On any given night in any given sport, there’s a chance a player could make history. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a player will completely dominate the competition and put up a record-breaking performance.
Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point-game in 1962 are still the stuff of sports legend more than 50 years later. And new records are still being set. Adrian Peterson broke the NFL single-game rushing record in 2007, and Stephen Curry hit an NBA record 13 3-pointers in a game in 2016.
Obviously, any professional athlete has an incredible amount of skill and experience, but not all are superstars and most certainly are not expected to achieve greatness. Yet, it seems any player can have an amazing game and rewrite the history books. As one of the most prolific players in NFL history, Gale Sayers was a likely candidate to set a record. Indeed, his six-touchdown game will almost certainly never be topped. But Scott Skiles, a player who never made a single All-Star team, also set a record — for the most assists in an NBA game with 30.
Ranking players based on their statistical performances is a fun way to relive past games, but it doesn’t provide a complete historical picture of most of the big four leagues. Statistics weren’t kept as thoroughly as they are now during the early days of the NHL, NFL, and NBA. MLB records, however, are fairly solid because every play in baseball is easy to track and record.
For all we know, a player from decades ago may have had a game with more sacks or tackles than anyone in NFL history. We’ll never find out for sure, as sacks weren’t an official stat until 1982. As it stands, Derrick Thomas holds the NFL record with seven in a single game.
Basketball was somewhat better about keeping records. We know Wilt Chamberlain had 55 rebounds in a game against the Celtics in 1960, but we can’t be sure how many rebounds he grabbed on the offensive end the way we would today.
Players at certain positions — like offensive linemen in the NFL and defensemen in the NHL — are important parts of the team, but since they rarely put up measurable statistics, it can be difficult to determine if and when they truly have a dominant game. In basketball, players at all positions can be prolific scorers.
To determine the most impressive individual performances in sports history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed single-game records in a number of statistical categories for the four major U.S. sports, the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, using data from the Sports Reference family of sites.