Friday Fives: Sports Comebacks

October Nights




As the self-appointed counter to the homerism that runs rampant in this blog (myself included), expect some anti-Boston sentiment in my chosen comebacks. Just know that it almost physically pains me to do it. It’s pretty obvious what my actual list of greatest comebacks would look like, but I have to at least pretend to stay objective, right? These are the best comebacks of my lifetime, because, well, I remember them the best and I got to experience them instead of just reading about them.  Comebacks are nice heart warming stories that have fairy tale endings.  Well f*ck that.  Let’s talk about those who never came back.  Careers that ended prematurely and sometimes in horror.  Not all sports stories end well and sometimes fans and franchises alike can have the proverbial carpet pulled from underneath them.  Here’s my top 5 athletes who never made it back to the top.  Comebacks, the things that great Sleigh Bells songs and bad David Koechner movies are made of. They’re what keeps fans watching sporting events until the exact second that the outcome is determined, just to ensure that if there was any comeback for the ages it would be witnessed live. As a lifelong Boston resident and sports fan there have been a multitude of great comebacks, I’ve compiled my personal top 5 here.
5. Yankees come back from 9-0 seventh inning deficit. In a piece of early foreshadowing of what the Red Sox 2012 season had in store, the rival Yankees, down 9-0 in the seventh inning of an April contest, scored seven runs in both the seventh and eighth innings en route to a 15-9 victory. New York matched its biggest comeback in franchise history, doing so on the strength of two homers from Mark Teixeira and a grand slam from Nick Swisher, all in the last three innings of the game. While Boston fans, already unhappy with new manager Bobby Valentine, ferociously booed every move he made, the Yankees bullpen shut down the Sox offense at the end of the game while their offense’s bats came alive. This was the early favorite for worst defeat in a season full of them. Moving on.  5. Carson Palmer: A once promising franchise quarterback for the lowly Bengals.  The #1 draft pick out of USC started the process that now finds the Bengals as a perrenial contender in the NFC North.  His start with the franchise cannot be overlooked and how valuable it was to making them relevant again.  However, it is undeniable that after his leg injury in his first playoff game against the Steelers his career would never be the same.  While he’s still clearly better than Butt Fumble (never a bad time for this clip) or Blaine Gabbert, he’s clearly no longer a franchise QB you could build around and have reasonable hope that your team is going far in the playoffs.  Palmer had a moment where he got to sniff the elite QB club but that door was shut rather abruptly.  On the bright side at least Carson no longer has to play in Oakland. 5. Flutie’s Hail Mary Pass

As a sports crazed youth growing up in Boston there are always those games you hear accounts, the ones that gave birth to the legendary status of athletes. I remember after Sox fever had taken over me as a grade schooler and hearing about the Bill Buckner game and crying, Ted Williams last at bat when he hit a home run and wanting to go out and swing a bat, Bobby Orr’s soaring goal and not really caring (sorry guys hockey just ain’t my thing), but the Flutie game was something in and of itself. A local kid leading BC to the Orange Bowl, where he gave a new definition to the word miraculous. Now seeing how this occurred in 1984 I was not a live witness to the event, but have seen the replay enough and recreated it in NCAA Football in high school that I have Brent Musberger’s call of the play ingrained in my head. One of the few redeeming things to ever happen that involve Boston College.
4. Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 35 seconds. We covered this in our first ever Throwback Thursday, but I can’t ignore possibly the most clutch and improbable individual performance of my lifetime. T-Mac singlehandedly willed his team to victory – against the Duncan/Popovich Spurs, no less – when, with Houston down by 10 with 35 seconds left, he reeled off these possessions: drilled a three; drilled a three; drilled a three while being fouled, then nailed the free throw; picked off a pass, then drilled a three. In a more important game, this could have gone down as a top-five comeback in NBA history – and might still be up there.  4. Tracy McGrady:  T-Mac had an amazing run as one of the best players and scorers the NBA.  A career that once began as the guy who was Vince Carter cousin’s on that team that plays in Canada.  T-Mac showed his potential during his final season in America’s Hat and the Magic cashed in.  T-Mac’s prime was glorious and he was one of most popular and productive players in the league.  Back and leg issues derailed what was once a career that hoped to give Kobe a sustained rival during his own prime.  Due to his true career ending so abruptly and not having any post season success, his hall of fame chances remain a major question mark.  Seeing him go head to head vs. Durant would have been a treat.  Somebody fire up the 2K and make this happen.
4. Celtics-Lakers 2008
The greatest rivalry in sports was back and better than ever in the 2008 NBA Finals. After Paul Pierce’s Reed-ian return from his injury in Game 1 the C’s won both games in Boston, but lost Game 3 back in LA. Game 4 started out similarly, with the Lakers hopping out to a 24-point first half lead. I remember preparing to switch over to the Sox game that night. But then the C’s started inching back into the game. Eddie House hit some shots his son would have told him not to take, PJ Brown pulling the savvy veteran tricks, next thing you know it was a 2 point game going into the fourth quarter. By the time Ray put them ahead with a 3 pointer the Celtics were up 3 games to 1 on the Lakers, setting themselves up for the blowout win that would be the clincher 2 games later in Beantown, ushering in the culmination of effort for Celtics fans while providing the backdrop for one of the greatest photographs of all time to be taken 
3. Philadelphia Flyers come back from 0-3 deficit to win in 7 games. Six years after watching that other hometown team pull off an epic comeback, Boston fans experienced the other side of the equation as the Flyers became the fourth team in any sport to win a series in which they’d been down 0-3. Philly took advantage of shoddy defense and goaltending to score 15 times in Games 4-7, and were actually down 0-3 in the first period of Game 7 before roaring back to score four unanswered goals – a comeback WITHIN a comeback! (BWAAAAAMM) Of course the sting didn’t last long for Bruins fans (stay objective, Ted…breathe…) and Philly ultimately lost the Stanley Cup Finals, but the 2010 Flyers became part of a highly exclusive club, for which they deserve to be commended. 3. Bill Walton:  Somehow this guy got left off last week’s Friday Fives and I’m here to make ammends! Kind of.  Bill Walton is perhaps one of the most underrated players of all time.  Especially to my generation.  We know him as the outrageous hippie announcer with the unmistakeable voice who was part of John Wooden’s mastery at UCLA but are only vaguely familiar with his pro career.  He won a championship and MVP in Portland as the center piece and another as a 6th man in Boston with Larry Legend.  Foot injuries ruined his overall productivity and h only made 2 All-Star games for his entire career.  He still ended u in the hall of fame and is easily one of the most interesting people I’ve ever heard speak.  Mostly because he sounds stoned all the time.  Here’s a sample and I suggest you raise a glass of Wild Turkey to it as you listen.
3. Celtics-Nets 26 point fourth quarter comeback
I can hear the non-existent nay-sayers I’m creating now-“How do you put a Celtics squad that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals above a team that won it all?” My answer is this-complete subjectivity. I was in the crowd that spring evening (back in the old days when the Celtics played at an arena named after a different corporate bank), and is one of the highlights of my life to this day. It was back in the dark days of the Eastern Conference, when the battle between teams East of the Mississippi was essentially to see who got plane tickets to get beat by the Western Conference winner. Back before the Big 3 era, when it was just the long 3’s of Antoine Walker and the rest of the sabermetrically challenged Celtics team. Going into the fourth quarter down 26 points I was ready to yell some insults at Jason Kidd’s son, and walk across the North End bridge home in my Aeropostale sweatpants, log into AIM, Kazaa some new songs from a hot new rapper named 50 Cent and IMDB Tobey Maguire to find out about this kid who’s going to be playing Spiderman. But Pierce, Rodney Rogers and the rest of Jim O’Brien squad refused to let the Celtics fall, and the greatest 4th quarter comeback in NBA playoff history happened.
2. The Eagles score 28 points in the last eight minutes. In a 2010 hotly-contested Week 15 game against the divisional rival Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles trailed by three touchdowns with eight minutes left in the game. The game seemed out of reach against the Giants defense, but this was Michael Vick’s historic comeback year – another comeback within a comeback! (BWAAAAAAMM) – that fooled Philly into giving him a ridiculously huge and ill-advised contract…anything was possible. Vick kicked off the scoring spree with a 65-yard bomb to Brent Celek, then took it in himself two minutes later after Philly had recovered an onside kick. After the Eagles D forced a punt, Vick hit Jeremy Maclin with just over a minute left, and just like that, the game was tied and New York had blown one of the more winnable games in recent memory. The Eagles again held Eli & Co. to a three-and-out, and with 16 seconds left, the game looked headed to overtime…until DeSean Jackson decided he didn’t want to be there anymore and took matters into his own hands. The Giants foolishly punted to the dynamic returner (remember when he and Vick were fantasy All-Stars?) and he promptly returned it 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with zeroes left on the clock, completing a wild turnaround and leaving the New Jersey crowd stunned. That may have been the last good thing to happen to Eagles fans, but until the Chip Kelly Era starts showing dividends, they’ll always have The Miracle at the New Meadowlands. 2. Mark Prior:  What a stud this guy was huh?  Strasburg before there was a Strasburg.  Great mechanics, throws smoke with a great changeup, and has a deuce to buckle even the best hitters knees.  Things seemed like they couldn’t be more perfect the way things were going being part of a 2 headed monster, along with Kerry Wood, ready to break one of the biggest curses in Baseball.  Then Bartman (line through his name) Dusty Baker happened.  Apparently it’s  not the best strategy to pitch your two best pitchers 9 innings everygame and have them throw 120+ pitches each time out.  But hey baseball has only been around for over 100 years no one could’ve seen that being a bad strategy coming.  Not your fault Dusty.  For all intensive purposes Mark Prior only had 2 true seasons in the majors.  His ROY campaign in 2002 and 2003 when he posted an 18 – 6 mark with almost 250 K’s and an ERA under 2.50.  The question will always remain: What could have been?
2. Pats-Raiders 2002 Tuck Bowl Game

This one not necessarily for the points of the comeback but for the improbability. After the QB controversy surrounding the return of Drew Bledsoe versus the upstart Tom Brady the Patriots managed to get a first round bye and a matchup versus the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional Round. The weather outside was that of one of those days where I refuse to leave my house, but there was a football game to be played. The blizzard like conditions dictated the very low scoring game, and the Patriots were down 3 with less than 2 minutes to play. That’s when Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Tom Brady, who looked to have apparently lost the ball which in turn would have lost the game and ended the Patriots season. But then referee Walt Coleman stepped in, referencing the little known “Tuck Rule” which gave Tom Terrific another chance to win the ball game AND ensured Coleman would never have to pay for a drink in New England again. Brady then lead the Patriots down the field, and Vinatieri hit his first of many game winning field goals to propel the Pats on their way to their Super Bowl win in Louisiana, opening the door to the Decade of Dominance in Boston professional sports.

1. Peyton Manning’s 2012-13 season. Adrian Peterson’s otherworldly performance several months removed from an ACL tear is another good candidate, but as much as it sucks, PED suspicions are unavoidable in his situation and in this era. Also, AP is a young, widely-recognized physical freak in the prime of his career – take nothing away from his amazing bounce-back year, but what Peyton accomplished at this stage of his career was frankly mind-bottling. After undergoing four separate surgeries on his neck at the age of 35, Peyton sat out the 2011 season to recover. The Colts cut ties with their most iconic player and it looked like his career might be over, since we kept hearing how he couldn’t move his head, his life was constantly in jeopardy, blah blah blah. Like, if he got hit in the head with a snowball by a disgruntled Pats fan his neck would wrench 180 degrees or he’d turn into Nearly Headless Nick or something. So, naturally, the following year he re-entered a profession where 250-pound men throw their bodies at you with the force of a small truck. But instead of meeting a grisly demise on the turf in front of thousands of fans, Peyton led his new team to the top seed in the AFC and came a last-second Hail Mary away from the Championship Game, vying for MVP along the way. Backed by a slightly above-average defense and a conspicuous lack of a running game, he turned Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas into household names and made Denver fans instantly forget about the cruel joke that was Tim Tebow. Plus, he led the Broncos to an improbable Monday Night Football victory in which they trailed 24-0 five minutes into the third quarter (BWAAAAAMMM). Peyton was never the most physically gifted quarterback, instead riding his laser-like accuracy and the most ingenious football mind in history to the top, but the fact that he thrived in such a physical sport while apparently on the verge of death is nothing short of miraculous. 1. Bo Jackson:  Bo Knows.  Unfortunately, we all know that Bo’s athletic prowess ended far too early.  A 2 sport stud that would play both professional Baseball and Football.  An all-star in each, and a hall of famer of the Tecmo Bowl.  Bo was a freakish athlete, the likes of which no one had seen and maybe haven’t seen since.  His numbers on their own without context don’t wow you but any of his many YouTube highlights, such as this, this, and this, will certainly do the trick.  The legend of Bo is almost an urban myth especially to a generation even younger than I who may not have any idea or context as to who this legend among legends truly is.  A freak hip injury during his football days sidelined Bo from the grid iron forever and forced him to get a fake hip while he was still in his 20’s.  He somehow rehabbed well enough to play a few more seasons of baseball, but the speed and his wall climbing highlights were not to return.  Of all the athletes on this list Bo has to be the most most maddening case because of the dual greatness he could have provided.  He’ll always have Tecmo.
1. Boston Red Sox 2004 Playoffs
Was there really any question? The story has been told in forms over and over again, from books to documentaries to weddings, and will be the ultimate New England grandparents bouncing their grandchildren on the knees story. The 2004 Red Sox were a team of idiots who were playing like they had serious mental disabilities versus the Yankees in the ALCS. They were down 3-0 in the bottom of the 9th with the best closer in baseball history on the mound. Kevin Millar drew a walk and then Francona replaced him with Dave Roberts. Every person watching knew what was going to happen next, Roberts needed to steal second to give the Sox the slimmest of hopes to win. Honestly most Disney sports movies aren’t set up as perfectly. Roberts swipes second, Bill Mueller knocks him in, Ortiz ends it in extra innings, and the Sox are on their way to their first championship in 86 years. This put an end to “The Curse” and provided the basis for the smile on my face whenever I see a team is up on another team 3-0 in a playoff series, cause the 2004 Red Sox taught me there’s always a chance.
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One thought on “Friday Fives: Sports Comebacks

  1. jake e

    Will you’re missing Len Bias

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