The Most Crushing Losses in Sports History

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst IApril 3, 2011

The Most Crushing Losses in Sports History

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    What is a crushing loss?

    A crushing loss is a loss in which the losing team is not only at the wrong end of the final score but also goes on to be on the wrong end of history.  Did the franchise move away shortly after?  Was it the team's last, best chance at a title?  Did they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

    That is how you know a loss was crushing.

    Of course, sometimes simply losing by a ton of points is good enough, too.

    Let's have a look at 25 of the most crushing losses in sports history.

25. Dec. 2, 2010: Miami Heat 118, Cleveland Cavaliers 90

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    The picture paints itself: A tepid Miami Heat come to Cleveland with an 11-8 record for LeBron James's homecoming against the team he spurned, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who, while keeping their head above water, are 7-10 and promising to play the Heat tight.

    LeBron goes for 38 points, eight assists and five rebounds as the Cavs lose 118-90.  And reality sets in, as the Cavs lose 34 of their next 35, including 26 straight.

    There will be no playoff basketball this year in Cleveland.

24. Boston Bruins 4, St. Louis 3, Game Four, 1970 Stanley Cup Finals

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    This game is well-known for this image, perhaps the most famous image in NHL history, of Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

    It should be noted, though, that this game marked the end of three-straight Stanley Cup losses for the St. Louis Blues, and the Blues have not been back to the Stanley Cup Finals since.

23. AFC Wild Card Playoff: Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38

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    The Houston Oilers went 10-6 in 1992 and drew the defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in the wild card round.  With Warren Moon and the veteran Oilers hitting their peaks, this was one of the team's last shots at postseason glory.

    Shortly after halftime, the Oilers led the Bills 35-3 and appeared to be in cruise-control against backup quarterback Frank Reich and backup running back Kenneth Davis.  

    What followed was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of professional sports and marked the beginning of the end of Warren Moon's career and the Houston Oilers, who would move to Tennessee just four years later.

22. 1996 Masters: Greg Norman Loses After Leading by 6 Strokes

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    Greg Norman came into the Masters in 1996 playing well and looking to finally capture the title which had eluded him after numerous close calls throughout his career.  He shot an opening round 63, a course record, and led through the first three days of play.

    In one of the worst final day performances in the history of the game, Norman lost a six-stroke lead in the final round and lost the Masters to Nick Faldo by five strokes.  

    Norman did it with panache. He had three straight bogeys on holes nine,10 and 11 and a double bogey on 12.  He was sunk by the 15th hole and missed on his last best chance to take home the green jacket.

21. Game 7, Western Conference Finals: Lakers 89, Blazers 84

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    In Game 7 of a tense Western Conference Finals, Scottie Pippen and the Portland Trailblazers were up by 15 points in the fourth quarter in L.A., with a trip to the NBA Finals within their grasp.

    The Blazers could not score another basket to extend their lead or the game, and the Lakers came all the way back.

    The Blazers have not been back.

20. Game 2, 1989 NBA Finals: Detroit Pistons 108, LA Lakers 105

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    In the 1989 Finals, the great Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar Showtime Lakers attempted to make one last championship stand, facing the Detroit Pistons for the second year in a row in an attempt to go for the "Three Peat."

    Before the 1988-1989 season, Kareem had already announced that he would retire at the end of the season, and the Lakers were trying to send Kareem out with a championship.

    But early in the second half, Magic Johnson pulled his hamstring, aggravating an injury from earlier in the season and was lost for the series.  Game 2 came down to the final moments, and the Pistons went up 2-0 in the series going back to Los Angeles.

    Without Magic, the Lakers were swept out of the Finals, and it brought to an end the Lakers Showtime dynasty of the 1980s.

19. Jan. 23, 1944: Detroit Red Wings 15, New York Rangers 0

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    On Jan. 23, 1944, the Detroit Red Wings obliterated the New York Rangers by a score of 15-0, the worst loss in the history of the NHL.

    Without knowing for sure, but knowing the era, one is forced to assume that this was one of those "war-time shortage of players" anomalies.  The Rangers were 6-39-5 in the 1943-1944 season, just two years after finishing with the best record in the NHL.

18. 1940 NFL Championship: Chicago Bears 73, Washington Redskins 0

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    All the details of this game, the most lopsided loss in NFL history, make it seem all the more improbable.

    Like, the game was played in Washington.

    And, the Redskins had actually beaten the Bears 7-3 three weeks before.

    Nevertheless, the Chicago Bears came into Griffith Stadium on the afternoon of Dec. 8, 1940, to play the first ever nationally broadcast NFL championship game with a chip on their collective shoulder.  After the previous meeting, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall had called the Bears crybabies and quitters. George Halas used this to pump up his team, and it was a massacre.

17. Aug. 22, 2007 – Texas Rangers 30, Baltimore Orioles 3

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    The Texas Rangers set the modern Major League record for runs in a game despite playing on the road and despite actually trailing 3-0 after three innings. The Rangers oddly scored in only four different innings, scoring five runs in the fourth inning, nine in the sixth, 10 in the eighth and then six in the ninth.

    Meanwhile, the Orioles used only four pitchers, the Rangers made only one offensive substitution and the game took only three hours and 21 minutes.

    Strangely, the bottom of the Rangers order performed better than the top of the order, as David Murphy, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez each reached base five times. Murphy and Saltalamacchia each scored five times, and Saltalamacchia and Vazquez each had two home runs and seven RBI.

    Then, to top off one of the craziest games of all time, the Rangers' Wes Littleton pitched the final three innings of the game for the craziest save of all time.

16. Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16

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    The youngest amongst us may marvel at the notion that the Cincinnati Bengals were once a Super Bowl contender.  But nevertheless, the Bengals actually went to two Super Bowls in the 1980s, losing both times to the San Francisco 49ers.

    In Super Bowl XXIII, the second of the two, the Bengals actually led 16-6 going into the fourth quarter before Joe Montana went to work and, well, did what Joe Montana does.

15. Geogia Tech 222, Cumberland College 0

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    On Oct. 7, 1916, in retaliation for a 22-0 drubbing in the previous year's baseball season, the Georgia Tech Engineers defeated the Cumberland College by a score of 222-0.

    The subplot here is that apparently Cumberland College had discontinued football prior to the 1916 season, but failed to notify George Tech coach John Heisman, who demanded that they play or pay a forfeit fine.

    So Cumberland College cobbled together what amounted to a club team and got mauled.

14. Morningside High 102, South Torrance 24

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    In the final game of the 1989-1990 season for the Morningside High girls team, Lisa Leslie scored 101 of her team's 102 points.

    By halftime.

    The game was actually forfeited by South Torrance at the half.

    Could somebody get us some game film on this one?

13. Dec. 17, 1991 – Cleveland Cavaliers 148, Miami Heat 80

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    In the worst blowout loss in NBA history, the Cleveland Cavaliers annihilated the Miami Heat by a score of 148-80.

    In retrospect, do you think this was actually the motivating factor behind Miami snatching up LeBron James from Cleveland?

12. Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21

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    Rarely has the impact of a single loss destroyed a franchise.

    Rich Gannon had one of the greatest quarterback seasons of all time, and the Oakland Raiders got back to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly two decades.  With franchise great Tim Brown and newcomers Charlie Garner and Jerry Rice, the Raiders had an amazing offense.

    What happened next knocked the franchise off the tracks for the next 10 years.

    Facing off against former coach Jon Gruden, who had just left the Raiders the year before, the Raiders got obliterated.  Gannon threw five interceptions, three of which went back for touchdowns, and the Raiders lost by 27.

    And they would lose 10 or more games in each of the next eight seasons.

11. Game 7, 1956 World Series: New York Yankees 9, Brooklyn Dodgers 0

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    In a hard fought battle between two bitter rivals, the 1956 World Series saw the Brooklyn Dodgers take a 2-0 series lead in Brooklyn before losing three straight in Yankee Stadium, including the pivotal Game 5 on Don Larsen's perfect game.  

    Brooklyn came back and won Game 6 2-0 and sent ace Don Newcombe, who had won the 1956 NL MVP as well as the inaugural Cy Young Award during the regular season, to the mound to face the forgettable Johnny Kucks.

    The game was never close, as Kucks shut down the Dodgers and the Yankees took the game 9-0.

    The game was notable in several respects as it represented the last best chance for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boys of Summer, and Dem Bums, to knock off the hated cross-town rival Yankees.  The Dodgers spent only one more season in Brooklyn before moving to Los Angeles.

    More importantly, it would be the final game Jackie Robinson ever played in.  After the season, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley traded Robinson to the Giants and Robinson, who had no love for the Giants and saw the move as the last of more than enough straws, opted to retire.

    It was a real The Day the Music Died moment for Brooklyn, Major League Baseball and American sports.

10. Game 6, 2003 NL Championship Series: Florida Marlins 8, Chicago Cubs 3

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    Let's make something clear: the Cubs were about to go to the World Series.

    And, the Cubs were about to win the World Series.

    What's more, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were going to be the greatest pitching duo of all time.

    The Cubs were on the verge of a dynasty.

    Then this happened.  And it was all gone.

9. Game 1, 1995 NBA Finals: Houston Rockets 120, Orlando Magic 118

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    With one of the most exciting young nuclei in NBA history, the Orland Magic had ridden Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway to the best record in the Eastern conference and a spot in the NBA Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

    In Game 1 of the series, the Magic were up by three late with less than 10 seconds in the game when the Rockets fouled Nick Anderson.  Somehow, improbably, Nick Anderson missed two free throws, but got the rebound on the second one and was immediately fouled.  

    He then somehow missed the next two free throws.  Any one of the four free throws would have iced the game, but instead the Rockets forced overtime on a desperation three-pointer, won the game and eventually swept the series.

    This would be the pinnacle of the Shaq-Penny baby dynasty, and within two years Shaq would be in Los Angeles and Penny would never be the same.

8. 2009 Wimbledon Final: Federer Defeats Roddick in 16-14 Final Set Tiebreaker

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    In one of the most dramatic tennis matches of all time, Andy Roddick, who had been to and lost two previous Wimbledon Finals against Roger Federer, took Federer to five sets and then played a dramatic and anguished 30 games before Federer was able to wrestle the match from Roddick.

    It was the last best chance for Roddick to take the Wimbledon crown against Federer, and he appeared to be on the verge of grabbing the momentum at various points throughout the match before finally falling.

7. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, Patriots 14

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    The New England Patriots had just become the first NFL team to ever go 16-0, and were one game from becoming the greatest team in NFL history and, possibly, in the history of professional sports.

    But the team that had been victim No. 16 in the final game of the regular season, the New York Giants, had other ideas, and at the end of Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were 18 and a very big 1.

    And they have not been back. 

6. 2009 NFC Championship: New Orleans Saints 31, Minnesota Vikings 28

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    With the Minnesota Vikings 19 seconds away from kicking a field goal and going to their first Super Bowl since the '70s, the Vikings put together a too-many-men-in-the-huddle penalty and a classic Brett Favre across-the-body interception to throw away the game.

    As would become apparent during the 2010 season, this was a lightning in a bottle moment for the Vikings, as the 2010 team would return with essentially the same personnel and not even muster a shot at the playoffs.

    By season's end, the Vikes had fired their head coach, benched Favre and watched their stadium succumb to the weight of a snow storm, a symbol the team's own succumbing to the weight of failed expectations. 

5. 2002 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 100, Sacramento Kings 99

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    I am a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, and my memories of watching the Showtime Lakers with my step-father are precious to me.  When Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV, I was devastated.  I loved Magic, but I also loved Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos and Eddie Jones.

    I only bring this up because I want to stress how unbiased I am being when I say the following:

    Something not right happened in this game.

    The Lakers had been down 24 to the Sacramento Kings in the first half in Los Angeles.  The Lakers were moments away from going down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals at home.  And somehow, they came all the way back.

    Bill Simmons has a theory about how the NBA manipulates important games by sending their lesser referees to playoff games in which the league "needs" the home team to win, because the lower caliber referees are susceptible to home-crowd momentum, a theory that has subsequently been validated by the revelations of the Tim Donaghy scandal, as well as the research done by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in their book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played.

    Taking nothing away from Robert Horry, whose shot was amazing, the game nevertheless swung the momentum in the series in L.A.'s favor, and they eventually got back to the NBA Finals and destroyed the New Jersey Nets.

    Meanwhile, Sacramento, which had an amazing and exciting young team, reached their pinnacle and would never be back.  The Kings, at last glance, are on their way to Anaheim.

4. 1988 AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 38, Cleveland Browns 33

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    For the second straight year, the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns met in the AFC Championship.

    With under two minutes left and the Browns down 38-31, Earnest Byner took a hand-off on 1st-and-goal and appeared set to stroll into the end zone to tie the game.  Somehow, a Broncos player forced Byner to fumble, and the Broncos would go to their second straight Super Bowl.

    The Broncos would top the Browns one more time in 1989, and then the Browns would disappeared forever.

3. Game 1, 1919 World Series: Cincinnati Red 9, Chicago White Sox 1

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    It was just one game, but when the Chicago White Sox lost Game 1 of the 1919 World Series, it sent a tacit message to the baseball world that gamblers and fans alike had known to watch for: the fix was in.

    Actually, the fix was in just as soon as Eddie Cicotte started the game by hitting the Reds leadoff man, Morrie Rath.

    Within two years, eight members of the White Sox would be banned from baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest hitters of all time, and the White Sox would go 86 seasons before finally winning another World Series.

2. 1993 NCAA Championship Game: North Carolina 77, Michigan 71

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    The University of Michigan's "Fab Five," a team of five freshman comprised of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to college basketball, and in consecutive years they carried Michigan to the NCAA Championship game.

    After losing as freshmen to Duke, the Fab Five faced off against the University of North Carolina.  With 19 seconds left, after North Carolina missed a free throw that would have put them up by three points, Chris Webber grabbed the rebound.  What happened next was one of the worst possessions in college basketball history.

    Webber traveled under the opposing basket, then brought the ball upcourt, dribbled into the baseline corner and called a timeout that Michigan did not have.

    Michigan went on to lose the game.  Webber would leave for the NBA the following season, bringing an end to the Fab Five, and the University of Michigan has not been a basketball power since.

1. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series

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    It is often lost on people that the Boston Red Sox did not lose the 1986 World Series on Bill Buckner's error.

    And they would not necessarily have won if he had made the play cleanly.

    Going into the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox were in fact three outs away from their first World Series title since 1918.

    In fact, the Red Sox were one out away after Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two batters of the inning. However, a single by Gary Carter and another by Kevin Mitchell put two men on base for Ray Knight, who then hit another single to bring home Carter.

    Still clinging to a 5-4 lead, the BoSox brought in Bob Stanley, who promptly threw a wild pitch and brought home Kevin Mitchell with the tying run.

    Thus, when Mookie Wilson slapped that ball between Buckner's legs, there was no longer a lead to protect.  

    But the error did cost the Sox the game, and when they subsequently lost Game 7, the sting of having been one out away from a World Series title was nearly inbearable.

    And the burden of that sting fell to Buckner.