The 50 Worst Screw-Ups in Sports History

Zack PumerantzAnalyst IIIJuly 24, 2012

The 50 Worst Screw-Ups in Sports History

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    Perfection is a term rarely used when discussing athletic competition. But over the course of history, it's become clear that imperfections are the building blocks that hoist success.

    Underneath the brilliant highlight reels and jaw-dropping finishes is a collection of forgettable performances that have simultaneously defined careers and tarnished franchises.

    Let's take a look at the 50 worst screw-ups in sports history, those that were immediately cemented in the legendary record books of mediocrity.

    Some were reckless, others misguided, all legendary.

    Legacies were scripted one mistake at a time.

50. Matt Hasselbeck's Failed Guarantee

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    We want the ball, and we're going to score.

    It was a statement that shocked and inspired viewers before an epic overtime coin toss during the 2003 NFC Wild Card Game between the Packers and Seahawks.

    Hasselbeck naturally made good on his guarantee. But unfortunately, his game-winning touchdown toss was thrown to Green Bay's Al Harris, who took it to the house.

    Cheeseheads advance.

49. Gus Frerotte's Head-Banging Ways

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    On 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line, Gus Frerotte was ready to make a miracle and cement his legend against the Giants on Sunday Night Football in '97. 

    With no receivers in sight, Frerotte ran for the pylon and scored before ferociously celebrating with a magnificent head-slam into the padded surrounding.

    A sprained neck and a trip to the hospital would naturally keep Frerotte from playing the second half of the Redskins' overtime tie against New York Giants.

    The 1997 Pro Bowler was never the same.

48. Robin Ventura's Wakeup Call

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    If there was one lesson we learned from then-46-year-old Nolan Ryan's epic takedown of his youthful counterpart, it was respect your elders.

    After getting brushed back on a pitch from the fiery hurler, Robin Ventura decided to take matters into his own hands. Or rather, Ryan's hands, as Ventura was pummeled six times in the head in noogie-like fashion.

    Ironically, Ventura was ejected. Ryan allowed to stay in the game.

47. DeSean Jackson's Rookie Mistake

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    As he develops into the superstar talent many envisioned, DeSean Jackson still has one legendary defender who keeps him ordinary. Himself.

    He soars like a shark in water, but eliminates any success with his arrogance. The Philly wide receiver is several attitude adjustments away from greatness.

46. Dave Smith's Spike Heard 'round the World

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    Few remember receiver Dave Smith for his three years of NFL service and 109 receptions. Most do remember him for his performance in the Oct. 18 Monday night game against the Chiefs in '71.

    After catching a pass from Terry Bradshaw, Smith ran for the end zone, ready to celebrate ferociously. But as he approached the pylon, Smith raised the ball and began to pump his arm, losing the pigskin in the process.

    The rock continued rolling into the end zone. Touchback.

    Career defined.

45. Wild Wing's Wild Ways

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    Word has it that in 1995, the Mighty Ducks' Wild Wing attempted a stunt in which he would jump over a "wall of fire." Naturally, he didn't clear it and was set aflame.

    While we don't have video footage, we're pretty sure this rendition is quite accurate.

44. A Year to Forget for Jose Canseco

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    Perhaps the most memorable home run of Jose Canseco's controversial career was one he didn't even hit. With a bat, that is.

    In 1993, he assisted on this forgettable Carlos Martinez home run.

    You're wearing a glove for a reason, big guy.

43. Hale Irwin Misses Completely

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    At the 1983 British Open, Hale Irwin showed fans why there is no such thing as a pure gimme in golf.

    After missing a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 14 in the third round, leaderboard-bound Irwin had several inches to reach the hole. Whiff.

    He would lose by one shot to Tom Watson.

42. Thomas Hamilton-Brown Eats His Way out

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    After South African lightweight boxer Thomas Hamilton-Brown lost a first-round split decision at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he decided to eat his depression away.

    But while Hamilton-Brown naturally put on some weight, one of the judges had apparently changed his scores, declaring Brown the winner. Too bad he couldn't make weight for his next fight and was disqualified. 

    A classy finish.

41. Bill Gramatica Jumps for Joy

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    The way kicker Bill Gramatica celebrated his 43-yard field goal in the first quarter against the Giants in this ordinary '01 matchup, you'd have thought he won the Super Bowl.

    But instead of a Lombardi Trophy, Gramatica secured a torn ACL and a permanent spot in the blunder record books. At least he's being an honorable bro about it...

    “You guys got it wrong,” he said. “You said I got hurt jumping. My jump was excellent. It was my landing I needed to work on. It was funny. It was part of my career. I talk about it all the time. You have to laugh about it.”

40. Chuck Knoblauch's Psyche

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    Once considered an elite defender with a scrappy nature, Chuck Knoblauch began to experience serious problems during the '99 season, when he made a career-high 26 errors at second base.

    His mentality only deteriorated, and it was only a matter of time before his errors hurt someone. That someone would naturally be sportscaster Keith Olbermann's mother, who was pegged by one of Knoblauch's errant throws.

    His psyche would seemingly never recover.

39. Tony Romo Loses His Grip

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    The Dallas Cowboys and their desperate signal-caller have had their fair share of failures in recent years, but one easily reigns supreme as the most heartbreaking.

    With Martin Gramatica set to plug a 19-yard field goal to take the lead in the '07 wild-card game against Seattle, fans eagerly clinging to the edge of their seats, Tony Romo did what few expected. Fumble the snap.

    Also their holder, Romo eventually picked up the glistening pigskin and ran for the end zone, set to score! Tackled from behind.

    Seahawks win 21-20 and advance.

38. Tony Allen Plays Through the Whistle

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    Don't dunk after the whistle, end of story.

    "Yeah...I watch it every day. Every day. Like when I go back home, I'll watch it all the way up until that point. I had 19 points," says Allen.

    Lesson learned.

37. Natalie Gilbert Preaches Patriotism

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    Aren't we taught to memorize the National Anthem since the first day we step into a preschool classroom? Natalie Gilbert didn't get the memo.

    Thankfully, Maurice Cheeks was there for the brilliant, no-look assist.

36. Sean Landeta's Featured Whiff

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    In the '86 playoff opener between the Bears and Giants, Chicago seemed the more dominant team. Six sacks on quarterback Phil Simms for minus-60 yards and constant wreckage in the New York backfield was complimented by one punting gaffe that few care to remember.

    Sean Landeta's epic whiff allowed safety Shaun Gayle to pick up the ball and travel five yards into the end zone for the first score. Ouch.

35. Dan Orlovsky Travels Far and Wide

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    Breathtaking footage, considering Dan Orlovsky may have cemented himself as the least-aware quarterback of all-time.

    Or perhaps he was yearning for a light jog around the field. Just stretching those hamstrings out.

34. The Legendary on-Field Band

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    While it's not quite clear who we blame for any of the chaos that occurred at the end of the '82 Big Game between Cal and Stanford, we're sure this was the most "amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-wrenching, exciting, thrilling" finish in college football history.

    Pure ridiculousness.

33. Julian Wright's Jayhawk Days

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    With the chance to make Vince Carter look like a second-grade hoopster by slamming the rock home ferociously, Kansas' Julian Wright crumbled.

    From eye-popping potential to head-dropping disappointment. This attempt morphed into an utter failure.

32. Roberto Baggio Scrapes the Edge

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    The only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups, Roberto Baggio was a legend in his country. And he was naturally expected to dominate one specific moment in 1994.

    After 120 goal-less minutes, only a penalty shootout could decide the championship. And with a final shot to tie the shootout, Baggio cleared the goal by what looked like at least 10 feet.

    Italy heartbreak. Blame it on the injured hammy.

31. Marty Mornhinweg Overanalyzes

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    After Chicago came back from a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit with two scores in the last 2:33, Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg decided to do the unusual. Kickoff in overtime.

    He was trusting the winds.

    But Detroit would never get the ball, as Da Bears would drive down the field and kick the game-winning field goal.

30. A Classy Exit

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    From spiked groin to atrocious tumble, this performance was just heinous all the way around.

    Act like you've been there. In the words of Mike Ditka, "C'Mon Man".

29. Lindsey Jacobellis' Falls Fast

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    Thanks to a premature celebration moments before the finish line, or rather, a failed "method," Lindsey Jacobellis tossed a '06 Turin Olympic gold medal right off the edge of the slope.

    Heartbreaking.

28. Jeremy Giambi Forgets the Fundamentals

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    Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS, Pinstripes leading by a score of 1-0, Jeremy Giambi on first, emotions soaring.

    A screaming grounder inside the first-base line by Terrence Long provokes Giambi to sprint hard around the bases with the intention of scoring. And of course, right fielder Shane Spencer misses the cutoff, second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

    But the captain himself, Derek Jeter, comes running across, grabs the ball and backhand flips it to Jorge Posada, who tags Giambi out. If only he'd slid.

    The Yanks would make and then eventually lose the World Series to the Diamondbacks.

27. Patrick Roy Stands Too Tall

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    Arrogant, confident, dramatic, dominant. Patrick Roy was a goaltending legend who did things his way.

    But his showboating way cost his Avalanche in the '02 Western Conference Finals against the Red Wings, when Roy believed he had the puck secured and turned in his typical "Statue of Liberty" pose.

    However, the rubber dropped, and Brendan Shanahan would score the goal. Colorado would lose the series, 4-3, and the Wings would win the Cup.

26. Dan O'Brien Misses the Cut

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    After winning the world championship a year earlier, decathlete Dan O'Brien was expected to dominate the '92 Olympic Games. And then it happened...

    He'd passed the first four heights before attempting to clear 15 feet and nine inches. O'Brien failed three times, not even making the Olympic squad as a result.

    But it would still be a fairytale ending for O'Brien, who would win a gold at the 1996 Games.

25. John Carney's Ultimate Chip Shot

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    Following the lateral-happy finish that saw the Saints come back from 20-13 with a chance to tie on a simple extra point, kicker John Carney walked onto the field to the smiling of euphoric fans.

    After coming back from their own 25-yard line with seven seconds left in regulation, few could've predicted the forgettable ending. Miss!

    In the end, the Cowboys and Seahawks both won, naturally eliminating the Saints. But man, what a rough plane ride home that must've been.

24. Jim Marshall's Sense of Direction

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    Despite 127 career sacks and a record 270 consecutive games started (by a defensive end), Vikings great Jim Marshall will always be remembered for his wrong-way run in 1964.

    After picking up a 49ers fumble, Marshall pranced 66 yards for a memorable score. His celebratory spike came right before his realization that he was in the wrong end zone. Safety.

    Minnesota would still win, 27-22.

23. Zinedine Zidane Gets Ahead of the Game

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    This legendary French footballer was sent off in the 110th minute of the 2006 World Cup Final after this heady mistake.

    After head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest, Zinedine Zidane had to watch his French club lose, 5-3, in penalty shootout. It would be his last game on the pitch.

    But blame it on Materazzi's classless nature.

22. Sven Kramer's Lane Problems

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    Thanks to coach Gerard Kemkers sending him down the wrong path on a changeover during the 25 laps of the 10,000-meter speedskating race, Sven Kramer's 10,000-meter winning streak (hadn't lost in three years) was over.

    Disqualified and furious.

21. North Carolina Catches a Break

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    Poor Fred Brown, just calmly losing composure.

    After Michael Jordan's jumper, Brown would essentially hand UNC the 1982 National Championship with a reckless delivery of the basketball to James Worthy (the eventual Most Outstanding Player of the tournament).

    Too much moment for one baller to handle.

20. Woody Hayes Gets Moody

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    To compliment his 238 college-level wins as head coach, Woody Hayes gave us a heavyweight masterpiece during the 1978 Gator Bowl.

    While certainly a memorable swing, Hayes was fired for his actions...the following morning.

19. Suriname's First Olympian

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    Ready to become the first athlete from Suriname to compete in the Olympics (1960), Wim Esajas made sure to get plenty of rest. An honorable decision indeed. 

    But due to an alleged scheduling conflict, the 800-meter athlete rested in the morning and missed the heats. Easily the greatest lapse in Olympic history.

18. Chris Webber Loses Count

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    The final 18 seconds of the 1993 Michigan-UNC National Championship Game is a brief period of time Chris Webber would love to have scrapped from the record.

    After an obvious travel and heinous no-call, Webber perused his way up court before calling a necessary timeout. But wait, Michigan was out of timeouts. Technical foul.

    UNC literally handed its second straight title.

17. All Blacks Allow France to Comeback

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    After losing to the All Blacks by a record 54-7 only four months prior, France's rugby club was ready for revenge. But few expected such a roller-coaster performance.

    Trailing 24-10 at the interval, France eventually trounced back behind leader Christophe Lamaison with three tries and seven accurate kicks in the second half.

    France would beat New Zealand, 43-31, in that magical 1999 final, securing the biggest upset in World Cup history.

16. Marcos Ambrose Switches Gears

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    With the lead at the Infineon Raceway in 2010, Aussie driver Marcos Ambrose did something few others would dare. He shut the car off.

    Looking to conserve fuel, Ambrose naturally had issues starting the car back up. Before he knew it, he was embracing seventh place and Jimmie Johnson was hoisting the trophy.

15. Leon Lett's Rough Journey

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    Most remember this man's gaffe in Super Bowl XXVII, in which he recovered a fumble on Buffalo's 45-yard line, ran it back toward the end zone, decided to slow down and celebrate and then had it stripped by Don Beebe. But considering the 'Boys won that '93 Big Game, 52-17, we'll let that mistake go.

    But next season's Thanksgiving Classic was a different story, although somewhat of the same headiness.

    Leading the Miami Dolphins 14–13 with 15 seconds remaining in the game, 'Fins kicker Pete Stoyanovich ready to attempt a game-winning pooch, icy terrain melting away. Blocked!

    But instead of allowing the ball to die down and let the refs pick it up, Leon Lett comes rumbling, bumbling and stumbling on top of the ball, squirting it into the arms of shocked Dolphins. Re-kick.

    Kick good, Dolphins win, 16-14.

14. Patrik Stefan's Career in a Nutshell

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    The epitome of embarrassing, Patrik Stefan's empty-net miss goes down as perhaps the worst performance in NHL history.

    The former first-overall disappointment couldn't even score without a blocker. Not much went right for perhaps the biggest bust in the hockey record books.

13. Fred Merkle Pulls a Steve Urkel

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    In a 1908 game between the Giants and Cubs, a 19-year-old Fred Merkle made perhaps the most ridiculous gaffe in major league history.

    After singling, Merkle was on first and his teammate Moose McCormick on third with the game tied at one a piece. Al Bridwell singles in the next at-bat and McCormick scores, the crowd in a frenzy, players undoubtedly tearing with joy.

    But as Merkle trounced toward the dugout, crafty second baseman Johnny Evers noticed the teenage ballplayer hadn't touched second base. He runs over and touches the bag. Force out.

    The game would be called a tie, and the two teams would have an October rematch at the Polo Grounds. Cubs win the October game, and as a result, the National League Pennant.

12. Roy Riegels Makes a Memory

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    Great play, wrong way.

    Pioneering the way for misguided gridiron folk, Roy Riegels would eventually see Jim Marshall join the club in '64. But the '29 Rose Bowl was most unique in that Riegels would block a punt in the second half and play brilliantly en route to losing the national championship to Georgia Tech, 8-7.

    A rough three hours for the former center.

11. Tim Welke's Huge Miss

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    Arguably the most bone-headed call in MLB history involved respected umpire Tim Welke.

    And while it was a seemingly meaningless game between the Dodgers and Rockies, this massive error disturbed the baseball world. The human element isn't so beloved anymore.

10. Steve Smith Sparks Heartbreak

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    While considered a stout defenseman during his length NHL career, Steve Smith is remembered best for his forgettable rookie mistake in Game 7 of the Smythe Division Final against the rival Flames.

    With Calgary and Edmonton tied at two apiece, Smith shot a pass from behind his own net that banked off goaltender Grant Fuhr and went in for the score.

    Calgary would advance, but eventually lose the '86 Stanley Cup.

9. Bill Buckner's Historic Approach

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    With the Mets down 3-2 in the '86 World Series to the Red Sox, few expected such a vibrant miracle to occur. But in the bottom of the 10th, Game 6, New York having just tied the game...it happened.

    Mookie Wilson taps a weak ground ball to first, and ailing first baseman Bill Buckner (who manager John McNamara chose to keep out there instead of defensive replacement Dave Stapleton) rushes the play to beat the speedster to the bag. Whoops.

    Buckner's five-hole error would cement his legacy forever. In the end, would we even remember him otherwise?

8. Armando Galarraga Almost-Perfect Game

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    If they ever felt like applying an error to an umpire, this would be it.

    Jim Joyce's atrocious call to take away Armando Galarraga's potential perfect game will go down as one of the most disturbing calls in history. However, both men handled the murky situation with class.

7. Roberto De Vicenzo Forgets to Check the Score

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    What a stupid I am to be wrong here. 

    That was all the Argentinian golfer could utter following his carelessness at the 1968 Masters Tournament.

    He'd forced a 18-hole playoff between him and Bob Goalby following a historic showing. But unfortunately, his birdie-three on the 17th hole was wrongly scored as a four by playing partner Tommy Aaron.

    De Vicenzo would lose by one point.

6. Jackie Smith's Rocky Road

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    When he retired, Hall of Famer Jackie Smith's 7,918 receiving yards were the most ever by a NFL tight end. But the former Cardinal and Cowboy was still remembered most for his epic drop in Super Bowl XIII against the Steelers.

    Down 21-14 in the third quarter, Roger Staubach in the pocket, pigskin soaring across the field. Plunk.

    The 'Boys had to settle for a field goal, and would eventually lose, 35-31, the touchdown being the difference. Smith would retire after the season.

5. Andres Escobar's Costly Kick

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    It was Andres Escobar (the Gentleman of Football) who once said, "life doesn't end here."

    But for this Colombian legend, his own goal at the '94 FIFA World Cup would cost Escobar his life, in what many believe was in response to huge gambling losses for several drug lords.

    A horrific ending to a brilliant career. R.I.P. Andres Escobar.

4. Miracle at the Meadowlands

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    (Fast forward to :35 for live footage)

    After watching the G-Men essentially pioneer the way for the beloved "late-game, clock-killing knee-down," it becomes clear that Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka were never on the same page.

    But Herm Edwards was on everyone's page, as he took the resulting fumble for an epic score.

    You play to win the game!

3. Babe Ruth's Move to New York

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    Dec. 26, 1919 was a day that would be remembered, studied and scrutinized forever. 

    Boston owner Harry Frazee sent his beloved Babe to New York in order to finance his own play, "No, No Nanette." Many believe this triggered the notorious Curse of the Bambino, or rather, an 86-year championship drought.

    Bostonians would've likely called the play "No, No Frazee."

2. Ruben Rivera's Quest for Home Plate

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    And that was the worst baserunning in the history of the game. 

    Well put, Jon Miller; we couldn't have said it better. 

    As a career .216 hitter, Ruben Rivera clearly had to do something to get critics off his back. Perhaps if they concentrate on his base-running prowess.

    Just trying to make miracles happen, but failing every step of the way.

1. Colorado's Extra Down

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    In what became arguably the most atrocious referee showing in gridiron history, the Colorado Buffaloes were somehow given an extra chance to beat the Missouri Tigers in 1990.

    To call the down-marker failure mind-boggling would be a vast understatement. Colorado would beat the Tigers on a last second touchdown run in what became the textbook example of incompetence.

    The illustrious human element at its finest.