On September 7, 2004, ESPN celebrated its 25th anniversary. During the run-up to the anniversary, the network counted down the top sports moments of the last 25 years (the "ESPN era"). The list featured concentrated almost exclusively on moments involving Americans. Each Tuesday, a new 25-to-1 list was unveiled, as was the next headline in that 25-to-1 countdown. In addition, each day during SportsCenter, the next moment in the list of the top 100 moments of the ESPN era was shown. The celebration concluded by declaring the Miracle on Ice hockey game between the United States and the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics the #1 moment, game, and headline of the last 25 years.
Top 100 moments
94. (1992) Derek Redmond is injured during the Olympic 400-meter dash; he limps around the track to the finish line with the help of his father, who came down to the track from the crowd.
91. (1993) Michael Jordan retires (the first time).
87. (1988) Dan Jansen, heavily favored to win a speed skating gold medal, falls at the Winter Olympics.
83. (2003) Kobe Bryant declares himself innocent of sexual assault.
79. (1997) Michael Jordan plays through the flu to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
77. (1988) Greg Louganis hits his head on the diving board, then comes back to win gold.
74. (1998) Jean Van de Velde triple-bogeys the last hole to blow the British Open.
71. (1994) Dan Jansen, after a series of falls and subpar performances in 1988, 1992, and 1994, finally wins an Olympic gold medal.
70. (1984) Mary Lou Retton's perfect 10 wins her the gold medal.
67. (1983) George Brett charges the umpire after being called out for having too much pine tar on his bat.
62. (1990) Loyola Marymount All-American Hank Gathers collapses on the basketball court and dies.
55. (1987) Larry Bird steals an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass, and passes to Dennis Johnson, who sinks a layup to give the Boston Celtics a win over the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
50. (1993) Jim Valvano, dying of cancer, gives a moving speech at the ESPY Awards. Valvano, coach of the 1983 national champion North Carolina State Wolfpack, defiantly declares, "Don't give up, don't ever give up."
48. (2002) The "tuck rule" call keeps the New England Patriots alive.
38. (1994) The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years.
37. (1991) Nolan Ryan pitches his seventh no-hitter at age 44.
33. (2003) Sammy Sosa is ejected for using a corked bat.
26. (1989) A violent earthquake rips through San Francisco just before Game 3 of the World Series.
20. (1986) Jack Nicklaus wins The Masters at age 46, the oldest champion in history. Nicklaus come back from 4 strokes down entering the day, and finishes eagle-birdie-birdie-par to win the tournament by one stroke.
19. (2002) Adam Vinatieri kicks a game-winning field goal to give the New England Patriots the win in Super Bowl XXXVI. After the St. Louis Rams come back to tie the game with 1:30 left, Tom Brady leads the Patriots downfield to the 30-yard line, and Vinatieri converts a 48-yard kick that splits the uprights right at the exact moment that the game clock expires.
18. (1982) Cal beats Stanford, 25–20, on the strength of a crazy kickoff return that has since become known simply as "The Play." With 4 seconds left, Stanford takes a 20–19 lead, and kicks off to Kevin Moen. The ball is lateraled to Richard Rodgers and then Dwight Garner, who is almost tackled, but passes it back to Rodgers, then Mariet Ford and back to Moen, as the Stanford Band, thinking they have won, marches onto the field. Moen dodges the band and scores the winning touchdown, steamrolling trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the end zone.
17. (1992) Christian Laettner sends Duke to the Final Four. In overtime against Kentucky, the Blue Devils trail 101–100. Laettner makes two free throws to take the lead with 7.8 seconds left. Sean Woods converts a floater in the lane to give Kentucky a 103–102 lead with 2.1 seconds remaining. Grant Hill inbounds the ball the length of the court, and Laettner sinks a basket from the foul line as time expires, to win the game 104–103.
16. (2001) Barry Bonds breaks Mark McGwire's single-season home run record with his 71st home run. After McGwire moved the mark from 61 to 70, many thought his record would stand for decades, but just three seasons later, Bonds put together an incredible year. After 9/11 caused baseball to delay its season a week, Bonds hit his 71st and 72nd homers on October 5.
15. (1983) Lorenzo Charles dunks to win the NCAA Championship for underdog North Carolina State. Despite excellent play from the "Phi Slamma Jamma" duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, heavily-favored Houston missed several free throws down the stretch, including one by Alvin Franklin with under a minute to play that would have given Houston the lead. The N.C. State Wolfpack passed the ball around to drain the clock and Dereck Whittenburg takes a shot with :02 left. It is an airball, but Charles jumps up and dunks it as time expires to win the title.
14. (1982) "The Catch": Joe Montana hits Dwight Clark to win the NFC Championship, on the way to a Super Bowl victory. The San Francisco 49ers trail the Dallas Cowboys 27–21, before Montana drives down into Dallas territory. With :58 to play, Montana is almost sacked, but throws the ball deep and high. Clark, in the back corner of the end zone, leaps and catches the ball, and the 49ers hang on to win 28–27.
13. (1995) Cal Ripken, Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record at 2,131. In the wake of the 1994 baseball strike that cancelled the World Series, Ripken continued a streak in which he had played every game for the Baltimore Orioles for over 13 years. On September 6, 1995, against the California Angels, Ripken breaks the record.
12. (1985) Pete Rose breaks Ty Cobb's record of 4,191 hits. In his 23rd season in the major leagues, Rose is player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. On September 11, in his first at-bat, Rose hits a ball to left-center field for the record-breaking hit. Of the 20-minute celebration that followed, Rose would later say, "It was the first time in my life I was on a baseball diamond and didn't know what to do."
11. (1995) O. J. Simpson is found not guilty on two counts of murder...
10. (1994) ...sixteen months after he is chased by police in his white Bronco. On June 13, 1994, Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are found brutally murdered at her home. Four days later, Simpson is told to turn himself in, but does not, escaping with a friend and contemplating suicide. His friend Al Cowlings drives to Simpson's home, where Simpson sits in the car for an hour with a gun to his head. After surrendering, Simpson is charged with two counts of murder, and the "Trial of the Century" begins. More than a year later, the jury finds Simpson not guilty, but Simpson is later found liable in a civil proceeding.
9. (1984) Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary" pass to Gerard Phelan gives Boston College a 47–45 win over Miami on national television. Miami scored with :28 left to take a 45–41 lead and apparently win the game, but two passes put the ball on the Miami 48-yard line with six seconds remaining. Flutie launches a long pass that settles into Phelan's arms. Flutie, knocked down after he threw the ball, realizes the pass has been caught and runs down the field jumping and cheering.
8. (1996) Muhammad Ali opens the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. As is traditional, the last runner of the Olympic Torch Relay was kept secret until the Opening Ceremonies. As the torch is passed around Olympic Stadium, the final pass is made to Ali, suffering from Parkinson's syndrome. Shaking visibly, Ali lights a fuse that travels to the cauldron where the Olympic flame will rest for the duration of the Games.
3. (1988) Kirk Gibson limps to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series, facing Oakland Athletics super-closer Dennis Eckersley. Gibson hits a 3–2 pitch over the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium, winning the game for the Dodgers and setting the stage for an upset win by the Dodgers in the Series.
2. (1986) A ground ball by the New York Mets' Mookie Wilson goes through Bill Buckner's legs, giving the Mets a come-from-behind win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the World Series. The Mets go on to win Game 7 and the Series.
1. (1980) The Miracle on Ice: An underdog US hockey team defeats the world-beating Soviet Union 4–3 in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics. Team USA goes on to win the gold medal after defeating Finland 4–2 in its last medal round game.
ESPN also had a weekly series, "The Headlines", hosted by Bob Ley, counting down the top 25 stories since 1979, "stories that at some point jumped off the sports page, and onto the front page."
- Miracle on Ice
- O.J. Accused of Murder
- Tiger Wins 1997 Masters
- Magic is HIV Positive
- Baseball Bans Pete Rose
- McGwire and Sosa Chase Maris
- Kobe Bryant Charged with Sexual Assault
- Sept. 11 Attacks Shut Down Sports
- Arthur Ashe Announces He Has AIDS
- Bird and Magic Revitalize the NBA
- Ripken Eclipses Gehrig
- U.S. Boycotts Moscow Olympics
- Strike Cancels World Series
- Armstrong Wins Tour de France
- Earnhardt Dies at Daytona
- Bias Dies of Cocaine Overdose
- Ben Johnson Stripped of Gold Medal
- Venus & Serena Dominate Tennis
- Tyson Convicted of Rape
- U.S. Captures Women's World Cup
- Kerrigan Attacked
- Seles Attacked During Match
- Indiana Fires Bob Knight
- The Jordan Era Ends
- The Dream Team
Immediately following "The Headlines" (before "The Headlines" in the early portion of the summer), Stuart Scott hosted "Who's #1?", which counts down the top 25 of the last 25 years in some category. The #1 selection is shown below.
- Greatest player (aired June 8 during "Then and Now"): Michael Jordan
- Best team (aired June 15 at 7pm): 1998 New York Yankees
- Worst team (aired June 22): 1991 Prairie View football team
- Best sports movie (aired June 29): Hoosiers
- Worst blunder (aired July 6): The Stanford Band (see #18 above)
- Most outrageous character (aired July 13): Mike Tyson
- Biggest flop (aired July 20): Ryan Leaf
- Best coach (aired July 27 at 8pm): Dean Smith
- Greatest record (aired August 3): Tiger Woods wins four straight majors
- Biggest chokes (aired August 10): Bill Buckner and the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series (see #2 above)
- Best sports commercial (aired August 17): "Mean" Joe Greene throws his jersey to a young fan who gives him a Coca-Cola
- Best play (aired August 24): Kirk Gibson hits a walkoff home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series (see #3 above)
- Biggest controversy (aired August 31): Pete Rose banned from baseball (see #5 above)
- Best game (aired September 7): Miracle on Ice (see #1 above)