Top 10 Longest Sporting Events
By now we’ve all heard about the epic tennis match that happened recently at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. That 11-hour marathon has now earned its place in history as one of the longest sporting events on record, but it’s certainly not the first time that a competition has simply refused to end. Over the years there have been a number of grueling contests that lasted several hours or days, often with extraordinary consequences for the competitors involved. Here are the ten most famous examples.
10. Football: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Miami Dolphins/Arkansas vs. Kentucky
Total Time: 82 minutes, 40 seconds of game time/4 hours, 55 minutes
During the regular season in the NFL, football games are allowed to end in ties, so all the great marathon games happen postseason. The most famous example? Christmas day 1971, when the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins squared off in an AFC divisional playoff game. The game was a back and forth battle that went to overtime when the Chiefs missed a chip-in field goal with only seconds left on the clock. The game went into overtime tied at 24-24, but after an extra quarter both teams remained stymied. It was only in the second overtime that Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian converted a 37-yard kick to give Miami the win. The game that has since been dubbed the NFL’s “Longest Day” produced some amazing stats. Perhaps the most impressive numbers belonged to Kansas City’s running back, Ed Podolack, who gained 350 all purpose yards.
College football overtimes aren’t sudden death, and this often sets the stage for multiple overtime games, the most famous of which is a game between Arkansas and Kentucky from 2003. The game was tied at 24-24 at the end of regulation, and it took a full seven overtimes before Arkansas finally won 71-68. Five players ended up with multiple touchdowns, and the teams combined for over 1000 yards of offense.
9. Chess: Ivan Nicolic vs. Goran Arsovic
Total Time: 20 hours, 15 minutes
It’s theoretically possible for a chess match to go on for 5,949 moves, but such a feat seems unlikely when you consider that the longest chess game on record only included 269 moves—and still lasted over 20 hours. The game took place in Belgrade in 1989 between Ivan Nicolic and Goran Arsovic. After nearly a day of play, only five pieces remained on the board. Nicolic had his king, a bishop, and a rook, while Arsovic had only his King and a rook. But after over a hundred moves with no change, the match was finally declared a draw. This obscenely long match helped lead the World Chess Federation to institute the “50 move rule,” which states that a game can be declared a draw as soon as each player has made 50 moves without capturing one of his opponent’s pieces. This means that the record set in Nicolic vs. Arsovic is unlikely to ever be broken.
8. Poker: Phil Laak
Total Time: 115 hours
Gambling lore is filled with stories of poker games that went on for days, but the longest live game on record happened only weeks ago, when professional card shark Phil Laak played live poker at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas for over 115 hours. Other than a five-minute break every hour, Laak managed to stay at the table nearly nonstop for almost five days, shattering the previous record set of 72 hours set by Larry Olmstead in 2004. Laak, who’s known as “the Unabomber” because of his trademark hooded sweatshirts, claimed to stay sharp by doing yoga and adhering to a strict diet in the weeks prior to his record attempt. He also swore that he did not use any caffeine or other stimulants to help him stay awake, even though he only took a 30-minute nap one time during his entire ordeal. Amazingly, after 115 hours of nearly uninterrupted play, Laak still managed to cash out $6,766 in winnings.
7. Cricket: England vs. South Africa
Total Time: 43 hours, 16 minutes
It might come as a surprise to most Americans, but cricket has produced some of the most absurdly long contests in sports history. Depending on the rules, a game is only over after one side has scored more runs and dismissed all of the opposition’s batsmen, but most modern cricket matches allow for a draw to be called after a certain amount of time has elapsed. This was once not the case with Test match cricket, the more grueling version of the game played by international teams. Test matches are usually scheduled for at least five days, at which point the highest scoring team is declared the winner. In some of the early Tests, Cricket was played in the same “timeless” style as baseball, which allowed for matches to go on indefinitely until one team won it all. This is exactly what happened in 1939 in Durban, South Africa, when England and South Africa competed in what is now known as “The Longest Test.” The match started on March 3, and continued on for a further nine days (two off days and a rain-out day were also included) with neither team able to close things out. By the 12th day, England was poised to take the win with a record 654 runs, but the match had to be called off in order for the English players to catch their boat ride back home. It was only then that “the Longest Test” was finally declared a draw.
6. Boxing: Harry Sharpe vs. Frank Crosby
Total Time: 5 hours, 3 minutes, 43 seconds (76 rounds)
Anyone who’s ever boxed can tell you just how physically taxing of a sport it is, so it’s amazing to discover that there have been fights that managed to go on for several hours. One of the most notable is a match that took place in 1892 between Harry Sharp and Frank Crosby. At just over 5 hours, this brutal contest is the longest knockout fight to ever be held under modern boxing rules. The match took place in Nameoki, Illinois, and it was said to be a dead even fight, to the point that it wasn’t until the 76th round that both men finally knocked each other down simultaneously. Crosby supposedly hit his head on the ground hard, and even though he was able to get to his feet, Sharpe knocked him out a few minutes later. At a total time of 5 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds, the Crosby/Sharpe fight is one of the longest bouts of all time. It proved to be so long, in fact, that the referee didn’t even last the full duration. Supposedly, the fight’s ref was fighting a cold by taking the occasional pull from a flask of liquor. According to boxing lore, the man passed out in the 65th round, leaving Sharpe and Crosby to fight their last 12 rounds with no officiating. (Note from editor: unable to locate image of Sharpe and Crosby. Shown: boxer from late 1800s/early 1900s – name unknown.)
5. Baseball: Rochester Red Wings vs. Pawtucket Red Sox
Total Time: 33 innings (nearly 9 hours)
The longest recorded professional baseball game took place in 1981 between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, two Triple-A clubs. The game started around 8 p.m. on April 18 and continued on into the early morning of Easter Sunday with the score deadlocked at 2-2. Despite the fact that both a young Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr. were among the players on the field, hits were extremely hard to come by, and the game was finally suspended by the league president just after 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. Of the 2,000-plus fans that had started the night, only 19 remained, and each one was given season tickets by Pawtucket’s team owner. Amazingly, the game was not resumed for another 65 days—the next time the Red Wings were in town—and when it was finally restarted it had become front page news around the country. Over 5,000 fans packed the stadium to see the end of the longest game of all time. Unfortunately, the game ended rather anticlimactically. After just one inning and 18 minutes of play, Pawtucket player Dave Coza hit a weak single to left field, sending teammate Marty Barrett home to score the winning run in the bottom of the 33rd inning. The game has since gone down in baseball lore as one of the most famous professional contests of all time. It is featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 2006 the Pawtucket Red Sox held a celebration to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their legendary win.
4. Hockey: Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Maroons
Total Time: 176 minutes, 30 seconds
Hockey games usually avoid turning into marathon competitions, because depending on the league, games either resort to a shootout after an overtime period or just end in a draw. This is the case in the NHL, save for one key exception: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During the postseason, games will continue to go into 20-minute overtime periods until a goal is scored in open play. This has made for some epic contests over the years, the most famous of which took place in a 1936 semifinal game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons. After three 20-minute periods of regulation play, neither team had managed to find a goal, so the game went into overtime. The defensive struggle continued, and the players managed to go scoreless for five full 20-minute periods of overtime. Both teams were nearly dead on their feet when Detroit’s Mud Bruneteau, a rookie who’d only been playing professionally for two weeks, scored a miracle goal 16 minutes into the sixth overtime. When all was said and done, the total game time was 176 minutes, 116 of it overtime—that’s nearly the equivalent of three back-to-back-to-back games.
3. Basketball: Rochester Royals vs. Indianapolis Olympians, Syracuse vs. UConn
Total Time: Six overtimes, 3 hrs, 46 min
It might be surprising to hear that the longest NBA game on record ended with a score of 75-73, but that’s exactly what happened in 1951 when the Indianapolis Olympians bested the Rochester Royals after six overtimes. Perhaps not surprisingly, the contest wasn’t the most exciting game ever witnessed. Supposedly, there were only 26 shots over the course of the entire six overtimes, and most of the fans had left by the time the game finally ended.
A more modern marathon basketball game went down just last year, when Syracuse and UConn played out a six overtime contest during the Big East tournament. The game lasted nearly 4 hours, and it wasn’t until 1:30 in the morning that Syracuse finally managed to win the game 127-117. The stats from the game were incredible. Not only did the teams score a combined 244 points, but over 100 of them came in overtime. Six players managed to get double-doubles, and even more than that fouled out over the course of the six overtimes. Amazingly, Syracuse vs. UConn isn’t even the longest game in college history. That distinction goes to a game between Cincinnati and Bradley from 1981, which managed to go to seven overtimes. That game was before college basketball used a shot clock, so even though it was longer, the Syracuse/UConn was definitely a more significant (and physically grueling—one player claimed that by the end of the game he couldn’t even feel his legs) accomplishment. (Image: 1950-51 Rochester Royals.)
2. Tennis: Isner vs. Mahut
Total Time: 11 hours, 5 minutes
It might only be a few days old, but this clash between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon has already entered the record books as one of the most famous tennis matches of all time. The American Isner and the Frenchman Mahut began their match in the early evening of June 22nd. Both players started strong, and the match was tied at two sets each when it had to be suspended due to darkness. Day two of the contest started with the fifth set, but after 12 games the players remained tied at 6-6. Any other set would have been settled by a tiebreak, but the rules state that in the fifth set, play must continue until a player wins by two games. Incredibly, neither man could manage to break the other’s serve, and after over 118 games of extra play, the match remained deadlocked. Play was again suspended for darkness shortly after the nine-hour mark, only to resume the next morning. After a further 20 games, Isner finally managed to break Mahut’s serve, and went on to win the match with two expertly placed passing shots. The Isner-Mahut match broke a number of tennis records. Not only did it smash the record for the longest match in history at 11hrs, 15 minutes (the previous record was only a little more than half that), but Isner also broke the record for most aces in a match with 113. Both men were visibly exhausted by the time the marathon match finally ended, and a doctor has since predicted that both men might suffer from tendonitis and other physical ailments as a result of their ordeal. With this in mind, it’s probably not surprising that Isner went on to lose to his next opponent in straight sets.
1. Boxing: Andy Bowen vs. Jack Burke
Total Time: 7 hours, 19 minutes
11 hours of tennis is certainly grueling, but it’s got nothing on 7-plus hours of the pure physical punishment that is boxing. The longest boxing match on record took place in New Orleans on April 6, 1893. Andy Bowen and Jack Burke stepped into the ring in the hopes of claiming the lightweight title, which had been left open thanks to the retirement of the previous champ, Jack McAuliffe. At the time, boxing was still enough of an underground sport that there was no such thing as a judge’s decision—one fighter had to be knocked out or “throw in the towel” before the contest could be considered over. This rule set the stage for the most brutal boxing match of all time. Burke and Bowen clashed, and in what was considered to be a fairly even fight, proceeded to beat up on one another for 110 three-minute rounds. By the time the bell sounded for the 111th, over 7 hours had passed and both men were so punch drunk that they couldn’t even step out of their corners. Seeing that things were getting out of hand, the referee finally declared the bout a no contest. By that point, the epic match had already taken a severe toll on the two fighters. Burke had broken every bone in both of his hands, and proceeded to go into semiretirement. Bowen, meanwhile, was killed in the ring in his very next fight.