Sports

Defining A Decade: The Most Memorable ’90s Sports Moment Tournament

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The NCAA Tournament is nearly upon us, and we’ve got ​bracket fever!

Today, we’re looking back on the 1990s, a decade in which everyone had the same set of enduring sports memories, before the Internet splintered our culture into an endless series of insular communities. If you lived through these moments, you remember them well.

We’ve narrowed the field to 16 moments to get us started. Over the next couple days, vote for which ones stand out the most in your mind. The round of eight will begin on Thursday, March 17!

(Illustrations by Dave Rappoccio; Words by Matt Rothstein)

FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL REGION

No. 1 O.J. Simpson’s Bronco Chase (1994)

It was only a “sports” moment in that it involved a former athlete, but you could also argue that it turned rubbernecking into a national pastime. It was surreal, unbelievable and a more universally shared moment than anything in the Internet age — which makes it possibly the most quintessentially ’90s moment there is.

No. 8 Desmond Howard Strikes The Heisman Pose (1991)

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is still a big deal, but it loomed large over college football in the early ’90s, so soon after the days of Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. Desmond Howard’s touchdown return may be the greatest play in The Game’s history, and his capping it off by striking his Heisman pose (an award he would win that year) was the cheeky icing on the cake.


No. 4 Michael Jordan’s Finals Dagger Over Byron Russell (1998)

M.J.’s picturesque, title-winning jumper was the perfect ending to the greatest career in NBA history, push-off or no push-off. What do you mean, he came back again, only as the oldest Wizard not named Gandalf? That’s crazy. This here’s the ’90s, so Jordan still rode off into the sunset for our purposes.

No. 5 Chris Webber’s Technical Timeout (1993)

Before one-and-done became the preferred method of NBA prospects, the Fab Five’s precocious talent and swagger captured the nation’s attention. Chris Webber’s timeout-that-wasn’t made sure that they didn’t also capture a national title.


No. 3 Scott Norwood’s Super Bowl Kick Goes Wide Right (1991)

Imagine how much harder that already gut-wrenching loss would have been for Bills fans if they had known that in four-straight Super Bowl appearances, their first would be the closest they’d ever come to winning. Also, that kick was 46 yards. Many remember it as a chip-shot, but it was far from it.

No. 6 John Elway’s Super Bowl Helicopter (1998)

Nearing the end of his long and storied career and still without a championship ring, John Elway had nothing left to lose — except for his safety and possibly his consciousness, of course. Elway’s reckless abandon was always one of his most storied attributes, and nowhere was it more memorable than that spinning, flying leap.


No. 2 Christian Laettner’s Game-Winning Shot (1992)

Outside of Durham, Laettner’s not exactly a well-loved figure, even decades later. However, unlike his sore-thumb appearance on the Dream Team, no one can argue that his perfect game in the 1992 National Championship, capped by an all-time great buzzer-beater, earned him legend status.

No. 7 Leon Lett’s Snow Game Fumble (1993)

Amazingly, this is one of two unbelievably stupid Leon Lett plays from the ’90s, the other being his fumble at the goal line in Super Bowl XXVII. This one — wherein Lett inexplicably charges to recover a blocked kick that would otherwise have been blown dead, only to kick it and allow the Dolphins to recover — is one of the very dumbest plays in sports history. Leon, you’re a legend twice over.


THE OTHER SPORTS REGION

No. 1 Mike Tyson Bites Off Evander Holyfield’s Ear (1997)

Tyson entered the ’90s on top of the boxing world, but after spending three years in prison for rape and losing his title to Holyfield, he was desperate to grab onto what once was — even if it was Holyfield’s ear, and he was grabbing with his mouth. This was one of the biggest Did you see that?! moments of the decade.

No. 8 Joe Carter’s Walk-Off World Series Homer (1993)

Joe Carter’s dinger is still one of only two walk-off home runs to win a World Series. His jubilation as he rounds first base is burned into the memories of every baseball fan — and there were a lot more of those in the ’90s, we promise. Even if you don’t remember, the call will still give you chills: “Touch ‘em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run!”


No. 4 Brandi Chastain Wins World Cup (1999)

The 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team is still the most famous group of female athletes in American history, but who knows if that would be the case if Chastain hadn’t put away China in penalty kicks? Mia Hamm may have been the superstar of the team, but Chastain’s wild, shirtless celebration is the image we all remember.

No. 5 Tiger Wins His First Masters (1997)

Before all the injuries and the scandal, before the young bucks passed him by, Tiger was the young buck. More than that, he was dominant on a level no one had ever seen, and became world famous for playing golf. He had already said Hello, world, but when he won his first Masters, he had officially arrived.


No. 3 Mark McGwire Hits Home Run 62 (1998)

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s chase for Roger Maris’ home run crown defined the summer of 1998 in sports, even as MLB was all, Steroids, haha! What’re those?! But back then, the sport wasn’t flagellating itself over its integrity — we just wanted to see players sock some dingers!

No. 6 Cal Ripken Breaks Consecutive Games Streak (1995)

This one was less a shocking climax than the satisfying end of a great, long movie. Ripken’s streak defined the early ’90s for many baseball fans, before the rest of the decade was swept up by home run fever. The night he actually pulled it off was one of the biggest sports parties of the decade.


No. 2 Nancy Kerrigan Assaulted (1994)

It was a story straight out of a telenovela, with the jealous Tonya Harding precipitating the downfall of the ascendant Nancy Kerrigan. The fact that it was a horrific assault with the aftermath caught on camera made it all the more insane, and the drama that unfolded titillated the nation.

No. 7 Nolan Ryan Punishes Robin Ventura (1993)

As far as historical significance goes, old-ass Nolan Ryan beating young pup Robin Ventura into submission may rank at the bottom of the list. Yet somehow, this one makes us laugh and smile more consistently in memory than all the other 15. There’s a reason Liam Neeson is one of our biggest action stars — it’s because few things are as satisfying as an old dude kickin’ ass.

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