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My Top 5 Sports Highlights Ever

Okay, this isn't entirely Hawkeye-related -- something's coming on that front at 10:00 -- but it's sports-related, and I think we can all agree we're sports fans here (if you're not, um, do you know where you are?). I've been sent reeling by what Marshawn Lynch did to the Saints defense all weekend long, and then I made the declaration in Google Reader comments that it was definitely in my top 5 sports highlights ever without any consideration as to what those highlights might actually be. It just seemed to me that if I could really think of 5 plays I liked more, I probably didn't like sports for the reasons I say I do.

At any rate, on further reflection, yes it absolutely is one of my five favorite highlights ever. A few of my criteria, which I do not expect every reader to agree with:

1) Single plays only. If we're allowing edited highlight reels this list is total garbage, and if we're allowing entire swaths of games then nothing on Earth touches Plano East vs. John Tyler in 1994. The entire fourth quarter and overtime of Boise State-Oklahoma would be way, way up there too. I'm more interested in singular displays of athletic brilliance when we discuss highlights.

2) Real games and situations of plausibility. Otherwise this list would be nothing for 250-yard hole-in-ones and those videos where bros shoot baskets from moving Ferris Wheels or the top levels of parking garages or whatever. Or this one kid beating the buzzer with a blind backwards shot. Also, if it's a team sport, can you replicate the play on demand with no defense present? Otherwise, again, just luck.

3) The stage, team, and competition matter, but primarily as confounders rather than determinants. Look, if I were indulging my Iowa homer tendencies, Rob Houghtlin's game-winner against Michigan in the #1-vs.-#2 back in '85 would take up every spot on this list. I can barely get through the entire highlight without getting a little teary, especially thinking about what it meant. But at the end of the day, it was just a field goal from 29 yards. Same goes for Daniel Murray hitting from 31 yards against No. 3 PSU and all that entailed. Great opponents are a big deal, but short field goals are short field goals. The point is this: can you watch the play and be amazed without knowing anything about what made the play important to begin with? The play and game clock must speak for themselves.

All right, with that all out of the way, let's watch some magic. And yes, there is a sizable honorable mention section with many Hawkeye highlights.

HONORABLE MENTION, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER: Flutie-Phelan vs. Miami 1984, Shonn Greene vs. Wisconsin 2008, Marv Cook vs. OSU 1986, Julius Erving vs. LA 1980, Julius Erving vs. LA 1983, Landon Donovan vs. Algeria 2010, Seneca Wallace vs. Texas Tech 2002, Drew Tate & Warren Holloway vs. LSU, 2005, Tim Dwight vs. Michigan State, 1996, Dallas Clark vs. Purdue, 2002, Gareth Edwards & Barbarians vs. All Blacks, 1973.

5. Larry Bird & Dennis Johnson vs. Detroit, 1987

I was never a Celtics kid growing up. Always Lakers. That probably had something to do with the James Worthy poster I had growing up, thanks to my 11-year-older brother, plus I always loved Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar more than any of the guys Boston put on the floor (even as a fellow white person, I knew Kurt Rambis was whack as fuck). I also resented Michael Jordan and the Bulls, because again, LLLLLAKERS. That all stopped when Jerry Buss sent Shaquille O'Neal packing and now I have no favorite NBA team, but we're getting off-topic. Anyway, for as much as I never liked Boston, I've never seen a more clutch play in my life than what Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson combined to do to the Detroit Pistons in 1987.

4. Vince Carter vs. Frederic Weis (and I suppose the rest of France but mainly Weis), Summer Olympics, 2000

As dunks are inherently masculine displays -- possibly the most masculine in sports, considering the sheer level of athleticism required to complete one, especially during competition -- there may be no more emasculating act than being dunked upon (to the point where one must wonder whether Chris Gatling even has a penis anymore), especially when the dunked-upon is more physically suited to play at the rim than the dunker himself. Never has that been so exquisitely demonstrated than when Vince Carter demolished the Knicks' brand-new first-round pick, 7'2" Frenchman Frederic Weis, by jumping goddamn over him during a dunk in the 2000 Olympics. Weis would never play a game in the NBA after this incident, and few could blame him; even at the time, the French media (who were delighted to see a countryman go so early in the NBA draft) declared the play le dunk de la mort: "the dunk of death." Yes, I will absolutely celebrate THE DUNK OF DEATH.

3. Marshawn Lynch destroys the New Orleans defense, 2010

I just I just I can't even.

The best part--well, okay, the BEST part is where he breaks seven tackles and throws the reigning Super Bowl defensive hero 20 feet--but the best non-critical detail is Lynch's dick-grab as he crosses the goal line. BEEF MOE RESPECT BEEF MOE.

2. Tiger Woods vs. Augusta, 2005

Tiger Woods, like Michael Jordan, was somebody that I resisted revering for a long time--probably too long. And while I never came around on MJ until he was already retired (which is an irony of sorts, since the most recent evidence I had at that point was his ill-advised stint with the Washington Wizards), I did start recognizing Tiger's greatness as it happened. And while some of that came from not being some worthless 16-year-old know-it-all anymore, there was also this immortal chip at the Masters in 2005, which considering the golfer and course, might never be equaled:

When that shot went down, you could not watch it and not be a believer. Golf has seen many heroes, but none have done for the sport what mid-aughts Tiger Woods did. Further, Verne Lundquist calling the shot is perfect. Tiger's shot was perfect. The pause at the cup was perfect. The fact that Tiger had to win the tournament via playoff is perfect. And while I do not doubt 2005 Tiger Woods would be able to make that shot on command (given about five tries, anyway), it's just lucky enough to not be number one.

1. Maradona redefines soccer, 1986

It's okay to not like soccer. It's okay to not accept it as some coming leviathan of sportpocalyptic proportions that will change American sports as we know them or whatever. It's even okay, on some perverse level where you're not going to find many friends, to not like that Landon Donovan goal linked above that sent the USA through during the last World Cup.

If you can't appreciate the Diego Maradona goal against England from 1986, however, we absolutely cannot be friends, because it is the single greatest display of athleticism and sports aptitude in any sport ever, a brilliant and jaw-dropping exhibition of greatness on the world's largest stage, and a challenge completely unmet by the sport in the coming 25 years. Nothing in soccer or the rest of sport has ever equaled what Maradona did this day, and unless Lionel Messi accepts the challenge and personally demolishes an entire defense in one run like what Maradona did this day (in a Word Cup quarterfinal!), nothing in soccer ever will.