Dives, buzzer-beaters and kicks: 2018’s AP Plays of the Year
This was a year of moments.
Justify won the Triple Crown. The U.S. beat Canada in a shootout for gold in women’s hockey at the Pyeongchang Olympics, and John Shuster pulled off a curling shot of all-time to win another gold for the red, white and blue. Stefon Diggs engineered a miracle in Minneapolis to win a playoff game for the Vikings. Roger Federer won a point at the U.S. Open without getting the ball over the net. Tiger Woods walked down the 18th fairway as a winner again. Loyola Chicago became the darlings of college basketball during the NCAA Tournament, fueled by a penchant for dramatics at the buzzer.
All of them spectacular.
Still, none of them made the list of the Plays of the Year.
These come from some of the biggest events of the year — the Stanley Cup Final, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the AL Championship Series and the women’s Final Four. One was from a volleyball player using her feet, another was a quarterback who made a winning throw but didn’t touch a football. And they all stood out a bit more than most.
Here are the best plays in sports for 2018:
10. Holtby saves the Caps
Washington goalie Braden Holtby might have turned the Stanley Cup Final around with one save. Alex Tuch had a chance to tie Game 2 of the series with about two minutes left in regulation. Alone in the slot, he took a pass and had tons of open net to shoot at from right on the doorstep — only to be denied by Holtby, who stabbed his stick at the air and just managed to find the puck. “Thank God he’s our goalie,” Caps star Alex Ovechkin said. The Capitals went on to win the series.
9. Harden breaks ankles
Poor Wesley Johnson. Poor, poor Wesley Johnson. All he was trying to do was guard Houston star James Harden, and he ended up on the ground as an unwitting participant in a highlight for the ages. Harden crossed Johnson over and caused him to stumble to the floor — it’s called “breaking ankles” in basketball vernacular — and it only got worse from there for the Los Angeles Clippers guard. Harden stared at him, held the ball for nearly three seconds, then made a 3-pointer.
8. Messi, in a flash
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, even in a full sprint, simply does things that hardly anyone else in the soccer-playing world can pull off. He took a long pass in a World Cup game against Nigeria, controlled it with his left thigh, then tapped it forward with his left foot — the ball hadn’t hit the ground yet — then stutter-stepped his way to the ball and delivered a right-footed strike into the far side of the net.
7. Bump, kick, spike
The pass from Kailey Elrod wasn’t perfect, and all Talia Watson could do was get her foot on the ball and flick it skyward. By the way, this wasn’t soccer. This was volleyball. The Cedar Crest College Falcons of Allentown, Pennsylvania, had match point against the College of Staten Island on Sept. 6, and Elrod’s bump from the baseline was low. Watson got her foot on the ball — yes, it’s legal — to extend the point, and eventually she had a more conventional set to set up a kill that capped Cedar Crest’s 3-0 victory.
6. Sling and a prayer
Julian McGarvey is a quarterback at Marist College, and his best throw of 2018 had nothing to do with football. Down by two with time running out in New York state’s Section 1 Class A boys basketball championship game, McGarvey intercepted a long pass, stumbled, gathered himself — some angles show that he didn’t travel, either — and heaved a 70-foot desperation try that dropped to give Ardsley a 52-51 win over Tappan Zee. Ardsley went on to make the state championship game, before eventually falling.
5. LeBron saves the day
Jimmy Butler tried a layup with about three seconds left in overtime, only to have it swatted away by LeBron James who tracked the play perfectly and rejected Butler’s shot with ease. And moments later, James outdid himself — again. After a timeout, James delivered Cleveland a win over Minnesota when he took an inbounds pass, turned and swished a fadeaway over Butler to help the Cavs top the Timberwolves 140-138.
4. Tua for the win
This has to be the best second-and-26 play in football history. Down by 3 in overtime, in the national championship game, one play after taking a very bad sack for a 16-yard loss, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa connected with DeVonta Smith on a 41-yard toss on what became the final play of the Crimson Tide’s 26-23 win over Georgia. Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts at the half and threw for three TDs as Alabama finished off its fifth national championship in the last 10 seasons.
3. Patriots posterized — twice
The two most memorable plays of 2018 in the NFL have much in common — they were touchdowns against the New England Patriots, went viral immediately and got cool names to boot. The Philly Special was Nick Foles catching a touchdown pass from Trey Burton late in the first half of the Philadelphia Eagles‘ win in the Super Bowl over the Pats, and the Miami Miracle was the Dolphins connecting on a pass and two laterals before Kenyan Drake darted into the end zone to cap a 69-yard touchdown that beat New England 34-33 on the final play.
2. Arike’s two miracles
Saying Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale had a flair for the dramatic at the women’s Final Four doesn’t even come close to doing what she did justice. She broke ties, and broke the hearts of Connecticut and Mississippi State. Against UConn, Ogunbowale’s jumper with 1 second left put Notre Dame ahead to stay in the national semifinals — and two nights later, in the national-title game, she went to the right and let fly with a wild, high-arcing 3 that dropped at the buzzer for the win.
1. A dive into Red Sox lore
Andrew Benintendi may never make a better catch. The left fielder for the Boston Red Sox made a diving grab to end Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, a huge play on his team’s run to the World Series title. Boston led 8-6 in Game 4, up 2-1 in the series, but the bases were loaded in Houston and the crowd at Minute Maid Park was roaring. Alex Bregman hit a liner that was sinking fast, and if it had gotten past Benintendi the Astros would have likely scored three runs to win. But Benintendi dove perfectly, snared the ball just above the grass and the rest is now Red Sox lore — as well as the play of the year.