CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Sometimes, games, seasons and championships were at stake. Sometimes, ordinary moments turned extraordinary in an instant. They were the kind of moments that made fans leap from their seats in disbelief and grab their phones to share the excitement.
The plays of the year.
An arbitrary list, for certain, but this much is not in dispute — 2015 was laden with spectacular moments that will be talked about for a long time to come.
Take American Pharoah, opening his lead with every stride down the stretch of the Belmont Stakes on the way to becoming the Triple Crown winner that horse racing had waited nearly four decades to see.
Or Georgia Tech winning only one football game in the Atlantic Coast Conference all season, that win coming on a blocked field goal return for a touchdown as time expired against Florida State.
Or Michigan State keeping its national-title hopes afloat when rival Michigan fumbled a punt snap in the final moments and the Spartans ran it in for a score as time expired.
Or even Matt Kenseth driving Joey Logano into the wall at Martinsville during NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, clear retaliation for a Logano move that Kenseth blamed for knocking him out of contention.
All scintillating moments — and they didn’t even make this list. Here, the top 10 plays in sports for 2015:
10. Messi vs. Bilbao.
Barcelona’s brilliant Lionel Messi takes a pass on the right wing, and what happens over the next 13 seconds is spectacular even by his lofty standards. Messi dribbles down the wing, freeing himself from three converging defenders, darts into the penalty box, cuts past a fourth Bilbao player and fires a left-footed blast into the net as two more opponents look on helplessly.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR7DY7B0oj4
9. Ovechkin from his knees.
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin takes a pass near center ice at Madison Square Garden, splits two New York Rangers defenders and gets knocked to the ice. So as he’s falling to his knees, the Russian star has enough wherewithal to get a stick on the puck and somehow fire it past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist — and the whole play took only 3 seconds.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2pjERKAc_8
8. Spieth’s 3-wood to finish U.S. Open.
The 2015 U.S. Open will probably be best remembered by Dustin Johnson three-putting on the 72nd hole, but the shot Jordan Spieth made moments earlier was one of the best of his incredible year. Spieth struck a 3-wood from 284 yards into eagle range, settling for a birdie that put him one shot ahead of Johnson. Turns out, that was all Spieth needed, since Johnson three-putted to give the 21-year-old his second consecutive major.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uho-CMkKpe4
7. Rodgers to Rodgers beats the clock.
Down 23-21 with no time left, Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay needed a miracle to beat Detroit. And he delivered. Getting one untimed play after a penalty on the Lions extended the game, the Packers’ quarterback took the snap, rolled left, was chased back to his right, then unfurled a pass that sailed about 68 yards through the air and ended in teammate Richard Rodgers’ hands for a stunning win.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0vVqStvh_8
6. Holly’s kick heard ‘round the world.
Ronda Rousey was unbeatable. Then again, everyone is until it actually happens. And unheralded Holly Holm erased Rousey’s air of invincibility in an instant. With one swift left-footed kick that caught Rousey on the right side of the head, Holm won their UFC fight and became the women’s champion of their sport — setting up a rematch coming in 2016 that should be one of the biggest events of the year.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_gSHT5S6zs
5. Joey Bats’ bat flip
Game 5 of the American League Division Series, tie game, seventh inning. Who better than a guy who goes by “Joey Bats” — real name, Jose Bautista — to deliver? Bautista connected on a no-doubt, three-run home run that would eventually lift Toronto to a series-clinching victory over Texas, punctuating the hit by admiring the drive from the plate for a moment before flipping his bat in celebration.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UdsVO7HaJg
4. Carli from midfield.
Have a World Cup, Carli Lloyd. With the U.S. women’s national team already up 3-0 early against Japan in the World Cup final, Lloyd got her hat trick in absurd fashion. She collected a ball around the center circle, took two dribbles and saw Japan’s goalkeeper was inexplicably about 12 yards off the end line. Lloyd booted the ball high, getting just enough on it to reach the goal over the outstretched goalie’s arm.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBosyOJ3PIY
3. Steph off the dribble (twice).
Poor Chris Paul. As if Stephen Curry didn’t do enough on his way to winning the MVP and leading Golden State to an NBA title last season, he victimized Paul twice on the way to those achievements. The first comes when Curry is dribbling under the basket toward the corner, then goes behind his back twice as Paul falls to the floor — a victim to the misdirection. The other comes with Curry going between-the-legs and behind-the-back on the dribble, weaving around three Clippers. And in both cases, Curry made the ensuing jumper.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHdahxlUPac and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NudiJUlxb10
2. Butler’s Super Bowl moment.
Seattle was a yard away from a touchdown that would have almost certainly given the Seahawks a Super Bowl win. New England’s Malcolm Butler — an undrafted rookie signed as a free agent — changed all that. With the Seahawks electing to not give the ball to Marshawn Lynch and trying to score through the air Butler perfectly read a slant pass from Russell Wilson, and made the interception that clinched the title for the Patriots.
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7rPIg7ZNQ8
1. The Miami miracle.
Did it count? Yes. Should it have? No. And did Duke score on the previous play? Miami says no, which only adds to the fun of this one. Duke gets a debated touchdown with 6 seconds left to take a 27-24 lead, then kicks the ball deep. After eight laterals, one knee down that would have ended the game but wasn’t called and tons of controversy, Corn Elder takes the ball 91 yards into the end zone for a Miami victory. The Atlantic Coast Conference said a day later that it was suspending the officiating crew for two games, then later told Miami that some of the 23 penalties against the Hurricanes — including ones that led to Duke’s debated go-ahead touchdown — shouldn’t have been called. “They’ll talk about this game forever, I guess,” Elder said. “And they’ll always say we won.”
On the web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YXwuaniPoc
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds and his work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tim-reynolds