Professional athletes do things on a daily basis that most of us can only dream about. Yet, there have been some performances throughout the years that make everyone, even professional athletes, look on with awe. These are once in a lifetime moments and achievements that occur when a professional athlete happens to be not only in a zone, but in a different stratosphere.
Sports fans love to debate and rank players and achievements, so I figured I’d go ahead and make a list of what I consider the most dominating single game, or single event performances ever. Note that this does not include performances over the span of a career, or a season, but basically single games or events, such as several days at an Olympics. By no means do I think this is all comprehensive, but these are the performances I felt the most strongly about. If your favorite performance isn’t on the list, feel free to leave a comment letting me know which one you think deserves some recognition.
Here’s my list, in no particular order:
Kerry Wood’s 20 Strikeout/1 Hit Game
In major league baseball history there have been twenty one perfect games, hundreds of no-hitters, and Roger Clemens even threw two twenty strikeout games, but I don’t know if anyone has ever pitched a more dominating game than the Cubs’ Kerry Wood did on May 6, 1998. Not only did he strike out twenty Houston Astros, only two Astros even reached base. One was hit by a pitch, and the other reached on a weak ground ball to third that should have been handled by the third basemen, and for some reason was called a hit. If not for that scoring decision, Wood would have had a no-hitter in addition to his strikeout gem. If you’ve never seen the images from this game, you might wonder how this could be considered better than a perfect game. I would encourage you to go online and find the highlights. Wood’s fastball routinely reached triple digits and his curve ball had more movement than anything that’s been seen this side of a wiffle ball game. Out of 122 pitches, 84 of those were strikes, and the Astro hitters only hit the ball in fair territory seven times, with only two reaching the outfield! Digest that for a second. And for all you sabermetric fans out there, according to Bill James’ method of scoring individual pitching performance in a game, it is the best pitching performance in the history of Major League Baseball.
Usain Bolt’s 2009 World Championship Performance
Few sprinters have completely dominated the competition the way Usain Bolt did at the 2009 World Championships. Sure there have been athletes who have won multiple events and set world records, but Bolt’s performance in Berlin in the 100m and 200m events was not just record breaking. It was awe inspiring. In the 100m Bolt ran a 9.58, besting the world record he already held by .11 seconds. It was the largest margin of improvement in the 100m world record since electronic timing was introduced to the sport in 1977. To put this into further context, the world record in the 100m in 2007 was 9.74 until Bolt ran a 9.72 and broke it. Just two years later he ran a 9.58 – a .16 second improvement. The time it took for the world record to drop from 9.90 to 9.74 – the previous .16 second improvement? Sixteen years. His domination didn’t end there, however. In the 200m he ran a ridiculous 19.19, obliterating his own world record of 19.30, and the competition, winning by the largest margin of victory ever in the event in World Championship history. This despite the fact that more runners finished below the 19.90 mark than in any other 200m race in World Championship history. Talk about being at another level.
Secretariat Wins the Belmont Stakes by 31 Lengths
Horse racing is at its most exciting when the finish is so close the naked eye cannot distinguish the winner from the second place finisher. Thus the so called photo finish. At the 1973 Belmont Stakes, a photo finish was not needed – in fact it was difficult for the television cameras to get Secretariat and the second place finisher, Sham, in the same screen. In completing the Triple Crown, Secretariat not only won the Belmont Stakes, but did it in record breaking and awe inspiring fashion. The stallion won by 31 lengths, breaking the old Triple Crown record mark of 25 lengths which had been set thirty years before. Secretariat likewise broke the 1.5 mile dirt track record by recording a time of 2:24. Not only does this record still stand almost forty years later, no other horse has ever even broken 2:25 on a 1.5 mile dirt track.
Tiger Woods Wins the U.S. Open by 15 Strokes
The performance that put Tiger Woods on the world golf scene was his 12 stroke victory at the 1997 Masters. I would argue his most dominating performance was the display he put on at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He won by 15 strokes. That’s right, 15 strokes. But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. He shot a 12 under par, and in doing so became the first golfer to break the double digit under par barrier at a U.S. Open Championship. And if you’ve done the math, that put second place at 3 OVER! So while the remaining field of professional golfers was struggling to reach 3 or 4 over par, Woods was casually 12 under. Not surprisingly, this was the first of four consecutive majors Tiger won, as he completed his “Tiger Slam”, and kicked off what was possibly the best golf he’s played in his illustrious career.
Michael Phelps Wins 8 Gold Medals in one Olympics
In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in a dominating performance for the ages. In preparing for the Olympics, he set out to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals, and not only succeeded under immense pressure, but participated in the breaking of seven world records in the process. The only event he did not set a world record in was the 100m Butterfly, in which he set the Olympic record. The other events he won – 400m Individual Medley, 4x100m Freestyle Relay, 200m Freestyle, 200m Butterfly, 4x200m Freestyle Relay, 200m Individual Medley, 4x100m Individual Medley Relay. The athleticism and endurance displayed by Phelps during this week of dominance was incredible, because he not only had to win all of the finals he competed in – he likewise had to swim in qualifying heats just to get to the finals. When you compare the amount of time he spent in the water to other swimmers who might simply compete in two or three events, his performance becomes even more incredible. After the games, even Mark Spitz said Phelps might be the greatest athlete of all time.
Norm Van Brocklin Passes for 554 Yards
In 1951, Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams set the NFL single game passing record with a 554 yard performance against the New York Yanks. This might not seem like one of the most awe inspiring achievements of all time, but it needs to be put into context. First of all, when Van Brocklin set the record, he broke the old mark by almost 100 yards! He also did it in an NFL that still focused mainly on running the football, with passing being more of an afterthought. This is evident when looking at the list of players below him on the list. The only other quarterback on the list who played before 1960 is Johnny Lujack, who threw for 468 yards in 1949. Van Brocklin’s record was clearly before its time. The other reason I think this record belongs on the list is because of its longevity. I find it incredible that in today’s pass happy, quarterback and receiver friendly NFL, this record still stands. Favre, Brady, Manning, Elway, Montana, Marino, and Brees might have a host of records, and individual achievements during their illustrious careers, but Van Brocklin’s individual game record still stands sixty one years later.
Bob Beamon’s World Record Jump
Bob Beamon might not be a household name in 2012, but when he destroyed the world record in the long jump in 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, everyone in the sports world knew his name. He was the favorite in the event leading up to the Olympics, but no one could have foreseen his jump of 29 ft. 2 ½ in. that broke the existing world record by nearly two feet. His record would stand for twenty three years until the legendary Mike Powell finally broke it in 1991. To put this into context, the long jump world record had been broken thirteen times in the sixty seven years leading up to the 1968 Olympics. His jump was so long that the device that had been installed to record the distance of the jumps during the event was not designed to measure a jump that long; therefore it had to be measured the old fashioned way – by hand. Interestingly, Beamon never again came within 2 ½ ft. of his record setting jump. Forty four years later it is still the second longest jump of all time.
Harvey Haddix’s Perfect Game – Sort of
There are no-hitters, there are perfect games – and then there is what the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Harvey Haddix did on May 26, 1959. On that day, he pitched a perfect game for twelve innings – that’s right, twelve innings! He retired the first 36 Atlanta Braves he faced without allowing a base runner, yet incomprehensibly ended up losing the game because his team couldn’t score any runs for him. In the thirteenth inning, with the score still 0-0, a fielding error yielded the Braves’ first base runner, and after a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk, Hank Aaron ended the game with a home run that was later ruled a double. Regardless, it was the first hit allowed by Haddix, and spoiled what was a pitching performance for the ages. How dominating was Haddix? It was later revealed that the Braves were stealing signs from the Pirates catcher – therefore all the Braves batters knew what pitches were coming. Yet even with that knowledge, they were unable to touch Haddix.
Wilt Chamberlain Scores 100 Points
It’s not just that the Philadelphia Warriors’ Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks, it’s that no one else has really come close to breaking it. And I doubt anyone ever will. Kobe Bryant, who holds the second slot on the all time scoring list for an individual game, netted 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. But that’s still well shy of Chamberlain’s amazing mark. I’ve heard people say that the only reason Chamberlain reached the mark was because the Warriors kept feeding him the ball down the stretch. And while I’m sure this is true, let’s ask ourselves how often Kobe Bryant passed the ball down the stretch in his 81 point game. And when David Robinson scored 71 points in 1994, there was a concerted effort to get him the ball down the stretch as well. Yet, even though similar tactics were used in those games, neither performance approached Chamberlain’s achievement. The fact of the matter is that no one has dominated the NBA from a scoring standpoint the way Wilt Chamberlain did during his prime, and his 100 point game was the perfect representation of that fact. It remains one of the most amazing, well known, and unbreakable individual game records in sports.
Reggie Jackson’s Three Home Run Game in the World Series
If Reggie Jackson had just hit three home runs in Game 6 of the 1978 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, that would have been legendary enough, with only Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols being the other players who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. But the fact that he did it on three consecutive pitches, against three different pitchers is simply mind boggling. And if you go back to Game 5, when in his final at bat he hit a home run off of Don Sutton, he hit four home runs on four consecutive swings against four different pitchers. For the entire series he hit five home runs (a record), had 24 RBIs, hit .357, and had 25 total bases (a record). If that isn’t being in a zone, I don’t know what is.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee sets World Record in Heptathlon
If Jackie Joyner-Kersee isn’t the greatest female athlete who has ever lived, she’s definitely in the top two. And her athletic prowess was put on full display in the 1988 Seoul Olympics in her record setting performance in the heptathlon. By its very nature, the heptathlon is the standard for overall athleticism for women, as it incorporates seven different events into one larger competition. Those seven events include the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, and 800m. Points are awarded for each event based on performance, with all points being totaled to determine the winner. When we consider that Jackie Joyner Kersee holds the top six all time scores in the heptathlon, her domination of the event becomes clear. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, her score was a world record setting 7,291. Just for good measure, she went out and won the gold medal in the long jump – setting an Olympic record along the way. Twenty four years later her world record in the heptathlon still stands, and there’s never been anyone not named Jackie Joyner Kersee who has come within 259 points of that mark.
The Mad Dog Hall of Fame: The Ultimate Top Ten Rankings of the Best in Sports by Christopher Russo – If you like lists that rank achievements and players, this is your book.
The Mad Dog 100: The Greatest Sports Arguments of All-Time by Christopher Russo – If you want to argue with me because you don’t agree with the selections on my list, this is your book.
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