Athletes who zigged when others were zagging
September 13, 2012 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find examples of athletes who did something completely counterintuitive in terms of the sport (so seemingly wrong) and won because of it. I'm especially looking for those moments that have been captured on video.

I'm wondering if it's ever happened that a player who did something completely opposite of what we'd expect him/her to and it paid off. I'm not much of a sports fan so I'm only hypothesizing there are examples out there. The closest I've come up with is the fosbury flop. I want emotional moments where the crowd, coach, team, etc. is disbelieving/disgusted and then magic happens. Many thanks for your help.
posted by brynnwood to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (53 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you might be interested in is the concept of Slow Derby. It's still an ongoing controversy in the sport, with demands for rules changes to eliminate it, accusations that the people who don't like it are just whiny, etc. It's very counterintuitive to the usual free-skating, hard-hitting nature of the sport.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Perhaps "The Catch"?
posted by jgirl at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2012

Bryan Westbrook once, after earning a first-down in the red zone late in a game took a knee at the one-yard line rather than score a sure touchdown. He did so because the Eagles were clinging to a small lead and they wanted to keep the ball and run the clock out rather than score and give the ball back to Dallas. I think most everyone watching immediately grasped why he'd done it, though (fantasy footballers' agony notwithstanding).
posted by Doofus Magoo at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Rope-A-Dope, used by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman.
Foreman was considered by many observers to be the favored to win the fight due to his superior punching power. During the match Ali purposely angered Foreman, provoking the latter to attack and force him back on the ropes. At the time some observers thought that Ali was being horribly beaten and worried that they might see him get killed in the ring. Writer George Plimpton described Ali's stance as like "a man leaning out his window trying to see something on his roof." However, far from being brutalized, Ali was relatively protected from Foreman's blows. Ironically, Ali's preparation for the fight, which involved toughening himself up by allowing his sparring partners to pummel him, contributed to observers' sense that Ali was outmatched. When Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering, Ali regrouped and ended up winning the match.
posted by alms at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Maybe a stretch, but Eric Liddell's running style?

From his 1945 obituary:
He is remembered among lovers of athletics as probably the ugliest runner who ever won an Olympic championship. When he appeared in the heats of the 400m at Paris in 1924 his huge sprawling stride, his head thrown back and his arms clawing the air, moved the Americans and other sophisticated experts to ribald laughter.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2012

Maradona's Hand of God goal.
posted by 6550 at 10:14 AM on September 13, 2012

More unusual than counterintuitive, but more and more tennis players are emitting powerful whoops in order to deliver more power, intimidate their opponents, and to disguise the sound of the ball hitting the racket.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2012

Tim Ferriss won the 1999 USAWKF National Sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) championship by shoving opponents out of the ring.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:16 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Micahel Chang's underhand serve is exactly what you are looking for (more info here).
posted by googly at 10:16 AM on September 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

The Patriots once famously took an intentional safety and cost themselves two points in order to put themselves in a better position to win the game with a seven point touchdown later. Is was more a case of the coach and entire team making the "zig", and everyone watching the game knew exactly what they were up to, but it was quite the gamble.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:18 AM on September 13, 2012

Usain Bolt has prompted a re-examination of the conventional wisdom that tall people can't run as fast as regular-height people.
posted by Etrigan at 10:20 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's also a high school football coach down in Arkansas who never punts.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Skate skiing as a cross country ski technique! "Invented" in the 1970s and 80s by a couple long course racers, and now skis themselves have been re-engineered for skate skiing. Plus now there are entirely separate race events for skate and classic nordic skiing.
posted by Maarika at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2012

In a normal basketball game, the goal is obviously to foul as little as possible, but the Hack-A-Shaq strategy relied on intentionally fouling a poor free-throw shooter (Shaquille O'Neal originally, though used on others since) in the hopes he would miss free throws and the fouling team would get tbe ball back.

Note that a) This strategy almost always failed against Shaq himself, who seemed motivated by the implied insult and would usually make enough free throws to make the fouling stop and b) The NBA made some rule changes as a result, such as penalizing fouls against players who aren't holding the ball in the last two minutes of games
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:22 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, bad link above. Here it is.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2012

Graeme Obree's bizarre and controversial cycling position.
posted by Nomyte at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cliff Young and his "shuffle" (Australia news report) kind of amazed the ultramarathoning world by entering and winning at age 61 a 875km race. By: 1) not sleeping and 2) "shuffling" his feet instead of a more traditional stride. Some other ultra-marathoners have since adopted this technique (and a lot fewer people sleep during long races now).
posted by skynxnex at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

There's an entirely different way to do a two-handed ball throw-in soccer, which is known as a "flip throw" or a "handspring throw". It's very difficult, but it's also a lot more powerful and the ball travels much further.

Here's an example.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:32 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The butterfly in swimming was invented in the 1930s primarily as a loophole that fit the definition (at the time) of the breaststroke but was much faster. As butterflyers gradually dominated breaststroke races, it was eventually redefined as its own event.
posted by Partial Law at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you consider competitive eating as "athletic", then perhaps Takeru Kobayashi for pioneering the "Solomon method" of breaking the hot dog in half and then eating them at the same time. In his first year at the Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest, he crushed all opponents and doubled the world record.
posted by chengjih at 10:49 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Two handed bowling probably fits in your category as well.
posted by Sculthorpe at 10:50 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stacy Westfall wins the 2006 Quarter Horse Congress freestyle reining event riding with no tack whatsoever.
posted by drlith at 10:51 AM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

The one that comes to mind immediately for me is Barbados in the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup. Barbados needed to win by two points to advance to the finals, and conveniently enough, the rules at the time provided that the winner in sudden death overtime would be awarded a two-goal victory. With three minutes left in regulation and Barbados up by only one, they did the only logical thing: score on their own goal to even the score and force overtime. Their opponent then realized what was happening and tried to score on itself, but Barbados was ready for this and started defending its opponent's goal. Much chaos ensues and Barbados ultimately wins the match in overtime, granting them their two-point victory.
posted by zachlipton at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2012 [18 favorites]

Cricket: the (video). For years, the trend in bowling had been "harder and faster" -- this ball is where spin bowling started its comeback.

How significant is it? Well, if you google "that ball" it's the first three hits.

Also, it inspired a song which does quite a good job of explaining it.
posted by pont at 10:55 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think last-second laterals have ever worked so well as in The Play (Cal vs. Stanford 1982).
posted by mogget at 10:58 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Baseball's infield fly rule was implemented for just such a scenario. There was incentive to drop a pop up to get a double play. The rules were changed to make it an automatic out with the runners not being forced (as if it was a caught pop up).

In a game I just watched, and I cannot find the clip, with a runner on first, a pitcher had the presence of mind to NOT catch a popped up bunt but rather to field it on a bounce to get a double play.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Baseball: Intentional Walk with the bases loaded (bottom of the page)

It's absolutely counter-intuitive to everything a manager should do. The last example in the link I included is particularly sacrilegious: Joe Maddon of the Rays not only walked in a run, but in doing so, allowed the tying run to come to bat, in contravention of a long-standing strategy.
posted by dry white toast at 11:34 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, allowed the winning run to come to the plate.
posted by dry white toast at 11:35 AM on September 13, 2012

The Berkoff Blastov trades breathing for a very long underwater breakout. It's now largely limited as swimming breakouts are limited to 15m.
posted by mce at 11:46 AM on September 13, 2012

i just realized you asked for video -

here's the onside kick
here's a 15 minute segment on it from nfl films
posted by nadawi at 11:59 AM on September 13, 2012

There's this unusual trick play from a middle school football game that rightly catches everyone by surprise. Then, depending on whether you chess is a sport or not, here's an analysis of then 13 year old Bobby Fischer's game of the century against International Master Donald Byrne.
posted by peteyjlawson at 12:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Not exactly a proud moment, but it certainly satisfies your criterion.
posted by Decani at 12:15 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

It may or may not actually happen, but the idea of tanking games late in a season to get a better draft pick for the next year comes up fairly often in the NFL and NBA.
posted by Etrigan at 12:39 PM on September 13, 2012

Mod note: Yes, the question mentions the Fosbury Flop. Carry on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:49 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Didn't the two-handed backhand look odd when Jimmy Connors and his demographic came on the scene? I believe it started with little boy Jimmy being too small to hold the racket up for a one-handed backhand. When Jimmy's potential became obvious, his coaches decided not to change it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:01 PM on September 13, 2012

Tommy Prothro was one of the more colorful men to ever be a football coach. For a while he was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

There was a game where his Rams were 5 points ahead late in the 4th quarter. They were deep in their own territory and it was 4th down. A punt from that point would have put the ball in enemy hands close enough so that a touchdown was a real risk.

So Prothro ordered his punter to catch the hike and to run straight backwards, right into and out the back of the end zone. Result: "touchback", as it was known then. (Now it's known as a "safety".) The other team scored 2 points, and the Rams made a formal kickoff from the 20, putting the ball deep into enemy territory. The legendary Ram defense (this was the era of the Fearsome Foursome) then prevented an enemy score, and the Rams won.

I still remember the confusion expressed by the TV announcers as the punter started running.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:21 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dock Ellis pitching a no-hitter on LSD (see Dock Ellis and the LSD no-no for background) sounds like it might fit your bill.
posted by brand-gnu at 1:33 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

The US boats in the America's Cup got a little crazy for a while. Within the rules, against the spirit, and incredibly fast.
posted by BeeDo at 2:05 PM on September 13, 2012

I'm not sure how "wrong" this would be in competitive speed skating, but it does seem counter to the idea of winning - Steven Bradbury, an Aussie short track speed skater, won gold in the 1000 meter event in 2002 by intentionally staying behind the pack. He was by far the oldest and slowest skater in the final and had managed to qualify by using the same technique. However, all four of his competitors ate wall in the last turn, and he sailed across the line with ease.

Hilarious video (with irritating music)
posted by timetoevolve at 2:15 PM on September 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

won gold in the 1000 meter event in 2002

Australia's first ever Winter Olympics gold.

You'll probably find more examples in this AskMe thread:

Give me examples of gamesmanship in sport or other arenas

posted by zamboni at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2012

BeeDo is right. The 1988 America's Cup, in particular, was monumentally bizarre.

The New Zealand ship was immense, as big as it was possible for it to be under the rules of the time. It had a crew of more than 30 and displaced 39 tons.

But the American defender was stranger still. Denis Connor commanded a catamaran with a crew of just 4. As might be imagined it was a lot faster than the KZ1; it wasn't really much of a contest. In both heats, the cat won by about 20 minutes.

Both ships represented abuses of the qualification rules, and the rules were changed rather drastically thereafter.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:41 PM on September 13, 2012

In the NBA, when Andre Miller played for the Portland Trailblazers, twice he made a move where it looked like he was going to call a time out (his teammates were headed for the bench) but he instead drove in for a lay-up.

A couple years ago, when Greg Oden was playing for the Blazers, after a timeout and during a tight game, the Blazers accidentally had six men on the floor. With possession of the ball and the other team totally confused, they scored an easy bucket and it counted because it is up to the other team to call the ref's attention to the mismatch.

Also, in the NBA (and I think it happened in this year's Olympics), when a player is inbounding the ball, the person defending him will sometimes turn his back to the player with the ball. I once saw Scottie Pippen throw the ball off of Paul Pierce's back and drive for an easy bucket (because he was inbounding the ball under his own basket).

And, of course, there's the beauty of the no-look pass.
posted by perhapses at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2012

Janet Evans was an amazing distance swimmer that usually looked like she was on the verge of drowning.
posted by adamrice at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2012

High school basketball coach puts autistic team manager into the game as a feel-good move. Kid catches fire and scores like 24 points and wins the game for them. Try not to get teary-eyed when you watch it like I do every time.
posted by fso at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Royce Gracie and his family revolutionized mixed martial arts by popularizing grappling and submission as a means of beating punchers, strikers and more athletic competitiors. Among the techniques of their Brazilian jiu jitsu is the concept of "pulling guard," or grabbing your opponent and dragging them to the ground with them on top of you. To an untrained fighter, on the ground under your opponent is the last place you want to be, but jiu jitsu practitioners can apply chokes and joint locks from the bottom. (Now that most MMA fighters are trained in jiu jitsu, pulling guard is rare).

And if you want to go way back to the 1800s, judo founder Jigoro Kano developed the counter intuitive idea in martial arts that less damaging techniques are better in combat. (In other words, a choke is better than an eye gouge or killing blow). His school proceeded to whip the tar out of other martial arts schools in Japan. Why? This is from the brilliant John Danaher:

The practice of removing the dangerous elements of a martial art so students can train harder might strike the reader as strange. After all, wouldn't a martial art be more deadly and effective if students were taught and practiced the really dangerous, painful moves such as those used in classical jiu-jitsu? Does it not weaken a martial art to remove such techniques? .... Kano saw that that a fighter who constantly trained at full power on a resisting opponent in live combat with "safe" techniques would be more combat effective than a fighter who always trained with "deadly" techniques on a cooperating partner with no power.

In other words, a choke is better than an eye gouge because you can practice the choke over and over again, and therefore will easily be able to use the technique against an opponent who has "learned" how to eye gouge but never actually done it.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:26 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's an entirely different way to do a two-handed ball throw-in soccer, which is known as a "flip throw" or a "handspring throw". It's very difficult, but it's also a lot more powerful and the ball travels much further.

Doubly effective if you teach it to a ten year-old. Some kid did this last year for a throw-in and all the girls were like "huh?" for a second, which was long enough for the thrower's team to make a goal.
posted by mikepop at 6:19 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Patriots move that Rock Steady described fits your bill. Here are details.
posted by troywestfield at 6:40 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rick Berry's Insanely accurate underhanded two handed free throw in basketball.

Other players found it so uncool that it is never used. Despite it's success.
posted by French Fry at 10:07 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not exactly a proud moment, but it certainly satisfies your criterion.

That was the one I was going to propose. Unlike many of the others mentioned here, this was truly unprecedented, completely out of left field, and it guaranteed a win. It was also unbelievably unsportsmanlike.

The other, obvious, example is almost certainly apocryphal: the invention of rugby by William Webb Ellis when he supposedly just picked up the football and ran with it during a football (soccer) match. That's a case of doing the not just the unintuitive thing but something that's expressly against the rules--and somehow making the rules change as a result.
posted by yoink at 10:46 AM on September 14, 2012

How about Alfonso Sanchez beating the crap out of Mickey Ward for minutes until Ward knocks him out with one killer kidney shot.
posted by latkes at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2012

Zola Budd ran barefoot in the 3000m very successfully. Of course she is remembered for the controversial 1984 final and her collision with Mary Decker.
posted by Mister_A at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

More of a career technique than a single instance, but in the minor leagues Chad Bradford was generally discounted for his unconventional "submarine-style" underhanded slowball pitch. As Michael Lewis's Moneyball explored, it actually made him one of the most effective pitchers in baseball and an integral part of the Oakland A's line-up.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:12 PM on September 21, 2012

« Older Robotic morning routines in tv/movies?   |   What music makes you most productive? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.