Thursday, July 29, 2010

10 Greatest Sports Comebacks of ALL TIME

From True/Slant on May 15, 2010:

10 Greatest Comebacks in Sports History (& Where the Flyers Rank)

The Philadelphia Flyers, unholy visigoths adorned in Halloween colors, have added a chapter to the greatest comebacks in sports history with their 4-3 victory at the Boston Bruins, coming back from a 3-0 first period deficit, to complete the comeback in a series in which they were down three games to none. Where does it rank in terms of all time greatest comebacks?

10. 2005 Illinois Illini over the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tourney. Channing Frye’s Cats had a 15-point lead going into the final four minutes. The game? It was over. Until Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams started draining every shot they took and Frye started missing layups. Head created a turnover and then dished to Williams, who hit a three pointer to tie the game. The game went to OT before the Illini won by a score of 90-89. Basketball comebacks are just so much fun. I don’t know that this one has as much historical weight as many of the others on the list, but it’s here because it was just such a wild ride.

9. 1995 Indiana Pacers over the New York Knicks, Eastern Conference Semifinals. Knicks fans hate Reggie Miller with the heat of a 1,000 suns. They hate him so much that ESPN made it the subject of one of their 30 for 30 documentaries. The bad blood wouldn’t be enough to warrant mention on this list, but Miller’s performance in Game 1 of the E.C. Semifinals does. Single-handedly, Miller lead his team to a stunning 107-105 last second victory over the Knicks in the Garden. With 18.7 seconds left, the Knicks lead by six points. Miller kicked into action, hit a three point shot, stole the ensuing inbounds pass, dribbled back behind the three point line, and hit that three-pointer. Miller then hit both free-throws to put the Pacers ahead for the win and up 1-0 in the series. Like I said, basketball comebacks are just so much fun.

8. 1972 Dallas Cowboys Divisional Playoff Victory over the San Francisco 49ers, a/k/a the emergence of Captain Comeback. In the 4th quarter of this 1972 Divisional Playoff Game, the 49ers had built a comfortable 28-13 lead. Pokes coach Tom Landry finally pulled Craig Morton from the game and replaced him with Roger Staubach, who lead the Cowboys to score 17 unanswered points, throwing two touchdown passes with less than two minutes remaining for a 30–28 win. The legend of Captain Comeback is born.

7. 1984 Maryland Terrrapins over the Miami Hurricanes, a/k/a, the Frank Reich game. Bernie Kosar had staked the U to a lead of 31-0. Finally, backup quarterback Frank Reich came into the game for Maryland and completed 12 of 15 passes in the second half, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. With the score 34-28 Miami, Reich hit Greg Hill with a 68-yard touchdown pass (which deflected off the hands of Miami safety Darrell Fullington) to take the lead. Maryland scored once more to cap an incredible 42-9 second half, and won the game by a final of 42-40.

6. 1975 New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Conference semi-finals. Pittsburgh didn’t merely hold a 3-0 lead over the Islanders, they were abusing them. Through the first three games, the Islanders had never led the Pens for single second. Then they won Game 4 on home ice. No biggie. Then Game 5 in Pittsburgh. Um … nah. Never happen. They won Game 6 easily back in New York. Game 7 was scoreless well into the game, into the third period, as the Pens hit about a hundred posts before the Isles got the game winner from Ed Westfall. Depending on your perspective, it was either the worst choke job of the decade or the greatest comeback. The most colorful part of the story comes courtesy of George Plimpton’s Open Net: ” … the New York Islanders carried around a fifty-pound sack of elephant dung to bring them luck. It has mysteriously arrived special delivery when the club was three games down to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It came with no return address in a big potato sack. Nobody knew who had sent it, or the significance of it being sent. Obviously, it could have been an indication of someone’s extreme displeasure. … So they took the sack to Pittsburgh and it worked. By then a talisman of high value, it disappeared just before the final playoff game with the Philadelphia Flyers.” (which, it should be noted, the Isles lost.)

5. 1972 Olympic runner, Lasse Viren of Finland. Competing in the 10,000-meter final, he tripped and fell while tangling his feet with Frank Shorter. He was done. But he got up and gained on the pack in front of him. Then he passed them. In the bell lap, he just blew away the field and is all alone crossing the finish line. It’s right out of “Chariots of Fire.”

4. 1993 Buffalo Bills over the Houston Oilers Wildcard Playoff Game. The second Frank Reich Game. Things couldn’t have been bleaker. The Oilers led 35-3 early in the second half. Bills QB Jim Kelly was injured. Linebacker Cornelius Bennett was injured. Thurman Thomas played sparingly. The only thing that could have made things more depressing would have been a plague of locusts descending from the sky. The blowout was that biblical. Then Reich drove the team for one touchdown. 35-10. Steve Christie recovered his own on-side kick and Reich hit Don Beebe for a TD. 35-17. The Bills D forced the Oilers to punt. Reich hit another TD pass, this one to Andre Reed. 35-24. And it was still the third quarter. No. Freaking. Way. Henry Jones picked off Warren Moon, setting up Reich at the Houston 23 yard line. Another TD pass to Reed. 35-31. The Oilers missed a FG and the Bills got another TD (again from Reich to Reed). The Bills were ahead for the first time. 38-35. The Oilers tied the game to send it to OT and won the coin toss. It looked like they might avert disaster, but Moon threw an errant pass setting up the Bills in FG range and Christie completed the most ridiculous, unlikely, unbelievable comeback in NFL history.

3. 2010 Philadelphia Flyers Eastern Conference Semifinals over the Boston Bruins. Though the Flyers and the B’s no longer play in the same division, the bad blood between the two goes back generations, at least to the Broad Street Bullies era. But nothing that team ever did will hurt Boston fans like this series will. This will haunt them for the rest of their lives and well into the afterlife. It took a miracle OT win in Game 4 to get the Flyers comeback rolling. Then the Flyers lost netminder Brian Boucher in the Game 5 victory and back-up Michael Leighton stepped up in the Game 6 nail-biter. In a fit of melodrama, the Flyers came back from a score of 3-0 in Game 7, getting the game winner from Simon Gagne, who had come back early from injury (and also scored the OT winner in Game 4.) It is the stuff movies are made of. Bad movies. Unbelievable movies. The kind of movies that are so bad they go straight to video. Philly fans should never whine or complain about their hard luck ever again.

2. 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Believe it or not, I wasn’t alive to see this one. Though the actual games didn’t seem to be as dramatic as 1975 Islanders, this was, after all, for Lord Stanley’s Cup and all the guacamole it can hold. But since I wasn’t around for this, here’s the take of Joe Pelletier of Hockeylegends:

"The year is 1942. The NHL witnesses the greatest comeback in the history of professional sports in North America.

Entering game 4, the Leafs were on the verge of imminent elimination. The Detroit Red Wings had convincing victories in each of the first three contests, and held the series in a 3-0 stranglehold.

Cue the Leafs comeback. Coach Hap Day benches regulars for game four and inserted rookies who responded to win game after game, coming all the way back to take game 7! They were the first team in hockey history to win a series after being down 3 games to none. …

Goaltender Turk Brodawas so good in the final 4 games of the finals that they actually engraved his name on the Cup twice. It was actually an oversight."

1. 2004 Boston Red Sox. Yeah, everybody is beyond their saturation point with the Sox stuff, Sweet Caroline, the Cask & Flagon, the Green Monster, Dan Shaunessy and the Dennis Leary truck ads. But these were New York Yankees we were talking about, a team that had tormented Boston fans for generations and generations, the team that always won in the end, no matter how heroic or beloved the Boston players. The inevitability of the Yankees victory was certain. The history of the match-up, and the fact that the 2004 Sox actually won the World Series, puts this at the top of the list.

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