The 15 Biggest Comebacks in Sports

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

The 15 Biggest Comebacks in Sports

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    AMY SANCETTA/Associated Press

    Although it's no fun to see your favorite sports team fall behind, one of the most exciting things that can happen is when the luck starts to change and your team makes an unbelievable comeback.

    Sure, they aren't very common, and it will add gray hair to any fan's head, but when it happens, it's always memorable.

    As great as some have been over the years, these are the most incredible comebacks ever witnessed in sports.

15. Michael Jordan (NBA Comeback, 1995)

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    I know, I know. This isn't exactly the type of comeback you might have expected to start off this list, but there are so many reasons why Michael Jordan's decision to comeback to the NBA after a 17-month stint playing baseball just has to be here.

    First, the greatest player ever left the game following his third straight title, leaving the league searching for a face of the game.

    Second, even in his absence, some of the megastars from back then like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing didn't win a title—which could have been a great narrative for the league.

    Finally, when he did lace up his kicks again, he instantly proved to be the player he was before, giving memorable moments in the second half of his first season, before running off another three-peat in his first full season back.

    Basically, the league needed Jordan.

14. Clinton LumberKings (16-Run Deficit, 2014)

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    Imagine sitting at a Single-A, minor league baseball game and seeing the scoreboard read "17-1" in the fifth inning.

    You would probably feel pretty damn confident about the chances of winning, right?

    Not if your team was the Burlington Bees, which squandered that 16-run lead in extra innings to the visiting Clinton LumberKings May 7.

13. Indiana Pacers (8-Point Deficit in 11 Seconds)

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    It's not that the Indiana Pacers comeback was enormous, it was just unbelievable because it happened in 11 seconds.

    Occurring in Game 1 against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, the Pacers—OK, Reggie Miller—managed to scrap together eight points to stun Spike Lee and other Knicks faithful.

    It's one of the most remarkable individual performances I've ever seen, and it happened during the peak of the Miller-Lee rivalry.

12. Paul Lawrie (British Open, 1999)

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    Anyone who knows about this one understands that Paul Lawrie's British Open win after trailing by 10 strokes entering the final round was more because of a collapse by Jean Van de Velde.

    To allow Lawrie to pull off the biggest comeback in PGA history, Van de Velde did the unthinkable on the 18th hole, triple-bogeying the hole to allow his opponent to lift the Claret Jug after one of the most memorable botches in sports history.

11. Indianapolis Colts (21-Point Deficit, 2003)

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    While coming all the way back from a 28-7, fourth-quarter deficit is spectacular, the fact that it was Peyton Manning doing it against the then-reigning Super Bowl champions in the final five minutes of a Monday night game makes this that much more dramatic.

    Manning seemed to be looking at his favorite target, Marvin Harrison, to complete the comeback, as Harrison finished with 11 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns—which was just one of the many great moments the two former mates had together.

10. Philadelphia Flyers (NHL Eastern Conference Semifinal, 2010)

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    This series seemed to feature it all.

    First, the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves down 3-0 in the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference Semifinal series before they could seemingly blink.

    Then, when they finally did get to a deciding Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, Philly seemed overwhelmed, giving up three first-period goals.

    Scratching and clawing their way back, the Flyers scored the next four goals of the game, and much like the series itself, won by the score of 4-3, becoming just the third team in NHL history to overcome a three-game deficit.

9. German National Team (World Cup Final, 1954)

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    For all of the soccer fans out there, you know that scoring goals in a match isn't always the easiest thing to do—especially when it's on the biggest stage of a player's career.

    So after the German national team found itself in a two-goal hole just eight minutes into the 1954 World Cup final, one would assume its opponent, Hungary, was just the better team that rainy day.

    The Germans were able to pull level by halftime, and in the 84th minute, they got a second goal from forward Helmut Rahn, giving Deutschland a dramatic and emotional first World Cup victory, known as the Miracle of Bern.

8. Cleveland Indians (12-Run Deficit, 2001)

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    As a Cleveland sports fan, I specifically remember hearing about this one from my camp counselor the summer before my junior year of high school.

    Being televised nationally because it was a Sunday night game on ESPN, the Cleveland Indians were able to climb out of a 12-run deficit against the Seattle Mariners—which held the best record in the majors at the time before eventually winning an MLB-record 116 games on the season.

    Making the comeback even more impressive? It all happened after the seventh inning, with the Tribe eventually winning the game 15-14 in 11 innings.

7. Boston Celtics (NBA Finals, 2008)

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    Seeing the LA Lakers jump out to a 35-14 lead against the Boston Celtics in Game 4—the largest first-quarter margin in NBA Finals history—Jack Nicholson and other Lakers fans probably felt good about their chances.

    But they would ultimately leave unhappy.

    That's because, even after LA led by as many as 24 points, the Celts chipped away at the deficit, using a 21-3 run to end the third quarter to make up the bulk of the comeback.

    Carrying that momentum into the fourth, Boston put away the Lakers to take a 3-1 series lead, eventually winning the NBA title in seven games.

6. Duke Blue Devils (Final Four, 2001)

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    In the fourth meeting of the season between the ACC rivals, this one turned into a classic.

    After jumping all over the Blue Devils to take a 39-17 lead, the Maryland Terrapins seemed to think the game was over—until Duke mounted its comeback.

    Led by stars Shane Battier and Jay Williams, the Dukies took a one-point lead with just under seven minutes to play in the game, closing out their opponent with a 23-12 run to make it to the national championship game. They upended the Arizona Wildcats for coach Mike Krzyzewski's third title at the school.

5. Plano East Panthers (24-Point Deficit, 1994)

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    This game might have been between two Texas high school teams, but it is still one of the craziest games ever played.

    Trailing the John Tyler Lions 41-17 with just over three minutes left in the game, Plano East successfully recovered three onside kicks to pull within 44-41 with 24 ticks left.

    So did the Panthers nail a field goal to send it to overtime before winning it like others on this list?

    Nope: Kick returner Roderick Dunn ran 97 yards for a ridiculous game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left, closing the game out in fashion.

4. Michigan State Spartans Football (35-Point Deficit, 2006)

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    And you thought the Big Ten was just three yards and a cloud of smoke—shame on you.

    The league, or more specifically, the Michigan State Spartans and the Northwestern Wildcats—showed that they, too, know how to score points in bunches during their matchup in 2006.

    Trailing 38-3 with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Spartans rallied to score 38 unanswered points to shock the host Wildcats 41-38, marking the biggest comeback in NCAA, D-I football history.

3. Oracle Team USA (America's Cup, 2013)

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    While sailing isn't necessarily a sport that most people set their DVR to stay up with, last year's America's Cup finals is probably one that even novice sports fans have heard about.

    That's because it is, quite arguably, the best comeback in sports history.

    With the race featuring a best-of-17 format, the America's Cup is the Super Bowl of sailing. The 2013 version didn't just extend to 19 races, but it ended with Oracle Team USA overcoming an 8-1 deficit—yes, on the verge of losing the series with just one race—to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th edition.

2. Buffalo Bills (NFL Wild Card Game, 1993)

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    With their starting and future Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly on the shelf, the Buffalo Bills' hopes for advancing to a third straight Super Bowl appearance rested on backup Frank Reich.

    It didn't start well for him.

    Playing the Oilers for the second game in a row—the two teams squared off in Week 17 with Houston winning, 27-3—it appeared that the Bills would be run off the field again.

    Trailing 28-3 at halftime, things initially didn't get much better in third quarter, when a Reich pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown, giving the Oilers a 32-point advantage.

    Miraculously, though, Buffalo rolled off 28-straight points the rest of that quarter and eventually closed regulation all tied up, before a Steve Christie field goal capped the most amazing playoff comeback in NFL history.

1. Boston Red Sox (ALCS, 2004)

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    While all of the previous mentions of terrific comebacks are great, there's just nothing better than the Boston Red Sox overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to defeat their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, in 2004's ALCS.

    But why's it No. 1?

    Well, because the series wasn't just the 2004 matchup. It actually extended to the previous ALCS in 2003: Does the name Aaron Boone mean anything to anyone?

    And because the Yanks beat out Boston to land the then-best player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez, before the 2004 campaign.

    It was the Evil Empire versus the Curse of the Bambino, and from Dave Roberts' ballsy stolen base in Game 4's ninth inning to Johnny Damon's grand slam in Game to all but secure the Red Sox trip to the World Series, the series had twists and turns that a Hollywood drama couldn't have even provided.