Peru vs. Australia
After the emotional rush of hearing the Peruvian national anthem, and seeing La Blanquirroja on a global stage for the first time in my life had subsided, the disappointment of realizing my home country’s World Cup campaign was coming to an end had rushed in. Peru had played pretty damn well against Denmark and France, but one defensive slip in each game forced the team to take a loss in both matches. Because of that, I wasn’t quite rushing out of bed to watch their third group stage match against Australia.
The day of the game, I woke up just in time to catch the national anthems through a stream on my phone. The moment was heartwarming, but didn’t really bring any emotion out of me. That changed 18 minutes after opening kickoff. Veteran strike Paolo Guerrero, who only barely made it into the World Cup squad after all of the participating nations’ captains petitioned to lift his doping ban, crossed the ball to Andre Carrillo, who volleyed the ball into the bottom left corner of the net for the opening goal. At that moment, I instinctively shouted a bunch of Spanish curses and praises to God before running out to my family’s living room to watch the game for real. About half an hour of game time later, Guerrero ended up getting his first World Cup goal and doubled Peru’s lead. Sure, it was ultimately a consolation win, but the score meant that Peru got to play spoiler and ruin Australia’s chances of making it into the knockout stage of the tournament.
The big highlight was talking to my dad afterwards about the moment. To put what this meant into context: Peru’s last World Cup appearance was in 1982, and their last win in the tournament came in 1978. Before this year, most of my memories of watching Peru play with my dad involved crushing defeat after crushing defeat. The only fleeting moments of joy seemed to come in important ties. In fact, the most excited I had ever been after watching a game with my dad was after a 1-1 draw against Brazil well over a decade ago, and the most fun I had watching Peru play in person was at a 2-1 friendly defeat against the U.S. Men’s National Team. Simply put: this was a big fucking deal, and it’s something I’m going to hold onto for a long time. I just hope I don’t have to wait 40 years to share a moment like this with my future kids. - Gabe Fernandez
Jordan Poole’s Buzzer Beater
Jordan Poole’s buzzer beater against Houston is objectively incredible, and an instantly legendary NCAA Tournament moment. Seeing a little-known freshman who is nonetheless just dripping with swag fire a prayer of a long-distance shot as time expires with his team’s season on the line is pretty much the entire reason that people care about amateur basketball. Every image surrounding Poole’s shot, from the splits as he does as he rises to the sprint away from his teammates in delirious celebration, is gloriously unforgettable and instantly iconic. And conversely, Houston senior Devin Davis’s agonizing position face down under the basket after the make reminds everyone watching just how high the stakes were.
And if you happen to be a major fan of Michigan basketball, Poole’s make late on a Saturday night in March was the play from their Final Four season that made you want to text everyone you ever went to school with some variation on “OH MY GODD!!!!!!” The buzzer-beating bucket was cool for a billion different reasons, but for me—gone from Ann Arbor and watching the NCAA Tournament without a lot of my closest friends for the first time in four years—it was a way to reconnect briefly with so many people who have passed through my life. All over the country, an impossible moment got burned into our memories forever, and all we can do is be thankful for a cocky 18-year-old from Milwaukee who didn’t shy away from a chance to make history. - Lauren Theisen
The Never-Ending World Series Game
The best sports moment of the year the 18-inning, more than 7-hours-long World Series baseball game between the Dodgers and Red Sox in Game 3. Admittedly, some of this is me being a homer—I live in Los Angeles, root for the Dodgers (now that the Pirates have disappeared from the planet), and they won. I’m conveniently leaving out that the Red Sox went on to win the World Series.
But thankfully this is a list of favorites, not of moments deemed great by the scientific method, and I needed to find something positive about sports this year. So for me, this was it. There is something about moments in sports where everything goes to hell, you run out of game plans, you run out of backup plans, and management is just seeing what sticks. Or, in this case, when your nine-inning game doubles into 18 and you know the quality of play will just go down and down as players push through exhaustion, each team scraping the remains of its bullpen into something that looks like major-league pitching.
It isn’t elegant, but it is the ultimate cliffhanger. You can’t completely turn away. Well, okay, I did turn away when the Red Sox were at bat because, at that point, only bad things could happen for the Dodgers. It turned out to be a great way to catch up on TV shows, and I highly recommend it for stressful baseball watching.
These are the moments that keep us hooked on sports. Because for all the stats, for all the innovations, for all the science, there’s nothing that replaces the rush of being deeply invested in a form of entertainment and having no idea what will happen next. The downside of this is the lows are so low. But the highs? There’s still nothing else like them. - Diana Moskovitz
The Minneapolis Miracle
As a football play, it had everything: An impressive display of athleticism from Stefon Diggs and an even more impressive example of awareness in avoiding going out of bounds, despite his teammates and coaches yelling at him to do so; the pathos-plumbingly bad decision by Marcus Williams to sell out for the tackle, a reminder that every joyous moment is balanced brutal heartbreak; the size of the moment and the unexpectedness of the outcome and the zero-sum swing in emotions.
As a drama, though, the Minneapolis Miracle was the exceedingly rare sports moment that transcended team loyalties. I don’t care about the Vikings. I don’t care about the Saints. But for possible reasons ranging from the Vikings’ tortured history to the contagious joy inside that stadium to the sheer adrenaline high of the thing, it made me just about as happy as if it had been my own team performing the miracle. That glow lasted days. I can probably count on my fingers the number of sports moments where I had no rooting interest that have made me feel like that.
Plus, it made Drew lose his mind and set him up for even more disappointment a week later. Bonus points for both! - Barry Petchesky
South Korea vs. Germany
There were World Cup moments that will get more year-end attention—Belgium’s lightning counterattack to beat Japan; the seven-goal France-Argentina shootout; Spain 3, Ronaldo 3—but for me, nothing captured the elation and heartbreak of the World Cup in all its majesty like South Korea and Germany’s final group-stage matchup. The underdog victory, the late goals, the game-deciding VAR call, the overwhelming sense of futility in the result, and the ultimate realization that life will continue on regardless? Inject that shit straight into my veins.
All four Group F teams entered their final group stage games with their futures uncertain. Germany needed an outright victory over South Korea to secure their advance. Even South Korea, sitting bottom on zero points, could have gone through with the right results: a 2-0 win against Germany and a Mexico victory over Sweden. The game itself was tense and thrilling. As expected, Germany kept South Korea on the back foot for much of the game, but some world class goalkeeping from Jo Hyeon-woo and a heroic all-around performance by the Korean defenders was enough to expose the cracks in Germany’s confidence. By the time South Korea’s breakthrough finally came in stoppage time of the second half—off a terrible lapse of judgement by Toni Kroos that gifted the ball to Kim Young-gwon on the goal line, initially ruled offside but confirmed as a goal by VAR—there was already a sense of inevitability about the result. Tottenham’s Son Heung-min added a second into a net left empty by a marauding Manuel Neuer minutes later to secure the win and knock Germany out of the tournament.
Unfortunately Mexico couldn’t return the favor and beat Sweden, meaning that despite moving heaven and earth to get this result, South Korea found themselves eliminated from the World Cup anyway. But really, 31 out of 32 teams are necessarily going to fail at some point, so if you aren’t a fan of the ultimate winners, or if your team failed to even fucking qualify in the first place, you’ve gotta find the World Cup magic wherever you can. Often, that magic isn’t even on the field. There were the Mexican fans, whose team had shit the bed against Sweden and stumbled into the Round of 16 thanks to Germany’s loss, carrying South Korean fans around Moscow like royalty. There were the South Korean players, who in a matter of seconds fell from the high of victory to the pit of despair at realizing it all meant nothing. There were my coworkers and I shirking our responsibilities to watch, reprimanded by the Boss Man in the video studio for celebrating the goals too loudly. There was, a few days later, the insane revelation that the South Korean government was still planning to force these brave soccer heroes to suspend their careers for mandatory military service. There was, of course, the added schadenfreude of watching reigning World Cup champions and smug soccer assholes Germany crash out in the group stage. Soccer is a cruel and beautiful sport, and it is surely at its most cruel and its most beautiful at its flagship tournament. – Anders Kapur
Becky Lynch Gets Bloodied
For Becky Lynch’s rabid fans, the last few years of WWE television had sucked. The uber-popular good gal with the strong Irish accent and stronger knowledge of puns had been the first-ever SmackDown Live Women’s Champion back in 2016, but since losing the belt, she had been floating around with nothing to do. That is, until she went chaotic evil earlier this year, capturing that same belt again, and generally becoming the most popular wrestler on the WWE roster.
The pinnacle of that second rise came on Nov. 12, when Lynch “invaded” WWE sister show Raw to stare down her Survivor Series opponent Ronda Rousey. As things tend to in pro wrestling, the situation devolved into chaos pretty quickly, with the SmackDown women’s roster charging the ring alongside Lynch to brawl with their red team counterparts. All that is pretty par for the course, but at some point in the melee, Raw wrestler Nia Jax caught Lynch with a real punch, busting open the Irish Lass Kicker and giving her a real-life concussion. Did that stop the segment cold? Absolutely not.
Whatever made WWE decide to let Lynch wail on their new shiny new transphobic toy, it needs to do that more. With blood gushing down her face, steel chair in hand, Lynch beat Rousey—who took the beating as well as you can hope for from a relative rookie to pro wrestling—for what felt like two years. Two years of false starts and pointless matches, that’s what Lynch had climbed out of to stand tall at the end of Raw, arms spread wide, a crimson mask on her face. It was in that moment that Becky Lynch truly arrived. - Luis Paez-Pumar
Arike Ogunbowale’s Championship-Winner And That Chiefs-Rams MNF Game
I watched a lot of sports while doing between three and 16 other things this year. Starting at Deadspin made me feel like I should probably be watching sports at every possible moment, but the only way to do that was to fold laundry and edit blogs and make dinner and tweet sick burns all at the same time. This is all to say that my favorite sports moments of the year were the ones that made me forget whatever else I was doing and just stare slack-jawed at the TV.
Arike Ogunbowale had already become a college basketball legend by beating the unbeatable UConn to advance Notre Dame to the championship game. Then the Fighting Irish went down 15 to Mississippi State in the second half of the title game and it looked for all the world that things would end there. Then Ogunbowale’s teammates scratched and clawed their way into a tie, and then: a crisp inbounds pass, a dash to the three-point line, an off-balance heave and a left leg flying out to the side, a championship. All I could do was blink.
Seven months later came a whole game of holy-shit moments. We all thought Chiefs-Rams on Monday Night Football could be great, but you didn’t think it could be like like that: 54-51 Rams, 891 combined passing yards, four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, six TDs from Patrick Mahomes, the most fun QB in the league right now. In what has become far too rare an occasion, I didn’t even try to multitask. - Megan Greenwell
LeBron’s Game 1 In The Finals
God, it could have been perfect. LeBron James and the Cavaliers were always going to lose to the Warriors last year; Golden State was too stacked and LeBron had basically nobody to help him out in the playoffs. Kevin Love was the team’s second-leading scorer, and he averaged less than half of LeBron’s scoring average. Still, the Cavs went on an incredible run through the East, with LeBron hulking out and showing everyone why he’s the best player in the game. Still, it’s one thing to do that against the Celtics’ B-team, and quite another to do it against the best team of the decade.
And yet, he saved his best game of the playoffs for Game 1. Dude was tremendous. He put up a 51-8-8 line, making this generational dynasty look like every other group of Eastern Conference puds he embarrassed on his way to his eighth straight Finals. The Warriors entered the Finals as the most heavily favored team in NBA history, with good reason, but for one night, LeBron did anything he wanted to them. - Patrick Redford
Khabib Nurmagomedov Has A Chat With Conor McGregor
One of my favorite things to experience as a sports-watcher is seeing a very talented and self-assured athlete or team happen upon an opponent they simply weren’t ready for. Think of the 2007 Mavs running into the Warriors, or Brazil getting seven goals hung on them by Germany. In these situations, sports yakkers like to say the losing team got “punched in the face.”
That cliché describes what happened to Conor McGregor both literally and figuratively at UFC 229. As time goes on that whole fight will be remembered for what happened after McGregor tapped out, which is unfortunate, because it should be remembered for a moment from the third round.
There you had Khabib Nurmagomedov punching away at McGregor while the Irishman was pinned on his back near the edge of the cage. As Khabib held McGregor down threw his punches—his heavy, methodical punches—the microphones near the octagon picked up some of what Khabib was saying. “Let’s talk now,” he said in a voice too quiet for the occasion. “We’re talking. Let’s talk now.”
This was, of course, in reference to all the talking McGregor had done in the run up to the fight, and, more broadly, all the talking he’d done throughout his career. So many fighters have been forced to sit on a stage in front of rabid fans while McGregor does all that talking, most of it shot through with rotten race-baiting and disrespect, and now Khabib was punishing him for it. Just days earlier, Khabib had sat quietly through a press conference while McGregor mocked his Muslim faith and called his manager a terrorist.
McGregor had run out of things to say by the time he was getting his ass beat in the third round, though, and that’s what made Khabib’s verbal blows so satisfying. All McGregor could do in response was eat some punches and then meekly clarify that all the vile pre-fight behavior was “just business.” If nothing else, McGregor learned that night that he and Khabib are not in the same business. - Tom Ley
Djokovic vs. Nadal
When you’re bred and raised on the output of immortal freaks, the efforts of everyday superhumans can leave you cold. For the golden age—the turn of the decade, plus or minus three years—men’s tennis looked altogether freakier. What you saw on screen late in a major was borderline alarming. How are they going from there to there so fast? How are they whacking it that hard and pure from so far out of position? How do they manage to still surprise each other after all their history? Watching Roger, Rafa, Novak, and Andy bash into each other in their primes set my expectations unreasonably high. What’s come since has been pretty good, but it doesn’t look like that. Olds got older, the youth couldn’t really hang. For entire seasons, it looked like nobody could force Djoker to the outermost limits of his rubbery ability; then he hit a downswing so bad that the question became irrelevant. More recently, Rafa had been frictionlessly slip-and-sliding through entirely clay seasons, hardly tested. They hadn’t had a classic in far too long.
That all changed at Wimbledon, when Novak finally found his groove and Rafa had to find a find a way to cope. The two-day, five-set semifinal singed my eyebrows off and left me sputtering. It’d been years since either of these guys had to work quite this hard while playing this well. It was a tennis that I had forgotten existed, gymnastic and surgical and demanding multiple forms of genius all at once. Rafa and Djoker both move around the court and strike the ball as well as any human being ever. Put them on opposite ends of the same court and suddenly the angles have to be that more severe, the killing blows have to be that much punchier, the tactics that much, that more devious. When Rafa and Novak go into a tennis match fully healthy and fully committed to fucking the other up, they hit the pinnacle of what this or any sport has to offer. My skull has been vibrating since July. - Giri Nathan
Watching a Kiddie Football Age Fraud Get Caught
My favorite sports moment of 2018 came while watching a kid and his football team getting exposed as age fraudsters.
My boy, Eddie, played for the 12U team (for kids 12 years old and under, remember this!) representing Emery Recreation Center in the D.C. Department of Recreation’s (DPR) kiddie football league. It’s a pretty intense confederation.
As I showed up at one of his games, a kid from the other team was being carried off the field to the sideline with an apparent leg injury. The game continued as adults tended to the youngster. But it quickly became impossible to care about the on-field action, as the group of grownups hovering around the child grew in size, and several the caretakers got on their phones, creating an increasingly ominous scene. This despite the fact that the injured kid didn’t show outward signs of distress himself as he sat calmly on the ground. The mood got really serious when two DPR officials suddenly walked away from the kid and onto the field, halted the game, and ordered both teams to the sidelines.
I was assuming the worst, like the kid was showing signs of cardiac arrest or that he was in shock and only the adults tending him knew that the wound was far more traumatic than he was letting on, and they were clearing the field for some sort of ambulance or helicopter to transport the kid for medical aid. Then a coach from the other team came over to the grandstands with pure dread in his eyes, and told parents from the other team what had happened: All the adults had gathered around the kid not because he was seriously hurt, but because they couldn’t find any parent or guardian to get permission to take him away for treatment. A trainer began asking for contact information, and along with names and phone numbers, asked the kids age.
“He told her he was 14,” the coach said.
A collective gasp came from the parents. Again, this was a 12U squad! It was like seeing Danny Almonte get caught, live and in person!
“They want to kick us out of the league,” the coach added.
After about a 10-minute on-field conference with coaches from both teams, city officials decided to let the game go on. Later came news that DPR officials had found the boy’s mother and asked how old her son was. She refused to answer. The parents in the stands were really mad at the kid; not for cheating, but for self-reporting himself as an age fraud. It takes a village to pull off this kind of scam.
Last I saw of the poor kid, he was limping toward the parking lot. Snitches get crutches, it turns out. Oh: Eddie’s team won anyway. - Dave McKenna
Russia Losing In Penalty Kicks
I didn’t have a rooting interest during the World Cup, but I nursed a healthy antipathy toward the tournament’s human-rights-averse host nation. So when Russia lost to Croatia in penalty kicks in the quarterfinal I was as elated I could be during a tournament that didn’t feature the USMNT. Plus, it led to Croatia beating England in the semifinals, which resulted in celebrating Croatian players tackling a sideline photographer who managed to get these delightful pictures of a delirious Mario Mandzukic. - Laura Wagner
The Eagles Winning The Super Bowl
The crowd at the Super Bowl feels more like a conference than a football game. (Obviously, in some ways this is a nice change of pace.) Minneapolis is cold in February, if you can believe it. But buying a ticket to see the Eagles finally win the Super Bowl was the best $3,000 I’ve ever spent. I got to see some friends who live there. I got to explore a new city. And, most importantly, I got to see the Eagles win the Super Bowl.
It was fun. But I think what’s made me happiest about it over the last year is the afterglow. When I arrived back in Philadelphia the next morning, the guy at a food truck I’ve been going to since I was 17 gave me a hug. I got to go to the parade with some of my best friends. I’ve gotten to recount the game with friends who I run into and haven’t seen since the Big Game. Sure, the Eagles have stunk for most of the season. Who cares? The Eagles won the Super Bowl! - Dan McQuade
David Wright Throws Out Bryan Holaday
The Mets have a way of ruining things, not just summer by summer but from one moment to the next. Baseball is resilient enough to withstand these offenses and Mets fans are weird-ass masochists, but man it just does not stop. The team’s owners, a collection of dour and paranoid Long Island real estate dullards, have a fear of and distaste for anything bigger or brighter or more popular than their dim selves, and their team lives in a constant state of being pushed and pulled between these mediocre grumps’ salty and self-defeating whims. Last season, the team finally cut bait on a ruined ace that they developed, damaged, and alienated and then replaced the cancer-stricken GM the owners had systematically undermined with three not-quite GMs and it all felt somehow... normal.
But one bit of needlessly fraught dipshittery was new: the team spent the last months of a lost season engaged in a difficult-to-parse insurance-related gambit involving franchise icon David Wright, whose wish to get one last taste of the bigs after two years of rehabbing what everyone knew to be career-ending injuries conflicted with the team’s wish to... continue receiving a bunch of money back from an insurance company to cover Wright’s salary. Wright worked his way through a minor league rehabilitation assignment and the team kept pretending not to notice or address the possibility of some kind of return. Allowing fans to say goodbye to the one reliably good thing about this reliably borked franchise seems easy enough, and in fact is easy enough. The Wilpons had to work very hard to come as close as they did to fucking it up, but in the end this proved to be beyond them. Wright’s last game amounted to two plate appearances—a walk and a foul-out—and successfully throwing out Bryan Holaday, Miami’s plodding backup catcher, on an easy chopper to third. It was not the goodbye that Wright probably wanted, and certainly not what he deserved after breaking his body for a team that seems constitutionally incapable of appreciating service, but he wrested a last little bit of dignity from his career all the same—a last little victory to cheer, something the cynics couldn’t touch, clean and easy across the diamond. - David Roth