5 Most Heroic Performances in Sports History

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By schwenkenstein01 on Flickr (CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Roy Halladay won the Cy Young earlier this week, all I could think about was his performance in the NLCS.  Halladay pitched the Phillies to a win with pulled groin muscle, one of the few bright spots in a bad series. I was inspired to search out for the most heroic performances all-time in sports.

5.  Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals.  In Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Willis Reed of the New York Knicks tore a muscle in his right thigh.  With Reed out in game 6, Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers only put up 45 points and grabbed 27 rebounds.  In game 7, Reed took an injection and hobbled out to defend the “Stilt.”    When the Lakers saw Reed come out of the tunnel, they stopped dead in their tracks.  According to Knicks guard Walt Frazier, “When I saw that, when they stopped warming up, something told me we might have them.”  The Knicks went on to win 113-99 behind Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists.  Wilt scored 21, less than half of what he scored with Reed out.  Plus, in today’s world, where guys sit out with a bruised pinky toe, the old “shoot it up, doc, I’m playing” attitude is refreshing.

4.  The Flu Game.  Of all the Jordan moments, this is one of signature.  Game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals, Michael Jordan steps on the floor with a stomach virus.  Dehydrated and weakened, Jordan was still able to put up 38 points, leading to a game 5 victory.  They clinched the series in game 6, locking up the second championship of their eventual second three-peat or their fifth championship.  The lasting memory here is a slumped Jordan being helped to the bench by teamates and the cool shoes he was donning.

3.  T.O. in the Super Bowl. This one is nearest and dearest to my heart.  In week 15 of the 2004-2005 season, the Eagles played their hated division rival, the Dallas Cowboys.  Philadelphia Eagles WR Terrell Owens caught a pass brought down from behind by Cowboys safety Roy Williams.  He grabbed Owens by the shoulder pads for leverage, and pulled him down backwards breaking his ankle.  After that season, that type of tackle was made illegal as the “horse-collar” tackle.  Owens was able to return way before schedule and play in Super Bowl XXXIX.  Owens, clearly not at 100%, still had coverage roll his way and was able to reel in 9 receptions for 122 yards.  His valiant effort aside, the Eagles lost 24-21 to the Patriots, and Owens went on to explode off the field the following year, doing sit-ups in his driveway and verbally fighting with his quarterback, Donovan McNabb.  We in Philadelphia still have the wonderful memory, so close to our first Super Bowl victory.

2.  The Bloody Sock.  In the 2004 ALCS, it was the hated rivals.  Red Sox versus Yankees.  The Yankees seemed to be ready to make quick work of the longtime foes and won the first 3 games of the series.  After a bruising game 3, losing 19-8, the Red Sox were able to make it a series and win the next 2.  Curt Schilling was scheduled to pitch game 6, but had a torn tendon in his right ankle.  Red Sox team doctors used 3 sutures to connect the skin with ligament and deep connective tissue next to the bone to allow Schilling to pitch.   Schilling pitched 7 strong innings, during which some of the sutures apparently became loose.  The cameramen for the broadcast were able to see blood soaking through Schilling’s white sock.   How apropos that this was for the Red Sox.    The Red Sox won game 6 behind Schilling and game 7, completing the first 3-0 deficit comeback in MLB history and eventually went on to win the World Series.  It was the first World Series championship since 1918 and immediately vaulted the “Bloody Sock” game into the annals of baseball lore.

1.  Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.  It’s every young baseball player’s dream to hit that homerun to win a game in the World Series.  Kirk Gibson had suffered injuries to both legs during the NLCS and was suffering from a stomach virus heading into game 1 of the World Series against the Oakland A’s. Gibson was not expected to play at all, however, long-time Dodger announcer Vince Scully noted during the game that Gibson was not on the bench.  He had been taking practice swings in the batting cages, and had informed manager Tommy Lasorda that he was available to pinch hit.  In the ninth with 2 outs and a runner on first down 4-3, Gibson limped to the plate.   He was facing Dennis Eckersley, future Hall of Famer and the most dominant closer of that era.  Going down no balls and 2 strikes (and looking bad doing it), Gibson was able to work the count to full.  Having studied tape of Eckersley, Gibson suspected Eck might try to sneak a backdoor slider by him.  He did try.  Gibson hooked the slider into the right field stands to win the game and initiated a hobbling, fist-pumping trot that will live in my inner 9 year old memory forever.

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