The best speeches in sports

Sometimes, it’s just a simple game. But often, sports is much more than that.

It’s full of life lessons. It can teach you about failure, joy, disappointment, excitement, winning and losing. About maturity, teamwork, humility and selflessness. And nowhere is that more evident than in sports’ great speeches.

The top 10 speeches in sports motivate, inspire, and even heal, from Tim Tebow’s “Promise,” to Herb Brooks reminding a group of ragtag college kids that playing the Soviet Union was their moment, to Michael Irvin’s emotional Hall of Fame speech, to Jimmy V’s message to never, never give up.

In 2008, Florida was 3-0 and rolling, setting their sights on their second BCS National Championship in three years. But in their SEC home opener against Ole Miss, things took a seemingly disastrous turn: the Gators lost. Trailing 31-30, with 41 seconds left in the game, Tim Tebow was stopped short on a 4th and 1, ending their perfect season. After the game, the Greatest College Football Player Ever Created delivered a passionate speech to the assembled media, addressing them with raw passion rarely heard in today’s athlete, collegiate or pro.

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In Pictures: Top 10 speeches in sports

After that speech (it is now known simply as “The Promise”), the Gators did not lose another game, and they did indeed win their second title in three seasons. The University of Florida has already commemorated the speech with its own plaque, which hangs on the wall on the outside of their football complex.

Herb Brooks didn’t make any promise, but he did deliver a miracle. Minutes before the biggest hockey game they would ever play, the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic team sat in the locker room, nervous, anxious, awaiting what was seemingly an inevitable loss to the mighty Soviet Union. The head coach, Herb Brooks, needed to deliver the speech of his life, and he did just that – from the back of an envelope. The locker room was closed off to reporters and cameras, but thanks to “Miracle,” and Kurt Russell, we have a Disney-fied version of the speech.

Equally fit for the big screen was seemingly anything from Michael Irvin’s life, but in particular his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. A lot of people didn’t like Irvin. During his time in the NFL, he was brash and arrogant, and frequently found himself in trouble off the field. But during Irvin’s Hall of Fame induction, even those who didn’t like him respected his heartfelt speech. Irvin did not hold back the tears as he talked about his life on the field, and his mistakes off of it.

But there is perhaps no speech more emotional than Jim Valvano. When the one-time N.C. State head coach came to the ESPY awards to receive the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award on August 3, 1993, his bone cancer had already metastasized several months early. During his speech, Valvano announced the founding of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, with the motto of “Don’t Ever Give Up;” he was entertaining and emotional, but more than that he touched our hearts. “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”

The top five:

1. Lou Gehrig – The Luckiest Man on Earth: Slideshow
2. Jim Valvano – Don’t Ever Give Up: Slideshow
3. Herb Brooks – Miracle of a Speech: Slideshow
4. Knute Rockne – Win One for the Gipper: Slideshow
5. Jack Buck – For America: Slideshow
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In Pictures: Top 10 speeches in sports

Updated Friday, Aug 14, 2009