One of the innumerable selling points for sports is that fans have the chance to see something that's never happened before. (In a distant second, mascots throwing out free t-shirts.) The unknown is exciting, and we're in no position to get there, but there are some well-sculpted mammals out there that seem capable.
Will anyone ever match Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de Frances or Michael Phelps' eight gold medals? Probably not, but we never thought the Red Sox would ever win the World Series again. Or that an NFL team could go through the season undefeated after the '72 Dolphins did it. Or that Greg Norman and Tom Watson would return, as pentagenarians, to lead the British Open, only to completely piss it away. (They have a pill for that now.)
This list is for the unrepeatable. The once and never again. The "don't hold your breath because you could suffocate and your estate may litigate" moments.
Weight was given to:
• Prominence of the sport
• Novelty of the accomplishment
• How it makes me tingle at night when I can't sleep
So what sorts of deeds did we see that we shant see again in such magnitude?
(10) May 22, 2003: 18-year-old LeBron James signs $90 million endorsement deal with Nike
Will any individual player ever see that much money in endorsements before playing a minute in a professional sports venue? Keep in mind this was a month before the Cavaliers took him No. 1 overall.
In hindsight? What a valuable investment. But looking back at the LeBron phenomenon, it could have so easily not worked out.
(9) February 15, 2000: Martin Brodeur shoots game-winning goal in 4-2 victory
A total freak occurrence. Goalies have sometimes gotten the occasional empty netter, but in this case Brodeur merely cleared the puck. With the New Jersey Devils up 2-1, The Philadelphia Flyers, who pulled the goalie during a delayed penalty, mishandled the puck into their own net. Brodeur was the last Devil to touch it, and because he gave up another goal to Philly, he was credited with the better-than-it-sounds "game winning goal," the first goalie to ever do it, and perhaps the last.
(8) December 28, 2008: Detroit Lions finish 0-16
And the Dan Orlovsky, Rod Marinelli-led juggernaut found its final resting place.
The expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers went winless in a 14-game season, so they're not the first champions of futility, but with two more cracks at getting in the win column, and a league which parades the mantra of "parity" at every dogleg, this was a terrible team with terrible fortune.
(7) June 26, 2008: 4th seeded Fresno State wins College World Series
Between Utah and George Mason, I pick neither as the decade's college underdog. How many championships did they win?
Fresno entered the NCAA baseball tournament unranked and with a 37-27 record. Qualifying only because they won the WAC tournament, the Bulldogs knocked off No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Arizona State, No. 6 Rice, and No. 8 Georgia en route to the title.
This is like a 12-seed winning the NCAA basketball Final Four. And Mason was an 11-seed. Just reaching the semifinals? BORING!
(6) March 19, 2005: Blake Hoffarber hits buzzer-beater while flat on his ass to win the Minnesota state basketball title
There might be stranger shots to win basketball games. But the odds of swishing a basket while sprawled on the ground?
When it comes to game-winners, one will presumably not be using ideal mechanics. But quite often they know how far they have to push it.
However! When you're on your back, that's another six or seven feet you have to launch the arc. I hope kids around the nation practiced that shot in their driveway, and soiled their shirts in the process.
Hoffarber wasn't done. Three years later, while playing for Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals:
Standing upright. He practically cheated.
(5) October 17, 2001: Barry Bonds hits his 73rd home run
This may go up there with DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, batting .400, or throwing a no-hitter on LSD, as a record marked by the sign of the times. Between 1998 and 2001, there were six players who knocked 63 or more home runs (Sammy Sosa three times, Mark McGwire twice, and Bonds). Since then, there were only seven occurrences of 50 or more taters, with Ryan Howard getting as high as 58 in 2006.
There may be a situation in which 60- and 70-home run seasons become existent or even commonplace. (Ever played Super Baseball 2020? What foresight!) But it would require a culture shift, a blind eye, and a ton of steroids. Hey, we did it once…
(4) July 9, 2006: Marco Materazzi provokes Zinedine Zidane to headbutt him in the World Cup final
There have been insane fights in sports. (Ron Artest, are you reading? Of course not.) And there have probably even been headbutts during competition. But on perhaps the world's largest sports spotlight this side of the Olympics, for the Italian defender to get under the skin of one of the game's best with a classic "I want to bang your sister" routine … and to have it result in a friggin' headbutt? What a rare combination of notoriety, prominence, and innovation. Molto bene!
When someone is insulting you to the point of rage, what's your first reaction? A push, perhaps? Maybe a punch to the face? What involuntary spasm results in a noggin into the sternum? Of the above maneuvers, the headbutt is the most intricate of the unarmed combat selections.
(3) March 16, 2003: Ricky Craven wins NASCAR race by .002 seconds
Wow. Remember Ricky Craven? Of course you don't. He only won two career races at NASCAR's highest level, the latter being this photo finish over Kurt Busch in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. I mean, look at it:
If you thought Michael Phelps' photo finish in the medley was close, he had some space. That one was a difference of .013 seconds. And as much as the lore would like you to believe, Phelps doesn't swim 180 mph.
So yeah. Ricky Craven. That takes me back.
(2) September 1, 2007: Appalachian State beats No. 5 Michigan 34-32
It had never happened where an FCS team even beat a ranked team, let alone one so high. Looking back, it wasn't exactly a slam dunk upset; App State was a championship in their own subdivision, and they repeated that year. While the Wolverines weren't top 10 material, they did finish 9-4 with a No. 18 after beating Florida and Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl.
This could certainly happen again, but here's why it may not: these large teams receive no benefit from stomping on small schools. Scheduling them brings a risk that is not worth the reward. One might as well bring someone in from the MAC or Sun Belt; at least they're one of the bowl subdivision schools. The only time they'll dial up these smaller schools is to steal their coaches away to become coordinators.
(1) March 24, 2001: Randy Johnson kills a bird with a fastball in spring training
Hey, I'll admit it: I turned this into a long list for padding purposes. Because nothing else so much as sniffs the impossibility of repetition than this anomaly during the Diamondbacks spring training in 2001:
He threw a pitch and killed a bird. In the Big Unit's defense, the bird shouldn't have been flying there. It's almost Danny Darwinian.
No coincidence, that inadvertent animal sacrifice imbued Johnson with the power needed to go 3-0 in the World Series (another feat that hadn't happened in 33 years, but I don't remember Mickey Lolich's avian homicide rate).
You can never say never in sports, or in life. But you can probably sleep at night if you declared that this will never happen again. A Blue Jay will never maim a blue jay. A yellow hammer will never crush a yellowhammer. This was certainly unrepeatable. (Now just watch this happen next spring training, and it's gonna be Paul Byrd.)