The greatest last play in sports history.
That's what it was. The end of the Auburn-Alabama game on Saturday was the greatest last play ever.
Better than any Hail Mary. Better than any walkoff homer. Better than any buzzer-beater in basketball.
In case you missed it — and, if so, welcome back from your weekend in a cave — here was what happened:
Auburn upset top-ranked, undefeated and defending national champion Alabama when Chris Davis returned a failed 57-yard field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown. The only reason the play even happened was because officials put one second back on the clock after a long replay review of the previous play.
Now, I admit, all of us in sports love to rush to judgment. A team wins a championship and we're quick to call them the best ever. Every night, we watch SportsCenter and wonder if that was the greatest catch ever, or the best dunk we've ever seen or the best regular-season game in the history of regular-season games.
But I've thought long and hard about it and can make a good case for why the end of the Auburn-Alabama game was the greatest last play ever.
This had national championship implications. It happened in one of sports' most heated rivalries. It came at the end of a dramatic, well-played game full of big plays. The play, itself, almost didn't happen. But, mostly, what puts it over the top is the play itself.
A field goal return? How many times have you even seen a failed field goal returned for a touchdown? Have you ever seen it?
Now throw in everything else — the rivalry, the implications, the incredible game before that play — and that's why you have the best game-ending play ever.
There have been classic last-play moments in sports, but this play trumps them all. Think about it.
It was better than the Immaculate Reception. Franco Harris' catch and TD run after a goofy deflection in the 1972 playoffs was remarkable, but it was a first-round playoff game and not a very good game at that. And it also wasn't the last play; Oakland got the ball back. Even if it had been the last play, it's not at the top.
It was better than Christian Laettner's shot. Laettner's turnaround jumper sent Duke past Kentucky in the incredible 1992 East Region and on to a national title, but the play itself really wasn't that remarkable. Grant Hill made a good, long pass, but Laettner's shot was nothing more than a jumper from the free-throw line.
It was better than Bill Mazeroski's home run. The Pirates won the 1960 World Series on the only walkoff homer in Game 7 of a World Series. (The homer Joe Carter hit for Toronto in 1993 came in Game 6.) Maz's homer, to me, was the greatest last play in baseball, but we've seen walkoff homers before, even in the World Series.
It was better than the Music City Miracle. After the Bills had taken a 16-15 lead on a field goal with 16 seconds left in the 1999 season playoffs, the Titans won when Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson on the ensuing kickoff. Dyson ran 75 yards for the touchdown. Great play, but again, not the last play. Tennessee actually had to kick off one last time.
It was better than "The Play.'' Cal beat Stanford in 1982 on a kickoff return that featured five laterals and, in a bizarre twist, the Stanford band rushing the field prematurely. A crazy play, for sure. One of a kind. And it's a great rivalry. But this game between two so-so teams at the time didn't have the national implications that Saturday's Auburn-Alabama game had.
It was better than the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Bobby Thomson sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series with a walkoff homer over the rival Brooklyn Dodgers. Thomson's homer came with his team trailing and that gives it plenty of consideration. But, again, it's a walkoff homer. We've seen those, even in playoff games.
It was better than Hail Flutie. There have been many Hail Marys, but the best was Doug Flutie's pass to Gerard Phelan to lift Boston College past Miami, 47-45, in 1984. This play went a long way in helping Flutie win the Heisman Trophy. Still, as much as I love it, I've seen Hail Marys before and I'll see them again.
It was better than any Stanley Cup winner. You had Bobby Orr's famous fly-through-air OT game winner in 1970, but that came in Game 4 of a sweep. The Islanders, Avs and Blackhawks have won Cups on overtime goals, but not in Game 7. Brett Hull scored a controversial Cup winner for Dallas in 1999, but that was in Game 6. There are few things in sports more exciting than overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but overtime in the playoffs, even in the finals, is actually quite common.
It was better than any field goal. Super Bowls have been won (and lost) on made and missed field goals. Tom Dempsey set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal on the last play of a game. But, come on, do you really want to argue that a made field goal is the best play in sports history?
It was better than N.C. State's alley-oop in 1983. Okay, so this is the only one on the list that gave me pause. Jim Valvano's Wolfpack pulled off, arguably, the biggest upset in NCAA basketball history over Houston when Lorenzo Charles stuffed in an airball on a 30-foot prayer thrown up by teammate Dereck Whittenburg. This won a championship and the play itself was unusual. But as the clock was winding down, you anticipated North Carolina State taking a shot and, maybe, winning.
The Auburn play? No one saw it coming. No one.
And we will never see a play like that again. Never. And that is what makes it the greatest last play of all time.