Athletes and sports teams love to roll up big leads, but sometimes, all that does is set the stage for even bigger freefalls—and the one-time leaders going down in history as unforgivable choke artists. Here are the unlucky 13 who wish we’d stop talking about them. Yes, 2011 Boston Red Sox, you made the list.
Houston Oilers, 1993 AFC Wild Card Game
This game is known simply as The Comeback, but from Houston’s perspective, it should be called The Meltdown. Up 35-3 at half, the Oilers seemingly played prevent defense the entire second half, making Bills backup QB Frank Reich look like Joe Montana. The Oilers lost 41-38 in OT, and the franchise never made a Super Bowl during its time in Houston.
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1951 Regular Season
If you thought the 2011 Red Sox and Braves collapses were pathetic, well… they were. But so was this. In August of ’51, the Dodgers led the New York Giants by 13 games. Then they experienced what could be politely called a “swoon,” which led to a three-game playoff series with their crosstown rivals. Which led to a ninth-inning home run by Bobby Thomson and the Dodgers looking like schmucks.
Greg Norman, 1996 Masters
Norman was a great golfer, but he consistently disintegrated during majors. In 1996, Norman entered the final day of the Masters with a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo. Then the Shark turned into a minnow, shooting a gag-worthy 78 while Faldo shot a 67 to win the green jacket by five strokes.
Miami Hurricanes, 1984 Regular Season
On a November afternoon at the Orange Bowl, Miami led the Maryland Terrapins 31-0 at half. But the Canes gave up six second-half TDs to the Terrapins backup QB, fumbled a kickoff, missed a two-point conversion and fell to the Terps 42-40. That backup QB? Frank Reich. (Editor’s note: pics from the game are non-existent, so we went with a dopey photo of the Canes mascot floating over Jimmy Johnson and Bernie Kosar instead.)
Chicago Cubs, 2003 NLCS
In Game 6 against the Marlins, the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series, leading 3-0 in the top of the eighth. Then Steve Bartman gets his hands on a foul ball, and Moises Alou and friends lose their shit. They give up eight runs in the inning, then lose Game 7 the next day. Now how is that Bartman’s fault again? The truth is, the team got close, got nervous… and choked like a fat man on a bratwurst.
Jean Van de Velde, 1999 British Open
Van de Velde makes Greg Norman look like Clutchy McBigBalls. With a three-shot lead going into the final hole, Van de Velde needed only a double-bogey six and the British Open was his. But he hit it into the rough, then the water, then the sand to card a triple-bogey seven. Then he lost in a tiebreaker. Lesson: Any time you have to take your shoes and socks off during a hole, you’re probably not going to win.
Pittsburgh Penguins, 1975 NHL Quarterfinals
The Penguins led the New York Islanders 3-0 in this seven-game series. But they fell asleep at the wheel—er, stick—and lost four straight games to become one of the few teams to blow a 3-o series lead in any of the major sports. To make matters worse, they lost to a backup goalie nicknamed Chico. That’s right, a hockey goalie named Chico.
New York Yankees, 2004 ALCS
Everybody hails the Boston Red Sox for coming back in this series from a 3-0 hole, but what about dropping some blame on the Yankees for not finishing the job? Sure, half the Red Sox lineup was probably juiced up, making it easier to crack late-game homeruns, but there were just as many Yankees on ’roids who could’ve done the same, we reckon. Plus, the Sox were cursed! Somehow, Yanks lost, 4 games to 3.
Bayern Munich, 1999 Champions League Final
On a riotous night in Barcelona, the German club led Manchester United 1-0 in injury time. In other words, they had to hold on for three minutes to become champs of Europe. But two David Beckham corner kicks led to two United goals, and United stole the title, 2-1. Amazingly, Bayern’s players weren’t executed by firing squad when they returned to Germany.
JR Hildebrand, 2011 Indianapolis 500
The only thing between r0okie driver JR Hildebrand and an Indy 500 victory was a quarter lap. So he crashed his car on the final turn, gift-wrapping a win for Dan Wheldon. Well, don’t worry, JR, it was only the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. No big deal. (Editor’s note: Hildebrand was able to nudge his destroyed ride across the finish line for second place, an impressive feat by any measure.)
Bill Tilden, 1927 Wimbledon Semifinal
Playing against a little Frenchman named Henri Cochet, American “Big Bill” Tilden won the first two sets (6-2, 6-4) and led 5-1 in the third. He then gave up six straight games to hand over the third set 7-5, then lost the fourth set 6-4 and the fifth set 6-3. You’d think by around the fourth set he might’ve tried to play in shorts rather than pants.
Memphis Tigers, 2008 National Championship Game
The Tigers were up nine points over the Kansas Jayhawks with 2:12 left. Then, they missed four of their final five free throws and watched helplessly as the Jayhawks scored 12 points in the last two minutes, including a last-second three-pointer by Mario Chalmers. Then they lost in overtime. Soon after, John Calipari left for Kentucky, where he could choke for a lot more money.
Boston Red Sox, 2011 Regular Season
In early September, the Sox led the Tampa Bay Rays by nine games. By late September, they needed to beat the awful Orioles just to force a one-game playoff for the wild card. Leading 3-2 in the ninth, the Sox gave up two runs, completing the worst September collapse in baseball history. Small consolation: over in the National League, the Atlanta Braves blew an 8.5-game September lead to the Cardinals. Chokery loves company.