The ‘comeback’ is the single greatest aspect of competition that most embodies the spirit of what makes sport extraordinary. As children, most young athletes have, at some point, imagined themselves taking the 3-point shot with one second left to win the game, or hitting the walk-off home run in the World Series for their favorite ball club, or receiving the game winning touchdown at the end of the 4th quarter. Simply put, sport’s true poetry is achieved through the experience of the pinnacle of tension, challenge, perseverance, and — when achievement comes into play — victory.
Nothing more perfectly captures this essence than a comeback — an underdog or long-shot that comes out of nowhere and makes players, coaches and even spectators think the words, for a moment, “Yes I can”.
For being such a beautiful feature of athletics, comebacks occur with great frequency in most sports. We take a look at some of our favorite comebacks in sports — and No. 1 may not be one that you expected.
5) Notre Dame Vs USC, Nov. 30, 1974
Whenever the Trojans meet the Irish on the field, there is a reason cameras roll, smack talk accelerates, and fans cheer a little louder. The rivalry between USC and Notre Dame is celebrated for the history it has littered its path with over most of the past century. One of the greatest pieces of this history occurred at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1974. The No. 6 Trojans, facing the nation’s top defense in No. 5 Notre Dame, trailed the Irish 24-0 near the end of the first half. Former quarterback, and current athletic director, Pat Haden threw a 7-yard pass to Anthony Davis to cut that deficit to 24-6 at the half. To open the second half, Anthony Davis returned the kickoff 102 yards to score. Still facing an uphill climb, but having tasted the mortality of the Irish defense, the Trojans scored 55 unanswered points through the second half, 35 of which went on the board in the 3rd quarter. Finals score: USC 55, Notre Dame 24.
4) Indiana Pacers Vs New York Knicks, May 7, 1995
The 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals provided one of the greatest individual performances under pressure in NBA history. Pacers guard Reggie Miller was no stranger to late-game clutch performances, which became known as “Miller Time”. However, Miller Time would reach an unprecedented level in Game 1 of the series. Miller scored eight points in nine seconds, to give Indiana the win. His almost exquisite, almost divine performance included a three-pointer with 16 seconds left, followed by the steal of an inbound pass, which proceeded to another three-pointer and two free throws. Indiana won the series in seven games, avenging their 7-game series loss to the Knicks the previous year.
3) Seattle Mariners Vs Cleveland Indians, Aug. 5, 2001
Since baseball’s progression is inning, rather than time, dependent, it is the perfect sport to set up comebacks. One of the greatest (some would argue THE greatest) comeback in baseball occurred in 2001 in front of 42,000 fans live, and in front of a national audience on television. The Mariners, who owned the best record in baseball at the time, scored four runs in the second inning before adding on eight more in the third. The hapless Indians managed a stoic two runs, right before the Mariners answered with another two of their on in the fifth. Facing a 12-run deficit, Cleveland began sitting their starters, all but showing submission to Seattle’s offense. So, with scrubs in the game by the seventh-inning stretch, the magic began. A solo home run by Russell Branyan, a 2RBI single by Jolbert Cabrera, another solo homer by Jim Thome, and a 2-run shot by Marty Cordova made it a 6-run deficit. The odds still made a comeback very unlikely. Omar Vizquel then smacked an RBI double before the ninth inning. Down to there final out of the ball game, and still looking up at Seattle by five runs, Cleveland managed to load the bases before Einar Diaz lined a 2RBI single to left field — a 3-run game. Vizquel then connected to right for three runs to tie the ball game. Cabrera then capped one of the greatest comeback games in history in the bottom of the 11th inning with a first-pitch single for the 15-14 win.
2) New York Yankees Vs Boston Red Sox, Oct. 2004
When the Yanks pulled out to another 3-0 postseason series lead, the prospect of David defeating Goliath became laughable, particularly after a Game 3 in which Joe Torre’s boys hammered Boston 19-8. All seemed lost for Terry Francona’s Sox, when, in Game 4, Dave Roberts represented the tying run in the 9th inning — the only thing standing between the Yankees and the American League pennant. After a series of pick-off attempts by the now-legendary Mariano Rivera at first base, Roberts went for second on the first pitch to Bill Mueller, and put himself in scoring position — and score he did, when Mueller singled to tie the ball game and keep Boston’s season alive. In the bottom of the 12th inning, David Ortiz hit a walk-off shot to right field. Having chalked one win on the board, Game 5 played to a similar tune to Game 5. Jumping on the Yankee bullpen, Ortiz led off the 8th inning with a solo home run off Tom Gordon, and Roberts scored on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. This time, it was in the 14th inning that Ortiz worked his walk-off magic, scoring Johnny Damon with a single to center. Having tied the series with a 4-2 Game 6 win, Game 7 in the Bronx started with overwhelming momentum for the Sox. Ortiz knocked another souvenir into the bleachers to right for a 2-0 lead in the first inning, The game, as well as the Pennant, was all but won on Damon’s grand slam in the second inning. The Red Sox never looked back, and took Game 7, 10-3. The Boston Red Sox, who would sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to break the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, became the first club to win eight consecutive postseason games in one postseason.
1) Emirates Team New Zealand Vs Oracle Team USA, Sept. 2013
Possibly the greatest comeback in sports history did not occur on the gridiron, or on the court, or anywhere near a field, but at sea. In September 2013, in the San Francisco Bay, Oracle Team USA overcame disastrously dire odds to achieve, statistically, the grandest comeback in the history of international sport. Having had three of their team members expelled for cheating in warmups, been fined $250,000, and docked a pre-final two-race deficit, Oracle had to win 11 races in order to defend the oldest international sporting trophy, while challenger Emirates Team New Zealand needed only to win nine. Having taken six of the first seven races, Emirates had a commanding lead, and a new champion was widely predicted. In Race 6, Oracle replaced American tactician John Kostecki with the most successful sailor in Olympic history, Sir Ben Ainslie of Great Britain. Teamed with Oracle Skipper, Australian yachtsman Jimmy Spithill, Ainslie improved Oracle’s approach to their upwind lengths. Race 9, which almost saw a disastrous capsize by Emirates, went to Oracle, but when the Kiwis took races 10 and 11, Emirates was within one win of claiming the Cup. At this point, despite the fact that Oracle had managed to win three races, they officially trailed Emirates 8-1, due to the pre-series two-race penalty. The following six days would see unparalleled seamanship, audacious tactics and a hardened will overcome the most overwhelming odds ever seen in the history of the America’s Cup. Spithill consistently managed to sail his vessel up on its hydrofoils for maximum speed. Having taken the next seven straight races, the 34th America’s Cup would be decided on September 25, 2013, in a winner-takes-all match. Oracle had won eight straight races to stun Emirates, the sailing community, and the sports world. Never before had a player or team overcome such odds. Emirates had the advantage early on, earning the favored leeward position out of the start line, which led to a lead around the reach mark. After Oracle dipped both their bows into the water, they were slowed down considerably. It began to look like the comeback was noble, but forlorn. After Emirates took a lead into the third leg, Oracle’s discovered upwind foiling skills took control, passing Emirates. While Oracle tried to extend their lead, another mistake would almost certainly mean disaster. They took the cup by 44 seconds, achieving what no team had done before.