how unbelievable this game was again, right?
Movie-Ending Comparison: Rocky 2
Two champions desperately trying to outlast the other. In the end, it’s hard to argue that anyone could be considered a loser.
The Context: After a circus catch by Jermaine Kearse put Seattle a yard away from their second Super Bowl title in a row, Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson in what was the most shocking turn of events ever in a sporting event.
Movie-Ending Comparison: The Usual Suspects
There might not be a better movie comparison for an all-time sports finish than this one. Each are knife-twisting endings, in which the villain gets away in a shockingly hilarious fashion.
And like that….I’m gone.
Michigan State: Newsweek
David Freese: FoxNews
Hoosiers: The Nog Blog
Music City Miracle: titansonline.com
Vertigo: The New Yorker
Vinatieri: New York Daily News
Die Hard: moviebuzzers.com
Joe Carter: USA Today
Major League: rantlifestyle.com
Bill Mazeroski: nbssports.com
Boise State: USA Today
Kris Jenkins: ESPN
Butler INT: Fox Sports
Usual Suspects: 3brothersfilm