When a sporting event is an exciting, back and forth matchup, fans wish that the game would never end. Sometimes, these games are tied up at the end of regulation. To determine a winner, these games go into overtime. Every once in a while, these games can turn into marathons, with both teams refusing to lose and continuing to play well into the night and even into the next morning.
24/7 Tempo reviewed historical sports sources like the Pro Football Hall of Fame to determine the longest games in sports history. These are the longest games based on the length of recorded play time, and not necessarily the games that lasted the longest in real time due to delays or other interruptions.
Of the four major American sports leagues, only the NFL allows regular season ties if the teams are even after one overtime. In the NBA and MLB, teams simply keep playing until a winner is decided. In the NHL regular season, teams play one overtime period, then the winner is decided by a shootout. Overtime rules change in the NFL and NHL playoffs, and games continue until a winner is decided.
Some of the longest games ever were tense, drawn-out defensive battles where each team struggled to score. But some were thrilling contests where each team’s offense one-upped the other, making big plays after big plays. These are the greatest shootouts in sports history.
Many of the longest-ever games happened decades ago, and those records seem unlikely to be broken. Major Leaguers are hitting more home runs per game than ever before, so it seems unlikely that a baseball game could stretch too far into extra innings before someone hits a game-deciding homer. NFL and NHL teams are also scoring more in recent years, and given that their overtime is sudden death, these games are more likely to end on a quick score than ever before. In fact, many of the longest game records are so old, the games were played by now-defunct franchises. These are the greatest teams that disappeared.
Each sport’s overtime rules work differently. Baseball is untimed, and MLB games will continue, one inning after another, until a victor is decided. In the NBA, ties are broken in five-minute OT periods that are played like regulation. There are no ties in the NBA, so teams continue playing overtime periods until the game is decided. In the NHL, regular season games now have one five-minute overtime period followed by a shootout, so games do not officially go over 65 minutes anymore. But in the playoffs, teams play 20-minute overtime periods until a goal is scored. Similarly, NFL regular season games can end in a tie after a single overtime, but postseason games will continue as long as they have to. Teams automatically win if they score a touchdown in overtime. We did not consider MLB games before 1908 or NFL games before 1966. There have been many four-overtime NBA games, so we selected those that took the longest in real time for the list.