The internet is the greatest thing to have happened to sports fans, and the second greatest is when people started putting sports videos on the internet. If you have never gone on a sports YouTube deep dive, then you are not a sports fan, and I might also question whether you are a human.
This is not about watching sports online--there are plenty of Rockies-Diamondbacks broadcasts all over the internet--this is about a very specific viewing experience. This entails what I’m doing right this very minute in another tab--inexplicably watching the “Shaq vs. Shaq” ad that I vaguely remembered from a Super Bowl two decades ago and decided I wanted to see immediately. Before that, I’d gone down the rabbit hole of NASCAR fights even though I can name like three NASCAR guys. Do you know why I did that? Because I can. Wait, why am I watching New Zealand’s rugby team do the haka? Or Ed Reed’s halftime speech to his Miami teammates against Florida State? Because it’s free.
A good YouTube rabbit hole is as good as a great sports game--I highly recommend diving down one on a slow sports night. But you have to pick the right one. There is essentially an unlimited number of sports YouTube genres to get lost in. Animals on the field is a rich and deep area. Impossibly old footage from, say, the 1910 World Series is reliably creepy. But what is the best? I made a list.
The reason to do this now is obvious: Because we are, at this very moment, at the prime moment for the best YouTube genre: the World Cup.
This list is about genres within sports and not the sports themselves. Skateboarding is a great YouTube sport, but it’s not a genre. If these were just a ranking of entire sports, base jumping would be present, as might the guys who wear wingsuits and also parkour or something. No, this is about clicking on the related videos until it’s three in the morning and for some reason you’re watching an overweight Dan Marino lead the Dolphins on one last clutch drive.
T-10. Scholarship videos
This may one day be a top-five YouTube genre, but it is relatively new. It was only around 2012 that college football teams started awarding scholarships to walk-ons while on video. This genre has humble beginnings--early versions include then-Vanderbilt coach James Franklin calmly awarding Marc Panu a full ride seven years ago in a team meeting. Very few after that would be so straightforward.
There’s only one real rule for a great scholarship video: The entire team has to completely lose it. If you cannot give me a full squad exploding with joy over the awarding of the scholarship, you should, no exaggeration, not get to award any scholarships to anyone, and the NCAA should shut down your program. Look at Mike Gundy’s low energy entry into the catalog. Compare that to P.J. Fleck’s elaborate bit that segued nicely into an incredible dance while the team cheered. I am not even sure what Sylvester Stallone is talking about here but I am 100 percent in because of the celebration. Rob Gronkowski awarded this guy a scholarship for some reason … uh, OK! But it was really fun!
T-10. Hockey captains giving veteran players the Stanley Cup
This one is pretty straightforward: A team wins the Cup and the captain almost immediately hands it to an aging veteran who just won his first title. The standard by which all are measured is Ray Bourque’s 2001 Stanley Cup win, which was capped off by Joe Sakic taking the Cup from Gary Bettman and giving it to Bourque without Sakic hoisting it at all. I’m in heaven:
There are plenty of examples, most recently Jonathan Toews handing the Cup to veteran Kimmo Timonen in 2015.
A different version played out in 1998 when Steve Yzerman immediately transferred the Cup to Vladimir Konstantinov, who was in a wheelchair, for a lap.
9. NBA on NBC clips
Basketball is, of the major sports, the best YouTube sport. A meaningless dunk can be more interesting than some of the most important parts of other sports. LeBron James could be his own category. LeBron James should be his own list. But there’s one particular basketball-related deep dive that I consider better than most of the rest: NBA on NBC.
The network’s NBA coverage is the absolute gold mine that is 1990s NBC opens in general, spearheaded by this barely believable Bob Costas poem that opened up one of the biggest college football games ever, the 1993 Notre Dame–Florida State game.
But let’s specifically talk about the hoops. I am not one of these people who believes basketball was better in the 1990s; it’s at its peak right now. However, basketball notalgia is often better than the actual basketball it’s being nostalgic about. If you want to tap into some beautiful NBA nostalgia, NBA on NBC cold opens are a great place to start. They are terribly corny--engineered perfectly to remind you of what the 1990s were like:
The best parts, of course, are obvious: Highlights of stars like Jordan and Shaq, some hilarious narration from Costas or Marv Albert, and then an exploding rendition of the NBA on NBC song, “Roundball Rock.” It is sports YouTube perfection.
Later in the decade, the channel branched out and started including less serious intros, like that of Lil Penny:
8. First-round knockouts
The beautiful thing about fight sports is that the fights end when they need to end. Some of the most entertaining YouTube fights last less than three minutes. There is no more beautiful thing than being able to see a full fight in less than three minutes. It means some serious stuff is about to go down. Some fights can give you everything you need in just a few minutes of action. Now, this is different from one or two epic rounds during a longer fight. The 10th round of Corrales-Castillo is one of the best YouTube fight videos ever, but this is about entire fights ending as soon as possible and providing maximum entertainment. A good example of this would be a Tyrone Spong fight that miraculously involved both fighters getting knocked out in a 32-second span.
Mike Tyson’s early knockouts were classics in the genre. Here he is with Marvis Frazier:
And Ronda Rousey with Sara McMann:
Conor McGregor’s epic win over Jose Aldo didn’t need to waste anyone’s time:
This genre gives you everything you need: You can see the entire fight in only like 45 seconds, and then you can move on to another old Norm MacDonald talk show appearance or something.
Fight sports have some of the deepest resources on YouTube, in no small part because of the sheer volume of fights every year over the past century. There’s a collection of the best left hooks ever. Or the best right hooks ever. Or uppercuts. Or you can delve into one of my personal favorites, the most overly dramatic parts of HBO’s 24/7:
But sometimes you just need to see Amir Khan get absolutely blasted in a video that takes less than two minutes to watch.
7. Buzzer-beaters that lead to court stormings and touchdowns that lead to field stormings
You cannot have a truly great buzzer-beater without a court storming and you cannot have a truly great court storming without a buzzer-beater. I understand that there have been good court stormings after an upset, but this is a list of the best YouTube genres and you need the perfect storm of conditions to qualify. Sports are at their best when they are completely ludicrous, and for a video to capture that, they have to encapsulate all of the madness that sports can bring. The all-time-best example of this is Stanford’s dramatic win over Arizona in 2004 that kept their perfect season alive. Tiger Woods with a long-sleeved T-shirt tucked into dad jeans with a backward white hat? Yes! But more importantly, you had a great buzzer-beater in a perfect location on the court and a great court storming:
Similar stormings have played out the same way:
It is harder for football to pull this off, but there are examples—most notably Iowa beating Michigan:
6. Serena Williams owning people
Speaking of quick knockouts, Serena Williams does the tennis equivalent routinely. Williams is one of two athletes with her own entry on this list. She goes on runs of dominance that are barely believable. Sometimes they last an entire match, like when she dismantled Maria Sharapova in Australia in 2007. But the real good stuff happens when she gets hot mid-game. On my deep dive this was the only time when I was stunned to discover a new subgenre: “Serena aces four straight serves” is a deep and rich library and not a one-off. Here she is doing it at the Australian Open in 2012 and the same thing at Wimbledon the same year. Here are four straight unreturned serves against Simona Halep in 2015. She did the same thing against Camila Giorgi:
5. Wrestling returns
The beauty of sports YouTube is getting in holes you didn’t know you needed. I do not, for instance, watch wrestling, but I do partake in a wrestling rabbit hole every few months, and they always pay off. The best genre in the sport is the return, which is as simple as it sounds: The wrestler was gone for awhile and is now back. The WWE engineers these returns to be as dramatic as possible and to cause the loudest-possible crowd reaction. What’s important about the return is that it always includes some over-the-top announcing. The wrestler is going to clean house, maybe with a chair, maybe with some choke slams, whatever, but things are about to happen. A classic is Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2000:
Here’s Kane and Paul Bearer. Where was Kane? I have no idea. But I know I am all the way in on his return.
Hulk Hogan is back? Yes, sure. This is great.
I want to be clear about something: I don’t think I’ve ever seen John Cena wrestle, but I was more fired up for this video than I was for like 80 percent of the videos from sports I do watch:
4. Tiger Woods long putts
It is likely safe that we can declare Tiger Woods’s run as the greatest golfer over. The good news is that you can relive virtually the whole thing on YouTube. With that comes some hard decisions over what is the best deep dive. Woods’s best shots were always with his irons. Watching him nail his 3-iron with precision will placate golf nerds (which I sort of am!) but it is a classic YouTube genre only for those who appreciate the sport. If I were selecting based on that, his work on the second shots on some par 5s might win. But this is a list for everyone, so it needs to be obvious to everyone why it’s entertaining. Tiger Woods’s clutch putts accomplish that. You’ve basically got it all here: Tiger doing his dorky fist pumps, a crowd filled with early-2000s golf fashion going bananas, and Tiger at his dominant best. Here he is forcing a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open:
Here’s Tiger at Bay Hill in 2008:
And here’s Tiger at Bay Hill in 2009:
And here’s Tiger at the Tour Players Championship in 2001:
3. Goalie goals
I got the idea for this list because I got lost in an NHL goalie fight rabbit hole. This is YouTube in a nutshell: I believe the last full hockey game I watched was in 2010, but I have seen literally dozens of goalie fights since then. The Chris Osgood-Patrick Roy fight ruled, as did its spiritual godfather, the Roy-Mike Vernon fight, and there have been countless contributions to the genre since. But this list can only have one goalie-related item and it’s an easy one: goalies scoring—in hockey or soccer or any other sport in which that is possible.
NHL goalies scoring goals is a delight. Martin Brodeur did it three times. Ron Hextall invented the move:
Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel scored two equally thrilling goals, only one of which counted. Jens Lehmann, then of Schalke, also famously scored. Paul Robinson’s goal from a goal kick is a different situation entirely and probably more impressive—since well, thousands of players have scored at point-blank range and significantly fewer have scored from the other end of the field. With soccer, there are so many games and so many leagues that there are an endless amount of options here. You can peruse Club America’s Moisés Muñoz or Marwin Hitz in the Bundesliga:
2. Long Quarterback Scrambles
Football is the best sport to watch for a full game. There is the right amount of structure, improvisation, strategy, and athleticism. There is a reason it is by far America’s most popular sport (and the sport I cover). What makes quarterback runs in particular so special is that they are (1) unusual, (2) unpredictable, and (3) just entertaining as hell. Colin Kaepernick against the Packers in the playoffs is one of the most fun things I have ever seen on a football field:
Or, of course, Michael Vick:
Or Marcus Mariota running 87 yards. Or John Elway in the Super Bowl:
1. Home broadcasts of international soccer goals
Here it is. The pinnacle of sports YouTubing. A World Cup goal by itself is a top-flight YouTube video. The tournament occurs every four years, billions of people watch it, and it is the most important event in the biggest sport on Earth. Every goal feels like a sports movie—goalies tear across the field to celebrate. Maybe, if you’re lucky, the goal scorer runs to his own bench so the whole team can get in on the celebration—all of the markings of a great YouTube goal. But these alone do not make it the best. No, what makes it the best is when a great goal is paired with amazing commentary, which happens often at the World Cup. International sports bring out the homer in us all (“Do you believe in miracles?”) and the World Cup brings with it new miracles for multiple countries every four years.
There is a deep catalogue of World Cup videos ranging from at least three decades ago to now. The concept is simple—the most important goals in the world are scored and the home broadcast, in the native language, reacts. It is a constant source of brilliance. We’re limiting this to national teams because those calls are the most consistently great and the emotion is as real as it gets. Take, for instance, this call of Iceland’s 94th-minute winner against Austria at the 2016 European Championships:
Classics include my favorite, Fabio Grosso’s goal in the World Cup semifinals against Germany in 2006:
But there are plenty of contenders. Mario Gotze’s World Cup-winning goal in 2014 led to a great German call:
The Netherlands’ Dennis Bergkamp against Argentina in 1998:
The time the U.S. scored to put Honduras in the 2010 World Cup:
I think this guy is crying …
I’m hesitant to list off more because I’m worried your productivity at work may suffer. Eh, who cares. Listen to this one!
There’s a maddening wrinkle to this, however: It’s hard for these goals to be consumed in another language quickly after they are scored. FIFA’s insistence on tearing everything off the internet that interferes with their rights deals makes hunting for these goals harder. You cannot, for instance, readily listen to a Mexican broadcast of Hirving Lozano’s goal against Germany from this past Sunday just yet. You have to dig to find a great Portuguese call of Ronaldo’s miracle strike from Friday to draw even with Spain:
Nuno Matos' commentary of Cristiano Ronaldo's third goal against Spain for Portuguese radio station Antena 1 is well worth a listen pic.twitter.com/pJedhcqyOg— UEFA CRISTIANO LEAGUE ⚽ (@ShAd0W_SSMA) June 16, 2018
But it’s worth it when you do find it. And in a few years you’ll be clicking on it at 3 in the morning during a deep dive. Well, that or a NASCAR fight.