Watching your team embark on a game-winning comeback is special.
Watching your team embark on a game-winning postseason comeback is otherworldly.
Stealing a victory when your back is against the wall is probably the most exciting experience an athlete can be a part of—and it's almost as special for the fans, especially the ones who spend most of their waking hours arguing, hoping, hypothesizing and sometimes crying about the possible outcomes of a playoff series or game.
When you've been told over and over that historically, there's no way your team is going to pull off a comeback—and then it does—there's nothing like it.
And on the other side of the coin, what about the fans who have to watch their teams become victims of history and allow one of the best postseason comebacks ever to happen?
Well, poor them. Let's focus on the positive. The best game comebacks and the best series comebacks are split into two sections, so all comeback kids get their share of the love.
First, let's go with the individual game comebacks.
For years, Peyton Manning couldn't escape from the shadow of Tom Brady, and he couldn't beat his superstar QB counterpart when it mattered the most.
It looked like it was going to be the same old story all over again in the 2007 AFC Championship. The mighty Patriots took a 21-6 lead into halftime, and Manning—as he so often did against New England—looked frustrated and uncomfortable. But whatever Tony Dungy said to him at halftime worked.
The Colts kicked off the third quarter with a lengthy touchdown drive that ended with a QB sneak by Manning, and from then on, Indianapolis owned all of the momentum. As would become a theme for the Patriots going forward, they couldn't finish off the job, quickly blowing it completely by allowing another Colts touchdown before they tied the game on a two-point conversion.
The Patriots would take a 31-28 tie early in the fourth quarter, but with 2:17 left on the clock, the Colts scored again to take a 38-34 lead they would not relinquish.
Their 18-point comeback was the biggest in conference championship history, and Manning would go on to win his first Super Bowl.
Everything changed for the New England Patriots with one miraculous call in one snowstorm in 2002.
Before that game, the Patriots had trouble staying afloat in the AFC East. They certainly weren't the dominant, seemingly unbeatable force they are now. And at Foxboro Stadium on January 19, 2002, the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady tandem took on the scintillating form it owns now.
In that divisional playoff game, Oakland led 7-0 at the half and 13-3 in the fourth quarter before Brady's rushing touchdown pulled the Pats within three. New England was driving with two minutes left, and Brady was hit hard by the Raiders' Charles Woodson, who knocked the ball loose. It was recovered by Oakland's Greg Biekert, and it appeared to be all over for the Pats—until the refs reversed the call, citing the since-abandoned "tuck rule," and controversially declaring Brady's fumble an incomplete forward pass.
Brady then engineered a game-tying field goal drive, and New England would eventually win, 16-13, on another Adam Vinatieri field goal in overtime.
The Patriots dynasty was born. And it never would have happened without a little bit of luck and one charitable call.
Who doesn't love it when Duke loses in the most painful possible fashion?
In 1994, the Arkansas Razorbacks made it happen in the NCAA Championship.
Arkansas fell behind by 10 in the second half, and the ever-dominant Blue Devils appeared to be well on their way to cutting down the nets. But one spectacular 14-4 run later, the Razorbacks had tied the game.
With the score knotted at 70 and one second remaining on the shot clock, Arkansas' Scotty Thurman hit a game-changing, miraculous three-pointer right in Antonio Lang's face to give the Razorbacks the lead and the eventual 76-72 victory.
When the Boston Bruins were down 4-1 with about 11 minutes left in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Maple Leafs, pretty much everyone had closed the book on their season. Even Milan Lucic's own father had closed the book on their season, going to bed before the game ended.
But then, something crazy happened. With just over 10 minutes left, Nathan Horton scored to make it 4-2. Nine minutes later, Lucic made it 4-3, and with less than a minute left in regulation, Patrice Bergeron knotted the score at 4 apiece.
Six minutes into overtime, the Bruins miraculously won a game that had seemed completely out of their hands late in the third period, courtesy of another Bergeron goal. Boston became the first team in NHL history to win Game 7 after trailing by three in the third period and moved on to face the Rangers in the conference semis.
By all indications, the 2012 49ers should have been one of the best teams in the NFC. They had one of the league's most exciting young coaches in Jim Harbaugh and one of the league's most exciting young quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick, not to mention a stellar defense.
But when they met the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, it looked like it was all going to fall apart.
The Falcons took a comfortable 17-0 lead into the second quarter before the Niners offense woke up and started playing, while Atlanta's simultaneously fell asleep. Kaepernick may have looked out of his element throughout the first 16 minutes of the game, but he pulled San Francisco within 10 by the end of the half and engineered two unanswered scoring drives in the second half—all while his defense shut down the Falcons—to lead San Francisco to its first trip to the Super Bowl since 1995.
Pretty good for a guy making his first postseason trip ever.
Once again, in 2012, the Baltimore Ravens proved to all of us that you don't need to be the best regular-season team to be the best team in the NFL when all is said and done.
All you need is one fearless leader of a quarterback, one magnificent motivator and a little bit of luck.
Normally, the Ravens boast one of the best defenses in the NFL, but in 2012, they weren't all that scary, to say the least. They were old and injury-riddled, and overall, the Ravens had dropped four of five games in December, including three in a row to playoff contenders early in the month.
But something changed in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, when Joe Flacco delivered one of the most thrilling comebacks in NFL history.
The Ravens were pretty evenly matched with Peyton Manning's top-seeded Broncos throughout most of regulation, but when Denver hung seven on the board to take a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter, it looked like it was over for Baltimore.
It wasn't. Flacco threw a $120.6-million bomb to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left on the clock to even the score, and in the first overtime, the Ravens defense finally lived up to its billing before a 47-yard field goal sealed the deal for Baltimore in the second extra OT.
At the conclusion of the 1951 season, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers both boasted identical 96-58 records, requiring a three-game playoff to decide the winner of the NL pennant. They split the first two games of the series before awarding the baseball-loving world with a Game 3 stunner.
It was the most riveting pitching matchup of the series, with aces Sal Maglie and Don Newcombe taking the mound—and the duel lived up to its billing, as the two entered the eighth inning in a 1-1 deadlock.
When the Dodgers scored three eighth-inning runs to take a 4-1 lead, it looked like it was all over for the Giants, until a four-run bottom of the ninth earned them one of the most storied comebacks in the history of sports. Alvin Dark led off with a single then came around to score on Whitey Lockman's double before Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" gave the Giants the walk-off victory.
I believe in sports karma. So when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, I knew that someday, I would experience the same feeling of demoralization that afflicted Yankees fans that year.
And in 2010, I was right.
For much of that postseason, the Boston Bruins looked like they very well might represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. They had not one, but two, of the best goalies in the league in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. In particular, Rask looked like he was getting into a groove toward the end of the season and into the first round, where the Bruins took care of the mighty Buffalo Sabres in six games.
The momentum carried over into the conference semis, where Boston took a 3-0 series lead against the seventh-seeded Flyers. And then Philly came roaring back.
The Flyers won Game 4 in overtime, then shut out the B's in Game 5 to seize all of the momentum. A narrow 2-1 victory in Game 6 forced a decisive Game 7—and finally, the Bruins looked like they had gotten their groove back, taking a 3-0 lead in the first period.
But not so fast. Philly scored four unanswered goals to advance to the conference finals and leave the Bruins in the dust, as they became just the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead.
For decades, the San Francisco 49ers have had a reputation for coming from behind to steal a win, courtesy of one Joe Montana. And sometimes, they needed a little help from their friends to preserve a stellar postseason comeback.
In 2003, fans had pretty much closed the book on the 49ers after they fell into a 24-point hole against the New York Giants in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Cue the comeback.
Jeff Garcia got things started off with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens, then with another 14-yard run, a field-goal drive and a 13-yard TD pass. Twenty-four unanswered points later, the Giants were the ones in the hole and had one last chance to win the game with a field goal—but with one botched snap, they found themselves on the wrong side of history. Meanwhile, the Niners—led by Owens, who finished the game with 177 yards—were the ones moving on.
The technical greatest comeback in NFL history belongs to the Buffalo Bills, which is kind of ironic, considering the team's history over the last decade or so.
In any case, fortune used to be on the side of the Bills, and in the first round of the 1993 playoffs, that fortune was proving stronger than ever before. The Bills fell behind 35-3 by the beginning of the third quarter against the Houston Oilers, but one one-yard run was all they needed to get the ball rolling the right way.
Backup quarterback Frank Reich engineered a 32-point comeback that featured five consecutive unanswered touchdowns before the Bills capped off the win with a 32-yard field goal.
The Bills made it to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year, but as would become a running theme for them, they fell short.
The 2007 New York Giants were one of the first teams in recent memory to teach us that you certainly didn't have to be the best regular season team in order to win the biggest game of them all.
In fact, as long as you could put it together for the postseason, you could beat the very best regular-season team—maybe ever.
No one gave the '07 Giants a chance against the 18-0 New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants had a coach that had barely escaped an early-season firing, an inexperienced young quarterback and they had lost four of eight games in November and December. The Patriots, meanwhile, had set a plethora of offensive records throughout the course of the regular season and, of course, they were undefeated heading into the Big Game.
But then the Giants defense played its best game of the season, Eli Manning connected with Plaxico Burress for the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left on the clock (after one stellar catch, courtesy of David Tyrie), and the Giants were the champions while the Patriots were left with a haunting 18-1 mark.
Now, on to the best series comebacks in history.
For every unlikely hero, there is an unlikely loser. In 2003, the Marlins played the part of the heroes while the Cubs, in an all-too-familiar refrain, came out on the short end.
The Marlins entered the 2003 postseason as the NL wild card, narrowly taking down the Mets to gain entry. They somehow defeated the Giants in the ALDS before advancing to face the Cubs, who took an early 3-1 lead in the series before Florida—aided by the likes of Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Dontrelle Willis and Juan Pierre—came roaring back. Beckett pitched Florida to victory in Game 5, but it looked like it was all over for Florida in Game 6 before Steve Bartman stepped in to assist in Chicago's eighth-inning collapse.
Brad Penny helped the Marlins finish off the Cubs in Game 7 before Florida continued on its unlikely journey to defeat the heavily-favored Yankees in the World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have won it all a couple of times in recent memory, but many moons ago, they were consistently one of the unluckiest teams in baseball, and the 1968 Detroit Tigers were one of the many clubs that victimized them.
In the '68 Fall Classic, the Cardinals took a 3-1 series lead against the Tigers, and naturally, the assumption was that they'd finish it off and snag one more win to take home the World Series.
Unfortunately, though, Detroit had something to say about it.
Mickey Lolich got off to a rough start in Game 5, giving up three first-inning runs, but that was all the offense he'd allow as he pitched a complete game to keep the Tigers in it. After a huge offensive performance by Detroit in Game 6, Lolich would also pitch a CG in Game 7, carrying Detroit to a 4-1 win over St. Louis and earning Series MVP honors.
The San Francisco Giants never want to make it easy on themselves in the postseason. They can get the job done—as they have proven twice since 2010—but they will make you squirm while they do.
2012 was no exception.
The Giants may have finished first in the NL West by season's end, but in the NLDS, they looked like anything but a first-place team, dropping the first two games of the series to the Reds before coming back and winning the next three to advance.
But that wasn't even the exciting part.
In the NLCS against the Cardinals, the Giants fell behind 3-1 in the series before engineering yet another great postseason comeback. Just days after becoming the first NL team in MLB history to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a five-game series, the Giants outscored the Cards 20-1 over the final three games of the NLCS to win the pennant and advance to the World Series, which they would also win.
In 2012, San Francisco tied the 1985 Kansas City Royals by earning six straight wins in the same postseason while facing elimination.
You're thinking, How is it possible that the Miami Heat ever needed to make a postseason comeback?
They're one of the most dominant teams ever with one of the most dominant players ever. But somehow, despite all that, the decrepit old 2011-12 Celtics made them fight for their lives in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
Last June, the Heat took the first two games of the series, pinning the Celtics against the wall—but the resilient Green came back and won the next three straight by a combined total of 16 points. Suddenly, it was Boston—not big, bad Miami—that looked like it was destined for the NBA Finals, and once again, the chatter began about LeBron James. Did he have what it took to win a title? Was he forever going to crumble when the pressure hit hardest?
Well, in a word, no.
In Game 6, LeBron had the best game of his career, single-handedly burying the Celtics at home with 30 first-half points (45 total) and 15 rebounds. He firmly swung the momentum back in Miami's favor, where it remained for the rest of the NBA playoffs.
There have been a lot of sweet comebacks in NHL playoff history, but this was one of the originals, and one of the best.
In 1982, the Los Angeles Kings were facing the Edmonton Oilers in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs, and after splitting the first two games, both teams were out for blood in the third.
Apparently, though, the Oilers were out for more, because they took a 5-0 lead by the third period and the Kings appeared to be dead.
Except they weren't. Courtesy of Jay Wells, the Kings finally got on the board a few minutes into the third frame, but there was still a long way to go. In an unprecedented comeback by L.A.—and simultaneously, an unprecedented collapse by Edmonton—the Kings scored five unanswered goals that period, one of which came with a mere five seconds to play.
Two minutes and 35 seconds into overtime, they scored for a sixth time and took the win.
Sadly, the Kings lost to Vancouver in the next round, but at least they'll always have that comeback.
Just five years after winning the World Series in 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves right back in the hunt in 2011—and it wasn't easy. It required a victory over Atlanta on the final day of the regular season, but they got the job done, earning the NL wild card.
The Cards took care of the Phillies in five and then the Brewers in six before facing the Rangers in the World Series. All started off well—St. Louis took Game 1—but then, things seemed to unravel, and the Texas Rangers looked like the heir apparent to the World Series crown.
The Rangers won Games 2 and 3, and in Game 6, the Cards found themselves one strike away from elimination—twice. David Freese hit a triple with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning to tie the game. Lance Berkman again tied it up in the 10th with a two-out, two-strike single before Freese hit a walkoff homer to give the Cards new life.
That year, St. Louis became the first team in MLB history to come back in both the ninth and the 10th innings. And of course, in Game 7, they won 6-2 to take the crown.
We know that in recent memory, the Philadelphia Flyers have been able to overcome a 3-0 deficit. But what about the first NHL team to ever accomplish this rare feat?
In 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs finished the regular season 27-18-3 and took down the New York Rangers, four games to two, in the first round of the playoffs. But when they followed that up by dropping three straight to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals, it appeared that all hope was lost—but it wasn't.
Toronto roared back and took the next three in a row, becoming the only team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now if only a little bit of that juju had been present when they faced a 3-1 deficit against the Bruins this year...
The first time the Kansas City Royals won a World Series, they did so in dramatic fashion. Not only did they rebound after losing three of the first four in the ALCS—they did the same thing in the World Series, too.
The Royals had talent that year. They should have been able to do something big. They won over 90 games during the regular season, thanks in large part to Bret Saberhagen, who was in the midst of a Cy Young campaign.
But in the ALCS against Toronto, they struggled, dropping the first two games as well as the fourth before dominating in the final three. It may have seemed impossible for them to accomplish the very same feat in the World Series, but that didn't stop them: The Royals dropped three of the first four games of the Fall Classic but still rebounded to win the final three and take the crown.
And to top it all off, they beat the hated Cardinals to do so.
Never before, in the history of Major League Baseball, had a team rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series in order to take the win.
Add to those odds the fact that we were talking about the Boston Red Sox—which was supposed to be the most cursed team in baseball—and the fact that there didn't seem to be a shot in hell that they were going to take down the mighty New York Yankees after falling behind 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS.
Enter the greatest (series) comeback in sports history.
The Red Sox—aided by top-notch pitching, silly slogans, a little bit of Jack Daniels and some stellar clubhouse chemistry—made victims of the Yankees for once in their lives and won four consecutive games to stun New York and win the ALCS on the arms of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.
Of course, they'd win another four straight to take home the World Series for the first time since 1918, but after a comeback like this one, they already felt like they won long before the Cardinals came to town.