The Greatest Play in Sports

There is nothing greater than winning a game in your last at bat, or as time expires; but which of these wins is the most exciting to see?  We break down every possible game ending scenario in baseball, basketball and football to determine which game ending plays reign supreme.  When the outcome of the game is within striking distance (either a 1-posession football or basketball game or the go-ahead run at the plate), what is the most awe-inspiring way to close out the contest?

Football’s Final Seconds

There are some great ways to close out games, but football is fairly unique in that you can close out the game either on offense or defense, in a variety of ways.  Below are a few examples:

  • Run Out the Clock – perhaps not the most exciting way to end a football game, but if you can sustain a drive when the other team is within one score of leading or tying, there is a certain excitement to it all.  Coaches love seeing their QB taking knees at the end of the game, but fans don’t always jump out of their seats for it (except maybe to head for the exits). WOW Factor: 3
  • Set Up a Game Winning Field Goal – Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, but probably not exactly where we want to be.  A win is a win no matter how you get it (Just ask the Patriots), but you can do a bit better than a game winning field goal.  The execution and determination to get you in position for a manageable kick is often more exciting than the kick itself.  WOW Factor: 5
  • Force Game Ending Turnover or 4th Down Stop:  This is usually paired with the ole “Run out the Clock” ending from earlier, but there is quite a bit of excitement when your team recovers that fumble or finds an errant pass falling into their arms.  Taking it a step further, when both teams line up for a fourth down attempt late in the game, you get the sense that the entire match is riding on one single play. WOW Factor: 6
  • Game Ending Touchdown – Ok, here’s the doozie. The play to end all plays. Let’s assume that this play takes place with no time left on the clock (a rarity for sure, but bear with me). Your team is down by 6. 3 seconds left on the clock. The snap, the rollout, the heave! And when the dust settles your guy is standing in the endzone with the ball secure.  There can’t be a better feeling in all of sports . Usually the opposing team has enough time left over for a kickoff return or even a Hail Mary of their own, but if you score a touchdown as time runs out (think DeSean Jackson vs. Giants 2010) you are king.  WOW Factor: 9

Basketball’s Buzzer Beaters

Not quite as many ways to end a basketball game in the closing seconds as there are in football, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less impressive.  Basketball has the advantage over football in that there are a lot more scoring plays than in football or baseball.  For example, scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left in a football game just about seals it, where in basketball, scoring a go-ahead bucket with 30 seconds remaining usually means each team will get at least one more chance to score. Crazy sport I tell ya.

  • Blocking the Final Shot Attempt – if your team has the lead and the offense is driving to the hoop as time expires, the last thing you want to do is foul and give them a chance to shoot free throws for the win.  But you also don’t want to just give them a chance to make the bucket un-contested.  This is where a pure shot blocker has a chance to shine and give his team the win.  Swatting away any chance for your opponent to tie or win the game has to be a great feeling, although it isn’t met with as much fanfare as other ways of ending a basketball game. WOW Factor: 7
  • Game Winning Shot – there really isn’t much to detail here. A game winning shot is pretty straightforward although I will make the distinction that there may or may not be time left on the clock with a game winning shot.  This simply implies that you were the last person to score in the game and your basket just happened to be the one that gave your team the lead.  A game winning shot could conceivably come with minutes left to play, or more commonly, just a few seconds.  Either way, knowing you were the last points scored in a game for the win is pretty cool. WOW Factor: 8
  • Buzzer Beating Game Winner – This is the pinnacle for basketball players at any level.  Your shot still hanging in the air as the buzzer sounds, the swick of the net as the ball plops through, and the eruption of cheers (or groans if you are on the road).  There is finality to a buzzer beating shot, knowing that there is literally no time left for the opponent to come back.  You did it. You ended it. Game; Blouses. WOW Factor: 9

Baseball’s Walkoff Wins

There are quite a few ways to win (or lose) a close baseball game in the final innings, but players and fans love to see great plays to end a close game.  Whether you are holding the lead or giving your team a win, the feelings are priceless.

  • Saving the Game – Closers have a tough role (kinda).  They pitch for one inning, and their job is to maintain whatever lead the home team has (as long as it’s within three runs/inning).  Let’s not get into the crazy requirements for a save, just imagine that it is a save situation for you as the pitcher.  The ending to a game where your team has the lead is only as exciting as you make it.  If you have a three run lead and want to walk the bases loaded, go for it.  If you have a 1 run lead and strike out the side, be my guest.  Winning a baseball game defensively is usually one of the least exciting endings in sports (unless your closer sucks). WOW Factor: 2
  • Go-Ahead Hit – baseball is a funny sport in that no matter how big of a lead you have, the Home Team always has a chance to make it up in the final inning.  There is no running out the clock, playing the prevent defense, or taking a knee.  A go-ahead hit can happen any time late in the game which is what makes it a bit different than a walk-off (which we will get to later).  A go-ahead hit always relies on the defense maintaining that lead, which is why it is exciting at the time, but doesn’t have the finality to it as other game-ending plays.  Technically, a go-ahead hit will never be the last play of the game, but it can be the last scoring play of the game which makes it pretty exciting. WOW Factor: 6
  • Walk Off Hit – We are saving the best for last, so this doesn’t technically include home runs.  Walk off’s, by definition, can only happen to the home team, since it is in the final at-bat.  It is synonymous with a buzzer beater in basketball (or football) in that there are literally no chances for the opponent to come back.  A walk off can be a bases loaded walk, a bloop single that scores a run, a sacrifice fly or a bases-clearing triple.  You delivered when your team needed it the most and for that you deserve a pie in the face. WOW Factor:8
  • Walk Off Homer – OK this is the happiest that a Major League Baseball player could probably ever feel.  Your  team is down and you represent the winning run.  Maybe you work the count, maybe you go up hacking at the first pitch. No matter your approach, you see a ball that you can crush and you let it fly. Maybe you stand in the batters box and watch it for a bit, maybe you put your head down and hustle.  No matter what, the eruption of the crowd will let you know what happened (since walk offs always happen at home).  Your teammates come rushing out of the dugout and huddle around home plate. You toss your helmet as you round third and with a giant, final leap, you land on home plate and the game is over.  WOW Factor: 10

There are a lot of ways to win a ballgame, but in my mind, the walk off home run is the best.  It is always done at home which means the fans love it, it officially ends the game, and there are usually not a lot of scoring plays to choose from in a baseball game, making your walk off even that more special.  You could argue that basketball and football buzzer beaters are just as awesome, but the reason I didn’t rate them as high is simple. Basketball, there are usually hundreds of scoring plays, making your game winning shot not as important in the grand scheme of things.  Sure you beat out the clock, but it was just one of a dozen times you scored that day.  In football, a touchdown to end the game usually means that 11 other guys on the defense had their head up their butt somewhere which allowed you to score.  Trust me, it is an amazing play, but usually depends on a whole team doing something wrong to allow it to happen. If you think differently, come at me bro.

 

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.