Being sick is certainly no fun. Your head hurts, your stomach aches and all you 're really capable of doing is lying on the couch. But for a select number of athletes, even extreme illness can't keep them from achieving greatness. The classic case is Michael Jordan's performance in the 1997 NBA Finals, but MJ isn't the only pro athlete who has played spectacularly despite feeling like garbage. STACK looked back through history to find the five greatest "flu games" of all time.
1. Hasselbeck Goes from Hospital to Tossing Touchdowns
Heading into their Week 5 divisional matchup against the Houston Texans, the Indianapolis Colts desperately needed a win. They had sputtered to a 2-2 start and needed overtime to beat the lowly Jaguars. A win against the Texans would go a long way toward righting the ship. Just one problem—their best player, quarterback Andrew Luck, was out with a shoulder injury. His replacement? A 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, who was so sick with a bacterial infection, he had been hospitalized for a night just 48 hours before game day.
Hasselbeck had been experiencing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and extreme fatigue all week. He wasn't able to suit up for a single practice. At team meetings the night before the game, he felt so ill he couldn't even speak. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri told The Indianapolis Star that Hasselbeck "looked like warmed-over death."
Despite his extreme illness, Hasselbeck was under center when the game started. He miraculously completed 18 of 29 passes for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading the Colts to an improbable 27-20 victory. After the game, even Hasselbeck couldn't believe he performed so well given the circumstances. "I really had nothing this morning," he said. "I honestly feel like this isn't even real now."
2. Teixeira Tosses His Cookies, Then Launches Two Home Runs
Racking up two home runs and six RBIs in a single game is an awesome day at the office. But to do it when you've been puking your guts out for the last 24 hours? Well, that's a feat only Mark Teixeira can claim to have accomplished.
Heading into the game, Teixeira—who at the time was a recent acquisition by the Atlanta Braves—was dealing with the effects of a nasty stomach flu. Any time he tried to eat something substantial, it ended coming right back up. The only things he could handle were eggs and dry toast. Yet somehow Tex had the energy to smack two dingers, one of which measured a monstrous 451-feet.
After the game, Teixeira offered interesting insights about his performance to MLB.com. He said, "When you [play with the flu], for some reason you get more focused, because you know you can't do everything you're used to doing. You're slower and your body hurts a little bit. So you focus and you're going to have nights like this."
It's a unique way of looking at things, but I think most players will elect to stick with the whole not-vomiting approach.
3. Pneumonia Can't Keep Favre off the Field
When you start 297 consecutive games over 19 NFL seasons, you're bound to play through some less-than-ideal circumstances. Brett Favre kept his unparalleled consecutive start streak alive through broken bones, separated shoulders and concussions. He always found a way to deal with discomfort and often thrived in spite of it. Such was the case on Nov. 29, 2010, when Favre strung together a winning performance despite a nasty illness.
A member of the Minnesota Vikings at this point in his career, Favre had struggled with symptoms all week. It was at first believed to be a sinus infection, but when his symptoms worsened, he stated he believed he had pneumonia. Whether it was pneumonia or not, for a tough guy like Favre to feel that bad, it had to be pretty rough. On the Saturday before the game, he was given a steroid pack and an injection in a last-ditch effort to fight off the illness.
But the sickness was stubborn, and Favre didn't feel much better when he woke up on Sunday. But that didn't stop him from suiting up and starting at quarterback. Despite his illness and temperatures that dipped into the mid-30s, he delivered a gutsy performance and led his team to victory. His stat line included a 10-yard scramble for a crucial first down. "It was 10 yards? Really? It felt like 50," a hoarse Favre told ESPN after the game. Favre's consecutive starts streak ended just two weeks later.
4. Serena Overcomes Sickness to Win 20th Major
Serena Williams won the 2015 French Open to capture her 20th career major, but not without adversity.
After her third-round match, Williams begin to fall ill. By the time her semifinal match against Timea Bacsinszky rolled around, she was feeling downright awful. Her flu symptoms had intensified, and she was dealing with intense nausea, fatigue, sweating and more. The start of the semifinal match went about how you'd expect for the flu-addled Williams; she looked slow and lethargic while dropping the first set. But then, a switch turned on.
Serena began playing like her usual self (despite severe coughing fits during breaks) and won the final two sets—including the last 10 consecutive games—to secure a victory. After the match, she told ESPN, "I don't think I've ever been this sick. I didn't expect to win that. I can't believe I won."
In the 36 hours following the match, Serena barely left her bed. She finally felt a bit better on the morning of her finals matchup against Lucie Safarova, where she prevailed in three sets. "This is by far the most dramatic [major title I've won]," Williams told NBC's Mary Carillo afterward. "I didn't even train yesterday, I've had the flu . . . it's just been a nightmare."
5. Jordan Delivers Iconic Performance Despite Hellacious Illness
Michael Jordan's play in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was nothing short of miraculous. His performance has become so engrained in pop culture, it is now universally recognized by three simple words—"The Flu Game."
Two nights before the day of Game 5, Jordan was shaken from his slumber by a ferocious sickness. He was sweating bullets, shaking uncontrollably and his stomach was in knots. "I was scared; I didn't know what was happening to me," Jordan later said.
The Bulls' medical staff rushed to his room and came to the conclusion that he was either suffering from a stomach virus or food poisoning. Whatever it was, they determined he wasn't going to be able to play in Game 5. Jordan was confined to his bed for the next two days, rising only to expel fluids. Obviously, he missed the Bulls' team practices both the day before and the day of Game 5.
But a mere three hours before tip-off, Jordan somehow dragged himself out of bed and slowly made his way to the Delta Center. When he zombie-walked his way into the locker room, his teammates were shocked at his condition. "[I didn't think] he could even put on his uniform," Scottie Pippen later told ESPN. "I'd never seen him like that. He looked bad—I mean really bad."
But Jordan refused to sit out, insisting that coach Phil Jackson insert him into the starting lineup. And for the first quarter of the game, that looked like a big mistake. Jordan played like a guy who had a 103-degree fever—he was dazed, weak and slow. The Jazz sprinted out to a 29-16 advantage. But His Airness turned it on in the second quarter, pouring in 17 points despite still looking like death.
At halftime, Jordan wrapped himself in cold towels, consumed as many fluids as possible and told Jackson to use him in spurts because his tank was almost empty. An up-and-down second half for Jordan—who at times seemed on the verge of collapse—culminated in a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. The Bulls held on for the victory, and the legend of "The Flu Game" was born.
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