Gone in a flash: The greatest one-hit wonders in sports history
For every Tom Brady, there are dozens of Don Majkowskis.
Introducing the greatest one-hit wonders in sports history, those athletes that shined bright for a moment only to burn out in spectacular fashion.
Although Ickey Woods landed on this list for being a flash in the pan, his legacy is actually long-lasting, thanks to the “Ickey Shuffle.” The Ickey Shuffle was the signature dance Woods would bust out after scoring a touchdown, and today it’s regarded as one of the best touchdown celebrations the NFL has ever seen.
Aside from his legendary dance, Woods’ career was considered a disappointment. After a stellar rookie season, the injury bug bit Woods hard, derailing his career. Woods, who rushed for 1,066 yards as a rookie, finished his career with 1,525 yards, a mere 500 or so yards more than he had as a rookie.
Arguably the greatest catch in NFL history, David Tyree’s helmet catch to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown of Super Bowl 42 made Tyree an instant legend. The catch helped the New York Giants upset the unbeaten Patriots. That fateful night was a career night for the virtually unknown Tyree, and it happened on the grand stage with the world watching.
David (literally) vs. Goliath, with David coming out on top. That catch, often considered the greatest play in Super Bowl history, cemented Tyree, a New Jersey kid himself, as a New York legend. Tyree, however, would never follow up that game with greatness. He missed the following season with a knee injury and played in 10 games for Baltimore in 2009, catching zero passes.
How on Earth did Peyton Hillis grace the cover of Madden NFL 12? Well, his 1,100-yard rushing outburst in 2010 certainly had something to do with it. The problem was everyone knew what Hillis really was — a bruising fullback who played waaaaay beyond his ceiling on an otherwise atrocious Cleveland team.
But for that magical season, Hillis earned the only thousand-yard season of his career the hard way, by running through everyone and gutting out tough yards. That wear and tear clearly made an impact on Hillis, and after that season, he’d never again eclipse 600 yards rushing. Injuries and ineffectiveness severely hampered his production.
We can’t really blame Derek Anderson for making this list. After all, he was stuck on the Browns and didn’t have much to work with. The sixth-round pick out of Oregon State played one year with the Ravens before being sent to Cleveland, where most careers go to die. But Anderson flipped the script and became the team’s starter in the 2007 season, leading the Browns to a respectable 10-6 season.
Named as an alternate for the 2008 Pro Bowl, Anderson got his other big break when Tom Brady opted to skip the Pro Bowl due to injury, allowing Anderson to appear in his first and only Pro Bowl. Since that magical 2007 season (not a stretch, people, we’re talking about Cleveland), Anderson never started more than nine games as he transitioned from starter to clipboard QB.
It’s either David Tyree or Timmy Smith vying for the top spot of Super Bowl one-hit wonders. Timmy Smith was a rookie in 1987, spelling George Rogers when needed. Then the playoffs happened, and Smith proved himself to be the more capable back.
In the 1988 Super Bowl, Smith — who was informed that he’d be starting the game only during pregame warmups — set a Super Bowl record with 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns en route to a Redskins blowout win. The rookie was on cloud nine, only to fall from it shortly thereafter. Two seasons and three touchdowns later, Smith was out of the league. A one-hit wonder in every sense.
Rich Beem. Jim Beem. Laser Beem. Whatever Beem you want to attach to his name, the result of the 2002 PGA Championship was absolutely … rich. Rich Beem was a virtual unknown heading into the 2002 PGA Championship. Headed into the final round, Beem found himself three strokes behind the leader, Justin Leonard. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods lingered around five strokes behind Leonard.
In the final round, Leonard collapsed like the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, essentially blowing a 25-point lead to finish four under par. Meanwhile, Woods and Beem threw haymakers at each other, battling it out until the final hole. Beem emerged victorious, capturing the first and only major of his career. Since that triumphant day, Beem has remained essentially invisible.
Yeah, this was a forgettable Super Bowl, and it’s only fitting that the game’s MVP has since had a forgettable career. Although the Broncos’ ineptitude really should have won the MVP as a team award, someone from Seattle had to take home the prize after an hour of disappointing football. And that someone was Malcolm Smith.
Following the triumph in Super Bowl 48, Smith returned to Seattle as a reserve player before signing with Oakland for two years. After Oakland, Smith migrated to the other side of the bay, signing with San Francisco for five years and $26.5 million. Smith missed the entire 2017 season with an injury and managed only 35 tackles in 2018.
Packers fans may revel in the one season that turned Don Majkowski into the “Majik” man. The former Packers quarterback threw for 66 touchdowns and 67 picks in his career, paltry numbers at best. But in his third year, Majkowski went from “guy whose last name most fans can’t pronounce” to “this guy is the future.” Majkowski threw for 27 touchdowns against 20 picks, beat the Bears for the first time in years, and made it to the Pro Bowl.
Suddenly, Green Bay found themselves with a young quarterback ready to lead the team back to greatness. That greatness, however, would be fleeting — at least for Majkowski. After that Pro Bowl season, he never threw for more than 10 touchdowns again. His lackluster play did open the door for some guy named Brett Favre …
A one-hit wonder (literally), Leon Spinks was an Olympic gold medalist at the 1976 games and was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in 1978, so it’s tough to call him a true one-hit-wonder. But after shocking Muhammad Ali in ’78 and handing the greatest of all time his first loss in a title defense, Spinks’ career took a turn for the worse.
First, Spinks was stripped of his belt by agreeing to an unsanctioned rematch against Ali; in that rematch, Spinks lost via unanimous decision. Following that loss, Spinks’ career was marked by a handful of wins here and a handful of losses there. He was inconsistent and challenged just twice for WBC and WBA belts, losing both bouts to Larry Holmes and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, respectively.
Johnny Vander Meer
Johnny Vander Meer is by no means a total bust or absolute flash in the pan. After all, he was a four-time All-Star and three-time NL strikeout leader. That being said, the bulk of Vander Meer’s glory happened in just his second year in the bigs, 1938.
In that season, Vander Meer set baseball history that has yet to be broken, and probably never will be. In back-to-back starts, Vander Meer, a pitcher known for control issues, tossed no-hitters. Two games. 18 innings. Zero hits. After that game, Vander Meer, still a solid pitcher, bounced around from the big leagues to the minor leagues, battling accuracy and consistency issues.
Yankees fans, the insatiable bunch that they are, will never live this down. In 1956, Yankees pitcher Don Larsen tossed a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. OK, that feat is remarkable. Incredible. Almost unfathomable. A perfect game in the World Series.
That achievement, however, doesn’t preclude Larsen from making this list. Larsen never made an All-Star game; he never led the league in strikeouts; he never won a Cy Young award. Those are some pretty big pitching awards to miss out on. Larsen finished his career with 81 wins and 91 losses and a 3.78 ERA.
In 1999, the Denver Broncos, the defending champions, suffered a massive blow that was supposed to cripple their chances at defending their championship. The star running back was lost for the season after tearing up his knee in the fourth game of the season. Enter Olandis Gary.
A rookie, Gary took the NFL by storm, rushing for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns in just 12 games. That outburst was not enough to save Denver’s season, as the defending champions failed to make the playoffs. As for Gary, that awful Denver season would be his best. Injuries derailed a promising career and limited him to just 11 rushing touchdowns and 1,998 yards rushing for his career.
The lifespan of an NFL running back is short. It’s a bruising position that puts a lot of wear and tear on the body. Unsurprisingly, most backs find themselves out of the NFL after a few seasons. Sadly for the Patriots, Robert Edwards, the 18th pick in the 1998 draft, was no exception.
After a stellar rookie year that saw Edwards amass over 1,100 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, the running back suffered a tragic and horrific knee injury at the Pro Bowl while playing flag football. The knee injury left Edwards’ career in question. After a grueling rehab and three-year absence from the NFL, Edwards made his triumphant return to football with the Miami Dolphins, playing in 12 games before retiring.
When you start your rookie year by blasting 10 home runs in just 72 at-bats — a record — and 15 homers in just 133 at-bats, another rookie record, you are either primed to be a Hall of Famer or a colossal disappointment. After all, those numbers are insane, and one either has to maintain that pace or risk taking a precipitous slide into the abyss.
For Maas, it was the latter, and after his fantastic rookie season, the slide into obscurity began. As a sophomore, Maas put up a somewhat respectable 23 home runs. But in year three (1992), Maas was bouncing from the majors to the minors, hanging on for dear life. After his MLB career concluded, Maas found himself in Japan pondering what could have been.
Yeah, about that time the NFL got drunk and named a kicker as the league MVP. In 1982, the NFL season was shortened due to strike, and that somehow meant a kicker could be in the running for the league’s most valuable player! “Aaaaaand it sails through the uprights! Another beauty from Moseley!”
Mosley’s ’82 season was a memorable one, with him collecting the aforementioned MVP award and a Super Bowl trophy over the Miami Dolphins. After that, Moseley, like many other special teamers, came back down to earth. He was, after all, just a kicker. Moseley, a career 65% field goal kicker, retired after the 1986 season.
Look at those glasses! Can you imagine a professional athlete wearing those today? And how about the long-sleeved shirt that looks more like a sweatshirt? Man, times were different. Anyway, in 1994, Bob Hamelin, in the strike-shortened season, took home the American League Rookie of the Year honors over some guy named Manny Ramirez, then of the Cleveland Indians.
That season, Hamelin batted .282 while slugging 24 home runs and 65 RBIs. After that season, baseball returned to normal and Hamelin returned to the average hitter he was. He never came close to hitting as many RBIs as he did during his strike-shortened rookie season, and his batting average continued to decline with each year.
Yep, for a few good months, Jeremy Lin took over the NBA with “Linsanity.” Linsanity was that crazy period when Harvard graduate and undrafted free agent Jeremy Lin was hitting shots from anywhere, had the best handles in the league, and was the most clutch player known to man. It was like a shooting star that wouldn’t fizzle out and disappear among the stars.
He was the star. Until he wasn’t. After his insane, albeit brief, run in New York, Lin, a free agent, signed with the Rockets in 2012 on a four-year, $28.8 million deal. Since then, Lin has played for just about every other NBA team, and today, the only thing that remains of Linsanity is the insane amount of money he’s earned for putting up paltry numbers. As of 2019, Lin is one of the biggest one-hit wonders in NBA history.
There’s no question that Tebow is a winner. One of the most decorated quarterbacks at the college level, Tebow’s awkward throwing mechanics made his transition to the pros exceedingly difficult. Despite the strange mechanics, the Broncos gambled on Tebow by making him their first-round selection in 2010. Tebow spent two years with the Broncos and one with the Jets before bowing out of the league and transitioning to baseball.
However, his sophomore season, despite horrible numbers, was one for the books. Denver squeaked into the playoffs and hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High. In that game, Tebow threw for a career-high 316 yeards and two touchdowns, one of which was to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, giving the Broncos the walk-off win.
A one-punch wonder, Buster Douglas shocked the world with his massive upset over Mike Tyson back in 1990. The fight was supposed to be so lopsided that only one casino decided to make odds for the fight. After a grueling nine rounds, Douglas, the challenger, landed a beautiful combination to Tyson’s head, knocking down the most feared fighter in the world for the first time in his career.
A staggered Tyson struggled to locate his mouthpiece and stand up before the referee’s count. And just like that, Douglas became the new world heavyweight champion, a title he would hold for only eight months and two weeks. In his first and only title defense, Douglas would lose to Evander Holyfield via knockout in the third round.
In 1995, Oliver Miller was quite literally the biggest thing in Toronto. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but he was big, and he was a big deal. The former first-round pick was averaging double-digit points for the first time in his career and was snatching a career-high 7.4 boards per game.
The Raptors were a newborn franchise trying to figure out how to stay alive while Oliver Miller was trying to figure out how to shed his “draft bust” label. For that one season, it appeared that Miller had successfully rid himself of the bust label. But the success was fleeting, with Miller’s numbers plummeting the next season, as they would continue to do with each subsequent season.
Damn, Michael Carter-Williams’ rookie season looked good. With him panning out, at least initially, it looked like the process was finally starting to coalesce. The 76ers appeared to have finally gotten it right, “it” being a solid draft pick with the potential to turn around the sinking ship that was Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, year two happened. And year three. And year four, and every year after that. MCW’s numbers fell off a cliff. All hope was lost as year after year, MCW’s numbers declined, his games played declined, and his productivity declined. After starting out his career averaging 16.7 PPG, MCW is currently averaging a measly 5.4 PPG as of the 2018-19 season.
Mike James started his NBA career in 2001-02 averaging 2.8 PPG and 1.3 APG. Over the next few years, those numbers steadily improved to a respectable 12.4 PPG and 2.9 APG. Then, in 2005-06, James burst onto the scene. Averaging 20.3 PPG and 5.8 PPG, James was the hottest thing in Toronto. He brought joy to the dedicated Raptor fans that dotted the Air Canada Centre.
Did Canada just stumble upon the NBA’s best-kept secret? No. The next season, James’ numbers were sliced almost exactly in half. And season after season, they kept going down. To this day, people are still trying to figure out how James did what he did.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appeared in and won a Super Bowl. LOL. And they did it against the Raiders, of all teams! LOL. Seriously, talk about a horrendous matchup. At a horrendous stadium in San Diego, a city that doesn’t even have a football team.
Anyhow, in that lackluster, forgettable Super Bowl, safety Dexter Jackson, who had two picks, was named Super Bowl MVP. After leaving Tampa in free agency, Jackson and his career essentially disappeared, like most one-hit wonders. He played for a few bad teams, didn’t put up big numbers, and became the forgotten Super Bowl MVP until his retirement after the 2008 season.
1987 was a magical year for Philadelphia pitcher Steve Bedrosian. The Phillies pitcher, who had only a season before transitioned to the bullpen, came out of the pen guns blazing. With a 2.83 ERA and league-leading 40 saves, Bedrosian won the NL Cy Young Award. To date, only three other relievers have won baseball’s most prestigious pitching award since Bedrosian.
But we all know why “Bedrock” Bedrosian is on this list — because after his impressive ’87 season, he flamed out. Although he would never be the same closer, he did help the Twins defeat the Braves in the 1991 World Series, giving him his only ring.
Few things have captivated the city of Detroit like Mark Fidrych. The outspoken character fans endearingly referred to as “Bird” made his MLB debut in 1976. In May of ’76, Fidrych went on an absolute tear that saw him pitch multiple complete games, rack up wins and strikeouts, and become a household name.
A pitcher with more antics than pitches in his arsenal, Fidrych went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year by finishing his season with a 19-9 record to complement his 2.34 ERA. He also led the AL in complete games with 24. Fidrych would follow up his stunning rookie season with one more solid season before a lingering and unidentified arm injury took him out of baseball for good, making him one of baseball’s biggest one-hit wonders.
No, not the basketball coach who partly ruined the New York Knicks. This guy is the Dallas Cowboys cornerback who picked apart the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1996 Super Bowl. Often considered the weak link on a stout Cowboys defense, Larry Brown put his critics to rest when he intercepted Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell twice en route to a third Super Bowl victory in four seasons and a Super Bowl MVP award.
Brown then parlayed that performance with a fat contract with the Oakland Raiders, signing a five-year, $12.5 million deal. Needless to say, Brown didn’t live up to the contract and started only one game for the Raiders before being released.
The ’stache and facial expression says it all. It says, “I’m here to win once, and only once.” That one golf major he happened to win was the 1995 U.S. Open, where Pavin, then in the prime of his career, upset Greg Norman of Australia. After that major victory, Pavin would never finish in the top three of a major tournament again.
He did, however, make the 2010 Ryder Cup squad and was even named team captain. As captain, Pavin led the U.S. squad to a loss. From 1986 through 1997, Pavin spent over 150 weeks in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Those rankings, rest assured, don’t mean too much.
Rashaan Salaam was the most electrifying player in the nation in 1994 at the University of Colorado. The former Buffalo racked up over 2,000 yards rushing as a junior en route to the Heisman trophy. After that season, Salaam declared for the NFL draft where he was taken 21st by the Chicago Bears. As a rookie, Salaam proved to be worth the high pick, rushing for 1,074 yards (becoming the youngest to do so at the time) and 10 touchdowns.
Sadly, injuries and personal problems severely hampered Salaam’s production. In his second year, Salaam only managed 496 yards on the ground. The next season, 112 yards, and his final season, with the Browns, only two yards. Then he was out of the league for good, a true one-hit wonder.
Troy Hudson’s NBA career started off very slowly, putting up numbers that aren’t worth mentioning here. After years of fighting for a roster spot, Hudson had a breakout 2002-03 year for the T-Wolves, averaging a career-high 14.2 points per game and almost six assists.
In the playoffs, Hudson totally transformed himself and even earned himself a new nickname, “Laker Killer,” after exploding for 23.5 PPG in Minnesota’s first-round series against L.A. After signing a lucrative contract extension, Hudson’s numbers practically halved as the point guard returned to earth. Hudson last played for the Warriors in the 2007-08 season, averaging 3.1 PPG in nine games.
Well, when you win the French Open at 17 years old, what else is left for you to do and accomplish? Maybe win more majors? Maybe use that incredible start to one’s career as a stepping stone to become one of the all-time greats? Unfortunately for Michael Chang, it was neither of those. In 1989, Chang, then just 17, shocked the tennis world by winning the French Open.
He wasn’t, however, able to capitalize on that stunning victory and win more majors. He finished second three times at various majors, unable to get over the hump. Chang retired from the sport in 2003 and currently coaches Kei Nishikori of Japan.