The Simpsons‘ best efforts at telling stories about popular sports rival what many consider the best episodes of the series, in every way that counts. One of the many, many reasons why The Simpsons is one of the greatest adult animated series is because it was able to make fun of every facet of American society. Sports are integral to the national identity, so they’re regularly targeted in the show.
Parodies of real people, legendary cameos, and satirical elements abound; but The Simpsons also skillfully infuses the suspense, emotional conflict, and unexpected twists that an exciting game of football or baseball might have. Simply put, the episodes that revolve around sports both make fun of and draw tension from their main events.
- Release Date
- December 17, 1989
- Main Genre
10 “Saturdays of Thunder”
Season 3, Episode 9
In “Saturdays of Thunder,” Bart decides to build himself a soap box derby racer in the garage. In the meantime, Homer gets hauled away to the National Fatherhood Institute, where the guy in charge suggests he help Bart out with his race car, so they can bond more. But Homer is no good at building things, so Lil’ Lightnin’ looks awful. The first race displays how Nelson’s death-mobile and whip fare against Martin’s extremely fast vehicle. The subsequent crash is funny, too.
Martin’s stress fracture leaves him out of the finals, so he lends his racer to Bart (they both just want Nelson to lose). Bart needs his father’s support, though, which Homer is reluctant to give. But when he sees his father in the stands, Bart once again possesses the drive (pun intended) to win the race. As the announcer indicates, the ensuing duel is like a chariot race out of Ben-Hur, and his victory comes with a valuable lesson about father-son bonding.
9 “The Homer They Fall”
Season 8, Episode 3
In “The Homer They Fall,” Homer takes a beating by three guys who nevertheless don’t knock him down. Impressed, Moe offers to be Homer’s boxing manager for a totally-fair sixty-percent cut of the profits. Dr. Hibbert diagnoses him with the rare Homer Simpson Syndrome (“Why me?”), which gives his brain an abnormal amount of protection. So the game plan is simple: stand still, and let the other boxer punch himself out. It’s basically the premise of Rocky III‘s final fight, and it’s hilarious every time.
It works so well that Moe eventually gets pressured into letting Homer fight Drederick Tatum, an intimidating Mike Tyson parody who just got out of prison for pushing his own mother down the stairs. Moe feels guilty about it from the start, but the money is too tempting. With Why Can’t We Be Friends? as his theme song, Homer might not survive the expected three rounds. Moe does the right thing in the end, and in spectacular fashion. Extra points for the end credit shots of an airborne Moe doing good deeds around the world.
8 “Bart Star”
Season 9, Episode 6
In “Bart Star,” Homer signs his son up for Pee Wee football to get him in shape. With Flanders as the coach and Nelson as quarterback, the team is unstoppable. Unfortunately, Homer heckles Flanders to the point where Flanders quits. Now that he’s in charge, Homer proceeds to cut a comical number of players and make Bart quarterback. Let the hostility begin.
Bart’s first game is a disaster, making everyone on the team hate him. One of the best scenes is when Bart asks Hall of Famer Joe Namath for advice. Joe tells him there’s only one thing he needs to know, but leaves before saying what that is. After Bart quits, Homer learns his mistake in valuing his child over others (something so many parents do in sports). Bart does wind up helping the team win the final game, though, emphasizing how everyone should play to their strengths. Also, “Bart Star” features one of the most unique end credits in The Simpsons canon, as Homer tells every name that pops up that they’re cut from the team.
7 “Life in the Fast Lane”
Season 1, Episode 9
Lust and sports mingle in this Season 1 strike of an episode, “Life in the Fast Lane.” Homer selfishly gets his wife a bowling ball for her birthday, expecting her to just let him have it. Well, Marge has a knack for protesting in unexpected and surprisingly effective ways. To spite Homer, she decides to keep the ball and practice with it at Barney’s Bowlarama. She winds up getting lessons from Jacques, who obviously wants to be more than just her teacher.
One memorable lesson includes them getting on their knees and caressing the lane, so smooth “you could eat off of it.” Marge is usually very forgiving of Homer, but the thrill of bowling and getting attention from someone who actually buys her something she wants tempts her to cheat. There is no sports-related climax, but bowling is undoubtedly the catalyst of the episode’s conflict and rolls it towards a funny, heartwarming, and victorious end.
6 “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment”
Season 2, Episode 13
Live from Las Vegas, The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out between Watson and Tatum will air live Friday night—”and this time it’s for money.” Since it’s only on The Blockbuster Channel, Homer will be using his illegal cable connection to host a watch party. Season 2’s “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” does an excellent job of parodying boxing promotional events, as when both fighters dedicate their match to the same guy and get into a scrap over it.
Everybody comes to watch the fight: Lenny, Barney, Moe, and Mr. Burns to name a few. Even two policemen show up. Lisa makes Homer feel guilty about stealing cable, however, so he leaves before the fight begins. Though the audience doesn’t get to see any of the action, the episode wonderfully portrays how the camaraderie of a highly anticipated sports event can bring people of different classes and distinctions together. (But stealing is still wrong, of course.)
5 “Dancin’ Homer”
Season 2, Episode 5
“Dancin’ Homer” has a structure rarely used throughout the series’ history. It’s told in retrospect, as Homer takes the role of a guy sitting at the bar and telling his friends the story of when he was a big shot once. He used to be a mascot for Springfield’s local baseball team, dancing poorly on top of the dugout with all the fans cheering. Eventually, he gets sent to Capital City’s team, which led to a welcome Tony Bennett cameo and Homer’s subsequent failure to make it in the majors.
Featuring a very forward autograph, a jumbo-tron embarrassment, lots of heckling, an iconic 26-minute performance of the National Anthem by Bleeding Gums Murphy, and an opening pitch by Mr. Burns that’s just as bad as you think it is, this “Homer” of an episode perfectly captures the thrill of a good baseball game. There is no subplot here, either; it’s all about sports. The remarkable craft on display here illustrates why Season 2 ranks among the best seasons of The Simpsons.
4 “Lisa the Greek”
Season 3, Episode 14
In its very first scene, “Lisa the Greek” perfectly encapsulates the poor eating habits that come with watching football all day: Homer is surrounded by heavily-salted snacks on the couch, and starts reaching for all of them so quickly that he resembles a yellow octopus. However, the main subject of this underappreciated masterpiece is compulsive sports gambling. Homer has trouble choosing the right predictions from hysterically unreliable commentators who use silly props, including the Lock of the Week, the Shoe-In of the Week, and the Gamble-Tron 2000.
Turns out Lisa’s a natural, though. What she calls the “savage ballet that is pro football” becomes a great bonding activity between her and her father. Sunday becomes Daddy-Daughter Day, but soon enough, Lisa finds that Homer only spends time with her for her betting prowess. When the Super Bowl comes around, the winner will clarify whether Lisa still loves her father or not. The emotional stakes align with the game accordingly, and allow for a touching ending to a brilliant episode that still makes time to send up the “never-tedious Super Bowl Halftime show.”
3 “Lisa on Ice”
Season 6, Episode 8
Lisa’s failing gym, so her teacher tells her to join a Pee Wee team outside of school. Unfortunately, she can’t dribble and single-handedly ruins the volleyball season. Meanwhile, Homer puts way too much pressure on Bart in the hockey league. Watching an injured Milhouse tied to the goalposts in lieu of a backup goalie is fantastic, but Apu luckily finds a replacement in Lisa. At first, she’s understandably afraid of getting hit by the puck, but she’s also a phenom. Hence, the title, “Lisa on Ice.”
Lisa’s terrific games only make Homer dial up the pressure on his kids. All about the hockey season, this episode’s message about favoritism and unhealthy competition are loud and clear. Eventually, Lisa’s team faces Bart’s in a game that perfectly lampoons the crowd chants, national anthem, and hostility between the teams. When it finally comes down to a penalty shot in the third period, Bart and Lisa shock everybody. It’s one of The Simpsons’ most touching (and chaotic) endings, making for one of the Simpson siblings’ best episodes.
2 “Homer at the Bat”
Season 3, Episode 17
“Homer at the Bat” contains enough MLB cameos to make your head spin. The Springfield Powerplant’s baseball team is having a tremendous season, but Mr. Burns wants to make sure he wins the championship (he made a rather hefty wager). So he gets Darryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, José Conseco, Mike Scioscia, and other famous talents to join the roster. This, of course, means that all the guys who deserve to play are benched.
It’s fun to watch these professional players so easily say yes to such a silly offer, but the hypnotist and surprisingly tasty nerve-tonic are just as absurd. Needless to say, Burns isn’t the easiest manager to work with. His outbursts towards a very confused Don Mattingly show how relentless micromanaging can make a boss conjure complaints about non-existent problems – Mattingly still likes him better than Steinbrenner, though. To top it off, this Season 3 all-star ends with one of the best songs in the series.
1 “Dead Putting Society”
Season 2, Episode 6
“Dead Putting Society” shows how even miniature golf can leave a crowd breathless with anticipation. Homer feels inadequate next to Flanders and his perfect family, so he’s going to use an upcoming mini-golf tournament to fix that. An unconfident Bart will have to defeat putting-prodigy Todd Flanders. So Lisa helps her brother with books, enlightening riddles, and simple geometry. The training process is so comprehensive that viewers can follow how Bart changes his mindset to improve his game: a character arc that’s on par with Bart’s best episodes.
An unusually frustrated Flanders and Homer make a bet with pretty high stakes. The tension is palpable, yet Bart wills himself into a state of nirvana to play. The commentary, the audience, and the fact that Flanders is just as passionate about winning as Homer make for a very suspenseful climax. The admirable display of sportsmanship on the last hole would be emulated by “Lisa on Ice” four seasons later, and the clever ending makes this episode a true hole-in-one.