And then it becomes a story that is somehow bigger than itself, one where we find ourselves cheering for a team or an individual we didn’t even know, in a moment that literally echoes forever.
Here are our favorites.
#10 — “Eddie the Eagle”
At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, while the Jamaicans were feeling the love at the bobsled run, an unexpected eagle over at the ski jump was soaring. Sort of. That year, among the high fliers from Finland, Norway, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, there was an Englishman in Coke-bottle glasses named Eddie Edwards who became the first man in 60 years to represent Great Britain in the ski jump. Partly in jest, but partly out of love, people started calling Edwards “Eddie the Eagle.” And while he finished next to last in the standings, his heart-warming story and determination made him one of Calgary’s biggest stars.
#9 — “The Guarantee”
Three days before Super Bowl III, underdog Jets quarterback Joe Namath surprised everyone when he guaranteed a win against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. During the season, Baltimore had posted a 13-1 record and had blown out the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship game, while the Jets squeaked by the Oakland Raiders 27-23 in the AFL Championship. The Colts defense led the league in fewest points allowed and their offense ranked second in the league for points scored. Few thought the Jets had a chance, but on Super Bowl Sunday, Namath delivered a 16-7 victory that’s still considered one of the greatest upsets of all time.
#8 — “Hot As A Pistol”
February 15, 2006 was like most game days at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, New York. The basketball team was playing hard and student manager Jason McElwain was sitting on the bench cheering them on. Jason has a high-functioning form of Autism and while he’d never played in a game, he worked every bit as hard as the kids on the floor. That night, to reward Jason for his hard work as manager, the coach let Jason wear an actual jersey and sit on the bench next to the team.
But then with 4:19 left in the second half, the coach decided to let Jason play. The stands erupted and the student cheering section went crazy. He immediately threw up two bricks that weren’t even close. But then, according to Jason, he “got hot as a pistol.” He launched a three-pointer from the corner that hit nothing but net. Then another one. And another one. And another three after that. In all, Jason scored 20 points hitting a long three at the buzzer before being swarmed by his fans and carried off the court on the shoulders on his teammates. The videos of his performance have been viewed millions of times and his performance earned Jason the ESPY Award for the “Best Moment” in 2006.
#7 — “The Landing”
In 1976, the Japanese Men’s Gymnastics team came to the Montreal Olympics looking to win their fifth Team Gold Medal in a row. But standing in their way was an extremely talented team from the Soviet Union equally determined to end the Japanese dynasty. In the finals of the team competition, one of Japan’s best gymnasts, Shun Fujimoto, severely injured his knee on his first rotation, the Floor Exercise. But he told no one.</P
On his next rotation — the Pommel Horse — Shun fought through the pain and put up a solid score. But then came his third rotation, the Rings. It was Shun’s best event and despite his injured knee, he performed a nearly flawless routine. All he had left was his dismount. Flying through the air in excruciating pain, Shun stuck his landing from 10 feet up, dislocating his knee and tearing his ligaments. Unable to continue, Shun was forced to withdraw from the final three rotations but his 9.7 on rings ultimately helped secure the Team Gold for Japan.
#6 — “Dethroning the Bear”
Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Aleksandr Karelin is arguably the most dominant athlete there has ever been, posting an obscene lifetime record of 887 wins and just two losses. Nicknamed “The Russian Bear,” “Alexander the Great,” and “The Experiment,” three-time Gold Medalist Karelin was riding a 13-year winning streak coming into the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and had not surrendered a point in competition in more than six years. By comparison, his finals opponent, American wrestler Rulon Gardner, had exceeded all expectations by making it to the Gold Medal match. But that wasn’t enough for him. Using a strong defense that kept Karelin off balance, Gardner pushed the match to overtime and pulled off one of the greatest Olympic miracles ever, beating Karelin 1-0 to take the Gold Medal.