As a sports fan you know when a game is over. It can be your team, or it can be a team you have no rooting interest in at all, there just comes a point when there is obviously no way back into the game. These games happen countless times every single sporting weekend all over the world, but sports being sports there is always that faint glimmer of hope, that inner feeling that we can cling to.
There is always the comeback.
Comebacks can start in so many different ways. Maybe a refereeing decision goes a team’s way for the first time all day. Maybe the superstar player finally wakes up and lives up to his billing, while maybe a unheralded substitute or late round pick comes up huge in ways never thought possible. Maybe a coaching decision to switch defenses or focus on attacking one area of the field works even better than the coach himself imagined.
All these ways however have something in common and that is a dramatic shift in momentum. Momentum is a funny thing in sports, just as it is in life. A team can go from being down and out and almost giving up, to riding on the crest of a wave almost instantly if they pick up their momentum from somewhere. Obviously this is felt more keenly at home. Here fans can turn from booing, unhappy masses, to cheering at decibel shattering levels to urge on the comeback IF their players give them a reason to do so.
If we are honest the comeback is one of the reasons we watch sports, especially as neutral. It is why you watch 28 point NFL routs into the fourth quarter just because you don’t want to be the guy at the water cooler the next day that missed something which was epic and never likely to be seen again. Not until the next epic come back at least.
Speaking of epic, here are 10 of the most classic comebacks of all time.
10 Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks – Game 1, 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals
9 Europe vs. USA – 2012 Ryder Cup
8 Liverpool vs. AC Milan – 2005 UEFA Champions League Final
Liverpool was simply dead and buried at halftime in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final. The scrappy English side had only got to Istanbul with mighty efforts in the earlier rounds and Italian giants AC Milan were turning on the style with a comfortable 3-0 lead.
7 Plano East Panthers vs. John Tyler Lions – 1994 Texas High School Football
Officially this should be the top choice on a list of almost comebacks, but the game is so great and the comeback attempt so valiant that it just has to be on this list. Plano East was down 41-17 with a little over three minutes left in this game and the contest was over. That is until the Panthers suddenly became the greatest executors of the onside kick in the history of football, recovering no less than three of them over the next two and a half minutes to somehow, improbably take the lead 44-41.
All that was needed now was to play out the final 24 seconds and the greatest comeback of all time would be theirs.One 97-yard kickoff return touchdown later though the Panthers had somehow blown the greatest comeback of all time with a 48-44 loss.
6 Michael Jordan’s First Comeback - 1995
5 Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2003 Regular Season
Coming back from a 28-7 fourth-quarter deficit is not going to be easy at the best of times. Add in that this Colts comeback came against the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final five minutes of a Monday Night Football game and then you have a concept which on its own seems completely impossible. What you would need in this situation of course is a guy who is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time getting into the zone as only he knows how.
4 Boston Red Sox – 2004 ALCS
The Evil Empire versus The Nation deserves a high spot on any list of great comebacks. The Red Sox were down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, but this comeback is more about decades of losing to a hated rival than it is about one single series. This was the series that finally pushed the Red Sox past their hated rivals and into the World Series. It is for every game lost, for every player the Yankees beat the Red Sox to sign (Alex Rodriguez specifically) and for every title claimed.
3 Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich - 1999 Champions League Final
The 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona had one of the greatest finishes to a soccer match of all time. In a game which pitted together two of the biggest clubs in Europe, playing for the greatest prize in club soccer, there was more theater than Shakespeare.
2 Alex Zanardi – Indycar
This is without doubt the bravest comeback on this, or any other, list. Alex Zanardi is a two time CART Indycar world champion and former Formula 1 driver who came about as close to dying as you possibly can in an accident in 2001. Zanardi was leading the race when exiting pit road, spinning out of control onto the track and right into the path of the oncoming Alex Taglianai at something close to 2000 mph. Zanardi lost two thirds of the blood in his body and had to have both legs amputated in order to save his life.
This would be enough for most people to step back and give up. That however is not in Zanardi’s makeup. He came back to finish the final laps of the race just two years later in a car with specially adapted hand controls on the circuit which nearly took his life. He then raced competitively in European and World Touring Car Championships, winning races all the way up until his retirement in 2009.
1 Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers – 1992-93 AFC Wildcard Playoffs
The ingredients for this comeback included a third straight Super Bowl appearance on the line and a backup quarterback in the game replacing the best signal caller in the history of a franchise.
With Frank Reich stepping in for Jim Kelly the Bills looked done and dusted in the third quarter when a Reich pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown to put the Oilers up by a massive 32 points. With the score at 35-3 however improbable things started to happen. A wind change in the stadium caused the Oilers kickoff to be a short squib which the Bills recovered at midfield, giving great field position to score. Later a Don Beebe touchdown was allowed to stand despite Bebee having run out of bounds with one foot before making the catch. The play should have been ruled an illegal touch, but instead it was a 38-yard touchdown pass. With all these strange goings on the Bills were able to rattle off the next 28 points in the third quarter, eventually tying the game before winning in overtime.
This is the largest comeback in NFL history. The game itself is simply known as “The Comeback”, so there was no doubt that it would find its way to the top spot on our list.
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