There are few things in sports that capture the attention, and the memory, of sports fans more than a comeback. It’s the story that fans share, the experience that can make an ordinary game an extraordinary moment.
There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing the odds stacked against a team only to watch it pull off the impossible.
Here’s a look at the 50 greatest comebacks in sports history. Compiling a list like this meant having to leave quite a few moments out. The criteria was deficit, degree of difficulty and the moment surrounding the comeback. And it should be noted that series comebacks were not a part of this list. We kept it to single game comebacks.
So look, enjoy and relive these immortal moments in sports where the odds were defied in the name of victory.
When the 49ers drafted Joe Montana, there were plenty of skeptics who wondered what Bill Walsh wanted with an undersized QB that wouldn’t have wowed anyone at a combine. But Walsh stood fast that he liked Montana because he was a winner.
In Week 14 of his rookie season, Montana proved just that.
The winless New Orleans Saints were up 35-7 at the end of the first half. The 49ers, however, would adjust, and Montana would lead his team back to a 38-35 victory. It was the beginning of a long history of Montana-led comebacks.
The Dodgers had an easy job in this memorable 1990 game against the Phillies. They had three outs, facing the 6-7-8 hitters in the lineup with an eight-run lead.
What happened was unthinkable to the fans still in attendance to watch their Dodgers get the easy blowout win.
The Phillies scored nine in an historic inning that featured six hits, two errors and two runners left on.
Peyton Manning doesn’t always have the reputation of coming up big in big moments, but on Monday Night Football in 2003 the Colts engineered a comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will be remembered forever.
Down three touchdowns with four minutes to go, things seemed bleak for the Colts, who had been struggling against one of the NFL’s best defenses, But thanks to the brilliance of Manning and 176 receiving yards by Marvin Harrison, the Colts ended up with a 38-35 victory on a game-winning field goal.
It can be added to the list of great Manning moments.
Those that have ever doubted Kobe Bryant’s ability to come up big in the fourth quarter should look no further than December 6, 2003.
In a game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers trailed by as many as 30 points. But in the fourth quarter the Lakers would score 44 points, and 21 of those points would be by Bryant himself.
Up until that game the Mavericks appeared to be the team to beat in the West, but a major meltdown by the Mavericks proved that all the power still resided in L.A.
Sometimes it takes the effort of two Hall of Famers to lead the charge for one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
The Jazz were trailing the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets by 34 to end the first half. However, after the second half started it was all Jazz. With a slow and methodical pace they erased the lead and found a way to win 107-103.
The 49ers might have been the team of the '80s but the Philadelphia Eagles were the talk of the town in 1989. A talented team with Randall Cunningham at the helm, the Eagles took on Joe Montana and company in Philly.
In the fourth quarter the Eagles seemed to be doing well at keeping the potent West Coast Offense at bay and had a commanding 21-10 lead.
What happened from there was Montana and Walsh figuring out how to exploit the defense, as Montana shredded the top defense in the league with four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t the biggest deficit in NFL history, but it does get style points here.
Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro had very few signature moments during his two-year stint in the Windy City. However, he did end up with a signature loss along the way.
In a regular season game against the Sacramento Kings, the Bulls built themselves a 79-44 lead into the third quarter.
What happened from there was a monumental collapse. The Bulls scored just 19 points the rest of the way as they watched the Kings take the lead and contribute to a long list of reasons the Bulls had to part ways with Del Negro.
When they speak of amazing tennis players, they often forget Henri Cochet. However, those who were in attendance for the 1927 Wimbledon semifinal would never forget him.
After dropping the first two sets to Bill Tilden, Cochet was on the brink of elimination, down 5-1 in the third set.
What came to follow was one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history. He would rally to win the next three sets and push himself into the finals. Those in the crowd that day say they were almost too dumbfounded by the comeback to applaud.
Before this memorable comeback in 2000, Jets broadcaster Howard David announced, “This game is over” as the Jets limped into the fourth quarter down 30-7.
However, as the fourth quarter started, the Jets went on a 23-0 run to tie it at 30. After the Dolphins finally answered with a touchdown, the Jets answered back with a touchdown catch by offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott.
The Jets would force overtime and get the win on a field goal. The game was overshadowed by the New York Yankees-New York Mets World Series, but for those who were watching, it was a game they will never forget, and it was dubbed the “Monday Night Miracle.”
The 1999 British Open will always be best remembered for the collapse of Jean Van de Velde, who squandered a three-stroke lead on the final hole. However, the comeback Paul Lawrie mounted was just as important to the story.
Heading into the final day, he was down by 10 strokes. Upon finishing his round he was down by just three.
It's true that if Van de Velde hadn’t collapsed he would have lost, but Van de Velde did collapse, and Lawrie went down in the record books as the 1999 British Open champion.
At the Summer Olympics of 1972, Lasse Viren was poised to win the 10,000-meter race. Of course, all that was jeopardized when he got entangled with runner Emiel Putteman during the 12th lap.
Still, Viren was determined and got up and eventually caught up with the pack and earned himself a gold medal.
The last thing the Duke Blue Devils wanted to do was make their work harder for them, but when they gave the Maryland Terrapins a 22-point lead midway through the first half, that’s exactly what they did.
However, Duke was never scared off. Instead of panicking, the Blue Devils decided to remain calm, and before the end of the first half they had cut the lead to 11 points. The second half was all Duke, as they erased that deficit and came away with what looked like an easy win.
The game that has been named the “Miracle Bowl” was played during the Holiday Bowl in 1980.
Southern Methodist University jumped out to a 21-point lead. But BYU quarterback Jim McMahon led his team on a fourth quarter comeback that resulted in a Hail Mary pass to tight end Clay Brown to win the game.
The Northwestern Wildcats haven’t had a long history of winning, so when they get a lead, they like to hold on to it. However, the Michigan Wolverines had other ideas.
When the Northwestern baseball team jumped out to a 14-0 lead, there was little hope of a victory for Michigan, but an epic collapse and the resiliency of the Wolverines resulted in a 15-14 win for Michigan.
Dan Marino may be known as the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, but he shouldn’t be forgotten as one of the greatest fourth-quarter QBs in NFL history.
Take the 1985 Divisional Playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. Marino and the Dolphins were down 21-3 midway through the third quarter. However, Marino never worried and instead did what he did best: put points on the board.
The Dolphins went on a 21-0 run that won them the game 24-21.
The Rockets had let the Magic jump out to a 20-point lead midway through the second quarter, but they hung in there and closed the gap in the third quarter thanks to five three-pointers by Kenny Anderson.
The Rockets would force overtime thanks to four blown free throws by the Orlando Magic’s Nick Anderson. In overtime they won 120-118 and then went on for a clean sweep of the East’s hottest team.
Jennifer Capriati’s Australian Open win was impressive not just for the comeback in the match, but her own personal comeback.
A Capriati that was supposed to be over the hill and well past her prime was annoyed by cameras as they positioned themselves near her to get a better angle of Martina Hingis winning her match point.
Capriati dismissed the cameras and then dismissed Hingis’s Grand Slam hopes.
The Red Sox have had plenty of moments that have kept their fans on the edge of their seats, and Game 5 of the '86 ALCS was no exception.
After jumping out to a 2-0 start, the Angels would amass a 5-2 lead through eight innings. In the ninth inning the Red Sox would score four runs to give them a 6-5 edge, only to be tied by the Angels and force extra innings.
It would take until the 11th inning for the Red Sox to get the run needed to put the California Angels away.
Johnny Miller was a relative unknown, but on the biggest stage of his career he beat some of the game's immortals.
Going into the final round of the U.S. Open he trailed the lead by six strokes. Standing between him and the title were Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, but before most had woken up that morning, Miller had torn through the course with a minus-eight (63), which propelled him to a one-stroke win and a place in golf history.
In 2001 the Seattle Mariners would win a historic 116 games, but of the very few losses they suffered that season, one would be a loss for the record books.
On Sunday, August 5th, the Mariners were up 14-2 with just nine outs to go. A lead like that with a bullpen as good as Seattle had seemed impossible to overcome, but the Indians began chipping away.
They cut the lead to 14-9 after eight innings and tied in in the ninth despite being down to their last strike on three separate occasions.
In the 11th inning they would cap a four-hour, 11-minute game as Kenny Lofton slid home for a 15-14 win.
Here’s a come-from-behind victory that the 49ers were not on the winning side of. Back in those days the Lions were the team that always found a way to win. While things have changed, they didn’t change soon enough for the 49ers.
At the end of the first half Y.A. Tittle had given the 49ers a convincing 24-7 lead. However, the second half was all Lions.
Tom “The Bomb” Tracy filled in at running back and scored a pair of touchdowns to get the Lions back in striking distance. Once the defense focused in on the big back, quarterback Tobin Rote used the 49ers' run-heavy defense to his advantage.
All in all the Lions put up major points and sent San Francisco home as 31-27 losers.
Every great captain needs a defining moment. For Cowboy great Roger Staubach, the moment came against the 49ers in the 1972 Divisional Round of the playoffs.
With the Cowboys trailing 28-13 into the fourth quarter, head coach Tom Landry put in Staubach. The man who would later be known as “Captain Comeback” led the Cowboys to 17 unanswered points and propelled them to a 30-28 win.
Staubach would go on to be become one of the most beloved quarterbacks in Dallas history.
1901 was the first year of the American League—so in order to start out with a bang, they made history on just their second day.
The Milwaukee Brewers had a 13-4 lead on the Detroit Tigers going into the ninth inning. Nine runs is hard to do in any one inning, but the pressure of the ninth makes it that much harder. Still, the Tigers hung in there and erased the lead with a 10-run inning and walked out with a 14-13 victory.
The Giants were so close to their first World Series title in over 40 years that they could taste it. Just five outs away, they had the Angels backed into a corner with a 5-0 lead. But the Giants never made it through those five outs safely.
The Angels slowly chipped away at the lead until Troy Glaus hit the game-winning double for the Angels. They would go on to win Game 7 and capture a ring.
The hard part for Giants manager Dusty Baker was that he would experience nearly the same collapse a year later, when his Chicago Cubs squandered a 3-2 series lead to cost them a trip to the World Series.
Entering the last day of a major in golf, few things are more daunting than being seven strokes off the lead. However, Gary Player faced the challenge in the 1978 Masters and made it look easy.
What was particularly impressive about the day was that of his last 10 holes, he birdied seven of them and masterfully shot a 30 on the back nine.
Player had nine majors in his great career, but nothing was more impressive than what it took to win this one.
Going in to the 1984 French Open, John McEnroe hadn’t lost a single match all year. The task for Lendl, then 24 and still seeking his first Grand Slam title, seemed daunting to say the least.
The first two sets were all McEnroe. Lendl appeared overwhelmed by the moment, and McEnroe looked poised to capture another title.
However, at the beginning of the third set McEnroe became irate over a noise coming from the headset of the cameraman. From that point on, despite some attempts from McEnroe, the match was all Lendl, and he picked up the victory and his first Grand Slam title.
Rarely are ties exciting, but in soccer they can be. There has been no tie more exciting than Newcastle drawing a tie from a four-goal deficit.
There is no doubt that Arsenal was a team on the rise, while Newcastle was the underdog, forgotten team.
Still, the first half saw Arsenal open up a 4-0 lead, but the second half was all Newcastle. They tied things up at four and ended the game that way. It may have not been a victory in the truest sense of the word, but accomplishing that was a feat in itself.
The Celtics knew it wouldn’t be easy to beat the Nets, but when they got down by 21 points in the fourth quarter, it seemed nearly impossible.
But Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics went on an offensive tear, outscoring the Nets 41-16. The scoring barrage was powered in large part by Pierce, who had 19 of his 28 points in the period.
In a game that is now known as the “Mardi Gras Miracle,” the Kentucky Wildcats engineered one of the largest comebacks in NCAA history.
After trailing 68-37 at the end of the first half, the Wildcats regrouped and mounted an impressive comeback that gave them a 99-95 win. They managed to outscore the Tigers 62-27 in the last 15 minutes of the game.
While the Wildcats didn’t match their own national championship expectations, they did manage to make a place for themselves in NCAA history.
There’s a reason "The Golden Bear" is considered by many to be the greatest golfer who ever lived.
In the final round of the 1986 Masters, Nicklaus was five shots back with just nine holes to go.
What Nicklaus did on the back nine was nothing short of jaw-dropping. He found a next level in his game to scorch Augusta with a 30 and win a record sixth Masters title.
Every school wants to be a part of history. The problem is for each game that will be remembered in NCAA history, there is a winner and a loser.
The winner in this case was Michigan State, which rallied from a 38-3 hole in the third quarter to win 41-38. A blocked punt by the Spartans ignited a rally that would put the Northwestern Wildcats on the losing end of the biggest comeback in NCAA history.
There are few World Series games that are more talked about than the Red Sox Game 6 loss to the New York Mets. It might be because it features one of the world’s most famous fielding errors.
Boston took a 5-3 lead in the 10th inning. All it had to do was keep the Mets offense at bay for three outs. With New York having tied the game, Mookie Wilson hit an easy grounder down the first base line to the sure-handed Bill Buckner. However, Buckner saw the ball sneak through his legs to give the Mets the win.
Boston would lose Game 7 and add to the perception that it was cursed for having sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees decades earlier.
Down nine points with 2:12 left on the clock in the biggest game of their lives, it’s safe to say that the Kansas Jayhawks were under an enormous amount of pressure.
However, the Jayhawks were fortunate that Memphis was missing its free throws. The Jayhawks mounted a comeback that forced the game into overtime.
The Jayhawks would take control in the extra period and win a national championship with a final score of 75-68.
Before Frank Reich was leading the Buffalo Bills to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, he was doing it at the college level.
In Week 4 against the Miami Hurricanes, Reich came in off the bench working from a 31-0 hole. Reich led the Terrapins on four scoring drives in just over a quarter. He would go on to cap a 42-9 run that would win the game for the Terrapins 42-40 and stand for years as the biggest comeback in NCAA history.
It’s not often that your offense scores three points and you commit six turnovers, yet somehow you manage to win the football game, but the Chicago Bears did it.
The Bears were the hot NFC team in 2006, but against the Cardinals they looked rather pedestrian. Matt Leinart seemed to have figured out the Bears' vaunted Cover-2 scheme and built a 20-0 lead. But the second half featured the Bears winning the best way they knew how that year: special teams and defense.
The Bears ended up recovering two fumbles for touchdowns, and Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown.
The game may be more famous for the Dennis Green tirade after the game.
Mike Weaver had spent 14 rounds of his heavyweight fight with John Tate getting manhandled. There was nothing he could do entering the 15th round to win the decision. His only move was to knock him out.
So with 40 seconds left in the fight, Weaver landed a left hook that dropped Tate for good. He had won the heavyweight title in remarkable fashion and created one of boxing's best moments.
When the two teams from the NBA’s most beloved and storied rivalry meet in the NBA Finals, the drama isn’t far behind.
While the opening three contests had their fair share of excitement, nothing was more exciting, or spelled more doom for the Los Angeles Lakers, than LA's collapse against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals.
Boston was trailing by 18 at halftime and was down by 24 midway through the third quarter, but the Celtics staged a 31-15 run that saw the lead cut to two points entering the fourth quarter.
The Celtics, led by LA local Paul Pierce, had a brilliant fourth quarter that gave the Celtics the win and an all-important 3-1 series lead.
If you watched the Giants vs. Eagles Week 15 game, you could see DeSean Jackson motioning to his teammates on the sideline that he was ready for the punt return and he was hoping they kicked it to him.
He was never more right than in that moment.
The Giants had dominated Michael Vick and the Eagles by opening a 31-10 lead with just 7:28 remaining.
What followed was 28 unanswered points and a Jackson punt return for a touchdown to win the game. The punt was supposed to be kicked away from the dangerous return man, but when punter Matt Dodge felt rushed, he kicked it without worrying about direction.
The loss didn’t just hurt the Giants' confidence but killed their playoff chances as well.
The Knicks and the Pacers had their fair share of battles in the 1990s, but none more memorable than the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In Game 1 of this intense series, Miller stunned the Madison Square Garden crowd as he singlehandedly brought the Pacers to a 107-105 victory.
He scored eight points in the final 16.4 seconds as he hit two three-pointers and stole an inbounds pass for an easy bucket. It only fueled New York’s hatred of Miller and his arrogance and antics for angering the opposing crowd.
Everyone knows that the critical game in a seven-game series is Game 3. In the 2006 NBA Finals the Heat had to win Game 3. They were already down 2-0 and were back on their own court. A loss to the Mavericks would have made it near impossible to come back from.
Still, Dallas mounted a 13-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but Dwyane Wade and his 42 points helped erase the deficit.
Wade scored 12 points in the final six minutes as the Mavericks only scored one basket, and with 3.4 seconds to go Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki missed a free throw he would normally make.
Miami would win the game and would sweep the next four games on its way to the franchise’s first NBA championship.
There are plenty of titles in sports used to sum up historic games or events, but none more famous than Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard 'Round the World.”
When the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants found themselves tied at the end of the 1951 season, they entered into a three-game playoff to determine the winner of the NL pennant.
With the Giants trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3, there was little hope they would be heading to a World Series.
However, the Giants mounted a ninth-inning rally that saw the game rest in the hands of Bobby Thomson. With two runners on and the Giants trailing by two runs, Thomson hit a walk-off three-run home run that sealed the victory for the Giants and made a lasting impression in sports history.
Having Michael Jordan on your team during the NBA Finals means a comeback is always possible, but you never expect it to happen with the NBA’s greatest sitting on the bench.
With the Bulls up 3-2 but trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bulls were resigned to having to try to win it at home for Game 7.
However, within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Bulls, with Jordan firmly planted on the bench and Scottie Pippen leading their second unit, came within three points of the lead.
Eventually Jordan would enter the game and close it out for Chicago’s second ring, but it was the second unit that deserved credit for the win.
San Francisco has a thing for playing well when it matters the most. This time, though, it wasn’t Bill Walsh and Joe Montana or Steve Young and George Seifert. This time players like Tai Streets and Jeff Garcia made all the difference.
In the Wild Card Round of the 2002-2003 NFL playoffs the New York Giants led the 49ers by 24 points with just one quarter remaining.
But a comeback led by Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens led the way until Garcia hit wide receiver Tai Streets with a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins brought the Giants down within striking distance and trailing by one, but he botched a snap at the 49ers' 23-yard line and allowed the clock to run out, preserving a great comeback victory for San Francisco.
There was a point where Portland had figured it had slain the beast. After having won the last two games to tie the series at three games apiece, the Blazers appeared to have the game in hand for a trip to the NBA Finals.
They were up 15 points with the fourth quarter rapidly drawing to a close, but the Lakers would wipe out that 15-point lead en route to a 89-84 win.
The Blazers would be forever remembered for that collapse more than the Lakers would be remembered for that win, but it was that win that would propel LA into the Finals and to an NBA title.
Once the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to win the 2004 ALCS from their arch enemies the New York Yankees, they seemed to be able to come back from just about anything. That’s why when they pulled off the upset of Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the ALCS, nothing about it was a surprise.
The Red Sox were down 7-0 against a good Rays pitching staff, but the Red Sox never panicked and instead put eight runs up over the next three innings. Their offensive power was highlighted by a three-run homer by David Ortiz.
Although they didn’t win the series, their performance in Game 5 was a nod to the resiliency of the team.
In college basketball, points aren’t always easy to come by, which can make big leads seem insurmountable.
Like being down 15 points in the round of eight during the NCAA Tournament.
When the Illinois Fighting Illini took on the Arizona Wildcats, they found themselves down 15 points to a team that was not supposed to be dominating them. But the Illini never gave up and mounted a comeback that not only included 15 points in four minutes, but also 12 of those points being scored in just 50 seconds.
The Illini would get as far as the championship game before losing to North Carolina, but no one would ever forget the journey it took to get there.
How do you erase a 10-point lead with just one minute left in the game?
You get Tracy McGrady to shoot out of his mind.
In a routine game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets were down 10 with a minute remaining. But just as quickly as the final seconds were drawing near, Rockets star McGrady caught fire and came up with 15 points in one minute.
To this day it stands as one of the highlights of a career that has been marred by the criticism that McGrady can't will his team to a victory.
On that day, he did.
The chances of defeating the Great One and his far superior team were not good for the Los Angeles Kings in the 1982 Smythe Division semifinals.
But even after the Oilers jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two periods, the Kings refused to quit in the pivotal Game 3 in a best-of-five series. They ended up forcing overtime due to scoring goals in a variety of different ways.
The Kings would win the game and win the series too, proving that one should never count out the underdog.
Soccer goals are not easy to come by. That’s why when AC Milan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the 2005 Champions League final, there was great cause for concern.
What happened in the second half was impressive not just for the sheer volume, but also the time it took to make it happen. Liverpool tied it up with three goals of their own in a span of six minutes.
The teams would be forced to go to a shootout, which Liverpool would win 3-2, capping their fifth European cup title and one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
There wasn’t much hope for the Bills when a 1992 AFC Wild Card game had them down 28-3 at halftime. Couple that with a 58-yard interception return by the Oilers for a touchdown at the beginning of the second half, and what you had was a game that was over before it ever got started.
But then Frank Reich, who was starting for an injured Jim Kelly, began leading the comeback charge. The Bills charged back from a 38-3 deficit and took a 38-35 lead.
The Oilers were able to force it into overtime, but at that point the momentum had shifted, and the Bills were the team of destiny. They would go on to lose the Super Bowl that year, but their journey was memorable.