Monday, March 21, 2011

My 15 Most Devastating Losses

Two of the most agonizing experiences I've ever had as a sports fan took place during the last week. First, the Colorado Buffaloes mens basketball team was denied entrance to the NCAA Tournament. The hourlong selection show was the worst sports viewing experience I've ever had. But it wasn't a game.

Saturday evening the 1-seeded Pitt Panthers lost an excruciating second round NCAA tournament game to 8th seeded Butler. I sat watching the last minute of the game in anguished incredulity while my phone blew up, Pitt hoodie drawn over my face, hands shielding my eyes. It had to be seen to be believed. After it was finally over, I stumbled outside and walked around in a depressed haze, thinking of nothing other than the Bill Simmons "Levels of Losing" and the most crushing games I've ever been part of as a sports fan.

15. Miami 95, Dallas 92 (2006 NBA Finals Game 6)

This series-ending loss was tragic because Dallas was obviously the better team but lost the series in six in large part due to horrific officiating.

14. Los Angeles Lakers 106, Sacramento 102 (2002 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 6)

Perhaps the most blatantly worst-officiated consequential game of the decade in any sport. Check out this emotional ten-part youtube series recapping the malfeasance.

13. Duke 61, Butler 59 (2010 NCAA National Championship Game)

If Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot had gone in, it would have made for the tastiest highlight in sports history.

12. Los Angeles Lakers 100, Sacramento 99 (2002 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 4)

Robert Horry’s shot capped a 24-point comeback.

11. Kansas 59, Davidson 57 (2008 Regional Final)

This matchup was so compelling I wrote about it in advance. The Jayhawks would go on to win the national title over Memphis in a brutal broken axle/stomach punch combo for Tigers fans.

10. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (2003 ALCS Game 7)

The all-time Guillotine Game – an almost unfathomably excruciating loss for Boston fans at the time. Aaron Boone hit the walkoff in the 11th after the Sox blew a 5-2 8th inning lead.

9. Marquette 77, Pittsburgh 74 (2003 NCAA Regional Semifinal)

The only game on this list I attended in person. The villainous Dwyane Wade scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to upend a charismatic Pittsburgh squad. At the time I thought that season was the pinnacle, the best that Pittsburgh hoops could get – but I was wrong.

8. Red Wings 7, Avalanche 0 (2002 NHL Western Conference Finals Game 7)

I got my first speeding ticket racing to my friend’s house to watch this game. I actually arrived in time, sadly. Obviously this was a "Full-Fledged Butt Kicking."

7. North Carolina 75, Illinois 70 (2005 National Championship)

Illinois was supposed to win. They were the best college basketball team of the last decade, maybe two decades. They played so wonderfully together, the ultimate synthesis of talent, experience, coaching, chemistry, and desire. 37-1 before the title game. And after this heartstopping comeback, there was no doubt in my mind that they were destined to win the national championship.

They played their worst game of the season in the national championship, and barely lost to the evil North Carolina Tar Heels.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. It went against everything that had happened the whole season. Someone typoed the script. As dumbfounding as that comeback against Arizona had been, losing in the title game was even more shocking.

6. Dallas 3, Colorado 2 (2000 NHL Western Conference Finals)

The Avs lost to the Stars in a game 7 in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season. Ray Bourque hit the post with just seconds left.

5. Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70 (2011 NCAA second round)

The last two seconds of this classic were pure irony: two of the smartest teams in college basketball committed two of the sport’s all-time dumbest plays, Shelvin Mack and Gilbert Brown both emerged as goats despite career shooting games, officials made two accurate calls in difficult circumstances after botching calls throughout the game, 8th seeded Butler played better than at any point during the previous season’s Cinderella run to the championship game, and Pitt became the poster boy of Big East failure despite shooting 56% and playing well throughout the game.

4. Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76 (2009 NCAA Regional Final)

This was the Pittsburgh team, the best of all of them, the best college basketball team in America, loaded with talent and personality and gumption, the one that was going to end a 68-year Final Four drought. Again, I thought the Panthers would never have such an opportunity again. Again, I was wrong.

3. Los Angeles Lakers 112, Sacramento 106 (OT) (2002 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 7)

After seven exhausting, gutwrenching, spine-tingling battles with the Lakers, the officials, and their own personal demons, the Kings finally imploded in overtime in front of their home crowd. The Kings would never get this deep again – and, in an especially cruel twist of fate, may soon be vacating Sacramento for the home of their evil rivals.

2. Jaguars 30, Broncos 27 (1997 NFL Divisional Playoff)

No one around here ever considered the possibility of the #1 seed Broncos losing this game to the Wild Card Jaguars, who had become and expansion team just one season earlier. It just never even crossed our minds. The worst thing about this loss, which precipitated and was mitigated by two straight Super Bowl wins, was that it came on the last night before going back to school after two weeks of winter break. The stark, empty depression of procrastinated schoolwork with nothing whatsoever to look forward to was almost too much to bear. The Broncos were a beacon of hope through that miserable year of middle school, and then, suddenly, there was nothing left to hold onto.

1. Nebraska 33, Colorado 30 (OT) 1999

The Buffs had lost seven straight games to the hated Huskers. The defeats had gotten progressively harder to swallow. Three straight times CU had been a heavy underdog, took the game to the final minute, and succumbed in heartbreaking fashion. The #3 Huskers had their eyes on a national title and were looking to crush the unranked Buffaloes on national television the day after Thanksgiving to impress the voters.

It was a crushing for 46 minutes. Nebraska led 27-3 early in the fourth quarter. The Buffaloes then launched a jawdropping comeback in front of the Folsom Field crowd, kicking a field goal and then scoring three touchdowns in a six minute span (aided by an onside kick) to knot the game at 27 with three minutes left. Colorado got the ball back again with two minutes remaining, and, in true stomach-punch fashion, promptly fumbled it away in their own red zone. Nebraska merely had to sit on the ball three times and kick a field goal for the win, but unbelievably, fumbled for an eighth time on the next play. The Buffs recovered and quickly moved down the field to set up a 34-yard field goal with two seconds left.

Jeremy Aldrich finished his career at Colorado as the school’s all-time leader in field goals, field goal attempts, and field goal percentage. But when any Colorado fan hears his name, the only image associated with Jeremy Aldrich is that 34-yard field goal sailing wide. To this day, I still don’t know if it actually missed. It was above the upright. It looked good when he kicked it. I can still see that ball fading, sailing into oblivion along with the game. The Buffs lost in overtime.


Blogger Spencetron said...

I really enjoyed a glimpse into your sports soul. Only a real optimist could post something like this. In all honesty thank you for not posting a clip from the Illini "heart-stopping comeback" aka in Tucson as the "meltdown game" or "end of the Olson era". I can't stand to look at a picture of that game.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Bag said...

I'm glad someone created that Kings/Lakers YouTube video. Otherwise it would just be malfeasance for malfeasance's sake.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of your best posts.


8:28 PM  

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