There is absolutely nowhere to hide today for the members of the Atlanta Falcons.
Up 28-3 with just over two and a half minutes to play in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, they fell victim to sweaty palms and Tom Brady.
Now, the Patriots improbable comeback to win 34-28 in overtime could be called one of the greatest ever — but on the flip side it was an epic, colossal choke on the part of the Falcons.
To wit, the Falcons were up 28-20 and and had time on their side marching the ball downfield. They were within field goal range, when a sack and a holding penalty set them back 23 yards and forced them to punt.
Cue Brady and his re-energized offence, who scored the game-tying TD and added a two-point convert to tie it. A coin flip and a march in OT and they won their unprecedented fifth Super Bowl title.
No amount of mouth wash will wipe out the bad taste of that one in Georgia.
We are taking a glass half empty approach and have identified 15 other huge chokes in sports history.
15. Jordan Spieth – 2016 Masters
We could easily have put Greg Norman in this spot, but we’re giving the worst Masters choke to Spieth, who wasn’t paired with a two-time former champ on Sunday like Norman was (Nick Faldo). Spieth, who was the wire-to-wire leader through the first three rounds of the 2016 Masters, was paired with Smylie Kaufman, a relative rookie who had won all of one PGA tournament to get into the prestigious event. However, it wasn’t Kaufman that Spieth needed to be worried about. Spieth birdied his final four holes on the front nine to open up a five-stroke advantage and seemed to be on cruise control. Way back in the pack was Englishman Danny Willett, who was probably just looking to finish strongly. Well, Spieth bogeyed the 10th heading into Amen Corner, where he wouldn’t have a prayer. He bogeyed 11 and then uncharacteristically put two balls in the water at the famous par-3 12th for a quadruple bogey. Meanwhile, Willett came out of nowhere to birdie 13, 14 and 16 on the way to claiming his first Masters title.
14. Bills Beat Oilers In 1992 AFC Wild Card Game
The Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s might have looked at New England’s comeback last night and said “Pshaw! We cam back from 32 points down!” Late in the third quarter of the AFC wild card game between the Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills on Jan. 3, 1993, Oilers linebacker Bubba McDowell returned an interception for a TD to give Houston a big 35-3 lead. Enter Bills backup QB Frank Reich, who was filling in for an injured Jim Kelly. The victim of that pick six by McDowell, Reich rallied the troops for the biggest comeback in NFL post-season history. He would throw four touchdown passes, including three to star wideout Andre Reed against a mistake-prone Houston defence. The two teams went to overtime tied 38-38, and a Steve Christie field goals sealed the deal. Oilers CB Chris Dishman summed up that choke job best, saying, “It was the biggest choke in history. … When we had them down, we should have cut their throats, but we let them breathe and gave them new life.”
13. Red Sox Lose To Bucky Dent And Yankees In 1978
Forget for a moment that banjo hitter, Bucky “Expletive Deleted” Dent beat the Boston Red Sox with an infamous blast in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff in 1978. That homer, just the 23rd of his then six-year career, was just the icing on an awful tasting Boston Red Sox cake. Boston was a full eight games ahead of New York in the AL East on August 12. Now, that isn’t an insurmountable lead, but the way the Sox played down the stretch can only be described as “choke.” The Yanks went on a 35-15 tear the rest of the way, while Boston had to win 12 of their last 14 contests just to tie the Bombers with 99 wins. In that penultimate tie-breaker at Fenway Park, the Red Sox actually led 2-0 after six innings against New York ace Ron Guidry, who was 25-3 that year. The top of the seventh, though, saw the Yankees put two runners aboard on singles, bringing light-hitting Dent to the plate. He hit a fly ball that barely cleared the Green Monster, giving the Yanks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
12. New York Giants Blow 24-Point Lead to 49ers In 2002 Wild Card Game
A full 10 years after the Buffalo Bills erased a 32-point deficit to shock the Houston Oilers in an AFC wild card game, the New York Giants gagged on a 24-point bulge in a NFC Wild card tilt with San Francisco. The Giants and 49ers each came into the game at San Fran’s 3Com Park with identical 10-6 records. The two teams were actually tied 14-14 in the middle of the second quarter, when Giants’ QB Kerry Collins went to work, throwing two TD passes to Amani Toomer before the half and then engineering drives in the third for 10 more points to take a 38-14 lead with 4:27 left in that quarter. Undaunted, ex-CFL pivot Jeff Garcia threw two TD passes and ran for another, with a Jeff Chandler field goal allowing the Niners to erase that lead and win 39-38. The Giants could still have avoided the “choke” label, but a controversial call negated a broken Giants play to get go-ahead points in the fourth quarter and the rest is history.
11. Northern Iowa Concedes Big Lead To Texas A&M In 2016 NCAA Tournament
March Madness is what it is because of the craziness that the collegiate basketball tournament can spawn. Crazy upsets and last-second field goals are de rigueur. Last year, the big tourney yielded one of the worst chokes in its history. Little Northern Iowa entered the tournament as the 11th seed in the West Regional, having posted a 22-12 record in the Missouri Valley Conference. They beat sixth seeded Texas in the opening round and drew third seed Texas A&M Aggies in the round of 32. To everyone’s surprise, the Panthers were leading the Aggies 69-57 with just 44 seconds left and looked home and cooled in another upset. The Aggies, though, put a full-court press on UNI, forcing four turnovers and not allowing the Panthers past the half-court line. A 14-2 Aggies’ run later, the teams were knotted at 71-71 and headed to overtime. Northern Iowa couldn’t redeem themselves into double OT, losing 92-88.
10. Knicks Fall To Pacers In 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
The New York Knicks were at one time a very good basketball team. Hard to believe, we know. In the early 1990s, the Knicks regularly won way more games than they lost, going to the NBA finals in 1994, losing a seven-game thriller to Houston. In 1994-95, the Knicks went 55-27, finishing second in the Atlantic Division. They breezed by Cleveland 3-1 in the first round, setting up a date with Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. In a series that would take seven games to decide a winner (Indiana), a first-game choke by New York all but pre-ordained the outcome. Up 105-99 with just 18.7 seconds left, but allowed Miller to dash their hopes, singlehandedly. He began the comeback with a three-pointer, then stole the inbounds pass and drained another to tie it. The Knicks had their chances, but two missed free throws and a 10-foot botched shot by Patrick Ewing resulted in a foul on Miller on the rebound. Miller calmly drained his freebies, giving the Pacers a shocking 107-105 win. He ran off the Madison Square Garden court yelling “choke artists!” How apt.
9. California Angels Lose Pivotal Game Of 1986 ALCS to Boston
Before the snake-bitten Red Sox staged their epic choke in the 1986 World Series (spoiler alert*), their foes in the ALCS, the California Angels, staged an epic collapse of their own. The Gene Autry owned Angels hadn’t done a whole lot since entering the league in 1961, going to just two playoff series before facing Boston in the 1986 ALCS. The teams split games in Boston, then California reeled off two straight victories at home going into game five, also at Anaheim Stadium. The Halos clubbed their way to a 5-2 lead after seven innings and appeared headed to their first ever World Series appearance. Game 1 winner Mike Witt sailed into the ninth and after allowing a lead-off single to Boston’s Bill Buckner, struck out slugger Jim Rice. But, Don Baylor put the Sox to within a run with a two-run blast, forcing Witt from the game. A hit batsman and a homer later, the Red Sox went up 6-5. California tied it in the bottom of the ninth, but lost it in the 11th. That choke saw the Angels come undone, as they were outscored 18-5 in the last two games to lose it in seven.
8. Kansas City Chiefs Blow 28-Point Lead In 2013 AFC Wild Card Game
It’s not often that a quarterback can throw for 378 yards and four touchdowns (with zero interceptions) and still lose a playoff game. Kansas City’s Alex Smith was the author of the greatest game by a pivot in Chiefs history during the 2013 Wild Card game, only to see his defence collapse in a 45-44 shocker to Indianapolis on Jan. 4, 2014. Smith’s accurate throws resulted in a commanding 38-10 lead just under a minute and a half into the third quarter. However, the Chiefs defence surrendered TD drives to Andrew Luck and the Colts offence of 80, 41, 80, 90 and 80 yards to cough up that lead. The Colts, amazingly, took the lead with four minutes still to go, allowing the Chiefs a shot at redemption. It wasn’t to be, as Smith connected on a key fourth-down pass in the Colts zone, but receiver Dwayne Bowe couldn’t keep both feet in bounds near the 20. Game over.
7. Kings Crown Oilers In Miracle On Manchester
In 1981-82, the soon-to-be dynastic Edmonton Oilers were just starting to get warmed up. Led by Wayne Gretzky’s season for the ages (a record 92 goals and 120 assists for 212 points), the Oilers easily topped the old Smythe Division with 111 points. Way down the Smythe standings that year were the Los Angeles Kings, who scraped into the playoffs with a losing record (24-41-15) and 63 points. The two would tangle in the first round of the playoffs and the Kings actually shocked the Oilers 10-8 in game 1 of the five-game set. The Oilers bounced back to win in OT in game 2, setting up what would soon be called the “Miracle On Manchester” at the old Forum in LA. The Oilers jumped out to what should have been an insurmountable 5-0 lead, capped by Gretzky’s second of the game late in the second. The Kings, who still had Charlie Simmer and Marcel Dionne in the line-up, scored five times in the third, including the tying marker with just five seconds left. The Oilers completed their choke by surrendering the winner in OT and two games later the Kings completed the upset with a 3-2 series victory.
6. New York Yankees Fritter Away 3-0 Lead in 2004 ALCS
For once, it wasn’t the Boston Red Sox who folded up like a cheap tent. The 2004 New York Yankees, who had been to the World Series six times in the previous eight seasons, winning four, were coming off a great 101-61 season. They breezed by Minnesota 3-1 in the ALDS, setting up a date with the snake-bitten Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. True to form, the Bronx Bombers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, including commanding 10-7 and 19-8 victories. In game 4, the Yanks held a 4-3 lead going into the ninth and seemed poised to send the Sox to the sidelines. But wait, the previously sad sack Sox rallied in the bottom of the ninth to tie it and then win it on a dramatic two-run shot by David Ortiz in the 11th. What would ensue was one of the most memorable comebacks/chokes in baseball history. Boston rallied from a 4-2 game 5 deficit to win 5-4 in extras at Fenway and then stun New York with no doubt victories in games 6 and 7 to win it. They would put the “Curse of the Bambino” to rest by winning the World Series.
5. Boston Bruins Stage Epic Choke In 2010 Playoffs
Before they could finally shake a massive monkey and win their first Stanley Cup in decades in 2011, the Boston Bruins had to endure one of the worst collapses in NHL playoff history. The Bruins, who finished third in the old Northeast Division during the 2009-10 season, drew the first place Buffalo Sabres in the playoffs and stunned them with a 4-2 first round victory. Up next were the Philadelphia Flyers, who squeaked into the post-season with 88 points and beat New Jersey 4-1 in the first round. The Bruins opened up at home and won two hard fought one-goal games to head to Philly up 2-0. In game 3, the B’s would prevail 4-1 to put a stranglehold on proceedings. The Flyers, undaunted, would rally, winning game 4 in OT and then games 5 and 6 as the Bruins offence dried up (one goal in two games). Even though they had been stymied, the Bruins opened up an early 3-0 lead on three straight goals. The Flyers wouldn’t be denied and knotted things up with three straight tallies of their own. The completed Boston’s choke with a powerplay goal in the third, erasing a 3-0 deficit in the game, and the series to shock the Bruins.
4. Jean van de Velde Loses British Open In Disastrous Fashion
This is by far the worst collapse in the history of professional golf. By the time it was all over and Paul Lawrie had the Claret Jug in his hands, Jean van de Velde’s name would live in infamy. The unheralded Frenchman shot an uninspired 75 to open the tournament at Carnoustie, but would fashion an unpredictable 68 in tough conditions in the second round to hold a one-stroke lead. In the third round, he fired a one-under 70 to put himself at even par (the only player in that category) and take a huge five-stroke lead over Justin Leonard and Craig Parry heading into the final round. The three would flip flop over 17 holes but van de Velde found himself three strokes up on 18. On that par 4 hole, which he had birdied twice and had par, all van de Velde needed was a double bogey to seal his first major win. If only it were that easy. His drive found the thick rough and instead of chipping back to the fairway to play to the green on his third shot, he opted for a two-iron. That shot would also richocet crazily into the rough again. His next attempt found the water of the Barry Burn. He wisely took a drop, but found a bunker. He did splash out, but had to hole the putt just to salvage a tie. He would lose miserably in that playoff.
3. Boston Red Sox Choke In Game 6 Of 1986 World Series
In the previously sad, sad history of the Boston Red Sox, the bitter defeat to the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series stung the worst. The Beantown Bombers took a 3-2 lead into game 6 at Shea Stadium and had ace Roger Clemens on the mound. They grabbed an early 2-0 lead and held it until the fifth, when the Mets scratched out two runs against Rocket Roger on a single and double play ball. The Red Sox scored to retake the lead in the top of the seventh, only to surrender the tying run in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the 10th, ALCS hero Dave Henderson clubbed a homer and the Sox scored another to go up 5-3. Then the Sox made the fatal error of fatal errors, leaving wonky-kneed first baseman Bill Buckner in at first. With two outs, New York’s Gary Carter singled off Calvin Schiraldi. He was followed by Kevin Mitchell, who line a 0-1 single to get on. Schiraldi got Ray Knight to an 0-2 count but surrendered another single, cutting the lead to 5-4. Closer Bob Stanley came in and on a 3-2 count to Mookie Wilson, he uncorked a wild pitch to score another run. On the subsequent pitch, Wilson hit a bouncer at Buckner, who couldn’t squeeze the wickets, allowing the winning run to score. The Mets won in seven.
2. Green Bay Blows 2014 NFC Championship Game
This was not Green Bay’s finest hour in the NFL. Neither for that matter, was it the Seattle Seahawks greatest game. However, you slice it, this was a choke, in the worst possible way. The Packers were leading the Seahawks 19-7 with 5:13 left in the game on Jan. 18, 2015, when Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett picked off Seattle’s Russell Wilson for the fourth time that day. But, Burnett played the ball like there was no time little time left on the clock and instead took a slide, instead of running the ball with nary a Seahawk around him for 10 yards. The ball then stayed on Green Bay’s 43. The Pack then inexplicably ran three running plays, while the Seahawks took two time outs and got the ball back with 4:00 left to play. They scored with 2:13 left to get themselves within eight, then recovered an onside kick that Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick misplayed, leading to a Marshawn Lynch 24-yard rumble and a key two-point conversion to go ahead by three. The Pack would tie it on a late field goal, however, the wind was out of their sails by that point and Seattle engineered a winning six-play drive in OT to seal Green Bay’s awful fate.
1. Chicago Cubs Squander Commanding 2003 NLCS Lead
Now maybe Steve Bartman can go out in public. The Cubbies finally ended 108 years of futility last November, winning the World Series and erasing the bitter memory of the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins. The Cubbies had a decent season in 2003, finishing 88-74 and then winning the NLDS over the hated Atlanta Braves, 3-2. Next up were the Marlins, who finished three games ahead of Chicago and disposed of San Francisco in the other NLDS. The Marlins won game 1 in extra innings, however, the Cubs would reel off three straight triumphs, including a game 4 thumping of 8-3. Florida won game 5 at home to stave off elimination and had to travel to Wrigley for game 6 down 3-2. Chicago, behind the pitching of Mark Prior, took a 3-0 lead into the top of the eighth, where things went sideways, fast. With one out in the ninth, a foul ball floated into the stands, where Bartman was sitting. He reached out for it, denying Moises Alou the chance to record the second out. After that infamous and unfortunate play, the Marlines scored an astounding eight times to win it and go on to a seven-game victory.