A debut for a new club or in a new league can carry a unique amount of pressure for the player making their first appearance in a new uniform. These players may be unfamiliar with their surroundings and teammates, but are still expected to perform at the level that fans are accustomed to seeing displayed on the field of play. While sports history has certainly seen its share of phenomenal debut performances, underwhelming performances are much more common. This list will deal with only the absolute worst performances in the history of sport.
In many cases, the pressure of being expected to perform under the watchful eyes of a new group of fans can be overwhelming for an athlete. The burden to perform is always present, but when athletes are left to dwell on it for too long it can have serious detrimental effects on their individual performances. Some of these athletes were able to shake off their poor debut and display their overall quality in future performances. In other cases, these underwhelming debut performances highlighted their shortcomings and were a sign of things to come.
Whatever the reason for these awful debut performances, athletes must be ready to overcome these obstacles to perform in the future. Athletes cannot afford to give attention to these past performances, but they can still weigh heavily on the minds of fans and pundits alike. Many all-time greats have gone on to have successful careers after embarrassing debuts, while others have crashed out of their respective leagues following a string of below average games. Here are the worst debuts in sports history.
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15 Johnny Manziel – Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel has entered the NFL with a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed. Over 20 quarterbacks have come and gone in Cleveland since they returned to the NFL in 1999. Manziel was given the opportunity to start in Cleveland’s Week 15 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. Cleveland’s offense has struggled significantly in recent weeks, and the introduction of Johnny Football as the starting quarterback did little to change that. Manziel went 10 for 18 passing for only 80 yards and two interceptions. The Browns were shutout 30-0, but he remains the leading option for the Browns at quarterback despite the poor debut performance.
14 Troy Aikman – Dallas Cowboys
One quarterback who had an underwhelming debut performance, but went on to achieve greatness is Troy Aikman. Aikman was the first overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and was almost immediately thrown into the fire by the Cowboys. In his Week 1 debut, Aikman went 17 for 35 passing for only 180 yards while throwing two interceptions. The Cowboys were shutout 28-0 by the New Orleans Saints, and he would not win a game during his rookie campaign as a starter. The next year, the Cowboys drafted Emmitt Smith and they would go onto win three Super Bowls together.
13 Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers were expected to struggle in the 2014-15 season, despite Kobe Bryant passing Michael Jordan for 3rd all-time in NBA scoring. The burden became monumental for the Lakers when their 7th overall pick, Julius Randle, broke his leg in his NBA debut. Randle is a highly touted power forward out of the University of Kentucky that played only 14 minutes in his debut before succumbing to injury halfway through the 4th quarter. Randle was only 1 for 3 from the field, scoring only two points in his debut and will have to wait a long time before stepping onto the court again.
12 Ali Dia – Southampton
The circumstances surrounding Ali Dia’s free transfer to Southampton were suspicious, with Dia convincing manager Graeme Souness that he was the nephew of African footballing legend George Weah, and that he had been on the fringes of the squad at Paris Saint-Germain. Dia was signed without a tryout to a one month contract, but it became apparent on his debut against Leeds that he was obviously not Premier League quality. After a shambolic display, he was substituted after just 22 minutes on the pitch. He was released from his contract, but managed to earn a contract with Gateshead.
11 Tiger Woods – PGA Tour
Tiger Woods entered the PGA Tour as one of the most highly touted amateur golfers in history. His father had been bragging for years that he was the next big golf sensation, and he wasn’t wrong. However, Woods’ debut performance was far from what we later came to expect from Tiger. At the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, Woods shot a 67 in the first round, followed by a 69, 73, and 68 in the next four rounds. The 7-under par 277 was 12 shots off the pace, but enough for 60th at the tournament. The performance earned him a $2,544 paycheck, far lower than the $60 million in endorsement deals he had already been offered that week.
10 Henrik Larsson – Celtic
Henrik Larsson is now a Celtic Football Club legend, but the start of his career with the club was not a sign of the great things to come. He came on to the pitch late in the match against Scottish rivals Hibernian and had about as poor of a debut as one can imagine. Larsson attempted a pass to a teammate, but accidently passed the ball directly to the Hibs’ Chic Charnley, who went on to score the winning goal in Celtic’s 2-1 defeat. Thankfully Larsson would buck that trend and go on to score 174 league goals for the club.
9 Antawn Jamison – Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers were attempting to attract LeBron James into staying in Cleveland by helping him win an NBA Championship in 2010. To do this, they orchestrated a three team trade for Antawn Jamison. It was immediately apparent that Jamison was not the solution to their problems. Jamison went 0 for 12 from the field in over 26 minutes of work against the Charlotte Bobcats and scored only two points from the free throw stripe. This failure of this deal eventually led to LeBron leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers.
8 Lionel Messi – Argentina
It is unusual for an 18-year-old player to make his international debut, but Lionel Messi has been anything from ordinary during his career as a footballer. He entered the Argentina setup during the 65th minute of a match against Hungary, but less than two minutes later was dismissed with a straight red card. Messi was dribbling through the center of the pitch when he elbowed Vilmos Vanczak in the face as the defender tugged on his jersey from behind. Messi was reportedly found crying in the locker room after the match.
7 Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford is now considered one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but his debut with the Detroit Lions was one of the worst in NFL history. During the Week 1 clash between the Lions and the New Orleans Saints, Stafford threw three interceptions and went 16 of 37 passing for only 205 yards. The dismal 27.4 quarterback rating was one of the low points of the 45-27 loss, but Stafford showed signs of improvement towards the tail end of his rookie campaign.
6 Alex Smith – San Francisco 49ers
When Alex Smith made his first NFL start in Week 5 of the 2005 season against the Indianapolis Colts, he was facing off against the legendary Peyton Manning. Smith certainly came up short in comparison, as his team fell 28-3 against the Colts. Smith threw for a paltry 74 yards on 23 passing attempts, only completing nine of them. Smith also threw four interceptions in the game for a quarterback rating of 8.5. The performance made many in San Francisco immediately regret passing on Aaron Rodgers.
5 Don Gault – Cleveland Browns
Don Gault struggled to make the team for the Cleveland Browns for two years before being given an opportunity to start in Week 3 of the 1970 NFL Season. Facing off against fellow rookie, Terry Bradshaw, Gault delivered one of the worst performances in NFL history. Gault went 1 for 16 passing for only 44 yards and threw two interceptions. His quarterback rating for that dismal performance was a 0.0, and he was taken out at halftime.
4 Bill Baker – Montreal Canadiens
Being an enforcer in the NHL is one of the most difficult jobs in professional sports. During the heyday of the NHL enforcer in the 1970’s, it was a valuable position for hockey teams to employ. Bill Baker learned the demands of the job in his first game with the Montreal Candiens against the mighty Broad Street Bullies of the Philadelphia Flyers. Baker fought three times during his debut, losing all three bouts. The first one against Tim Kerr left him bloodied and required five stitches. His second bout against Mike Busniuk left him needing another nine stiches, before another bout with Kerr left him with a broken nose and in need of three more stitches.
3 Anthony Bennett – Cleveland Cavaliers
It is still early in Anthony Bennett’s NBA career, but he is beginning to look like one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Bennett’s debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season was a true struggle with Bennett going 0 for 5 on field goals, and going 2 for 4 from the free throw line in nearly 15 minutes on the court. Bennett did not make a field goal until the 5th game of his NBA career and that was after going scoreless in his previous three games.
2 Brandon Weeden – Cleveland Browns
As a 29-year-old rookie, Brandon Weeden was yet another in the long line of unsuccessful Cleveland Browns quarterbacks. The Browns faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles in their 2012 season debut, with Weeden leading the offense. Weeden went 12 for 35 passing for only 118 yards, while throwing four interceptions. Despite the turnovers, the Browns were still in a positon to win on their last drive of the game, but Weeden’s interception sealed the loss for Cleveland.
1 Jonathan Woodgate – Real Madrid
When Jonathan Woodgate was signed to Real Madrid from Newcastle United for £13.4 million, it raised eyebrows around England. Woodgate was a good defender, but prone to injury and certainly not up to the standard expected during Madrid’s Galacticos era. It took over a year for Woodgate to debut because of injury and fitness concerns, but he finally made his debut for Madrid against Athletic Bilbao in September 2005. Woodgate quickly conceded a spectacular own goal before receiving a yellow card. He capped off the performance with a second yellow card and his dismissal in what is likely the worst debut performance in football history.
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