End of decade: Best plays of the 2010s

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Here’s the only criterion that any play of the decade needs to meet: Did it get you out of your seat? Did you stand up and shout at the television or your phone as it unfolded? These were the 10 moments of the 2010s that cleared that high bar, moments you’ll be talking about as long as you’re watching sports. Unbelievable, inspiring, astounding, all at once — these were the best plays of the 2010s.

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)

10. Arike Ogunbowale’s Miracle 3, NCAA Women’s Final Four, 2018

The best way to top drama is with more drama. Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team came into the 2017-18 playoffs without four of its key players. But the Irish fought their way through the 64-team bracket to reach the Final Four, and Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale closed out UConn with a buzzer-beater. Two days later, she did it again, drilling a three-pointer with just 0.1 seconds remaining to knock off Mississippi State and clinch Notre Dame’s first title since 2001. 

9.  Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey, UFC 193, 2015

By the end of 2015, Ronda Rousey was on her way to becoming a multimedia threat, a UFC champion ready to break into the mainstream. The match with Holm in November 2015 in Melbourne, Australia, was a task on the to-do list, nothing more. Rousey came into the fight favored by up to -1650, but within moments it was clear she was in for a fight. Like Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson a quarter-century before, Holm came in hungrier and meaner, taking down Rousey in Round 1 and taking her out with a kick to the neck with 59 seconds left in Round 2. Rousey, who had never lost before Holm, would never again win an MMA fight, retiring to pursue a career in acting and wrestling. 

8. Cubs Win Game 7, 2016 World Series

Sometimes it’s not the play, it’s the moment. The exact play that ended the 2016 World Series isn’t all that important — an easy infield groundout — but what it represented is immeasurable. A century of frustration, a century of incompetence, a century of being a punch line — over and done in one magnificent, agonizing, transcendent Game 7. And of course The Almighty couldn’t let Cubs fans win easy, no — against the almost-as-woebegone Cleveland Indians, Chicago had to endure extra innings, multiple comebacks, a rain delay and a heart-stopping bottom of the 10th inning before throwing off four generations of frustration. 

7. Carli Lloyd’s Hat Trick, 2015 Women’s World Cup

Sixteen minutes. That’s all it took to transform Carli Lloyd from star to icon to legend. Sixteen minutes, three goals, one World Cup. Lloyd dominated the 2015 World Cup final the way few ever have, scoring two goals on set pieces and a third from nearly midfield, the equivalent of a sharpshooter feeling it and pulling up from the center-court logo. To play with that kind of abandon, that kind of freedom, that kind of fearlessness in the most important game of your life … that’s a special combination of skill and courage, and it marked Lloyd as one of the most remarkable players in World Cup history, male or female. Oh, and the U.S. won 5-2, but you probably could have guessed that. 

6. Tiger Woods, 2019 Masters

As putts go, it wasn’t particularly dramatic, a short tap-in for bogey. As moments go, it couldn’t have been bigger: Tiger Woods, standing on the 18th at Augusta, clinching the most unlikely win in his history … and perhaps the history of golf itself. After a decade that included scandal, injury, surgery, brushes with the law and failed comeback after failed comeback, here was Woods, back at the pinnacle of his sport. A few years before, he’d been sitting alone in his mansion playing Call of Duty and eating cereal; now he was standing triumpant before an audience of millions. He embraced his children — who’d been too young to remember Dad winning anything big ever before — and put a bow on one of the best comebacks of the decade. 

5. Villanova’s Three-Point Winner, 2016 NCAA Final Four

This is the rare game that would have ended up on this list no matter who won. Villanova and UNC traded body body blows in the 2016 NCAA championship, with Villanova unable to hold off Carolina’s charges. Finally, with 4.7 seconds remaining and down three, Carolina’s Marcus Paige drained a three-pointer that seemed it would send the game to overtime. But instants later, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins buried a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the championship for Villanova, 77-74. You won’t find two more clutch back-to-back shots paired with one another … well, almost anywhere. 

4. LeBron James’ Block, 2016 NBA Finals

One man against an empire. One man carrying an entire city on his shoulders. One man leaving his heart, soul, spirit and will out on the hardwood. Under two minutes remaining, Game 7, 2016 NBA Finals, Golden State’s Andre Iguodala dribbling to what appears to be an easy, open layup to put the Warriors up two over the Cavaliers. And then, from out of frame, LeBron James storms in, arm outstretched. Where did he come from? The backcourt? The rafters? Heaven? It doesn’t matter, all that matters is that he leaps, pins Iguodala’s shot against the backboard, and preserves the tie. A minute later, Kyrie Irving drains a long three, James sinks a free throw, and Cleveland has its first major championship in half a century. 

3. Philly Special, Super Bowl LII, 2018

The only way to beat New England in the Super Bowl is to do something so outlandish, so off-the-wall absurd, that the Patriots brain trust doesn’t expect it at all. (New England couldn’t get a read on what Eli Manning would do because even Eli Manning never quite knew what Eli Manning would do.) So when Philadelphia dialed up a fourth-down play involving a rookie running back, a tight end who had never thrown a pass in the NFL, and a backup quarterback who’d never caught an NFL pass before, well, you can understand why the Patriots didn’t see it coming. The fourth-and-goal play shortly before the half wound up with the ball in Nick Foles’ hands, giving Philadelphia a 10-point lead and an eventual Super Bowl victory. 

2. Kick Six, 2013 Iron Bowl

There are moments where a key play snaps, fully formed, into existence — a dramatic home run, a dagger of a three-pointer. But then there are moments when a key play comes together, piece by piece, every moment building on the ones before it, every one needing to go exactly perfectly to lead to the next. In the closing moments of the 2013 Iron Bowl, one of so many this decade with national championship implications, Alabama reached the Auburn 38. The game was tied at 28, and Bama intended to kick a field goal for the win. The clock reached 0:00 and the game appeared headed to overtime until Nick Saban lobbied to get one more second put on the clock. The Alabama field goal team trots onto the field; Auburn, in turn, drops Chris Davis back to the goal line. The 57-yard field goal is just short, and Davis catches it standing atop the E in “TIGERS.” He begins running up the left sideline, and Alabama’s beefy field goal unit can’t hope to catch him. Six years on, Auburn hasn’t stopped celebrating yet. 

1. Malcolm Butler, Super Bowl XLIX, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX was already headed toward “greatest Super Bowl ever” status, and then the game’s final minute vaulted it into the “greatest game ever” conversation. The Patriots’ devastating offense — Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski et al — went toe-to-toe with the Seahawks’ legendary Legion of Boom defense, but in the end it was two players on the teams’ other units — Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and New England defensive back Malcolm Butler — who made all the difference. With 26 seconds remaining, down 28-24, Seattle stood at New England’s one-yard line. The most punishing running back in football—Marshawn Lynch — was right there, but Seattle opted to go for a slant pass. Butler read it, intercepted Wilson’s throw, and clinched yet another Super Bowl victory for New England. You could watch this game a hundred times and you’ll still expect Seattle to pull out the win, every single time. 

Honorable mentions: BeastQuake; Minnesota Miracle; Ray Allen’s 3-pointer to defeat San Antonio; Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce buzzer-beater; Tua Tagovailoa leads Alabama over Georgia in national championship; David Freese’s heroics in 2011 World Series; Jameis Winston leads Florida State over Auburn in 2014 national championship; Tim Tebow beats Steelers in 2012 NFL playoffs. 

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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