Here’s An Exhaustive Look Back At The Best Sports GIFs To Hit The Internet In The 2010s
I vividly remember when the world waved goodbye to the Aughts (are we really sticking with that?) and turned its attention to a new decade filled with endless possibilities, as I was a college student grappling with the first in what would be a long line of quarter-life crises after realizing I hated my major shortly after I fulfilled the credit requirement.
Thankfully, an opportunity would soon present itself and I managed to land my first gig writing dumb things for the internet’s amusement before somehow making a career out of it.
The past decade saw the online landscape change dramatically and I spent more time than I care to admit attempting to keep up with the constantly evolving internet zeitgeist and the ever-changing rotation of trends that defined it.
While most of those trends had a relatively short shelf life, some were able to stand the test of time and eventually transcend into the mainstream, which is exactly what happened during a decade that saw GIFs take the world by storm.
GIFs have a history stretching back to the 1980s but they truly found their stride when the 2010s rolled around and people began to harness them as an alternate form of communication to convey feelings and emotions that words couldn’t do justice.
Many of the most noteworthy GIFs are mined from pop culture, but over the past decade, there’s been a number of moments at various sporting events that went on to be immortalized.
Here are the ones that stood the test of time (as well as the story behind them).
Often erroneously referred to as “‘No’ Girl” by elementary lip readers, this University of Arizona student caught the attention of an ESPN cameraman who attempted to document her misery after Iowa overcame an early deficit and evened up the score in the fourth quarter of their 2010 showdown.
The following year, the GIF of her bashful admonishment was uploaded to Reddit, and as is the case with virtually any image of a woman that’s posted on that website, people immediately fell in love and started fawning over the unidentified Wildcats fan.
The GIF was inescapable if you frequented certain corners of the internet in the early 2010s, and in 2013, the fan in question revealed her name is Sarah while chatting with ESPN about her viral stardom in a conversation that made it clear she found some people’s obsession with her a little unhealthy.
In 2016, hearts across the internet were broken when it was revealed Sarah had gotten married after her husband posted some pictures of the happy couple online along with more personal information than I would have been comfortable with if I was in her situation given my knowledge of the lengths creepy people on the internet have been known to go in pursuit of unrequited love.
Baffled Jaguars Fan
The fall of 2010 was apparently a breeding ground for timeless GIFs of sports fans reacting to things, and exactly one month after Stop Girl made her national television debut, the world was introduced to a befuddled Jacksonville Jaguars fan whose face regularly pops up on the internet to this day.
I’m not exactly sure why this GIF possesses the staying power that it does, but if I had to guess, it has to do with just how impressively confused this guy is based on his rotation of baffled expressions; it’s like he can’t even believe how much he can’t believe what he’s not believing.
If you’ve ever wondered what made this dude so puzzled in the first place, you’re in luck, as someone on Reddit got in way too deep in 2012 and deduced the fan was reacting to Jack Del Rio calling two consecutive running plays from the seven-yard line while facing a 20-point deficit with less than seven minutes in the game.
Yeah. I think that’s a reasonable reaction.
While that explanation seems to stand up to scrutiny, the same can’t be said for the oft-repeated claim that the man in question was actually a student at Columbine High School when the infamous shooting occurred, as I can’t find a single reliable source that backs that assertation up (from what I can gather, the rumor in question can trace its origins back to 4chan, which tells you basically everything you need to know about its validity).
Horrified Michigan Punter
Anyone who decides to pursue a football career as a punter does so knowing they’re signing up for a pretty thankless job, as most people lack an appreciation for the skills required to master the position and the only time you’re really going to be at the center of attention is when you screw up.
There is perhaps no one who knows this better than former Michigan punter Will Hagerup, who holds the school’s single-season record for punting yards in regard to the longest average but saw his talents on the field overshadowed by the multiple suspensions he received courtesy of a drug habit that ultimately resulted in him getting kicked off the team.
However, there’s one screwup in particular that he’ll best be remembered for that took place during the third quarter of a contest between the Wolverines and Ohio State in 2011, where Hagerup failed to handle the snap and reacted with a look of horror that was quickly immortalized in GIF form.
However, as you’ll see a bit later, this wasn’t the only fantastic GIF brought to us courtesy of a Michigan punter who couldn’t handle the ball.
The Runaway Cart
On December 18, 2011, the Spring Dekaney Wildcats and Cibolo Steele Knights got a chance to perform on the biggest stage in Texas when they headed to AT&T Stadium to compete for the state’s Class 5A Division I championship trophy.
The Knights were looking to defend their title but were ultimately denied by the Wildcats, who earned their school its first championship with a 34-14 victory.
There are undoubtedly some former members of that Spring Dekaney team who will spend the rest of their lives searching for an opportunity to tell strangers at the bar next to them about the time their team won states, but when everything is said and done, there’s really only one reason that game will be remembered: the runaway cart.
Following the contest, a number of people on the field had their celebration rudely interrupted after a driverless cart somehow found its way onto the gridiron and proceeded to bowl over everyone in its path—including Danny Amendola’s dad Willie, who attempted to steer it before bailing after unexpectedly ending up on the hood while conducting an interview after coaching the Wildcats to victory.
Seven people suffered minor injuries thanks to the rogue cart and Amendola’s ego was apparently bruised enough to inspire him to file a $1 million lawsuit against the stadium for causing him “great personal anguish and embarrassment.”
It didn’t take long for the GIF to cement itself as an all-time great, and in 2015, Complex published an oral history about the incident if you’re looking for even more insight.
Lakers Sunglasses Bro
The Bro Culture we continue to foster here at this fine publication has evolved quite a bit over the past decade and I love this GIF because it takes me back to a simpler time—a time when no outfit was truly complete until you slid a pair of Wayfarers onto a backward (and preferably retro) snapback.
If you’re ever in a position where you’re trying to convey the true meaning of “stoke” to someone who isn’t in the know, you don’t have to look any further than the reactions of these two dudes—especially the guy on the left—who were captured on camera at a Lakers game in 2012.
Deadspin managed to track the duo down and interviewed them after they went viral, and if you somehow needed any further proof the guy with the sunglasses is a consummate bro, he cemented his status as an icon when he dropped the phrase “shred the pow” while describing his love of snowboarding.
The Butt Fumble
The Butt Fumble is easily the most iconic sports blooper to come out of the past decade—it even has its own Wikipedia page—and if I had to pick one GIF to watch on a loop for the rest of my life, this might be the one, as I still get almost as much enjoyment out of repeatedly watching Mark Sanchez get jacked up by Brandon Moore’s ass as I did when I witnessed the play live.
Nothing sums up the pain, heartbreak, and sheer haplessness Jets fans have been forced to deal with over the past 10 years better than this five-second loop but it’s important to remember it only tells a small part of the story, as this was just one of the three consecutive plays the Patriots managed to turn into a touchdown over the course of 52 seconds.
While there were a number of fantastic comedies produced in the 2010s that managed to tickle my funny bone, I don’t know if any of them managed to make me laugh harder than I did at that series of unfortunate events that unfolded at MetLife on that fateful November night in 2012.
Nick Young Celebrates A Miss
Nick Young kicked off his NBA career in 2007 after being drafted by the Wizards but didn’t really burst onto the scene until he signed with the Lakers in 2013, which is the same year he found himself dating Iggy Azalea after he slid into her DMs on Twitter.
Swaggy P had a solid first season with the Lakers but it was his relationship with Azalea that really helped him make a name for himself, as the two of them were constantly in a spotlight thanks in no small part to Young’s tendency to overshare when it came to aspects of their personal lives most couples would leave private.
Young popped the question in 2015 but the engagement imploded less than a year later after he admitted he was cheating on his fiancée while chatting with D’Angelo Russell, who (unbeknownst to Swaggy P) was recording the conversation to use as ammunition in a prank war.
To this day, it remains unclear if Russell was aware he had a weapon of mass destruction in his possession and we still don’t know if he or someone else was responsible for its detonation, but when the mushroom cloud dissipated, the marriage was called off and Magic Johnson cited the incident as the reason he sent Russell to the Nets in a trade the following year.
Young managed to bounce back a bit and won a championship as a member of the Warriors in 2018 but he found himself without a home after being waived by the Nuggets last December and it appears his career has come to a close barring an unexpected comeback.
When everything is said and done, it’s likely Young will be remembered more for the things he did off the court than anything he ever achieved on it, but with that said, we’ll always have this GIF of him shooting the most confident brick in NBA history during a game in 2014.
Lance Stephenson Blowing In LeBron’s Ear
You can be the most physically gifted athlete on the planet but you’re not going to be able to live up to your potential if you don’t possess the mental fortitude that’s required to deal with the pressure and distractions that come with playing a competitive sport at its highest level.
In addition to being able to stay out of your own head, you have to be able to block out anyone who’s attempting to get inside yours, which is much easier said than done—especially if you play basketball.
Sure, football players do their fair share of jawing and hockey players love to chirp but the nature of basketball means you’re in close proximity to an opponent the entire contest, which provides plenty of opportunities to get into someone’s head (there’s also the fan factor to consider, as no one is subject to more discernible taunts and ridicule from spectators than a basketball player in enemy territory thanks to the close proximity of the stands to the court).
It should then come as no surprise that the NBA has been home to some of the best trash-talkers to ever grace the planet. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan had a habit of toying with defenders by telling them exactly how they planned to score before doing exactly that while Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton preferred to research the personal lives of their opponents in order to craft insults that cut as deep as possible.
This brings us to Lance Stephenson, who found himself facing the tall task of guarding LeBron James when the Pacers and the Heat met each other in the playoffs for the third year in a row and faced off in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014.
Stephenson had a history of antagonizing LeBron that stretched back to their first postseason meeting, where the Pacer labeled James a choke artist by grabbing his throat after he failed to make a free throw. The following year, he struck again when he succeeded in getting a rise out of LeBron when he gently caressed his face.
Stephenson picked up where he left off when their third playoff showdown got underway and spent the first few games constantly running his mouth before managing to get a rise out of James in Game 3. The Pacers lost that contest but Stephenson implied LeBron had also taken an L by deciding to respond to his barbs, which he asserted was “a sign of weakness.”
The Heat jumped out to a 3-1 series lead after winning the next game thanks in no small part to a 32-point performance from their supposedly weakened superstar that prompted Stephenson to admit his previously issued statement was about as accurate as 50 Cent throwing a first pitch.
Facing elimination, the Pacers found themselves in desperate need of a spark to help them overcome an eleven-point deficit they were facing halfway through the game. There was no better time for Stephenson to dig deep down into his bag of tricks and pull out something that was truly capable of knocking LeBron off of his game, and a few minutes into the third quarter, he channeled his inner Pidgey by attacking with Gust and confusing the hell out of James (and basically everyone who was watching).
It may have seemed ineffective, but if there’s credence to the theory that something as insignificant as the beating of a butterfly’s wings can alter the course of history, then we can’t discount the impact the gentle air current Stephenson generated had when it came to how things subsequently unfolded.
Shortly after The Blow, he managed to poke the ball away from LeBron, who picked up his fifth foul of the game in the ensuing scramble. He was relegated to the bench for the majority of the remaining minutes and helplessly watched as the Pacers rallied for a come-from-behind victory.
However, LeBron returned to form the following game and got the last laugh as Stephenson and the Pacers saw their season end at the hands of the Heat for the third year in a row.
Stephenson would get one final chance at redemption when he faced off against the LeBron-led Cavaliers in the 2018 playoffs and it initially looked like he had finally gotten the upper hand. He found himself on the receiving end of a shove that earned James a technical foul and his endless trash talk annoyed LeBron so much that he broke his silence for the first time ever by asking “What’s wrong with you?”
The Pacers would still lose the series in what would be Stephenson’s final year with the team, as he was convinced to sign a contract with the Lakers after his services were requested on a phone call he received from the very man he endlessly trolled over the course of a career that will aptly be best remembered by an endless loop of his defining moment as an antagonist.
Richard Sherman Dying On The Inside
You’d be hardpressed to find someone who tuned into the tail-end of Super Bowl XLIX who wasn’t convinced it was a forgone conclusion the Seahawks were going to walk away with the Lombardi Trophy, as they were a yard away from the endzone with less than 30 seconds to go in the game and a virtually unstoppable Marshawn Lynch in their backfield.
Sure, Pete Carroll knew that the Patriots (and everyone else in the world) were expecting a run, but when you consider they had three downs to score and a timeout at their disposal, there wasn’t much of a downside to giving Beast Mode a chance to live up to his nickname.
However, as we all know by now, the Seahawks elected to put the game into the hands of Russell Wilson, who promptly put the game into the hands of Malcolm Butler in the form of an interception that essentially sealed the contest—much to the chagrin of Richard Sherman, who got his heart ripped out of his body harder than the guy in Temple of Doom for all the world to see (and, thanks to this GIF, see again and again and again).
The Michigan Surrender Cobra
In 2013, Grantland published a college football dictionary in an attempt to help people who don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time on internet message boards decipher some of the slang terms, acronyms, and inside jokes they may encounter while perusing forums dedicated to the sport.
Included in that handy guide was the definition of “the surrender cobra,” which is described as:
[a] pose frequently adopted by fans witnessing unfortunate sports happenings, characterized by clasping hands on top of head as though one is under arrest and a slow, tense exhale of breath.
Even if you didn’t know the stance by name, there’s a very good chance you’ve struck the pose in question if you’ve ever been emotionally invested in a sporting event that featured some less-than-desirable developments concerning whoever you were pulling for.
It’s safe to say there wasn’t a more thrilling ending to a college football game over the past decade than the final play of the 2013 Iron Bowl that left Alabama fans around the country unconsciously surrender cobraing in disbelief courtesy of Auburn’s miraculous touchdown return of a missed field goal.
That contest easily takes home the gold medal when it comes to honoring the game that featured the most improbable last-second comeback of the 2010s. However, if I was tasked with handing out the silver, I wouldn’t have to think very long to select my runner-up, as there was one wild ending that managed to produce one of the best GIFs of the decade and one of the most memorable play-by-play calls courtesy of the second Michigan punter on this list to have some trouble with the snap.
While the Wolverines were able to emerge victorious despite Hagerup’s brainfart in 2011, they weren’t able to overcome Blake O’Neill’s disastrous blunder on what would ultimately be the last play of their matchup with Michigan State in 2015.
Crying Piccolo Girl
March Madness is a roller coaster of emotions for anyone with a rooting interest in the tournament, and given its unpredictable nature, you never know when a team’s cart is going to fly off the tracks and crash into a crumpled heap of twisted metal as their championship dreams die a painful death.
The basketball gods unleashed plenty of chaos on the postseason over the course a decade that saw Florida Gulf Coast University dunk its way into our hearts and UMBC take a cattle prod to the testicles of a top-ranked Virginia team to shock them in the opening round.
However, there was perhaps nothing that highlighted the wide-open nature of March Madness better than the 2014 tournament, which saw seventh-seeded UConn triumph over an eighth-ranked Kentucky squad in a championship game no one saw coming.
UConn had to pull off three upsets in a row to claim its spot in the final—the first of which came against Villanova, which headed into the tournament the following year with a one seed and a chip on its shoulder.
They dispatched their first opponent with ease and most people expected them to handle No. 8 NC State just as easily in the following round—including the powers that be in Las Vegas, which had them listed as 9.5-point favorites ahead of tipoff.
As you can see in the GIF above, the Wolfpack managed to pull off the upset much to the chagrin of a member of the Villanova band, who tearfully played her piccolo while a cameraman documented her misery for posterity.
It didn’t take long for the internet to identify the tearful musician as Roxanne Chalifoux, who would eventually reveal she was mourning the loss at a TGI Fridays when she realized she’d inadvertently become a sensation after she saw her miserable visage being rebroadcast on national television.
A couple of days later, Chalifoux found herself being broadcasted to the masses yet again courtesy of Jimmy Fallon, who invited her to New York City to jam with The Roots.
Chalifoux was a senior at the time and said part of the reason the loss was so heartbreaking was that it marked the end of her time with the pep band. However, it wasn’t her last March Madness, as she was in attendance the following year to watch Villanova beat UNC to finally take home the championship.
James Harden Peacing Out
Landing a job as a sideline reporter is certainly no small feat for someone pursuing a career in sports broadcasting but it’s also one of the more thankless positions an analyst can find themself in.
Anyone who steps into that role does so knowing they’re going to be the third wheel to whoever is tasked with providing play-by-play and color commentary (or, perhaps more accurately, the waiter who occasionally interrupts the conversation to read the specials, let you know your food will be out in a few minutes, and make sure you know they don’t take American Express).
There’s nothing particularly glamorous about chasing down trainers for injury updates and eavesdropping on huddles to get some insight into a team’s gameplan but there is one perk that comes with the job that helps counterbalance its more tedious aspects—as least in theory.
The observers assigned to get up close and personal with the action might literally be relegated to the sidelines for the majority of the broadcast but every contest they cover grants them at least a couple of opportunities to flex their reporting muscles by cornering a coach or player for an interview.
Unfortunately, these league-mandated interactions rarely result in the interviewee providing any actual insight into whatever topic they were asked to shed some light on but rather conjure up canned answers, tired clichés, and passive-aggressive (as well as overtly aggressive) retorts.
However, there are some people who have figured out a way to solicit a candid response and extract genuinely useful information from the people they thrust the microphone toward.
The immensely respected Doris Burke consistently delivers on that front while covering NBA games but there is perhaps no one who’s ever done it better than the legendary Craig Sager, a man with unparalleled poise and an unmatched passion for his profession who always made sure an interview was entertaining even if it wasn’t informative.
This brings us to Matt Bullard, who played for the Houston Rockets for the majority of the eleven years he spent in the NBA before pivoting to broadcasting and eventually getting hired to cover his former team as an analyst for the local channel that airs their games.
The Rockets had a rough start to the 2015 season, as they lost the first three games by at least 20 points thanks in part to the struggles of James Harden, who made 22.2% of his shots from the field over that span.
However, they managed to win their next three games with the help of some stellar performances from Harden and hoped to continue their hot streak when they took on the Clippers in a game where Bullard was handling sideline duties.
Houston would come away with their fourth win in a row on the back of a 46-point performance from Harden, who was obviously in a groove after scoring 43 the previous night. However, Bullard still felt compelled to ask him if he’d found his rhythm, and just like that, the world was treated to a reaction GIF that will stand the test of time.
Jose Bautista Getting Rocked
There’s nothing that gets my blood pumping like watching athletes who aren’t paid to fight each other trade blows, but with the very obvious exception of hockey players, it feels like most guys in this day and age prefer to pretend like they’re getting held back by a teammate or coach as opposed to making a concerted effort to throw down.
However, every once in a while, bad blood reaches a boiling point that results in some good ol’ fashioned fisticuffs, which is exactly what we were treated to during a game between the Rangers and the Blue Jays in 2016.
One of my biggest issues with baseball is the number of unwritten rules players are expected to abide by and the purists that have an aneurysm whenever there’s an alleged violation and nothing highlight’s just how sensitive some people can be like the outcry concerning players who have the audacity to flip their bat with a little too much enthusiasm after crushing a ball.
In 2015, Jose Bautista managed to rustle some jimmies when he emphatically tossed his lumber aside after hitting what would ultimately be a game-winning home run to put the Blue Jays ahead of the Rangers in the deciding game of the ALDS.
When the two teams faced off again the following May, Bautista found himself on the receiving end of a purposefully errant pitch and earned a free walk to first for his troubles. While he successfully attempted to break up a double play on an ensuing grounder, Rougned Odor took exception to his hard slide and treated us to one of the more satisfying punches ever thrown on a baseball field (the flying sunglasses are a great touch).
Odor was ultimately suspended seven games as a result of the punch but I’d argue that’s a small price to pay for being immortalized in a GIF for the ages.