The Greatest Single-Game Performances in Sports Over the Last 25 Years

  • Kobe Bryant

    81 points vs. the Raptors

    Just a few weeks after outscoring Dallas’ entire team through three quarters, Bryant finally got a chance at history, playing 42 minutes and scoring 81 points on 46 shots. He scored 55 in the second half alone, when the 6-6 guard led the Lakers back from a 14-point halftime deficit.

    This is the second-greatest single-game scoring total in NBA history.

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  • David Robinson

    71 points vs. the Clippers to win the scoring title

    Robinson had some other monster nights, including a super-rare quadruple-double earlier in the 1994 season that consisted of 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks in a win over Detroit. But I’ll take the 71 points for a couple of reasons. First, to do that as a big man in the modern game — Wilt did it playing against guys half his size, in a league willing to sabotage everything to gain viewership — is almost impossible between selfish guards and the opposing team fouling. And second, he did this during the final regular season game of the year. This point total won him the scoring title over Shaquille O’Neal.

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  • Steve Young

    6 touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXIX

    This game was literally over before it started. Just one minute and 24 seconds into the first quarter, Young found Jerry Rice down the middle for a 44-yard touchdown. San Francisco’s signal-caller continued to torch the Chargers throughout the night, finishing with six TD strikes and 325 yards. He also led everyone with 49 yards on the ground.

    It was Hollywood material for Young, who had been derided for years after being the man who had to replace Joe Montana. No one believed in him, and this was sweet revenge.

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  • Adrian Peterson

    NFL-record 296 yards rushing in one game

    Talk about an introduction. Peterson broke the single-game record just eight Sundays into his career in 2007. He also rushed for 253 yards and two scores in the second half alone, pushing Minnesota to a 35-17 win over San Diego. (The Chargers are taking a lot of hits on this list.)

    Peterson’s 315 total yards of offense was also better than nine of the 17 other teams that played in the same time slot on that November afternoon.

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  • Kerry Wood

    20 strikeouts in fifth career start

    This was the equivalent of dropping Illmatic on your first time out. Wood was all of 20 years old when he made his fifth career start for the Chicago Cubs. He proceeded to mow down 20 Astros on his way to breaking the rookie record for Ks in a game, and only gave up one hit, no walks, and two base runners throughout the game. He tied Roger Clemens 20-K record, and broke 2 Chainz‘s swag record in the process.

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  • Jerry Rice

    289 yards receiving, 3 touchdowns vs. Minnesota

    Jimmy Smith‘s parents cursed him with the most ordinary name in history, but his 291-yard record-setting performance in 2000 was otherworldly. He had three touchdowns of at least 40 yards, and did it all against the Baltimore Ravens defense that’s now considered maybe the best unit ever.

    Yet even that game can’t be ranked ahead of what Rice did to the Vikings in December of 1995. He virtually matched Smith yard for yard, dismantling Minnesota even as they fought for a playoff spot. Plus, San Francisco won the game, something that didn’t happen for the Jaguars and Smith.

    Where’s my footage, though?

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  • Albert Pujols

    World Series record 14 total bases, 5 hits, 3 home runs

    At one point in time, Pujols was making everyone else look foolish at the plate. During Game 3 of the 2011 World Series against the Rangers, the Cardinals slugger took it to a previously unreachable level. In just four innings — the sixth through the ninth — this dude hit three home runs! Add in two earlier singles and we’re looking at what’s probably the greatest hitting performance in World Series history, with an insane 14 total bases.

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  • Roy Halladay

    Postseason no-hitter

    We should’ve known. Philly ace Roy Halladay had won an AL Cy Young award previously, was on his way to winning the NL award in 2010, AND had thrown a perfect game earlier in the season. For his first-ever playoff start, Halladay went to work against the Reds, a squad that led the entire league in batting average, runs scored and home runs throughout the year.

    The rest is history.

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  • Josh Hamilton

    4 home runs in one game

    Carlos Delgado, Mike Cameron, and Shawn Green did this recently as well, and in 1993, Mark Whiten did it while driving in a record 12 runs in one game. But Hamilton’s night in 2012 was the most impressive.

    He hit four two-run bombs, and very nearly had a fifth home run when he crushed a liner off the wall in the fifth inning. If you’re counting, that’s pretty good. It’s too bad no one in Baltimore was there to see it.

    We always talk about perfect games, but the 4-homer night is even more rare. That’s not an opinion, either. That’s fact: 21 perfect games versus 16 Derby nights.

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  • Michael Jordan

    69 points, 18 rebounds vs. Cleveland

    This list wouldn’t be complete with some Jordan.

    While most lists like this one would throw on the Flu Game or the Last Shot Game almost out of habit, I’ll take Jordan’s career-best scoring night in 1990 in Cleveland. He played 50 minutes, crashed the glass recklessly, and ripped out the Cavs’ heart and stomped on it for about the 10th time. This fury all came because Cleveland fans booed him when he went down early with an injury.

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  • Kobe Bryant
  • David Robinson
  • Adrian Peterson
  • Kerry Wood
  • Jerry Rice
  • Albert Pujols
  • Roy Halladay
  • Josh Hamilton
  • Michael Jordan

Anyone can get lucky once in a while, whereas sustained greatness is what gets you in the Hall of Fame. But while that cliche is repeated on every sports show in America, I can’t help but think it doesn’t make sense. You aren’t setting any type of records unless you are really, really good, and you aren’t getting into the Hall of Fame unless you are really, really good. Just look at this list. Steve Young. Beast. Kobe Bryant. Beast. Pujols. Beast. Setting records is all about entering full-on beast mode.

Think about David Robinson on the last night of the 1993-94 regular season. He knew how much he needed to win the scoring title, and then went above and beyond that with a career-high 71 points.

For the Admiral’s birthday, in memory of his forgotten 71-point performance, we’re breaking down 10 of the greatest single-game performances in football, baseball, and basketball over the last 25 years.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney