The Cleveland Indians had a winning percentage of .721 in 1954, still the best in American League history. They played the New York Giants [97-57] in the World Series that year. Game One took place on September 29 at the Polo Grounds in New York, the most expansive stadium in baseball. The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the 8th inning when Vic Wertz came to the plate for Cleveland with runners on first and second base. Wertz, a four time All-Star, hit a 2-2 pitch an estimated 420 feet to straightaway centerfield, the deepest part of the park. Willie Mays, playing centerfield in his third big league season with the Giants, whirled and sprinted toward the wall and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch before whirling around to get the ball back to the infield before Larry Doby could tag up and score for the Indians. No runs scored on the play and the Giants retired the side before going on to sweep Cleveland in the series and win their first championship since 1933. Mays later said it was not the best catch of his career yet Time magazine voted it the # 7 most memorable moment in World Series history. One New York columnist wrote, “it would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”
On January 10, 1982 the San Francisco Giants [13-3] hosted the Dallas Cowboys [12-4] in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Dallas came into the game having won their fifth division title in six years and the Niners were making their first trip since the 1971 season when they lost to Dallas, 14-3. The Cowboys led, 27-21, with 58 seconds left in the game when San Francisco faced third and three from Dallas’ six yard line. Quarterback Joe Montana called, “Red Right Tight–Sprint Option Right”, a play in which he had found wide receiver Freddie Solomon for a touchdown earlier in the game. Montana was chased out of the pocket and, before being shoved to the ground and out of bounds by Cowboy pass rusher Ed “Too Tall” Jones, delivered a pass to the back of the end zone that Clark leaped and grabbed for the game winning score. San Francisco would go on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, two weeks later in Super Bowl XVI, marking the beginning of a dynasty that would see them win 4 more in the next 13 seasons.
One of the most acrobatic goals in hockey history was scored on Mother’s Day. The Western Conference champion St. Louis Blues visited Boston Garden on May 10, 1970 to play Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Eastern Conference winners, the Boston Bruins. 22 year old Bobby Orr was putting on the greatest season any defencemen had had in NHL history coming into the game. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading regular season scorer, Hart Trophy as regular season MVP, Conn Smythe as MVP of the playoffs and Norris Trophy for best defenceman and took a give-and-go pass from teammate Derek Sanderson and put it into the back of the net to complete the sweep and give the Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 29 years. Orr was tripped by the Blues’ Noel Picard and sent flying through the air just after releasing the shot. The goal was selected as the greatest moment in NHL history and is commemorated with a bronze statue of “Flying Bobby” that sits on the edge of where the old Boston Garden stood. The CBC includes the clip of this play in the opening of its weekly airing of Hockey Night in Canada.
The most attended women’s sporting event in history occurred on July 10, 1999 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California when the U.S. women’s team played China in the FIFA World Cup final before 90,185 patrons. The U.S. team had won the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic soccer tournament and had also won the inaugural Women’s World Championship, as the event was then called, in 1991. 24 teams qualified for the most important championship in women’s futball and China and the U.S. were the last two standing. The Chinese team had beaten the Americans in Portugal and three months earlier had ended the U.S’s 50-match home winning streak in a friendly at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The two teams played to a scoreless tie after 90 minutes of regulation play and were still knotted at zero after 30 minutes of extra time, so the match went to a penalty shootout. Each team got five alternating penalty kicks with the home club going last, and the score was 4-4 when defender Brandi Chastain booted in the game winner with her team’s final attempt. She immediately removed her jersey, something that is commonplace in the men’s game after a player scores a winning goal. The photo appeared on the cover of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week and was voted as the 14th greatest sports photo of all time.
Only 2,434 fans showed up at St. Dominic’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965. It remains the smallest crowd ever to attend a heavyweight title fight, the rematch between the champion Muhammed Ali and his challenger Sonny Liston. Their circumstances were flipped when they fought for the title 15 months earlier, as Liston was the champion and Ali [then known as Cassius Clay] a huge underdog when they fought for the first time in February of 1964. Clay changed his name to Ali shortly after that fight. The rematch was originally scheduled to take place on November 16, 1964 in Boston Garden but Ali suffered an inguinal hernia three days before the bout and had to undergo surgery. Racial tensions ran high around Ali’s involvement with the Nation of Islam and the venue was moved to Lewiston weeks before the fight as a safety precaution. The small crowd was treated to a quick ending, as Ali knocked Liston down with a fast right hand midway through the first round. It was highly controversial and came to be known as the “phantom punch”. Liston went down on his back, rolled over and got up on his right knee, then fell on his back again as Ali stood over him chanting, “get up and fight, sucker!”. Liston did not get up and Ali successfully defended his heavyweight title. This photograph became one of the most iconic images in sport and was chosen for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s special issue, “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos”.