Moments From Sports History That Made Everyone Hold Their Breath

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One of the reasons sports are so popular is the heart-pounding action they bring. Whether that be a sack in the final seconds, a game-winning shot, or a knockout punch, it's these moments that keep fans on their toes - the real-time game changers. But because sports are physical and happen live, audiences can get a lot more than they bargained for while they watch. 

Many athletes have suffered grave injuries while playing sports professionally including collapsing due to heart issues, collisions that had paralytic consequences, and even throats being slashed on the ice rink. In these moments, athletes and fans alike hold their breath waiting for the news of what would happen to the injured. 

These are the moments that made games stop cold.

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  • During a 1989 match for the Buffalo Sabres, Canadian ice hockey goalie Clint Malarchuk was caught in the neck by an opponent’s skate in the first period in a freak incident. The skate sliced his jugular vein and for a moment, the goalie thought the end had come and his only concern was getting off the ice as fast as possible so his mother watching at home wouldn’t see him perish. 

    Fortunately, the quick actions of staff member Jim Pizzutelli - a Vietnam combat veteran - saved his life. After 300 stitches, he was well enough to give an interview from his hospital bed. He was back playing within 10 days. 

    After his own struggles with alcohol and mental health after his playing days were over, he now works as a mental health advocate. 

  • Chris Pronger Collapsed After Getting Hit With A Puck In The Chest
    Photo: http://www.VancityAllie.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Chris Pronger suffered a brief cardiac arrest while blocking a shot from Dmitry Mironov in the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs. Pronger was playing for the St. Louis Blues at the time and took the full brunt of Minorov’s slap shot in the chest. He collapsed shortly afterward and was rushed to the hospital. 

    Recalling the event many years later, he said:

    My eyes roll back in my head and then I went down. At the time, you’re young and you don't take it that serious. But as time goes on, you read about these types of incidents and that kids die from it. I was lucky.

    Fortunately, Pronger didn’t suffer any long-term effects from the injury but his team did lose the series to the Red Wings. He played on until 2012 and enjoyed Olympic success with Canada in 2002 and 2010. 

  • Ryan Shazier Was Temporarily Paralyzed After A Head-On Tackle

    In the midst of one of the best seasons of his career, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a devastating injury in December 2017 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He collapsed after a head-on tackle and was stretchered from the field. It was revealed afterward that he’d suffered a spinal contusion and was left paralyzed.

    Though he was told he’d never walk again by doctors, Shazier remained positive and defied expectations by walking a year after the incident without the use of a cane. 

    After announcing his retirement from football, he launched a fund in his name to help others with spinal injuries in 2020.

  • Boban Janković Hit His Head On A Pole Out Of Frustration And Got Paralyzed

    Slobodan "Boban'" Jankovic had a moment of madness in 1993 that changed his life forever during a play-off match with the Greek team Panionios. When he had a basket disallowed during a crucial point in the game by the referee, he headbutted the padded concrete post of the basket in frustration. 

    At 6’7” tall he was an immensely powerful athlete and the force of the impact had devastating results. Jankovic immediately crumpled in heap after permanently damaging his spinal cord and never walked again. He passed away from heart failure at 42 in 2006.

  • Romain Grosjean Survived A Devastating Car Crash During An F1 Race
    Photo: Wolkenjaeger / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    During the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, Formula One driver Romain Grosjean’s vehicle collided with a metal barrier at just under 120 mph. In a horrifying incident, the car was split in two and engulfed in flames. As he struggled to get free, his love for his family pushed him to black out the pain and get out of the vehicle.

    It took almost 30 seconds for the driver to emerge from the wreckage as spectators looked on in horror. Somehow Grosjean only suffered minor injuries and credited his survival to the halo - a safety device introduced in 2018. 

  • Christian Eriksen Suffered Cardiac Arrest While On The Pitch
    Photo: Дмитрий Голубович / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Danish soccer star Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during an international match between Denmark and Finland in May 2021. Eriksen suddenly collapsed and had to be given emergency treatment on the field as the visibly shaken players could only look on. The match was restarted over an hour later in controversial circumstances with Finland winning 1-0.

    Eriksen recovered and was later fitted with an ICD and resumed his playing career with English club Brentford in January 2022. After a successful six-month stay, he signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2022.