It happens to even the best athletes. For one reason or another, something goes terribly wrong, and suddenly you find yourself hanging your head in shame. You’ve practiced your sport for thousands of hours, and yet for a few seconds you look like a you’ve never played it before in your life.
As soon as you make one of these bonehead plays, your heart sinks. Not only have you hurt your team’s chances of winning the game, you’ve also guaranteed yourself days or weeks of ridicule from your teammates. These are the plays you’d pay big money to take back. These are the 5 most embarrassing plays in sports.
1. Air Balling a Free Throw
Some players can make them with their eyes closed. Some can make them with their non-dominant hand. One man made 5,221 in a row! Free throws are a skill basketball players practice almost every day. They are basically free points for players like Steve Nash.
That’s why it’s totally hilarious (well, for everyone except the shooter) when a player air balls a free throw. You’re standing there with no one pressuring you. You’re relatively close to the basket. You go through a full routine before you shoot. And you still can’t hit anything. A long list of professional basketball players have air balled free throws. Even though they’re the best in the world at what they do and get paid millions to do it, they aren’t immune to shooting a total brick every now and then.
Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are two great players. Both recently shot two air balls in a row! Even King James himself has whiffed a few. Not only do you miss out on free points, you buy yourself a healthy ribbing from opposing fans, players and even your own teammates. When you air ball a free throw, sometimes all you can do is laugh at yourself.
RELATED: 2 Drills to Improve Your Free Throw Shooting
2. Missing a Shot at an Open Net
Goals don’t come easy in hockey. Top goaltenders allow only six or seven for every 100 shots on goal. Slotting the puck home can feel like an incredible grind at times. That’s why open-net goals are a gift. When a team is trailing late in the game, they might pull their goalie in favor of an extra skater. All game, you’ve been dealing with a stonewalling goalie and defenders trying to take your head off. Suddenly you’ve got the puck on your stick and nothing but unguarded twine in front of you. An old lady could score. A child could score. A talented dog could score.
But in several cases, a player’s motor skills have completely betrayed him, causing him to miss the easiest should-be goal of his entire career. Perhaps the most embarrassing instance was Patrick Stefan’s monumental miss. In a January 2007 NHL game, Stefan’s Edmonton Oilers were up 5-4 over the Dallas Stars. With only eight seconds left, Stefan was on a breakaway with the open net clear as day in front of him.
Somehow, he tripped over his own feet. Dallas stole the puck, streaked up the ice and scored a game-tying goal with under a second left. Edmonton later won in overtime, but no one remembers that. All anyone remembers is former No. 1 overall pick Patrick Stefan’s chance to seal the deal getting derailed when he slipped on an invisible banana peel.
3. Going the Wrong Way
Knowing which way your team is going is one of the most fundamental aspects of being an athlete. But that hasn’t stopped numerous players from going in the wrong direction and making themselves look foolish. I don’t really know how it happens. Maybe the player was spinning around before the play, and in a dizzy haze he picked a direction and ran. Maybe the player wanted to score so badly he didn’t really care which team it was for? Who knows? But it’s actually happened quite a few times.
Javale McGee’s and Larry Saunders’ brains shorted out, but they came to their senses before any real harm was done. Those cases are just hilarious. But other instances of players’ internal GPSs malfunctioning have severely hurt their team’s chances of winning. For example, Kent State’s Andre Parker ran a muffed punt nearly 70 yards in the wrong direction! The Minnesota Vikings’ Jim Marshall famously recovered a fumble and ran into the wrong end zone, giving the other team a safety. Then you have Trey Johnson, an Oklahoma high school hoops player who made a lay-up in the wrong basket as the clock ran out to lose his team a playoff game. Yikes!
4. Getting Tackled by the Kicker or Punter
Returning a kick for a touchdown is really hard. Ten aggressive people are gunning for your head, and they’ve got a big running start, which gives them an advantage over your blockers. Once you beat those 10 opposing players, a touchdown is almost guaranteed. All you’ve got to do is get past the kicker or punter—you know, the dude who is almost always the smallest, slowest, most un-athletic player on the field? The guy who usually trips over himself before he even lays a finger on you?
There are endless ways to beat the punter or kicker. You can run right by him. You can break his ankles with a simple cut. You can stiff arm him. In a one-on-one situation against an elite return man, the kicker or punter might as well be a cardboard cutout. However, on occasion, a kicker or punter can somehow, some way get the runner down. One such occasion came a day after Deion Sanders said, “I know if I see the punter, then it’s a touchdown.” The next day he got taken down by punter Hunter Smith. Getting tackled by a punter or kicker is a severe blow to the ego of a cocky return man. He knows he won’t hear the end of it from his teammates anytime soon.
And if the punter or kicker blows you up? Man, they never let you forget it.
5. Celebrating Too Early
No one likes a showboater. Plenty of cocky athletes are more concerned with celebrating and drawing attention to themselves than respecting their opponents. With the other plays on this list, a few people might feel bad for you. You tried your best but something went wrong. But when it comes to premature celebrating, no one feels sorry for you. When you’re more concerned with celebrating than finishing the play, the fact that it backfires in your face is the truest form of karma. Check out the video player above to see L.A. Lakers Nick Young, a.k.a. Swaggy P, celebrate a missed 3-point shot.
Premature celebrations happen in a wide range of sports. Here are some of my favorites:
In all of these cases, the athlete’s desire to show off caused him to botch the play. If you really want to show off your dance moves, wait until you know the play is over. Then commence being a total hot dog.
RELATED: The 13 Best Signature On-Field Celebrations in the NFL