The Worst Blunders in Sports History

The Worst Blunders in Sports History

Growing up, athletes dream of getting to compete in the biggest moments on the biggest stages, competing for championships and laying it all on the line for a chance at greatness. Unfortunately, for every champion, there is a team or competitor who comes up just short.

In the most intense situations in sports, sometimes athletes make a crucial mistake at the worst possible time. Sports history is littered with such unfortunate plays and incidents, with just one play costing a team a shot at a championship. (These are the most embarrassing records in sports history.)

To determine the biggest blunders in sports history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed memorable mistakes in important sporting moments using sources like Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, and the Sports Reference family of sites.

These blunders will live on in sports fans’ memories forever. Just a few words is all that is needed to make supporters relive one of the most disappointing moments of their lives – The Fumble. Kick Six. Wide Right. Double Doink. 

Some of these blunders didn’t just prevent a championship, they stopped a team from going down as one of the greatest of all time. Many of the teams on this list were just that one fateful play away from capping some of the most dominant seasons in the history of their sports. (Here, for instance, are the 12 NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl.)

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

1. Scott Norwood
> Team: Buffalo Bills
> Game: Super Bowl
> Year: 1991

Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in Super Bowl XXV is one of the great “what ifs?” of sports history. Following the 1990 season, the Buffalo Bills made their first ever Super Bowl in franchise history, playing against the New York Giants.

Down 20-19 with just over two minutes left, quarterback Jim Kelly led the Bills down the field, getting to the Giants’ 29 yard line with eight seconds left. Norwood kicked the 47-yard field goal attempt just wide to the right. That is still the closest the Bills have come to winning the Super Bowl. Buffalo made each of the next three Super Bowls, but lost all three in blowout fashion. They have not been back to the Super Bowl since.

Source: Getty Images / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

2. Bill Buckner
> Team: Boston Red Sox
> Game: World Series
> Year: 1986

Bill Buckner’s gaffe in the 1986 World Series for the Boston Red Sox may be the most infamous error in MLB history. A tenth inning grounder from New York Mets batter Mookie Wilson skipped under Buckner’s glove, giving the Mets a 6-5 walkoff win in game six. The Mets cruised to a win in game seven, prolonging Boston’s decades-long wait for a World Series victory.

Though Buckner gets much of the blame for this loss, he was not the only one at fault. Boston led 3-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, when relief pitcher Calvin Schiraldi surrendered a run. The Red Sox scored two in the top of the tenth, handing Schiraldi a second chance at a save with a 5-3 lead. Just one out away from a title, Schiraldi gave up three straight singles and a wild pitch to tie the game – his second blown save in three innings. Yet Buckner’s error is what is remembered to this day.

Source: Clive Mason / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

3. Lindsey Jacobellis
> Team: Team USA
> Game: Turin Olympics
> Year: 2006

Lindsey Jacobellis had one of the most memorable mistakes in Olympics history. She was clear of the pack in the women’s snowboard cross final, when she grabbed her board on one of the final jumps to add some flair to her victory. The grab caused Jacobellis to fall, giving her opponent just enough time to pass her up for the gold. Jacobellis took home silver.

Jacobellis struggled in subsequent Olympics, with falls in semi-final heats costing her a shot at a snowboard cross medal in both 2010 and 2014. She led for much of the 2018 snowboard cross final, but again missed the podium, finishing fourth. But her perseverance paid off – Jacobellis not only won gold in her individual race in the 2022 Olympics, but she also won the team snowboard cross event with Nick Baumgartner.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

4. Nick Anderson
> Team: Orlando Magic
> Game: NBA Finals
> Year: 1995

The Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. But the series could have gone completely differently if not for Orlando guard Nick Anderson’s free throw struggles in game one. With 10.5 seconds remaining in game one, the Magic led 110-107 when Anderson was fouled.

If he had hit even one of his two free throws, the lead would have been insurmountable for Houston. Anderson missed both. He grabbed the rebound from his second miss, and was fouled again. Anderson missed both of those free throws as well. With just a few seconds remaining, Houston’s Kenny Smith drilled a game-tying three point shot. In overtime, the Rockets won on a last-second tip-in from Hakeem Olajuwon. Orlando still has yet to win an NBA title.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

5. Cody Parkey
> Team: Chicago Bears
> Game: NFC Divisional Round
> Year: 2019

The 2018 Bears rode their top-rated defense to the playoffs. Hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round of the playoffs, the Bears went down 16-15 with just under a minute left after the Eagles scored a touchdown. Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky led the Bears to within field goal range, giving them a shot at a winning kick with 10 seconds left.

Chicago kicker Cody Parkey, once an Eagle himself, had been perfect on the day, hitting all three of his previous field goals. But on his 43-yard attempted game winner, the extraordinary happened – the ball bounced off the left upright, down onto the crossbar, and out. Broadcaster Cris Collinsworth coined the missed kick the “double doink,” giving a name to one of the most heartbreaking moments in NFL history.

Source: Rob Carr / Getty Images

6. Russell Wilson
> Team: Seattle Seahawks
> Game: Super Bowl
> Year: 2015

A winning team needs both planning and execution, and there is still an argument to be made about who is at fault for the Seattle Seahawks losing Super Bowl XLIX – QB Russell Wilson, or his coaches. Seattle was on the precipice of their second straight Super Bowl win – first and goal, down 28-24 on the New England Patriots five yard line with 1:06 remaining.

On the first play, the Seahawks ran the ball with Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch. He got down to the one yard line. Instead of running it again, Seattle opted to pass. Wilson was picked off by Patriots corner Malcolm Butler, effectively ending the game.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Jack Adams
> Team: Detroit Red Wings
> Game: Stanley Cup Finals
> Year: 1942

In 1942, the Detroit Red Wings lost one of the most chaotic Stanley Cup Finals in hockey history, largely because of coach Jack Adams. Detroit led the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 in the series, but were losing 4-3 in the third period of game four. Adams was incensed by a penalty on a Detroit player, and immediately after the game, he ran across the ice and started punching an official. He was suspended for the rest of the series.

Detroit was a mess without their coach, losing game five 9-3. They continued to struggle, losing 3-0 in game six, and 3-1 in the decisive game seven. It was the first time in sports history a team lost a series they led 3-0, and for Toronto, the only time a team has won despite lagging behind by three games in Stanley Cup Finals history.

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

8. Earnest Byner
> Team: Cleveland Browns
> Game: AFC Championship Game
> Year: 1988

In a town with as much sports heartbreak as Cleveland, it can be tough to stand out. But the play known simply as “The Fumble” may be the most devastating play of the lot. The Cleveland Browns were down 38-31 in the AFC Championship Game, but drove down inside the Denver 10 with just over a minute left.

Running back Earnest Byner found a lane and sprinted towards the end zone on first and goal. Byner cut inside of defensive back Jeremiah Castille who reached out and managed to knock the ball out of Byner’s hands just before he broke the goal line. The fumble allowed Denver to ice the win and go to the Super Bowl. The Browns still have never even made the Super Bowl.

Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

9. Neftali Feliz
> Team: Texas Rangers
> Game: World Series
> Year: 2011

After losing the 2010 World Series, the Texas Rangers made it back to the Fall Classic in 2011. Up 3-2 in the series, Texas led the St. Louis Cardinals 7-5 in the bottom of the 9th of game six. Closer Neftali Feliz struck out the first batter, then allowed a double and a walk before getting another strikeout. With two outs, David Freese stepped to the plate. The Cardinals were down to their last strike, when Freese belted a triple to right to tie the game.

Feliz was far from the only Rangers pitcher to struggle in game six. Reliever Alexi Ogando gave up a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to tie the game, Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman also combined to blow the Rangers’ two-run tenth inning lead, and Mark Lowe gave up the 11th inning walk-off home run to Freese that kept the Cardinals alive. They went on to win game seven and clinch the World Series.

Source: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

10. Jim Joyce
> Team: Umpire
> Game: MLB regular season
> Year: 2010

It isn’t just players that can make major mistakes. Sometimes officials blow it too. This is what happened to MLB umpire Jim Joyce in an innocuous June game in 2010. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from what would have been the 21st perfect game in MLB history.

The would-be final batter hit a weak grounder to the first baseman, who flipped the ball to Galarraga covering first. The runner was clearly out, but was ruled safe by Joyce. The Tigers still won the game, but the blown call cost Galarraga a shot at immortality. Joyce later acknowledged his error, and wrote a book with Galarraga called “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

11. Gary Anderson
> Team: Minnesota Vikings
> Game: NFC Championship Game
> Year: 1999

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings were one of the most dominant teams in NFL history, going 15-1 in the regular season and boasting the league’s top offense and one of the best defenses as well. Even the special teams was dominant – kicker Gary Anderson did not miss a single field goal or extra point all season.

The Vikings seemed as if they would cruise to the Super Bowl. They were up seven points on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game with just over two minutes left as Anderson trotted out for a 38-yard field goal try that would have put ta Falcon victory out of reach. Anderson’s kick hooked wide left, his first miss of the season. That gave Atlanta the chance to march down the field and tie up the score. The Falcons went on to win in overtime, spoiling Minnesota’s season.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

12. John Starks
> Team: New York Knicks
> Game: NBA Finals
> Year: 1994

Many players on this list had one nightmare moment in a big game, but New York Knicks guard John Starks had an entire game to forget. The 1994 NBA Finals between the Houston Rockets and the Knicks went to a decisive game seven after Starks missed an open three pointer late in game six that would have won the championship for New York.

Starks came out flat in game seven, struggling on defense and hitting just one of his five first half shots. Things got even worse from there, as Starks finished a measly 2-18 from the field, missing all 11 of his three point shots. The Rockets won the game 90-84. The Knicks have still not won a championship since.

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13. Mariano Rivera
> Team: New York Yankees
> Game: ALCS
> Year: 2004

New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is known as one of the most effective closers of all time. Yet his greatest failure came against the Yankees’ biggest rivals in the most crucial moments – when the Yankees were up 3-0 in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, looking to close out a sweep.

New York led 4-3 when they brought in Rivera for a two-inning save. He cruised through the eighth inning, but in the ninth he gave up a walk, a stolen base, and a game-tying single. The Red Sox won that game in the 12th. Rivera blew another save in game five, though he came into the game in the eighth with runners on first and third with no outs. A sacrifice fly tied the game, which the Red Sox again won in extra innings. They would go on to win the ALCS and the World series.

Source: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

14. Andres Escobar
> Team: Colombia
> Game: World Cup
> Year: 1994

The saga of Andres Escobar’s own goal in the 1994 World Cup and the events after is still regarded as one of the most tragic stories in world sports history. Escobar was a defender and captain of Colombia’s national soccer team – a team projected to do very well in the 1994 World Cup.

Escobar’s error came in the 22nd minute against the U.S. Men’s National Team, accidentally deflecting a cross into his own net. The U.S. went on to win the match 2-1, and Colombia failed to make it out of the group stage. Shortly after returning to his country, Escobar went out for drinks with friends, where he was accosted by a group who was angry about his mistake. The conflict escalated, and Escobar was shot dead. Many outlets have reported the assailant was employed by drug cartel members who lost money gambling on the Colombian team.

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15. Tony Romo
> Team: Dallas Cowboys
> Game: Playoffs
> Year: 2007

In Tony Romo’s first playoff game the Dallas Cowboys trailed the Seattle Seahawks 21-20 with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter. On this final drive, Romo marched his team down the field, completing all three of his pass attempts and getting the Cowboys to the two yard line with 1:19 left.

The Cowboys lined up for an easy kick to give them the lead. Romo still served as Dallas’s holder for field goals, as he started the season as the backup QB before replacing Drew Bledsoe as the starter. Romo caught the snap, but it slipped out of his hands as he tried to place it. He picked it up to make a run for the endzone, but was tackled just short of the line to gain, and the Cowboys lost.

Source: Duane Burleson / Getty Images

16. Chris Webber
> Team: Michigan
> Game: NCAA Tournament Final
> Year: 1993

The pressure of a championship game can cause mental mistakes as well as physical ones. In the 1993 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, the Michigan Wolverines faced off against the University of North Carolina. Michigan trailed 73-71 with just seconds left.

Michigan had the ball late in the game when Chris Webber dribbled down the court and attempted to call a timeout – but Michigan was out of timeouts, earning a technical foul. North Carolina hit both free throws, putting the game out of reach and sealing the championship.

Source: grantlairdjr / Wikimedia Commons

17. Jackie Smith
> Team: Dallas Cowboys
> Game: Super Bowl
> Year: 1979

Jackie Smith is a Hall of Fame tight end with 16 stellar years in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, he is largely remembered for one play in Super Bowl XIII.

Smith’s Cowboys were down 21-14, but driving the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers. QB Roger Staubach saw Smith wide open in the endzone and passed it. The ball hit Smith right in the hands and dropped to the turf, forcing the Cowboys to kick a field goal. The Cowboys lost the game by four points. Though Smith’s drop was in the third quarter, we will never know how that touchdown would have affected the game.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

18. Jose Mesa
> Team: Cleveland Indians
> Game: World Series
> Year: 1997

Before the Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA title, no Cleveland sports team had won a championship in over 50 years. Perhaps the closest they came in that time was in 1997, when the Cleveland Indians led 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning during game seven of the World Series.

Cleveland sent closer Jose Mesa to the mound to try to secure the victory against the Florida Marlins. Mesa allowed a leadoff single, struck out the second batter, then gave up another single. Mesa blew the save when Florida’s Craig Counsell hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Counsell wound up scoring the winning run in the 11th, giving Florida a 3-2 victory to clinch their first ever World Series.

Source: NFL via Getty Images

19. Brett Favre
> Team: Minnesota Vikings
> Game: NFC Championship game
> Year: 2010

In the 2010 NFC Championship Game the Minnesota Vikings were on the cusp of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1970s. Minnesota scored a touchdown with about five minutes left to tie the score at 28, then forced a quick three and out to give Brett Favre and the offense a chance to drive down the field and seal a victory.

Favre drove Minnesota down the field, getting close to field goal range. The Vikings had a third and 15 on the New Orleans 38 yard line with 19 seconds left. Needing a few yards to make the kick easier, Favre dropped back to pass on third and 15. Though he had some room to run for a few yards, he heaved a throw across his body towards a receiver that was intercepted. The Saints wound up winning the game in overtime, and would go on to win their only Super Bowl in franchise history.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. Hack Wilson
> Team: Chicago Cubs
> Game: World Series
> Year: 1929

A pair of blunders by Chicago Cubs center fielder Hack Wilson in the 1929 World Series helped lead to one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history. Chicago was down 2-1 in the series against the Philadelphia Athletics, but looked likely to even the series when they took an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning of game four.

In the bottom of the seventh, the A’s slugger Al Simmons lead off with a home run, then Jimmie Foxx singled. The next batter looped a fly ball into center, but Wilson lost the ball in the sun and it dropped in for a single. The A’s eventually narrowed the lead to 8-4 when Wilson lost another ball the glare, resulting in a three-run inside the park homerun. Philadelphia went on to score three more runs in the inning, and won the game 10-8. Instead of tying up the series, the Cubs went down 3-1, and would lose game five as well, giving the A’s the title.

Source: Chris Graythen / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

21. John Carney
> Team: New Orleans Saints
> Game: NFL regular season
> Year: 2003

The 2003 New Orleans Saints were fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive late into the season. They had a 7-7 record and needed a win against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars to stay in the hunt. However, the Jags outplayed the Saints, leading by a touchdown with seven seconds remaining.

Desperately needing a score, the Saints pulled off a miraculous hook-and-ladder play, lateraling the ball between four different players and allowing receiver Jerome Pathon to score with no time remaining. All they needed was an extra point from kicker John Carney to send the game to overtime. Carney shanked it to the right, ending not just the game but any hopes New Orleans had of getting into the postseason.

Source: kbrav / Flickr

22. Leon Durham
> Team: Chicago Cubs
> Game: NLCS
> Year: 1984

The long-suffering Chicago Cubs were on the precipice of making the World Series in 1984, leading the San Diego Padres 3-2 in the seventh inning of the decisive game five. The Padres had one on and one out when Tim Flannery stepped to the plate.

Flannery hit a grounder to first that slipped right between the legs of Cubs first baseman Leon Durham, allowing the tying run to score from second base. The Cubs surrendered three more runs that inning and lost 6-3, blowing the chance to get to their first World Series since 1945.

Source: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

23. Rahim Moore
> Team: Denver Broncos
> Game: AFC Divisional Round
> Year: 2013

The 2013 AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens was a back and forth affair, with Denver taking the lead in the fourth quarter, 35-28. Baltimore got the ball back with 1:09 left, needing a miracle – and that is exactly what they got.

On third down, receiver Jacoby Jones streaked down the sideline and QB Joe Flacco lofted the ball his way. Denver safety Rahim Moore seemed to be in position, but as he turned to intercept the pass it sailed over his head and right into Jones’ arms. The 70-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the game became known as the Mile High Miracle. The Ravens took the game in double overtime, and would go on to win the Super Bowl.

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

24. Fred Merkle
> Team: New York Giants
> Game: MLB regular season
> Year: 1908

In 1908, the lapse that became known as “Merkle’s bonehead play” became perhaps the first widely-known major mistake in American pro sports history. The New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were battling for the National League pennant with just a few games left in the season when they faced off on September 23.

Tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had Moose McCormick on third and Fred Merkle on first. A Giants single drove in McCormick – but Merkle jogged off the field before touching second, meaning the play was still live. Giants fans rushed the field, thinking the game was over, and the Cubs never had the chance to throw out Merkle. Umpires deliberated and determined the game should be replayed. The Cubs won the rematch and ended up securing the NL pennant by just one game.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

25. Mickey Owen
> Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
> Game: World Series
> Year: 1941

In game four of the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers were up 4-3, just one strike away from beating the New York Yankees and tying up the series at two games apiece. With a full count, the Yankees’ final batter Tommy Heinrich swung and missed at a curveball, but Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen dropped the ball and it rolled toward the backstop. Heinrich advanced to first on a dropped third strike, giving the Yankees new life.

After the dropped third strike, the Dodgers imploded. Pitcher Hugh Casey allowed the next batter to single, then gave up a double, a walk, another double, another walk, and finally got a groundout to end the inning – but only after New York took a 7-4 lead. The stunned Dodgers went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees took a 3-1 series lead. They would clinch the World Series the next game.

Source: Standart / Getty Images

26. Roy Riegels
> Team: University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears
> Game: Rose Bowl
> Year: 1929

Lineman Roy Riegels earned himself the nickname “Wrong Way Riegels” when he committed one of the biggest blunders in college football history. Reigels’ Cal Golden Bears squared off against Georgia Tech in the 1929 Rose Bowl to decide who would become national champion. The score was tied 0-0 in the second quarter when Georgia Tech fumbled.

Riegels scooped up the ball and spun off of a would-be tackler, but the pivot pointed him the wrong direction. Riegels sprinted for the goal line, with teammates running behind telling him he was going the wrong way. They eventually caught Riegels at the one yard line where Georgia Tech’s players tackled him. Cal’s coach decided to punt from the one yard line, but it was blocked out of the end zone for a safety. That would go on to be the difference in the game, as Georgia Tech won the Rose Bowl 8-7.

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