Teams That Spectacularly Imploded at the Worst Time
In sports, the ability to win the big games, and ultimately championships, is valued above all else. All of the regular-season wins and individual honors in the world can’t make up for faltering on the biggest stages, under the most intense spotlights.
Look at the constant barrage of criticism that was heaped on Heat superstar LeBron James before he finally won the big one, and followed it up with another big one. Those championships basically act as a Teflon coating now. Hurl all the crap you want at the guy—it just won't stick.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, must feel like a knife is being jammed in his side every time someone calls him "the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time." On the surface it seems like a compliment, but it really isn't. And this is a guy who has won a Super Bowl; it's just that he's lost more than he's won.
That being said, spectacular implosions are by no means limited to superstars in professional sports. They can happen anywhere, at any time, sometimes completely without notice. Here are a few teams that have imploded spectacularly at the worst possible time.
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
It looked like things were really shaping up well for the ol' Bengals in 2013. The AFC was down overall as a conference, and the AFC North was especially down. Though they showed flashes of promise during the season, neither the Steelers nor Ravens would make the playoffs.
Cincinnati was unable to secure a first-round bye, but they did have the benefit of playing the ridiculously erratic Chargers, who barely crawled into the postseason, at home. They finished the regular season an impressive 11-5, with at least a handful of quality wins. The table was set.
Set for Andy Dalton and his bungling Bengals to come in and completely fall apart—an implosion that is, after three straight seasons, officially an annual event. Dalton continued his tradition of postseason futility, once again saving what was easily one of his worst performances for last.
U.S. Speedskating Team
Team: U.S. Olympic Speedskating
Although they attempted to defend their lackluster performance at the Sochi Olympics, the U.S. speedskating team was a stunning disappointment in 2014. Maybe their much-discussed new skinsuits did make a difference, or maybe that nonsense just got in their heads.
Either way though, the result was the Americans failing to medal in the event for the first time in 30 years. And switching to the new uniforms and then switching back midway through the Games—talk about ridiculous.
Though there have been other theories put forth to explain the implosion, after the fact, that stuff is much ado about nothing. When you spend four years training for the Olympics—the biggest sporting stage in the world—walking away empty-handed can't be rationally explained away.
University of Alabama
Team: University of Alabama
Alabama had been undefeated for more than a calendar year as they approached their annual showdown with Auburn last season. The only thing standing in between the Crimson Tide and a third consecutive BCS championship berth was the Iron Bowl—a game they won 42-14 in 2012.
After easily besting most of their opponents by at least 20-30 points all season, Alabama struggled mightily against Auburn, failing to put the Tigers away on a couple of occasions. The score was tied, and it looked like the game was headed toward overtime, until coach Nick Saban lost his mind.
Despite having exactly zero success in the kicking game that would suggest a positive outcome, Saban decided to try to win it for the Tide by sending out his kicker to kick an unmakable field goal. The kick fell short in the end zone, where it was recovered by Auburn’s Chris Davis and returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
Alabama would ride that losing tide right into January, turning in a dismal performance against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. A dismal performance that wasn’t nearly as close as the final 45-31 final score suggests.
Boston Red Sox
Team: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox collapse of 2011 was nothing short of epic. It was historic. It was legen…wait for it…dary! In the worst possible sense of the word.
As of the morning of Sept. 4, Boston had a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race with 24 games to go. That gave them, according to number cruncher Nate Silver, a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs.
They proceeded to go an abysmal 7-20 the rest of the way—their worst full month of baseball in almost 50 years—and missed the postseason. It was one of the worst implosions in sports history, which is why the team quickly cleaned house when the dust settled.
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Year(s): 2011-12 and 2012-13
Considering the Canucks have made a habit of playoff implosions for over a decade now, narrowing it down is half the battle. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons stand slightly above the rest, if only because they got within one game of winning a Stanley Cup the previous year.
The Canucks easily finished first in their division both years, before being easily handled in the conference quarterfinals. In 2012, the Kings bested them 4-1, and in 2013, the Sharks swept them 4-0.
Twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin, both regular-season warriors, did nothing to quell the now prevailing sentiment that they are “soft” and can’t deliver when it really counts. Granted, they didn’t really have much time, but whose fault is that?
American Ryder Cup Team
Team: American Ryder Cup Team
The U.S. collapse during the final round of the 2012 Ryder Cup definitely hit in stages. First was disbelief. Squandering a 10-6 lead on the final day of competition is simply unheard of. Well, previously unheard of.
Then came disdain. While most of us were more than willing to give the European team their due, the U.S. implosion was such an unmitigated disaster that it hardly seemed worth mentioning. Why even show up to dump on them when they didn’t show up to play?
And finally, there was disgust. Seeing a team so ridiculously dominant during the first two days of competition fail so spectacularly in the third was the worst.
Team: Boise State Football
For a few years there, the Boise State football team was teetering right on the edge of…something. Every year they’d get so close to doing…something…but always got tripped up along the way.
Though it was the BCS selection committee that was usually sticking their foot out, in 2010, the Broncos tripped over their own collective tail and fell face-first into the mud. Okay, maybe Nevada pushed them.
Riding a 24-game winning streak into their late November faceoff against Nevada and a cupcake against Utah State to finish the season, Boise State was just one 26-yard field goal away from securing a BCS berth. A fortunate position, given the 17-point lead they blew in the second half.
Broncos kicker Kyle Brotzman lined up to kick what should’ve been a game-winning field goal as time expired. But he missed. Brotzman had a chance to rewrite history on the first overtime possession. But he missed, this time from 29 yards. When Wolf Pack kicker Anthony Martinez was given the chance from 34, he nailed it.
Team: Indiana Pacers
Whether or not the Pacers hang on to defeat the Hawks in Game 7 and advance, it won’t change the fact that Indiana’s historic late-season implosion is one of the most remarkable in NBA history. After hanging with the Heat through seven games of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Pacers were expected to contend for a championship this season.
For the most part, everything went as planned, and then came spring. The Pacers began to struggle in early March and have struggled even more in April. For some reason, Roy Hibbert is a shell of the All-Star player he was just a few months ago, having contributed next to nothing in these playoffs. At this point, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to right this ship.
Team: Denver Broncos
The Broncos were the Super Bowl favorites going into last season, and week after week, they proved that Las Vegas oddsmakers actually know what they’re doing. Bolstered by the record-breaking season of quarterback Peyton Manning, Denver cruised to the championship game, hitting some very minor speed bumps along the way.
Of course, if Broncos’ opposition prior to the Super Bowl were speed bumps, then that vaunted Seahawks defense was a brick wall and a whole bunch of buzz saws. Everything came crashing back to Earth as Denver completely imploded en route to a 43-8 routing. The game was all but over before Bruno Mars even took the stage at halftime.
University of Michigan
Team: University of Michigan Basketball
Given the hype that still surrounds Michigan’s famed Fab Five 20 years later, sometimes it’s hard to believe they didn’t actually win a championship. As freshmen, they led the Wolverines to the NCAA championship game, but they ultimately lost to a more experienced Duke team.
The next year they did it again as sophomores, meeting up with North Carolina in the title game. No one was more fired up than Chris Webber, whose attitude exceeded his experience at the time. The Wolverines were down just three points to the Tar Heels with 46 seconds remaining, which is when Webber personally imploded and took his team down with him.
It's hard to imagine anyone doesn't know exactly what happens next. I can't even do the scene justice, so click over to ESPN for one of the best blow-by-blow accounts of Webber's timeout troubles you'll ever read.
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