The 30 Most Iconic Sports Photographs Of All Time

A collection of moving photographs that demonstrate the pain of heartbreak and the pure, unadulterated joy of triumph. Warning: Even if you don’t like sports, you may end up weeping.

1. Derek Redmond And His Dad Finish An Olympic Race

Derek Redmond was a British Olympic sprinter (400 meters) in the ’80s and early ’90s. His career had been plagued by injuries that forced him to drop out of the 1988 Olympics just before his race. He had eight surgeries between 1988 and 1992 and by the time the Barcelona games came along he was ready to go. In the semifinals his hamstring snapped after 150 meters. A stretcher was brought out but Redmond refused it. And pulled himself up and began limping to the finish. His father ran through security to be with his son and helped him cross the finish line.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer)

2. Diego Maradona Takes On Six Defenders

Steve Powell / Getty Images

Diego Maradona is among the greatest soccer players to have ever played the game. This photo from the 1982 World Cup shows him going up against six Belgian defenders. This sums up how many saw Argentina’s teams of the period: Maradona vs. the world. Four years later Maradona would win that match up and lead Argentina to a World Cup victory.

3. Mickey Mantle Takes Out His Bad Day On His Batting Helmet

John Dominis / Getty Images

This is the defining photo of one of baseball’s greatest players. And though at the time Mickey was seen as a happy-go-lucky guy, through his biographers, we’ve come to know this version of Mick. Angry. Frustrated. Complex.

4. Muhammad Ali Stands Over Sonny Liston

This is one of the most Iconic photos of all time. It shows a young Muhammad Ali shouting at Sonny Liston after knocking him down in the first round. Reports from the fight said Ali told Liston to “get up and fight,” but Liston did not. What exactly happened that night is unclear (many claim that Liston took a dive), but the first round knockout (and in many ways the uncertainty of the fight) helped add to Ali’s mythology.

(Sports Illustrated / Neil Leifer)

5. Roger Bannister Runs The First Sub-Four-Minute Mile

Until a 25-year-old medical student named Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, no human had ever accomplished the feat.*

*At least no one who was officially recognized, though there are a few pre-Bannister runners who made claims on a sub-four-minute mile.

(Press Association)

6. Eddie Gaedel Becomes The Only Little Person To Play Major League Baseball

Associated Press / AP

At 3’7” tall, Eddie Gaedel had a nearly invisible strike zone, which (along with selling tickets) is just what St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck had in mind when he staged this publicity stunt. Gaedel was under orders not to swing and he walked on four pitches. He was immediately pinch-run for, and his jersey (number “1/8”) currently hangs in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

7. JT Snow Saves Dusty Baker’s Young Son

Brian Bahr / Getty Images

In the 2002 World Series, Giants manager Dusty Baker’s three-year-old son Darren served as one of the team’s bat boys. After a Kenny Lofton triple, Darren ran out after the bat, while the play was still happening. JT Snow, who started the play on third, ran home and managed to touch the plate and whisk Baker away before a play at the plate could smash the mini-Baker.

8. Derek Jeter Dives Into The Stands

Frank Franklin II / AP

In a July 2004 game against the Yankee’s hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, Derek Jeter covered a ton of ground to make a one-handed running catch in shallow left field. He had to run so hard to get there that he couldn’t stop himself before he flew into the stands. It’s one of the grittiest plays any modern athlete has made.

9. Mark Cuban Finally Wins An NBA Title, Celebrates Accordingly

Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban has a long and storied history of offending the NBA and its commissioner David Stern. He also, until 2011, had a long history of fielding teams with large payrolls who could never win when it counted. That all changed last year when the Mavericks beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and Mark Cuban finally got to celebrate with the Larry O’Brien trophy. No picture has ever encapsulated an NBA owner the way this one encapsulates Cuban.

10. Joe Carter’s Walk-Off World Series Home Run

Mark Duncan / AP

This is what it looks like when you achieve what every kid dreams of in his backyard. Down one run in the bottom of the 9th inning in the World Series, and you get up with men on and hit the Championship-clinching home run. As announcer Tom Cheek said that day, “Touch ‘em all, Joe.”

11. Scott Norwood Is Sad

Chris O’Meara / AP

With eight seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXV and his Bills trailing the Giants by only one point, Scott Norwood took the field to attempt a 47-yard field goal that would have made his team champions. He missed wide-right and his name became synonymous with choking in the big moment.

12. Y.A. Tittle In His Last NFL Season

Morris Berman / Getty Images

This photo taken during the last season of Y.A. Tittle’s storied career as an NFL quarterback captures Tittle after having just thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown. On the play he suffered both a concussion and a cracked sternum. Tittle says of the photo, “It was the end of my dream. It was over.”

13. Carlton Fisk Waves A World Series Home Run Fair

Harry Cabluck / AP

In the 1975 World Series, with his Red Sox on the brink of elimination, Carlton Fisk hit a deep fly ball down the left field line in the bottom of the 12th inning. It looked as though it might go foul, but Fisk began waving his arms and (along with the prayers of Red Sox faithful) seemingly willed the ball to stay fair, sending the series to Game 7.

14. Mark Messier Raises The Stanley Cup Ending The New York Rangers 54-Year Draught

Linda Cataffo / Getty Images

In 1994, the New York Rangers hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in 54 years. That all changed as Mark Messier led the Rangers past the Vancouver Canucks. This is what ending a city’s suffering looks like.

15. University Of Pittsburgh Students Watch The Pirates Win The World Series From A Nearby Roof

George Silk / Getty Images

I’m not sure any other photo has ever captured what it means to be a fan more than this one. Watching your team win their first world series in 35 years from so far away that the players look like ants, is only something you do when you care deeply about something. Also it’s one of the coolest sports photos ever.

16. Willy Mays Makes “The Catch” In The 1954 World Series

Frank Hurley / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

One of the most famous plays in baseball history, Willy Mays caught Vic Wertz’s giant blast to center (a hit that would have been a home run at any other ballpark) by making a beautiful (and insanely difficult) over the shoulder catch. Had Mays misplayed the ball, The Cleveland Indians would have taken a 4-2 lead late in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. Instead, Mays caught the ball and his New York Giants went on to sweep the Cleveland Indians.

17. Michael Jordan’s Flu Game

Tom Cruze / AP

Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was a defining moment of Michael Jordan’s career. The Jazz had just won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series, when Jordan was diagnosed with the flu and told that he couldn’t play in Game 5. Michael Jordan ignored that advice and went on to play 44 minutes (of 48 possible), looking visibly weak the entire time. That didn’t stop him from leading Bulls back from an early deficit and then hitting a game-winning three as the fourth quarter wound down. Jordan finished with 38 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, before collapsing into Scottie Pippen’s arms.

18. Bill Buckner’s World Series Error

The 1986 World Series. Game 6. The Boston Red Sox could clinch their first World Series title since 1918 with a win. In extra innings with the score tied, Mookie Wilson hit a slow-rolling ground ball up the first base line. The routine ground ball went through Buckner’s legs allowing the Mets to score the winning run. The Mets would go on to win the series. Buckner would go on to be the most famous goat in sports history.

(Boston Globe)

19. Gymnastics Coach Béla Károlyi Holds Kerri Strug After Winning The Gold

Susan Ragan / AP

With the Russian and American female gymnastics teams neck and neck for the gold, the American team needed a good performance from Kerri Sturg on the vault to ensure victory. On her first attempt she fell and hurt her ankle, but the team needed her to land a second attempt to clinch the gold. She landed it perfectly before lifting up her bad foot. The team won the gold.

20. Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 Walk-Off World Series Home Run

ASSOCIATED PRESS / AP

Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. Pirates vs. Yankees. Bottom of the 9th inning. Game tied 9-9. Light-hitting second baseman Bill Mazeroski comes to bat and hits a walk-off home run to win the World Series and give the Pirates their first title in 35 years.

21. Bobby Orr Flies After His Stanley Cup-Winning Goal

Associated Press / AP

In 1970 Bobby Orr scored an overtime goal to give the Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup since 1941. Seconds after scoring what has now been dubbed “The Goal” Orr tripped, but it didn’t stop him from celebrating. It resulted in this, one of the most famous and joy-filled sports photos of all time.

22. Jesse Owens Wins Gold In Nazi Germany

Associated Press / AP

The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games were marked by Hitler’s desire to showcase Aryan supremacy and American Jesse Owens’ refusal to play along. Owens won four gold medals at the games including the long jump. This photo from the medal stand of that event is one of the most powerful images in Olympic history.

23. Dan Jansen’s Olympic Heartbreak

Getty Images / Getty Images

Dan Jansen was an American speed skater in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Just before his first event in the 1988 games, Jansen’s sister Jane lost her battle with Leukemia. He promised to win the gold for her, but after getting off to great starts in each race, he fell. This photo was taken after one of those races. But six years later (the Winter Olympic cycles changed after the 1992 games) Dan did win the gold and took a victory lap with his young daughter, Jane.

24. The Americans Defeat The Soviet Union In The “Miracle On Ice”

The Soviet hockey team was legendary. They had won the gold medal in every Olympics since 1964 and had regularly destroyed NHL teams in exhibition. The 1980 US hockey team was not an NHL team. They were a collection of college players and no-names, who should have had been crushed by the vastly superior Soviets. But that’s not what happened. The US Team gutted out a victory and Al Michael’s bellowed “Do you believe in miracles?!” as time expired.

(Sports Illustrated / Heinz Kluetmeier)

25. The Black Power Salute On The Podium

Associated Press / AP

At the 1968 Olympic games, African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists as a display of black pride. They both accepted their medals in black socks to represent black poverty. The Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project For Human Rights badge to show solidarity. Both Americans were expelled from the games as a result of their actions.

26. Kevin Dyson Is One Yard Short In The Super Bowl

Associated Press / AP

Super Bowl XXXIV came down to the last play of the game. The Titans were losing 23-16 when Kevin Dyson caught a pass across the middle. He was hit by St. Louis Ram, Mike Jones but Dyson dove for the goal line hoping to send the game into overtime. He was one yard short as time expired.

27. Lou Gehrig Says Goodbye

Associated Press / AP

The Yankee star was forced to retire due to his bout with ALS (a disease that would later carry his name). On July 4th, 1939, the Yankees held a ceremony for him between games of a double header. During that ceremony they retired his number (the first time that was done in major league baseball) and Gehrig gave a speech to fans:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

28. Curt Schilling’s Bloody Sock

Charles Krupa / AP

The 2004 American League Championship Series is remembered for the Boston Red Sox coming back from down 3 games to none to beat the New York Yankees and earn a trip to the World Series. A World Series that they would win ending an 86 year championship draught. In Game 6 of that ALCS Red Sox ace Curt Schilling pitched 7 innings giving up only 1 run, despite having a major ankle injury that was so intense that by the end of the game his sock was covered in blood.

29. Steve Bartman’s Nightmare Night

Elsa / Getty Images

Since 2003, it’s become every fan’s nightmare. Steve Bartman loved the Cubs deeply. So deeply that he was the type of guy who would go to a National League Championship Series game with friends but still wear a radio so he could listen to the play-by-play. Late in the game a foul ball was hit down the left field line to wear Bartman was sitting. He reached out for the ball despite the fact that Moises Alou could potentially make a play on it thus ending the inning. Bartman knocked the ball away and the inning continued, allowing the Marlins to come back and win the game. They would go on to win the series. Bartman is still reviled by many Chicagoans.

30. Brandi Chastain’s Goal Clinches The World Cup

Roberto Schmidt / Getty Images

The United States was facing China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final. After playing the Chinese to a 0-0 draw the match moved to penalty kicks. Brandi Chastain kicked through the clinching 5th penalty and ripped her jersey off in joy as 90,000 fans celebrated in the Rose Bowl.

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