Well, this list had to end somewhere.
I put three of the most powerful moments I could think of into my podium slots. One is emotional, one nationalistic, and one a dynasty-definer. It’s important to remember that sometimes sports transcend just the field, and how it can have an effect on people on and off the court, ice, or between the white lines. Here we go; let’s start with No. 3.
3. Gordon Hits His Only Homer of 2016 as Marlins Honor Fernandez (2016)
Starting my top three, I have a moment that isn’t clutch but is meaningful nonetheless. The baseball community was rocked in 2016 when news broke that star Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. The Marlins all wore his No. 16 jersey against the Mets in their next game, and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon went to touch the dirt behind the mound in honor of him before trotting out to his second base position.
In the bottom of the inning, Gordon took the first pitch right-handed, again in honor of his friend. He then switched over to his normal left side of the plate, where he promptly launched a leadoff bomb. Gordon rounded the bases, and as he touched home and looked skyward, his eyes glistened. It was the only home run he would hit the entire season.
Sports work in different ways for different people. On that September day, it provided an outlet for a man to honor his friend’s death. It was poetic. And it allowed a team to cope with a tragic event together, and play for a cause. Others, like the Angels throwing a combined no-hitter after Tyler Skaggs’ death, or Michael Lorenzen hitting a home run after his dad died, have also paid tribute to fallen people, but Gordon’s home run stood out, which is why it is No. 3. I can’t help but get a little choked up just thinking about it.
2. Mario Gotze wins the 2014 World Cup for Germany
There is no bigger honor for an athlete than being able to represent one’s culture in international competition. The World Cup is perhaps the most prestigious tournament in the world. And in 2014, it needed a winner.
The roads for the two teams in the World Cup Final weren’t easy. Germany needed two extra-time goals to beat Algeria, then had to hang on against 2018 champion France. They beat up on Brazil in the semifinal and found themselves in the final.
For Argentina, the road was no less treacherous. Angel Di Maria’s 118th-minute go-ahead goal put Argentina into the quarterfinals, where they beat a tough Belgian team. They needed penalties to beat the Netherlands after a 0-0 full-time deadlock and faced Germany with a chance to hand Lionel Messi and international competitive win.
The teams remained scoreless heading into extra time until Gotze broke the tie with a beautiful control off his chest and a finish past Sergio Romero. Germany went on to win 1-0, and cap off Miroslav Klose’s incredible international career with a win.
1. Malcolm Butler’s INT Seals Super Bowl XLIX for the Patriots (2016)
Most of the list was hard for me to pick, but this one wasn’t. I reshaped everything on my list multiple times but the top slot never changed. The one spot is, and always was, Malcolm Butler’s incredible pick to end Super Bowl 49 against the Seattle Seahawks.
This moment was great in and of itself, but the context made it even more so. With the ‘Deflategate’ saga fresh in everyone’s minds, Patriots fans needed a reason to celebrate. Butler’s pick was so unlikely and took fans from the ultimate highs to the ultimate lows (or vice versa) following the great Jermaine Kearse catch.
Butler’s pick was a perfect example of what has defined the New England dynasty in three simple words: “Do Your Job.” He practiced the route several times in practice but wasn’t able to stop the touchdown from happening. But, in the game, Brandon Browner jammed the receiver and trusted Butler to make the play, which he did.
This kick-started the second half or second dynasty (depending on how you look at it) of one of the greatest teams in sports history, and definitely No. 1 in my lifetime. Tom Brady. Bill Belichick. Two men who have crushed dreams of NFL fans for two decades and counting. If this year happens to be the last one of that, there is no other entry that should top the list of greatest sports moments of the decade than one that is hallmarked by the greatest run of dominance any sport has ever seen.
Thank you very much for following along with this mini-series. As 2020 rolls in, here’s to another great decade of sports highlights and great championship moments.