The 2011 NCAA tournament was exciting, dynamic and unpredictable. Most people's tournament brackets were in the trash can by the Final Four, as the nation was treated to a bevy of upsets, shockers and Cinderella teams.
And then it all landed with a thud in the national championship game, as UConn beat Butler 53-41 in one of the most boring, poorly played and, frankly, worst championship games of all-time, at any level.
What makes a bad championship game? Poor play? Lack of competitiveness? Bad teams?
Yes, yes and yes. And more.
Let's take a look at the 25 worst championship games of all-time.
In the spring of 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings faced off in one of the most grueling and exhausting Western Conference Finals of all-time, in a series in which the Kings were one Robert Horry three-pointer away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Sacramento. Once the Lakers got past the Kings, though, they beat an out-matched New Jersey Nets team for the championship in a sweep in which no single game was close.
Do not get us wrong: watching the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series in over 80 years was amazing. But coming on the back of the Red Sox triumphant and historic comeback from down 3-0 against the New York Yankees in the ALCS really took all the momentum out of the Sox 4-0 spanking of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Do not get us wrong: watching the Boston Red Sox win their second World Series in four years was amazing. But coming on the back of the Red Sox triumphant and historic comeback from down 3-1 against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS really took all the momentum out of the Sox 4-0 spanking of the Colorado Rockies which, after a historic run of their own at the end of the season, ended up sitting for 11 days waiting for the AL pennant to be decided.
Hard to know what went wrong here—whether it was the steady rain, the never-in-doubt victory by the Indianapolis Colts or the personality-less Miami downtown scene.
But know this: a Super Bowl better come down to the fourth quarter, or it better be a 30-point blowout. There is no room for anything in between with the whole world watching.
When people talk about how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird saved the NBA, this is what Magic and Bird were saving the league from. The league had just lost its biggest star, Bill Walton, to injuries and were faced with two imperfect conference champions, the Washington Bullets and Seattle Supersonics, in back-to-back matchups. The Sonics featured Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Gus Williams while the Washington Bullets featured Elvin Hayes, Bob Dandridge, Mitch Kupchak and a not particularly healthy or effective Wes Unseld.
In a season in which there were several excellent college football teams, Florida State drew the championship game draw against the undefeated Tennessee Volunteers in the first ever BCS national championship game.
With Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke injured, backup Marcus Outzen led the Seminoles to a flat, uneven performance, and they were never in the game.
Pre-shot clock, Indiana beat Kansas 60-42 after—get this—not scoring their first basket until eight minutes into the first half.
Just think—this game was played pre-shot clock, and they still outscored this year's matchup.
Joakim Noah and the University of Florida topped UCLA 73-57 in a game that was never close, and was really pretty boring.
The Oakland Raiders got out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and the Philadelphia Eagles never made a game out it.
It was delightful to see two of the most talented college basketball teams of all-time face off against each other, and it was delightful to see Duke lose one.
UNLV toppled Duke 103-73, and achieved two impressive feats: becoming the first team to ever score 100 points in a final, and winning by the widest margin in history.
The sixth-seeded Houston Rockets, which went 47-35 in the Western Conference, bested five 50-win teams to get to the NBA Finals, where they faced off against the Shaq-and-Penny Orlando Magic.
What should have been a brilliant matchup between Hakeem Olajuwan and Shaquille O'Neal turned into a dud when Nick Anderson missed four straight free throws to cost the Magic Game 1. The Magic laid down and allowed themselves be swept out of the championship round.
The Chicago Blackhawks had not won a Stanley Cup since 1961, but looked very strong in 1992. They finished second in the Norris Division and then, after dispatching the St. Louis Blues in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, swept through both the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers in eight total games.
They failed to show up in the finals, however, getting swept by the Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks actually led Game 1 4-1 before losing the lead, and they were never in it again.
The series went seven games, which would seem to have made it a classic. But the final game of the series was a dud, with the Lakers and Celtics taking turns clanging the rim at either end of the court. As Bill Simmons brings us once per podcast, Kobe Bryant went 6-for-24 for the Lakers, but the Celtics performed so poorly that it did not matter. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers had prevailed 83-79 in one of the most uninteresting Game 7s in pro sports history.
The Los Angeles Dodgers won just 63 games during the regular season, while the New York Yankees won only 59 in a strike-shortened 1981 which was split in two.
Because the season was split in half, the first-half winners of each division faced off against the division winners of the second half of the season in the first ever "divisional series," and then the winners of those series met in the American and National League Championship Series.
Ironically, the team that finished with the most wins in all of baseball on the season, the 66-win Cincinnati Reds, did not win either half of the season in the NL West and thus did not make the playoffs.
The World Series, which the best team in baseball did not have a chance to make it to, featured incomplete teams and uncompelling games.
With the Miami Dolphins going up 17-0 by halftime, this one was never a game. The Minnesota Vikings never threatened. Miami did all its damage on the ground, while Bob Griese attempted all of seven passes.
I just dozed off writing about this game.
In 1994, at a point in the history of soccer in the United States when the common U.S. sports fan was most ready to get next to soccer, the World Cup final went scoreless in regulation and the entire World Cup came down to penalty kicks.
A moment was lost.
Let me get a little philosophical on you:
In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, between the 111-win Cleveland Indians and the 97-win New York Giants, with the score tied 2-2 in the eighth inning, Vic Wertz hits a tremendous fly ball which Willie Mays nonetheless tracks down with his back to the plate to keep the go-ahead run from scoring.
The series essentially ended there.
If a World Series ends with a play that occurred in the first game, isn't that really a bad World Series?
Same rule as the previous one.
The momentum of this World Series swung around Kirk Gibson's dramatic Game 1-winning home run off of Dennis Eckersley.
Dramatic Game 1 winning home run.
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 shoulders. 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.
There's nothing wrong with a blowout in a championship, but some sense of competitiveness is usually nice.
World War II had depleted the talent pool in Major League Baseball, which led to a less-than-riveting matchup between the Chicago Cubs (98-56) and Detroit Tigers (88-65).
The series went seven games, but oddly only Game 6 was compelling. The Tigers scored five runs in the top of the first inning of Game 7, and the game was over before it started.
The Oklahoma Sooners spent the entire season ranked No. 1 overall in the polls and computer rankings. USC spent most of the season in the top 10, and was considered a contender for the national title all year. But LSU, which began the season ranked 14th in the country, had an outstanding year and came on strong in the end. Thus, in the final weekend of the season, as LSU was winning the SEC championship over Georgia in Atlanta, and as USC was finishing its season with one loss in a 52-28 drubbing of Oregon State, Oklahoma was being handed its first loss of the season in the Big 12 Championship at the hands of Kansas State by a score of 35-7.
When the BCS nevertheless crunched out an LSU-Oklahoma championship game in the Sugar Bowl, the world revolted, and USC ended up finishing the season atop of the AP Poll and, somehow, being deemed co-national champions with the Sugar Bowl-winning Tigers.
We think that LSU probably feels some level of validation from the revelations regarding USC's myriad of recruiting violations.
In a season in which the Chicago Blackhawks went 14-25-9 and finished with the sixth best record out of eight NHL teams, and third best in the American Division, they nevertheless made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, which had won the Canadian Division.
In the finals, the Blackhawks topped Toronto 3-1 in the series, and won the deciding Game 4 going away, 4-1.
Roundly considered the worst World Cup of all-time, West Germany won the final 1-0 over the reigning champion Argentina to claim their third World Cup title. Italy, the host of the World Cup, beat England 2-1 to finish third after both lost their semifinals in penalty shootouts.
The 1990 World Cup generated a record low goals-per-game average, and saw a record 16 red cards handed out. The 1990 World Cup Final also featured the first ever dismissal in a final.
In one of the most exciting and unpredictable NCAA tournaments of all-time, we ended up with the University of Connecticut and Butler University in the championship game. Neither team lacked for stars, storyline or intrigue. But what America got on this night was one of the most boring NCAA championship games of all-time, as both teams played as if they thought getting to the championship was the goal, not winning it. The final score was 53-41, and it took an uptick in scoring in the second half to even get the score that high.
Given the choice between winning the World Series and making a reasonable amount of money, the 1919 Chicago White Sox, by and large, chose the money.
Any championship in which one team, let alone the favored team, throws the whole damned thing must go down as the worst championship of all-time.