Great Comeback Stories of 2015

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2015

Great Comeback Stories of 2015

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Who doesn't love a good comeback story? Eric Berry, Paul George, the Kansas City Royals—each represent one of the great redemption tales of 2015.

    This year saw a host of such stories, some inspirational and some simply unbelievable—some season-long and others lasting for just a brief moment.

    Players came back from illness or horrible injuries. They experienced career resurgences. Teams defied all odds to achieve great success. In a few, special instances, single games or moments provided enough material for one great story.

    There are comebacks in sports all the time, but these are 15 of the best stories from the past year, ranked from "pretty cool" to "this should be a movie."

Honorable Mentions

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    These guys almost made the cut:

    • Juan Pablo Montoya: came back from 30th place to win the Indianapolis 500
    • Chicago Blackhawks: scored three goals in four minutes of game time to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in November
    • Kansas State: beat Iowa State, 38-35, in regulation after trailing by seven with less than two minutes remaining
    • Kirk Cousins: led Washington to a comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and uttered the now immortal postgame words, "You like that!"

Alex Rodriguez

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Alex Rodriguez might not be MLB's most popular guy, but there's no denying his incredible turnaround in 2015. Some might not view his comeback as inspirational, given his off-field issues, but surely there were at least a few fans in New York who dug it.

    After a season-long performance-enhancing-drug suspension in 2014, Rodriguez returned to the New York Yankees carrying a lot of baggage. In addition to the time off, A-Rod was nearing 40 and had a history of injury issues. No one expected him to be of much use to the Yankees.

    The masses were wrong. A-Rod batted .250/.356/.486 on the season, hit 33 home runs and racked up 86 RBI. Yankee fans cheered as he recorded his 3,000th career hit and passed Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.

    He was in the running for the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, though that ultimately went to Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers. It should be noted that Fielder, and the National League winner, Matt Harvey, did have great comeback seasons, but few turned things around, on and off the field, like A-Rod.

Packers Hail Mary

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    A regular-season comeback win doesn't pack as much punch as a playoff victory, but the Green Bay Packers Week 13 miracle over the Detroit Lions came close.

    Detroit led 20-0 in the second half. Yet, somehow, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack stormed back to pull within two with no time on the clock (a questionable facemask call allowed them one more play).  

    Then came one of the greatest plays in sports: the successful Hail Mary. Rodgers launched it from 61 yards away, right into tight end Richard Rodgers' outstretched hands.

    QB Rodgers, who finished with 289 yards with two touchdowns on the day, said, "It's the greatest feeling. We're blessed to be able to play this game, and it reminds you at times how special this game is. You live for days like this, to be able to have something miraculous happen," per ESPN.com.

Fabio Fognini vs. Rafael Nadal

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Rafael Nadal didn't have the best season in 2015 (no major tournament wins), but that shouldn't diminish Fabio Fognini's comeback win against him in the third round of the U.S. Open.

    Coming into the match, Nadal was 151-0 in Grand Slam play when leading after two sets, per atpworldtour.com, and Fognini had never beaten a top-10 opponent on hard courts.

    Eighth-seeded Nadal jumped out to a two-set lead against the 32nd-seeded Italian, but he ultimately lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that took almost four hours to complete.

    Fognini called it a "mental victory," per the Associated Press (via USA Today), and said, "To win like that—against him, from two sets down—is something incredible."

Kevin Durant

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Since winning the NBA MVP in 2014, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been derailed by injuries. He played in just 27 games in the 2014-15 season, but returned with a vengeance in 2015-16.

    Through mid-December, Durant has averaged 27.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. LeBron James even said he might have a chance to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

    Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, James said, "His ability to score the ball is obviously up there with the greatest to ever play. I know that's not in his memory bank right now, him trying to help the team get better and better, but long term he definitely can challenge that."

NFC Championship Game

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    As crushing as the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl loss was in 2015, that's how elating their NFC Championship victory was.

    By all accounts, the Green Bay Packers should've had them beat, leading 19-7 with less than five minutes to go. However, a Russell Wilson touchdown run and successful onside kick got the Hawks right back in it.

    Marshawn Lynch scored on a 24-yard run, and the two-point conversation made it 22-19, Seattle. Of course, since Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, he drove down the field to set up the game-tying field goal and sent the game to overtime. 

    Despite struggling offensively for much of the game, Wilson was able to hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard TD on the opening possession. That was all she wrote. 

    Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said, "It always seems like we're down and out, and everything's done. We're all out. There's no way for us to turn it around. And then we find a way to turn it around," per Sam Farmer of the Chicago Tribune.

Carson Palmer

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    In mid-December, Chris Wesseling of Around the NFL listed Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer as a favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

    Indeed, Palmer, who had the second of two major knee surgeries in the offseason, is firing on all cylinders and has the Cardinals in first place in the NFC West. Through 13 games, he has posted a 107.2 passer rating, per Pro-Football-Reference.com and has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He's even getting MVP talk

    Wesseling wrote, "Against all odds, a 35-year-old quarterback written off as a washed-up journeyman just two seasons ago has exhibited more arm talent, better footwork and a higher understanding of the game than his previous career year of 2005."

    An honorable mention goes to his Cardinals teammate, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011.

Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    This inspiring Premier League is one part comeback and two parts redemption. 

    Chelsea sacked manager Claudio Ranieri back in 2004. The man who succeeded him, Jose Mourinho, once said Ranieri "has the mentality of someone who doesn't need to win," per the Telegraph.

    Fast-forward to 2015, Ranieri's first season back in the Premier League. He has led Leicester City, a team that nearly faced relegation last season, to first place (through Dec. 17).

    Everton manager Roberto Martinez said, "Ranieri is someone who gives a very calm message all the time and has faith in what he believes in. The team are playing like that. … Ranieri deserves incredible credit for that and, 100 percent, has not been given the credit he deserves," per Andy Hunter of the Guardian.

    To add extra juice to the story, Ranieri's team defeated Mourinho's Chelsea 2-1 on Dec. 14. It was Mourinho's last match as manager—he was fired after dealing with that rumor mill all season.

    It's been a comeback year for Leicester City, and it has definitely been a redemption year for its manager. 

Devan Dubnyk

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made his debut for the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 15 after coming over from the Arizona Coyotes via midseason trade.

    Allan Muir of SI.com wrote, "From a target of derision in Edmonton to a flameout in Nashville to a washout in Montreal and a going-nowhere backup in Arizona, Dubnyk seemed destined to play out the string on the fringes of the game."

    Instead, he shined in Minnesota, putting together a second half that almost won him the Hart Trophy. (Carey Price's existence didn't help his cause there.) In 19 games with Arizona to start 2014-15, Dubnyk posted a 9.16 save percentage and 2.72 GAA. In 39 games with the Wild, those numbers improved to 9.36 and 1.78, respectively.

    Dubnyk finished fourth in the Hart Trophy voting and third for the Vezina. He did take home the Masterton Trophy, an award for "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey," that is kinda/sorta also an award for comeback players.

Michigan vs. Michigan State Ending

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    Sometimes, one play can make an entire story. It can make a season. Michigan State's unbelievable comeback victory over rival Michigan rested on one such play.

    Michigan led 23-21 with just seconds remaining. Facing a fourth down in their own territory, all the Wolverines had to do was get a punt off, and the game would be theirs.

    It was not to be. With 10 seconds remaining, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill bobbled the snap. Michigan State freshman Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped it up and took it to the house for the game-winning touchdown.

    NFL.com, per Andy Fenelon and Jim Reineking, heralded it as the "the greatest college football play of all time."

Lindsey Vonn

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    Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

    American skier Lindsey Vonn had a tough 2013. At the World Championships that February, she tore her ACL, MCL and broke a bone in her leg, according to Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune. Not a year later, she suffered a fall in training that would keep her from competing in the 2014 Olympics.

    She would have her redemption, however. Vonn returned to the slopes, and in January 2015, she became the winningest women's World Cup skier in history. A Super-G victory in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, served as her 63rd career World Cup win. With that, she broke Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell's 35-year record, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

    Per Hersh, Vonn told reporters, "The last two years have been pretty tough, and a lot of people counted me out and thought I would never reach this record. A lot of people thought that I would never win again. I never stopped believing in myself, and I think I proved everyone wrong."

Kyle Busch

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    Terry Renna/Associated Press

    In February, a brutal crash left NASCAR driver Kyle Busch with a broken right leg and left foot. His recovery timetable was initially shrouded in uncertainty.

    In April, Busch recalled the incident: "I'm thinking to myself, 'Man, I'm done. There's no way I'm going to be able to come back from this. This hurts,'" per Jeff Gluck of USA Today.

    But Busch wasn't done. He missed 11 Sprint Cup races before returning to claim his first championship in November. He beat out defending champion Kevin Harvick and the legendary Jeff Gordon along the way.

    Tom Jensen of Fox Sports wrote, "Busch's title run represents a remarkable reversal of fortune that will go down in NASCAR lore."

Eric Berry

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in December 2014. One year later, he is on the short list for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

    Berry underwent chemotherapy after his diagnosis and returned to practice in July. In August, teammate Travis Kelce said, "EB is superhuman, even Superman doesn't have anything on Eric Berry, man. That guy is —you can't say enough good things about him," per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

    Through 13 games, Berry has two interceptions and 48 tackles for the Chiefs. 

Kansas City Royals

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    Peter Morgan/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Royals were the epitome of comeback kids in the 2015 postseason. In fact, according to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, they are the "greatest October comeback team ever."

    The Royals won six games in the postseason after trailing by more than one run, according to Verducci. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted, "The #Royals scored 40 runs in 8th IP or later in playoffs. No one else had more than 5."

    Perhaps the greatest of their comeback victories was their last. In what would be the deciding game of the World Series, the Royals came back from a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning to tie the game and send it to extras. They erupted for five runs in the 12th and went on to win, 7-2.

Paul George

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Indiana Pacers forward Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury in August 2014 during a Team USA basketball scrimmage.

    The injury was devastating, and more than a few people wondered if the once-promising star would ever be the same.

    George rehabbed and returned briefly at the end of the 2014-15 NBA season. The real test, however, would be 2015-16—how would George perform after an entire offseason to get ready?

    The answer: like a boss. George has played 35.7 minutes per game as of mid-December and is averaging 26.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Per Kevin Cottrell Jr. of NBA.com, George scored 20-plus points in 12 straight games in November, and that's not even including his 48-spot on Dec. 5.  

    Steph Curry might be dominating the MVP conversation, but George is definitely in there.

Delvin Breaux

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    When New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux was in high school, he broke multiple vertebrae in his neck playing football. According to Breaux, per Julie Boudwin of the Times-Picayune, doctors told him at the time, "You broke your neck, son. You supposed to be dead. You supposed to be dead on that field."

    Breaux had a scholarship to LSU, and the school honored it, but he never played a single down there. After college, he went on to play some semi-pro ball, followed by the Arena Football League and CFL, according to Rodger Sherman of SB Nation.  

    In 2015, nine years after his injury, Breaux is playing in his first NFL season and destroying passing games with shutdown defense in New Orleans. On Dec. 14, Pro Football Focus tweeted, "#Saints CB Delvin Breaux has allowed just 1 receiving yard over the past three games."

    Check out Breaux's full story here, courtesy of BR Studios.

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