There are those moments when your suddenly fast and efficient Twitter timeline starts acting sluggish, even failing to refresh, or allow you to post. Usually it’s because something so big happened that everyone had to tweet about it at once, and we, “break Twitter”. There are those moments where suddenly 98% of the tweets on our timeline suddenly all become about the very same thing. In fact, many of the tweets are identical. And sometimes, these moments happen and the conversation continues to dominate hours, and days, after the initial event. Richard Sherman’s interview is the latest example of this phenomenon that was spawned by the sudden growth of social media. But what about those monumental events that were pre twitter? Which ones would we have loved, or hated, to have seen our timelines blow up over?
Every sports moment in history, while technically eligible, really isn’t. More recent events are at the forefront, as the popularity of sports has boomed thanks to TV, in particular, cable TV. Before the last quarter of the 20th century, I would argue few sports stories really and truly gripped a nation. So instead, I’m looking at the ones that did have everyone’s eye, or at least a glance, and the absolute madness with which twitter would have exploded were it around then. As such, the perceived popularity of the sport at the time goes a long way in dictating the inclusion and location of an event on this list.
Additionally, events that transpired beyond just sports rank higher thanks to the manner in which even the non sports fan finds themselves part of the discussion. And while perhaps a particular event itself may not have had the same power in terms of the ramifications regarding it’s sport as others, if it spawned debate, or even had people drawing battle lines, it crawls up the list as well. A moment where the “WOW” factor is such that upon reading the exclamations and adjectives used to describe what just took place leaves even the non fan reaching for the remote to tune in just to see what’s going on. A lot goes into making something memorable, and even more goes into giving it the ability to have everyone talking. That said though, we’re not all going to agree, but here are the 25 moments with the most ability to “break twitter”.
25. Colorado 5th Down vs Missouri- Could you imagine if a national championship contender was allowed a fifth down to pull out a late victory and stay in the title hunt? Bad calls become news very quickly, and one has to wonder if the Big Eight would’ve handled things differently had they come under intense fire, immediately.
24. SMU Death Penalty Handed Out- This would be higher if we had perhaps known just how deep college football, and of course SMU, would feel its impact years later. I tell you though, the pay for play debate would have never been more front and center.
23. Eric Gregg’s Game Five Strike Zone- As mentioned, few things get the masses stirring like questionable officiating, but let it happen in the postseason and involve one of sports most polarizing teams of its generation. Marlins fans would’ve been ashamed to claim victory.
22. U.S. Robbed vs Soviets in 76 Olympics- I can’t really speak too well on the popularity of Olympic basketball, but I do know we were not exactly sending Christmas cards to the soviets then, and Americans excel at feigning patriotism. So if we feel we’ve been screwed, by our biggest international enemy, see how fast we unite…. For a day or two.
21. Pass Interference on Miami vs Ohio State Fiesta Bowl- Few programs elicit the type of reaction from fans that Miami did when Miami was being Miami. If you didn’t jump on the bandwagon, you probably hated them. But even if you did, even you would’ve been a bit dismayed at a pass interference flag being thrown so absurdly late that the Miami celebration was well in full effect before the ref threw his flag. Correct call or not, the late nature of it would’ve been met with tremendous uproar.
20. Jordan Championship Clincher vs Utah- We assumed this was Jordan’s final career shot, and it should’ve been. It was the perfect singular moment to wrap up one of the most incredible careers of all-time. Or so it should’ve been.
19. Jimmy V’s Cancer Speech at ESPYs- This is one of those moments where the tweets would read, “Doesn’t matter if you like sports or not, turn it to the Espys to hear this incredible speech”. The only reason its not higher is that this likely became a much bigger story the next day.
18. Nancy vs Tonya- Oh, we love some drama and violence in our society, and while figure skating only partially grabs any of our attention just once every four years, this story would’ve been impossible to ignore. Mainly because I can’t imagine what all the meme and gif artists would do with Nancy and her, “why me?” crys of anguish.
17. Buster Douglass Knocks Out Tyson- The indestructible had been destroyed. Tyson going down forever changed him, and forever changed boxing. It was one of the most monumental upsets in sports history, and the shock would’ve been felt everywhere.
16. Blown Call 1985 World Series- Have you noticed the controversial call theme? Of course this wasn’t controversial, this was just wrong. And who knows, maybe the Royals come back and win game six anyway. But let’s be real, every last one of us would’ve felt like the Cardinals had a World Series stolen from them. We get it MLB, you’ve spent the next thirty years trying to make up for it.
15. Pete Rose’s Lifetime Ban- Alex Rodriguez still is a topic of conversation, and we hate, and are tired if him, and just want him to go away. That wasn’t the case with Pete Rose, and there were multiple camps people found themselves in, depending on their view, and just how extreme they went with it. But announcing the all time hit king was banned, for life…
14. Jeffrey Maier- More postseason baseball controversy, aided by involving the biggest professional sports team in the world. The play gave Jeter a home run and the Yankees a win, that unfairly changed the direction of the ALCS. And without this, Jim Leyritz may never happen. Just throwing that out there.
13. Webber’s Timeout- There’s little society seems to enjoy more than shredding celebrities for making mistakes, especially athletes, and especially really dumb mistakes. The polarizing nature of the Fab Five and the status of North Carolina basketball, along with one of the dumbest blunders ever, and Twitter would’ve erupted. Of course, had he not taken the timeout and had Michigan won, we’d been talking about the egregious missed travel call that immediately preceded the ill fated timeout.
12. Scott Norwood Miss- In all fairness, Norwood has been unfairly vilified for missing the field goal that would’ve given the Bills a Super Bowl, and potentially prevented the Patriots dynasty. But that wouldn’t have mattered then. The reaction to the missed kick would have sent Twitter into a tizzy. Though, with real football fans, that would’ve begun earlier, as the questioning of Buffalo suddenly getting conservative once across the 40 would’ve made Marv Levy far more culpable in the defeat.
11. Buckner’s Blunder- One of the most famous sports curses to ever exist was on the verge of being exorcised, in a matchup involving two gigantic fan bases. And then the routine of the routine suddenly became not so routine. Bill Buckner got it bad enough as it was, could you imagine if this happened today?
10. Mike Tyson Ear Bite- To quote Al Michaels, “He did what?” Because for those not watching the fight live, this would’ve been the reply from just about everyone upon reading of what Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield in the ring that night. We thought the Douglass fight sent shockwaves, no, not even close.
9. Steve Bartman- This was similar to the Jeffery Maier debacle, except, this wasn’t an illegal play, and, oh, right, this did not help the home team. Instead, it only substantiated a belief in curses. Oh, sure, there was the Alex Gonzalez error, and the fact that the Cubs didn’t get out of that 8th inning anyway, but who cares? This moment encapsulated a century of failure.
8. 1979 Daytona 500 Ending- People are going to question this, but there’s a very good argument for this being so high. This was in the days before cable TV was a thing, you watched what the broadcast networks had, and that was it. It was the dead period of the sports year, and a massive winter storm pretty much snowed the entire east coast in. In other words, most of the country was tuned into the first ever live, flag to flag televised Nascar race ever. And what they saw would have had anyone and everyone talking.
7. Do You Believe in Miracles- As mentioned earlier, we Americans love displaying that contrived patriotism, and the Olympics are our favorite stage. Amazing how many people are huge hockey fans every four years, myself included. But this one was a little different. For starters, it was our good friends the soviets on the other side, and even better, we played the role of the one thing America loves the most, the underdog. And were we ever an underdog.
6. Mark McGwire 62- Baseball was undone by the strike and was in desperate need of something to help it recapture its place in our hearts. While at the time we were naive to the long term ramifications, or perhaps just turning a blind eye, we got it with Mark McGwire and the great home run race of 1998. The night McGwire hit 62, every last one of us was glued to the TV, and if we could’ve been, glued to Twitter.
5. Dale Earnhardt’s Death- Earnhardt’s death remains as large as any death in American sports history. From the sheer magnitude thanks to his mega superstar status, to the safety reform all throughout motorsports, all the way to being on the cover of Time Magazine, this was big. Adding to it was that never before had such a superstar in any sport been killed while in competition. Throw in the fact that any time Nascar comes up the absurd discussion (and I purposefully don’t use the word debate, because its not one) as to whether its a sport or not takes hold, and you have the epitome of a Twitter takeover.
4. Brawl at the Palace- It will always go down as one of the darkest days in American sports, and it seemed to personify everything that was perceived to be wrong about the NBA. To say it was ugly barely scratches the surface. And of course, this story put the race card in the center of the table where it couldn’t be ignored.
3. Baseball Cancels End of 1994 Season- Albeit for entirely different reasons, the day they announced there would be no World Series in 1994 was equally as dark. And while of a different nature, battle lines were drawn. Were you a fan of billionaire owners or millionaire players? Or did you hate them both? We think we suffer through no baseball from November to March, imagine being told in August there’d be no baseball until….. Until who knows when.
2. Magic AIDS Announcement- The religious moral police? The acceptance of homosexuality? Race? Yeah, let’s roll them all into one and see how many of us don’t lose about twenty followers a day. The Macklemore performance had people typically friendly involved on heated discussions where animosity was clear. Just imagine this. This was the day AIDS became real. This went beyond the arguably greatest basketball player of a generation retiring early. Transcendent was made part of the dictionary just for stories like this.
1. The O.J. Trial Verdict- As big as the Magic story was, the verdict coming down on the biggest trial in American history trumps it. From a pure historical and societal context this story alone contends for the top spot. Think about the Casey Anthony and George Zimmermann verdicts and recall how huge those stories were. Recall the debates, arguments, and vitriol spawned from them. Now make it O.J. Simpson, no regular Joe who is only famous because of his trial, and you have, pre 9/11, the biggest news story, period, of our generation.
There were also stories that lacked a defining moment, but were themselves large enough, and captivating enough, that I’d be remiss to ignore them.
Ray Lewis Atlanta Murders Saga
Tiger Woods First Masters Win
Latrell Spreewell Choking Incident
Mike Tyson Rape Case
John Elway vs Baltimore Colts Standoff
And strictly for my own Atlanta people, there’s a few that for could vie for a top five overall spot. So here are the twenty-five moments that would’ve broken Atlanta twitter
25. Jamal Tears ACL 1999
24. Otis Nixon, The Catch
23. Bobby Hebert to Terrance Mathis and Into the Playoffs
22. Calvin Johnson vs Clemson
21. Signed Greg Maddux
20. Greene to Michael Johnson vs Auburn
19. Colorado 5th Down
18. Lindsey Scott
17. Marvin Williams Over Chris Paul
16. Otis Nixon Bunts to Finish 1992 World Series
15. Hideo Nomo Named Rookie of the Year
14. John Rocker
13. Reggie Ball on Fourth Down
12. We’ll See You Tomorrow Night, Kirby Puckett
11. Acquired pick to draft Michael Vick
10. Jasper Sanks “Fumble”
9. Eric Gregg’s Strike Zone
8. Bobby Petrino Quits
7. Vick Breaks Leg
6. Clinch 1991 National League Pennant
5. Jim Leyritz
4. Gary Andersen’s Miss
3. Morten Andersen’s Make
2. Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win!
1. World Champs