The 10 Biggest Sports Comebacks of All Time

Next time you’re thinking of quitting, consider these turnarounds.

In my junior year of high school, my soccer team, Champaign Central, was getting our asses kicked 3-0 by Normal U High. Our teammates were arguing with each other. Our opponents were laughing at us. Then something strange happened. Our sweeper dribbled the ball up the field and fired an ambitious shot from 30 yards out. It took a weird bounce in front of the goalkeeper and popped over his head and into the goal.

Suddenly we started to believe. So did our handful of fans (read: parents). We scored again. I’m not exactly sure how. But now it was U High’s players that were bickering. We scored again and, in the final minutes, we put in a rebound off a free kick to take the lead. We ended up winning 4-3, and it’s easily the most satisfying achievement of my long-ago high school soccer career.

The point of this modest Midwest anecdote: Everyone loves a good comeback story. Except for the team getting comebacked on. But let’s not focus on those teams. Or the fact that “comebacked” isn’t a word. Instead, let’s go ahead and take a look at the ten biggest comebacks in sports history, with both words and video. Because watching sports highlights is fun. And the next time you’re contemplating quitting something, think about these competitions first. And push on. Or don’t. Sometimes quitting can be a good thing. We don’t know your situation.

1. Bills vs. Oilers, 1992 AFC Wild Card Game

You know that expression “tale of two halves”? This was a tale of two halves. Houston led 28-3 at halftime, and a pick six early in the third quarter made it 35-3 Oilers. That’s when Bills backup QB Frank Reich started to do his impression of a much better quarterback than himself, threading the needle for four touchdown passes, three of them to Andre Reed. Doug Christie hit a field goal in OT to give the Bills the largest comeback in NFL history. Which is why it’s known simply as The Comeback. Except in Houston, where it’s known as The Choke. (No, really, it is.)

Fun nugget from Wikipedia: Here’s what Bills coach Marv Levy apparently told his team at halftime. (Warning: the following speech is very Gene Hackman-ian. It may cause goosebumps, blurry eyes and/or the sense that you can run through a brick wall.) “You’ve got thirty more minutes. Maybe it’s the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season’s over, you’re going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You’d well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.”

2. Red Sox vs. Yankees, 2004 ALCS

Everybody knows about David Ortiz’s heroics in this series, digging the Red Sox out of a 3-0 hole with a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 4 and a game-winning single in the 14th inning of Game 5 (the longest game in MLB postseason history at the time, by the way, at five hours and 49 minutes). And everybody knows about Curt Schilling’s gutty performance in Game 6, when he pitched seven innings with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle that bloodied his sock (unless it wasn’t blood at all, but rather corn syrup or something).

But don’t forget about the contributions of Dave Roberts and Bill Mueller in the ninth inning of Game 4. Because if it weren’t for them, the series would’ve been over before Big Papi and Curt and his torn tendon sheath could’ve done a damn thing about it. Watch the above video for a refresher.

And, OK, watch the video below to soak up some Papi-ness.

3. Liverpool vs. AC Milan, 2005 UEFA Champions League Final

The Champions League tournament, for those not familiar, is Europe’s premier club soccer competition. Essentially, the winner of this tournament is the best soccer team in the world for that year. (Yes, even better than the MLS champ.)

In 2005, AC Milan and Liverpool met in the Champions League final in Istanbul, Turkey. AC Milan scored within the first minute and led at halftime 3-0. How did Liverpool fans react? By serenading Liverpool players with the team’s theme song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The ditty seemed to do the trick—or something worked—because Liverpool stormed back, scoring three goals in a six-minute span in the second half and getting a huge double-save from goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek on AC Milan super-striker Andriy Shevchenko in extra time. Liverpool won on penalties 3-2 when Dudek stopped Shevchenko from point-blank range yet again. Shevchenko may remember this game as a nightmare, but almost everyone else refers to it as the Miracle of Istanbul.

4. Kentucky vs. LSU, 1994

We’re not sure what’s more amazing. The fact that Kentucky erased a 31-point deficit in the second half to defeat LSU… or the shorts Kentucky was wearing when they did it. (Or, okay, the fact that an LSU basketball team led a Kentucky basketball team by 31 points at any time, in any game. And it didn’t even include Shaquille O’Neal.) One thing we do know is, LSU fans went from being delirious—seriously, listen to them in this video—to being a lot less loud. Perhaps YouTube commenter Logan Boyd sums it up best: “I was there. I was sad.”

5. Michigan State vs. Northwestern, 2006

Speaking of teams that had no business leading other teams by so many points, in 2006 the Northwestern Wildcats were beating the Michigan State Spartans 38-3 in the third quarter. That’s when Michigan State remembered who they were and who they were facing, and they started piling up touchdowns.

With 3:32 left, the game was tied and the Wildcats had the ball. Did they score? Of course not. They threw an interception and the Spartans kicked a field goal to win the game. Making it the greatest comeback (yet sort of the most predictable comeback) in college football history.

Note: Although the point discrepancy wasn’t quite as large, a much more shocking—read: better—college football comeback happened in 1984, when Maryland bounced back from a 31-0 halftime deficit to beat the previously undefeated Miami Hurricanes, led by Bernie Kosar and coach Jimmy Johnson and coach Jimmy Johnson’s hair. In their unlikely rally, the Terrapins leaned heavily on a backup quarterback, who threw six touchdown passes in the second half. His name? Frank motherf’ing Reich.

6. Flyers vs. Bruins, 2010 NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals

What goes around comes around, eh? Boston sports fans were elated when their Red Sox climbed out of an 0-3 quagmire to send the Yankees packing, but when their beloved Bruins crashed and burned after leading 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals versus Philadelphia, they were less pumped.

The Flyers were the third NHL team to come back from 3-0 to win a seven-game series—the Maple Leafs did it in 1942 (in the Stanley Cup finals) and the Islanders did it in 1975—but they get the edge for us because they also trailed 3-0 in Game 7 before eventually winning 4-3. It was a comeback to cap a comeback. So meta. Plus, by choosing this one, we get to show you this sweet video, which is set to music from Rocky, naturally.

7. Pacers vs. Knicks, 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Semi

Six points seems like a safe lead with 18.7 seconds to play. But it wasn’t safe for the Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis in 1995 against the Pacers. Pacers sharpshooter Reggie Miller nailed a three, stole the inbounds pass and nailed another three. And after two missed free-throws by John Starks and a missed 10-footer by Patrick Ewing, Miller sunk two free-throws to give the Pacers a victory—and leave Knicks coach Pat Riley with an expression that said, “What just happened?”

Note: While Miller’s eight points in the final 18.7 seconds were impressive, do not overlook the feat of Knicks guard Greg Anthony, who managed to stumble twice in the same amount of time. Not sure if he had on the wrong shoes or what.

Note II: While you might think this is the game when Reggie Miller flashed the choke sign at Knicks superfan Spike Lee, that actually took place a year earlier in the Eastern Conference finals, when Miller poured in 25 in the fourth quarter to lead his Pacers to a Game 5 win and a 3-2 lead in the series. But the Knicks would eventually win the series 4-3. So really, it was sort of the Pacers who choked.

8. Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe, 1984 French Open Final

John McEnroe hadn’t lost a match all year and appeared to be cruising toward a French Open title against Ivan Lendl, easily winning the first two sets 6-3 and 6-2. But after McEnroe got into an argument with a cameraman (so unlike the American), Lendl began to climb back. He won the next three sets 6-4, 7-5 and 7-5 to capture the first of his eight Grand Slam crowns (which is one more than McEnroe holds). All of which is to say: If you ever run into Johnny Mac, don’t bring up this match. He seemed about as happy to receive the second-place trophy as a guy who… well, isn’t happy at all to receive something.

Note: Four years later, McEnroe and Lendl played another incredible match at Roland Garros. In this one, McEnroe gets into a rather amusing argument with the umpire—it’s in this video, starting at the 3:30 mark—to the disapproval of a whistling Parisian crowd, who didn’t like that he was complaining about a Lendl shot that was ruled in. This was of course pre-Hawk-Eye technology. And also pre-not wearing sweater vests in competitive tennis matches.

9. Gary Player, 1978 Masters

Going into the final day at Augusta, Gary Player trailed the defending champion Tom Watson by seven strokes and sat in 10th place. But the South African didn’t throw in the golf towel. Instead, he rattled off six birdies in the last nine holes and won the tournament by a stroke. In the process, he also earned his caddy enough money for a house (see above video). Play on, Player.

10. Lasse Virén, 1972 Summer Olympics

Most of the time when you fall down during a race, it kills your chances of winning. But that wasn’t the case for Finland’s Lasse Virén at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. During the 12th lap of the 10,000-meter final, Virén tripped and fell. (You can see the fall at the 20-second mark of the sorta creepy video above.)

But he quickly got back to his feet and caught up with the pack. He ended up winning the race and setting a world record in the process. Even more incredible? He also won the 5,000-meter race that year, becoming only the fourth Olympian to pull off the double. Even more incredible? He won both races again at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Even more incredible? You had never heard of this guy. Probably because he’s from Finland.

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