The 4 Most Spectacular Mental Breakdowns in Sports History

I am a Denver Broncos fan. For those of you who aren't spirited followers of the National Football League, Denver's record this season couldn't be much worse if they replaced the entire team with actual horses. I don't mean horses that were trained to play football either, I mean the kind that were trained to jump over gates or pull farm equipment. The only solace that comes from liking a team with an abysmal record is that it makes it hard for even your worst rivals to muster the strength to hate you. But the pity I receive from other football fans is not just because the Broncos are bad, the sympathetic nods and potato skin offerings are in preparation for a disaster that hasn't even happened yet. Everyone is patiently waiting for a humiliation far worse than loss after loss for Denver, they are waiting for one particular player to finally suffer a colossal meltdown.

C'mon, Timmy. Keep it together, buddy.

In every sport, there is nothing more uncomfortable or embarrassing to watch than a meltdown; that single moment when an athlete finally absorbs all the criticism, the pressure, the boos in the stadium and just emotionally malfunctions. They can manifest in fights, tantrums or complete surrender. But usually it's fights. Regardless of what form they take, they are almost always excruciating to witness and so naturally, they are littered across YouTube with hundreds of thousands of hits apiece. Most of them we've all seen by now but here are four of the biggest sports meltdowns you've probably never heard about. Enjoy, I guess.

#4. Oliver McCall -- Boxing

One of the worst places to psychologically crumble is in a boxing ring, partially because all eyes are on you and partially because two of those eyes belong to someone who is trying really hard to punch you to death. So when Oliver McCall broke down during the Heavyweight Championship Fight in 1997, it was not only uncomfortable to witness but incredibly dangerous. In the middle of the third round, he dropped his gloves to his sides and refused to fight. Instead, he wandered around the ring, gazing off into the crowd and generally ignoring the 250 lb Lennox Lewis hitting him in the face. No one knew what to make of his strategy and the commentators even speculated it might be some elaborate, painful trick to lure Lewis into making a mistake. That is, until the end of the fourth round when McCall walked quietly to his corner and started to weep. Not just a few tears either, full-on messy sobs.

Skip to 6:00.

It looked like McCall had been punched into an existential crisis and had started to question the significance of a life spent turning other peoples' guts into paste. Between the fourth and fifth rounds, the ref knelt down in McCall's corner and asked him like a concerned parent if he really wanted to continue fighting. It wasn't clear if he meant this particular match or boxing in general because the tears streaming down McCall's face suggested a regret far more encompassing than just the events of the night. While McCall said he wanted to continue, the fight ended just 50 seconds into the fifth round because he still refused to honor the human instincts of protecting his own brain, and no one was eager to watch a clinically depressed man try to commit suicide on someone else's fists. It was easily one of the top 1,790,502 emotional breakdowns Las Vegas has ever produced.

#3. Martina Hingis -- Tennis

During the French Open in 1999, Martina Hingis was just three points away from victory over Steffi Graf when a line judge made a bad call in Steffi Graf's favor. The call shouldn't have meant much to either player because Hingis was so far ahead, but looking back at the footage, you can actually see the moment Martina hears the call, then searches her heart and decides that, no, she cannot share a world with an error that egregious.

What followed was a meltdown so massive it cost Hingis the win. It started with her crossing the net to show the line judge directly where the ball landed, and indirectly why the woman was an idiot. As anyone knows who's suffered through tennis camps or endured weekends at a rich but competitive uncle's house, crossing the net during play is an etiquette offense just slightly above shitting on the court. Hingis was penalized but more importantly, the crowd immediately turned against her. They booed while she tried to plead her case, then they booed during each of her serves and they booed during each of her returns. The only time they cheered was on her faults or her misses. Little by little, she started to fall apart emotionally listening to the jeers, until the last set when she spontaneously left the court for a 15 minute bathroom break as the crowd chanted her opponent's name.

Skip to 3:14 for the meltdown montage.

When she finally reappeared, she was dressed in a new outfit, presumably in the hopes that no one would recognize her. Unfortunately, the long break only gave the crowd more of a reason to hate her. The wheels finally came off for Hingis in the last set when she resigned herself to losing and started serving underhand. It couldn't have been much worse had she taken off one of her socks and just sat down on the court.

A tennis court is the only place where "Love" means nothing.

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Soren Bowie

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