Greatest One-Year Wonders in Sports History
Sports can be as weird as they are great.
While most athletes display a level of consistency throughout their careers with a rise, a peak and then a decline over multiple seasons — some players have a peak which lasts exactly one year. They put everything together to achieve their full potential.
Various internal or external factors could lead to this one-year peak. An athlete could be in stellar shape, have the right teammates/coach, or play in the perfect system to maximize their abilities. It's not easy to explain why everything clicks, but we will explore these outlier seasons and what led to such brief, memorable successes.
Here are the greatest one-year wonders in sports history.
25. Don Majkowski
Team: Green Bay Packers
Key stats: Made only Pro Bowl. Passed for 4,318 yards. Had NFL-leading five game-winning comebacks.
Bottom line: Nicknamed "Magic Man," Don Majkowski engineered seven fourth-quarter comebacks in the 1989 season and also led the league in passing yards.
His 27/20 touchdown-to-interception ratio that season was unlike the rest of his career. Outside of that campaign, Majkowski had a 39/47 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Outside of his one Pro Bowl season, Majkowski is best known for being Wally Pipped by Brett Favre. After suffering an ankle injury early in the 1992 season, Magic Man was replaced by Favre, who went on to start every game for the Packers for the next 15 years.
24. Chris Gatling
Team: Dallas Mavericks/New Jersey Nets
Key stats: Made only All-Star appearance. Averaged 19.0 points per game. Grabbed 7.9 rebounds per game.
Bottom line: Throughout his career, Chris Gatling was a sixth man who started just 86 times across 700 games played. He also was a journeyman who got traded eight times, including during the year he made his only All-Star Game.
That game came during the 1996-97 season, when Gatling led the Dallas Mavericks in scoring and was named an All-Star despite being on one of the worst teams in the league. While the All-Star selection was questionable, Gatling’s effectiveness was not, although he never showed that ability before or after that season.
Outside of averaging 19 points per game in 47 games that season, Gatling averaged 9.6 points per game in his five seasons before and 9.8 points per game in his five seasons after.
23. Ken Caminiti
Team: San Diego Padres
Key stats: NL MVP. Hit 40 home runs. Batted .326.
Bottom line: Ken Caminiti was always a good fielding third baseman, but in 1996, he became an offensive juggernaut on his way to the NL MVP. He hit 40 home runs and drove in 119 RBI and later admitted to using steroids to enhance his performance.
Even though Caminiti said he used steroids even after that 1996 season, his stats regressed back to their previous levels following that year.
Over his 15 year career, the 1996 season was the only one he hit more than 26 homers or drove in 94 baserunners, and his drug use contributed to his death in 2004.
22. Eric Johnson
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Key stats: Caught 82 receptions. Had 825 receiving yards. Scored two receiving touchdowns.
Bottom line: In 2004, only Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten posted more receptions among tight ends than the 49ers' Eric Johnson. The Niners thought they had a future star, but Johnson proceeded to miss the entire following season due to injury and never regained his form.
When he returned in 2006, there was a shiny, new toy at tight end for San Francisco after the team drafted Vernon Davis in the first round, pushing Johnson down the depth chart. Johnson spent that season as a backup, then moved to the Saints the next year before retiring.
However, retirement has been pretty good for Johnson. He married pop singer Jessica Simpson in 2010.
21. Jim Carey
Team: Washington Capitals
Key stats: Vezina Trophy winner. Nine shutouts. Posted 2.26 goals-against average.
Bottom line: Jim Carey made fans wait three years after he was drafted before he made his NHL debut, but the 20-year-old seemed to be worth the wait.
Carey became the Capitals' starting goaltender in his first full season and responded by leading the league in shutouts, finishing second in wins and third in goals-against average.
However, the 35 wins Carey had that season accounted for half of the wins he had his entire career. After a slow start the following season, Washington gave up on him and traded him to his hometown Bruins.
He posted a 9-17 record after leaving Washington, D.C., and was out of the NHL at the age of 24.
20. Don May
Team: Buffalo Braves
Key stats: Sored 20.2 points per game. Grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game. Posted 20 double-doubles.
Bottom line: Don May was so much of an afterthought in his first two NBA seasons that he was left unprotected in the 1970 expansion draft.
The Buffalo Braves took him in that draft for their inaugural season, and they also selected a bunch of other castoffs from other teams. With no big-name players, somebody had to put the ball in the basket for Buffalo and that was May, who put up 20 points per game.
Unfortunately for May, that was his only season with the Braves, and his only season of any notoriety. His scoring average dropped under 8 points per game the following season, and 39 of his 53 career games scoring 20-plus came in that 1970-71 season.
19. Charles White
Team: Los Angeles Rams
Key stats: Ran for 1,374 rushing yards. Scored 11 rushing touchdowns. First-team All-Pro.
Bottom line: By his own admission, Charles White was an NFL bust after a Heisman-winning career at USC. But there was an underlying cause for his poor play — White was addicted to cocaine for most of his pro career.
He finally got clean in 1987 and responded by leading the NFL in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. White was already 29 by then, though, and the years of drug use kept him from sustaining that level of play.
He played just one more NFL season as a backup before retiring after the 1988 season.
18. Mark Prior
Team: Chicago Cubs
Key stats: Posted 18-6 record. Led NL pitchers in WAR (7.4). Second in NL in strikeouts (245).
Bottom line: Mark Prior’s placement on this list is unique because it has more to due with injuries making him a one-year wonder rather than ineffectiveness.
He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2001, made his major league debut in 2002 and became the Cubs' ace in 2003. He ranked in the top three in ERA, wins and strikeouts while starting 30 games. But Prior’s supposed perfect pitching mechanics didn’t protect him from injury as he struggled to stay on the mound thereafter.
After winning 18 games in 2003, Prior won 18 games over the remainder of his career and retired in 2013, seven years after his last MLB action.
17. Rich Aurilia
Team: San Francisco Giants
Key stats: Made only All-Star appearance. Hit 37 home runs. Batted .324.
Bottom line: The Giants' second baseman was always a guy who hit around .275 with 20 home runs.
But in the same season that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, Aurilia had his own career year hitting just before Bonds in the No. 2 hole. Aurilia led the NL in hits, posted a .324 average and hit 37 home runs as he saw all of the good pitches that Bonds did not see.
While Bonds continued terrorizing opposing pitchers in later years, Aurilia did not. He never hit more than 23 homers or posted an average higher than .300 in any of his eight ensuing seasons, despite hitting in front of Bonds for most of that time.
16. Eugenie Bouchard
Key stats: Won only career WTA singles title. Made Wimbledon final. Made Australian Open and French Open semifinals.
Bottom line: Canadian tennis player Genie Bouchard turned pro in 2009 at age 15, but despite being considered a tennis prodigy, she has won only one singles title. Not one major. Just one tournament. Period.
That win came in 2014, the year Bouchard had her best finishes in three out of the four majors. She became the first player in five years to make it to the semifinal round of the first three majors of a year, and she fell to the eventual champion each time.
Bouchard hasn’t experienced anything close to that same success. Since then, the farthest she’s advanced in a major tournament is one quarterfinal finish.
15. Don MacLean
Team: Washington Bullets
Key stats: 1993-94 Most Improved Player. Averaged 18.2 points per game. Grabbed 6.2 rebounds per game.
Bottom line: Don MacLean is best known for still being the all-time leading scorer for both UCLA and the Pac-12, which is amazing considering all of the greats that have played in that conference.
His most notable NBA moments came during his second NBA season, when he nearly tripled his scoring average to 18 points per game. He finally looked like the star he was with the Bruins, but that stardom was short-lived.
The following season, the Washington Bullets made numerous roster changes, including trading for Chris Webber and drafting Juwan Howard. The moves knocked MacLean down the forward depth chart, and injuries also reduced his effectiveness.
MacLean then became expendable and embarked on a journeyman career that included playing for seven different teams in his final seven NBA seasons.
14. Mike Reinfeldt
Team: Houston Oilers
Key stats: Led NFL with 12 interceptions. First-team All-Pro. Made only Pro Bowl.
Bottom line: Mike Reinfeldt was a free safety who had a solid eight-year NFL career with one major outlier season.
In 1979 with the Houston Oilers, he picked off 12 passes. His interceptions not only led the league but remain the fourth-most in a single season in NFL history, and two shy of the all-time record.
Reinfeldt had just 14 total interceptions in his seven other seasons, but he was in the right place at the right time in '79.
13. Chase Headley
Team: San Diego Padres
Key stats: Hit 31 home runs. Led NL with 115 RBI. Gold Glove winner.
Bottom line: Prior to the 2012 season, Chase Headley had a talk with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, and Headley then proceeded to have the best year of his career.
The third baseman smacked 31 homers after hitting just 36 through the first five years of his career combined and became the first Padre since Winfield in 1979 to lead the NL in RBI. Headley also led all third basemen in putouts and assists on his way to winning a Gold Glove.
But he never even posted another 20 home run season in his career and received no other recognition for his defensive efforts. Perhaps he should have talked to Winfield before every season.
12. Michael Adams
Team: Denver Nuggets
Key stats: Averaged 26.5 points per game. Recorded 10.5 assists per game. Third player to average 26 and 10 in NBA history.
Bottom line: Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time can result in a fluke season, and that’s the case with Michael Adams.
In the 1990-91 season, the Denver Nuggets hired Paul Westhead from college, and he brought his run-and-gun style that pushed the pace like no other. The aggressive approach resulted in more possessions, more shots and more points for Adams, whose scoring averaged jumped by 10 points over the previous season despite him playing just one more minute per game.
Adams was traded to Washington the following season, and his numbers fell back in line with what he was putting up before matching up with Westhead.
11. Jonathan Cheechoo
Team: San Jose Sharks
Key stats: Scored 56 goals. Posted 93 points. Had 11 game-winning goals.
Bottom line: Sometimes a fluke year can be attributed to a teammate, and that’s the case with Jonathan Cheechoo once Joe Thornton lined up alongside him. Cheechoo netted 15 points in 24 games before the Sharks traded for Thornton and then 78 points in 57 games after the trade.
Cheechoo remains the only Sharks player to lead the NHL in goals in a season, but it was all downhill from there. While Thornton remained on the team, the Sharks added other pieces, which disrupted the chemistry he had with Cheechoo, whose point total decreased every year.
After being traded from the Sharks in 2009, Cheechoo played one more season in the NHL with the Senators before moving to the AHL.
10. Mark Fidrych
Team: Detroit Tigers
Key stats: Posted 19-9 record. Led AL with 2.34 ERA. AL Rookie of the Year.
Bottom line: In 1976, Mark Fidrych went from a non-roster invitee at spring training to the ERA leader and runner-up for the American League Cy Young award.
The 21-year-old rookie posted a two-hit complete game in his first start and had a total of 24 complete games to lead the AL. But during spring training of the following season, Fidrych suffered his first of a string of injuries when he tore knee cartilage while fooling around in the outfield.
He never was the same and won just 10 more games over the rest of his career.
9. Ickey Woods
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Key stats: Rushed for 1,066 yards. Scored 15 rushing touchdowns. Led NFL with 5.3 yards per attempt.
Bottom line: Ickey Woods became a cult hero in Cincinnati thanks to a rookie year in which he found the end zone 15 times and performed his infamous "Ickey Shuffle" dance.
Those 15 touchdowns were the second-most in NFL history for a rookie, and Woods became the focus of the Bengals' offense ahead of Pro Bowl running back James Brooks.
But just two games into his second season, Woods suffered a torn ACL and was never the same. Already a heavy back, he struggled to keep off the weight and did not regained the explosiveness he showed in 1988.
He was benched upon his return the following season and played only 19 more NFL games after the injury.
8. Dana Barros
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Key stats: 1994-95 Most Improved Player. Averaged 20.6 points per game. Made only All-Star appearance.
Bottom line: In 1994, the 76ers traded away their best player, Jeff Hornacek, and appeared to be in full tank mode for the 94-95 season. They thought that making a 5 -foot, 11-inch career backup their starting point guard would help in their tanking efforts, but Dana Barros had the year of his life.
Playing the second-most minutes in the NBA, Barros posted career highs across the board and also notched a 50-point game. He then joined his hometown Celtics the following season where he was moved back to the bench, and he was never a regular starter again.
Barros also never had another 50-point game in his NBA career. Or a 40-point game. Or even a 30-point game.
7. Braylon Edwards
Team: Cleveland Browns
Key stats: Had 1,289 receiving yards. Scored 16 receiving touchdowns. Made only Pro Bowl.
Bottom line: Since 2000, only Calvin Johnson and Carlos Rogers (second overall) have been higher-drafted receivers than Braylon Edwards (third overall) in 2005.
Edwards underperformed in his first two seasons in Cleveland but finally had the breakout many were hoping for in his third season with 16 receiving touchdowns, the 12th-most in NFL history for a single season.
Yet Edwards' stay as an elite receiver was short-lived, and he struggled with drops in ensuing seasons. Edwards only had 15 touchdowns over the rest of his career and had a string of off-the-field issues, including multiple arrests.
He didn’t even survive the NFL until his 30th birthday and was out of the league in 2012.
6. Larry Hughes
Team: Washington Wizards
Key stats: Averaged 22.0 points per game. Led league in steals per game (2.9). All-Defensive First Team.
Bottom line: Larry Hughes always was considered an underachiever who never reached his full potential — until the 2004-05 season.
He had a 14.1 career scoring average prior to that season, then posted career highs in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game. In addition, he had a defensive season for the ages as his 2.9 steals per game not only led the league, but remain the highest average of any player in the last 25 seasons.
Hughes went to a better team the following season and played alongside LeBron James with the Cavaliers, but Hughes never reached anything like his 04-05 season.
5. Peyton Hillis
Team: Cleveland Browns
Key stats: Rushed for 1,177 yards. Scored 11 rushing touchdowns. Had five 100-yard games.
Bottom line: Peyton Hillis played in the same backfield at Arkansas as Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, so Hillis was overlooked when he entered the NFL.
He was a little-used fullback in his first two seasons but then joined the Browns in 2010, and injuries propelled him to the top of the depth chart. He ran for 144 yards in his first start and over 100 yards in his second, which cemented him as the team’s starting running back.
He posted over 1,600 yards from scrimmage on the year and became a folk hero, even landing on the cover of Madden the following year.
However, perhaps due to the Madden curse, or rather teams figuring Hillis out, he never came close to the same kind of success. Hillis actually had more yards from scrimmage in the 2010 season than he had over the remainder of his career combined, and he played until 2014.
4. Bob Welch
Team: Oakland Athletics
Key stats: Won AL Cy Young award. Pos27-6 record. Led AL in win percentage (.818).
Bottom line: In the last 50 major league seasons, no pitcher has won more games than Bob Welch did in 1990. His 27 wins are 10 more than he had in any other season, and he got all of the fortuitous breaks to reach that total.
What makes this one season even flukier is how similar it was to his 1989 season. In that year, he posted a 3.00 ERA and won 17 games. But just one year later, Welch’s ERA lowers incrementally to 2.95 and he wins 27 games.
Baseball is weird like that.
3. Mark O’Meara
Key stats: Winner of the Masters and Open Championship. Tied for fourth in the PGA Championship.
Bottom line: Mark O’Meara spent 18 years on the PGA Tour and never won a major until he developed a friendship with a young Tiger Woods. Woods gave him some tips, and O’Meara implemented those in 1998 by winning not one, but two major championships.
He won the Masters and then a few weeks later won the Open Championship despite not even finishing in the top 25 at either tournament in the previous year.
Those would end up being not only O’Meara’s only two majors. They also were his last two PGA Tour wins.
2. Jeremy Lin
Team: New York Knicks
Key stats: Most points in first five career starts since 1976-77 merger. Averaged 14.6 points per game. Recorded 6.2 assists per game.
Bottom line: Calling Jeremy Lin a one-year wonder might be extending his 15 minutes of fame a little too much. Lin was more of a one-month wonder due to what he did in February 2012.
Forced into playing more due to Knicks injuries, Lin made the most of his opportunity and averaged 22 points and nine assists during the month. "Linsanity" was born, and the second-year player out of Harvard became the darling of New York.
But things changed shortly thereafter. Some injured players such as Carmelo Anthony returned, and a coaching change was made. Lin's scoring decreased, and he averaged 14.6 points per game over the rest of the season, which ended early due to his own injury.
That was Lin’s only season with the Knicks, and he embarked on a journeyman career the next season.
1. Brian Sipe
Team: Cleveland Browns
Key stats: 1980 NFL MVP. Passed for 4,132 passing yards. Had 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions.
Bottom line: Brian Sipe was a 13th-round draft pick in 1972, so not much was expected of him. He didn’t play his first snap until 1974 and became the Browns' starter in 1976 thanks to an injury to the incumbent.
In fact, Sipe had more interceptions than touchdowns through the first six seasons of his career, but he caught lightning in a bottle in 1980. The Browns made the postseason for the first time in nine years, and Sipe led the way by leading the NFL in passer rating. He threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and won the league’s MVP with 47 of the 64 first-place votes.
Even Sipe was surprised to win the award, but he came back down to earth the following season by leading the league in interceptions. Not only did Sipe never come close to winning another MVP award, but he never even made another Pro Bowl in any season.