OK, so that miraculous win is a little deeper than a Kurt Russell speech in a Disney movie, but fiction or not, a good motivational rant, pep talk or acceptance speech can fire up the coolest cat or tear down the most apathetic soul.
Truth be told, a speech can be memorable for what wasn’t said. Take for instance Bobby Orr‘s retirement ceremony at the Garden on Jan. 9, 1979, when passionate Bruins fans barely gave him a chance to speak. They gave No. 4 a standing ovation that lasted nearly 10 minutes — such respect from his devoted fans will be remembered far longer than any one-liner.
Sports movies, like Miracle, also can be a source of inspiration.
Gene Hackman, as coach Norman Dale, told his Hickory Huskers in Hoosiers that if they “play to their potential, to be the best they can be,” they’re winners in his book. They were also winners on the scoreboard in that championship game, squeaking by South Bend Central 42-40.
Al Pacino, as coach Tony D’Amato told his Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday that “the inches we need are everywhere around us!” Miami managed to come from behind to take down the mighty Dallas Knights in that one.
Denzel Washington, as coach Herman Boone, took his Titans to the site of the battle of Gettysburg to get his message across. Those Titans were never the same.
Trey Wilson, as manager Joe Riggins, told his Durham Bulls his thoughts on their lollygagging. And thousands of baseball players everywhere never forgot to hustle around the base paths again.
Paul Newman, as Reg Dunlop in Slap Shot, was hilariously interrupted by the Hanson Brothers but certainly got the message across.
After Rocky took down the mighty Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, he taught us that if he can change, then “everybody can change.” You changed, right?
Where would Rudy Ruettiger be if Fortune, the Notre Dame janitor played by Charles Dutton, never told him: “You’re five-foot-nothin,’ a hundred-and-nothin,’ and you got hardly a speck of athletic ability, and you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years. … In this lifetime, you got nothing to prove to nobody except yourself.”
Sports aside, didn’t William Wallace make you, a temporary Son of Scotland, want to snap the neck of the next Brit you saw?
Forget Hollywood, here are 10 of the top sports speeches of all time.
10. Tim Thomas — Dreams do come true
Talk about a rags-to-riches story. The Tank, who went through waivers just a few years before without a single NHL general manager taking a shot on him, was voted the league’s best goalie by many of those same GMs in 2009.
The Boston netminder could barely hold back the tears after accepting the award in Las Vegas and had every hockey fan in the world rooting for him for those few short minutes.
“I never really allowed myself to believe that I might win because it seemed like such a faraway dream when you look at the names on the Vezina Trophy. They’re legends, and it’s humbling to even be mentioned in the same sentence. I’ve been more worried about getting my name on a roster than I have been about winning the Vezina Trophy…Throughout my career, there were so many times when I got my hopes up and had them come crashing down behind me.”
9. Michael Irvin — Believe
For a guy with a troubled past and an incredible professional career, former Dallas Cowboy great Irvin offered one of the most memorable induction speeches in NFL history. Openly crying, Irvin addressed his relationship with his two sons and how he has tried to be the perfect father for them.
He offered the advice to “look up, get up, and don’t ever give up. You tell everyone or anyone that has ever doubted, thought they did not measure up, or wanted to quit. You tell them to look up, get up, and don’t ever give up.”
8. Tim Tebow — The Promise
Not bad for a college kid. Tebow’s “Promise” speech was so inspiring, the folks in Gainesville immortalized it on a plaque at the football facility at Florida Field. The speech was actually given after a loss to Mississippi, but hey, it’s Tim Tebow we’re talking about.
“To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God Bless.”
7. Darrell Green — I belong here
“Deacon Jones said I’m going to cry. You bet your life I’m going to cry!”
What a way to start a Hall of Fame induction speech. Green’s speech can’t be justified in words or quotes, but the legendary Redskin used the majority of his speech to thank his mother, father and family for all they did for him and wrapped it up with a simple yet powerful: “I belong here.”
6. Herb Brooks — This is your time
Disney, believe it or not, stretched a few of Herb Brooks’ lines during his pregame speech to the ragtag group of American collegiate hockey players who took down the Russians. But thanks to the movie Miracle, hockey fans can have an idea of what the great coach said to his players before that win.
“Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, weare the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ‘em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”
5. Knute Rockne — Win one for the Gipper
“Win one for the Gipper” became a permanent fixture in American society after Notre Dame head coach Rockne delivered his halftime speech to the Irish in 1928 against Army.
Rockne was trying to salvage one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame history at the time and brought up the tragic death of George Gipp,a former Notre Dame player. In 1940, this speech was immortalized on the big screen in the film Knute Rockne – All American:
“Well, boys, I haven’t a thing to say. Played a great game … all of you. Great game. I guess we just can’t expect to win ‘em all. I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. It was long before your time. But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,’ he said, ‘but I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.’ “
4. Vince Lombardi — Super Bowl
What would this list be without Lombardi’s speech prior to Super Bowl II? That pregame speech would prove to be the last Lombardi gave his Packers as he retired a year later after a season coaching the Redskins. Needless to say, the heavily favored Packers, led by Bart Starr, won that 1968 Super Bowl in Miami by a score of 33-14.
They weren’t the only motivational words the legendary coach ever expressed.
“Winning is not a sometime thing. It’s an all-the-time thing. You don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while. You do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don’t ever want to finish second again. There is a second-place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.”
3. Lou Gehrig – Luckiest Man
The Yankees announced Gehrig’s retirement on June 21, 1939,and proclaimed that Independence Day would be “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” On July 4, Gehrig gave the rousing farewell speech between doubleheader games against the Washington Senators. While it was a sad day for baseball, it also provided one of the most memorable and heartfelt phrases spoken in American history.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
2. Jack Buck — For America
Although struggling with lung cancer, the legendary baseball broadcaster Buck took the field in one of his final public appearances on Sept. 17, 2001 — the day baseball resumed after the 9/11 attacks. Buck delivered one of the most spine-tingling, patriotic pieces this national pastime has heard. The 77-year-old concluded the poem by telling critics who felt that baseball returned too soon by stating: “I don’t know about you, but as for me, the question has already been answered: Should we be here? Yes!”
Buck, a Holyoke, Mass., native, died less than a year later in June 2002.
“Since this nation was founded under God
more than 200 years ago,
we’ve been the bastion of Freedom,
the light which keeps the free world aglow.
We do not covet the possessions of others;
we are blessed with the bounty we share.
We have rushed to help other Nations;
anything … anytime … anywhere.
War is just not our nature
We won’t start, but we will end the fight.
If we are involved,
We shall be resolved
To protect what we know is Right.
We’ve been challenged by a cowardly foe,
Who strikes and then hides from our view.
With one voice we say,
‘We have no choice today,
There is only one thing to do.’
Everyone is saying the same thing and praying,
That we end these senseless moments we are living.
As our fathers did before,
We shall win this unwanted war,
And our children will enjoy the future we’ll be giving.”
1. Jim Valvano — Never give up
The inaugural ESPY awards will never, ever be topped.
Shortly before Valvano’s death, the longtime North Carolina State head coach spoke at the inaugural ESPY Awards on March 3, 1993, to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Valvano was diagnosed with bone cancer just a year earlier and used his speech to announce the creation of the “Jimmy V Foundation,” an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.
Before he said the legendary motto for the foundation, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” Valvano kept things light. When the teleprompter notified him that he had 30 seconds left, Valvano responded, “They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen. I got tumors all over my body, and I’m worried about some guy in the back going 30 seconds.”
One of the great offerings Valvano left the world with that night was his “three things we should do every day. … Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
He died that very next month but left the world with this closing statement:
“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. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you, and God bless you all.”