ESPN’s “The Greatest Highlight” Gets It Wrong

March 3, 2008

For the past several weeks, ESPN has been holding a “contest” to find the greatest sports highlight of all time. It concluded last night with Mike Eruzione’s “Miracle on Ice” goal winning the prize. The problem, in my opinion, is that it shouldn’t have been in the running in the first place.

My problem is in the definition of a highlight, or more specifically, a sports highlight. Typically, each game or sporting event will have one or two moments that define the game. In this year’s Super Bowl, that moment was clearly the play where Eli Manning escaped a sack and threw the ball to David Tyree, who somehow managed to catch the ball with his helmet. What makes that play a great highlight is that if you take that play out of the Super Bowl, and put it into any game, even a pre-season game, it’s still a great play and a great highlight. A great highlight should be able to stand on it’s own without the urgency or need of the back story of the game it occurs in.

Eruzione’s goal was a nice play, but had it happened in any other game, it would be have been forgotten as just another goal. Take away the socio-political plot lines of a USA vs. Soviet hockey game, and that goal is just a goal.

You want to see a great hockey goal highlight? Check out Alexander Overchkin scoring a goal over his head while sliding on his back! Who cares if the game had playoff implications or even if they won the game, it’s a great highlight on its own.

Football’s “Immaculate Reception” is another example of a great highlight. Yes, it happened during a playoff game, but it doesn’t matter. The highlight stands on it’s own as a great play.

If you have to explain why the highlight is great, it isn’t great.

Doug Flutie’s hail mary, Cal-Stanford’s “The Band Is On The Field”, Boise State’s Statue of Liberty, Lynn Swan’s acrobatic catch, and Willie May’s over-the-shoulder catch all rank much higher as highlights in my book.

Sports Illustrated named the USA’s upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics as “the greatest sports moment in the 20th Century”. I can’t argue with that. Eruzione’s goal was the highlight of that game. But the greatest highlight ever? No. Not even close.