Ranking the Greatest Comebacks in Sports Since 2000May 14, 2019
Ranking the Greatest Comebacks in Sports Since 2000
After several years of dealing with injuries and various off-course issues, Tiger Woods capped one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history with his triumph at the 2019 Masters Tournament.
With perhaps the most recognizable comeback story, Tiger joined an already impressive list of athletes and teams who have overcome enormous sets of obstacles to earn redemption.
That redemption could come as a championship, a return to previous form or simply a story only believable because it happened.
This list is focused on the highest level of the profession―such as MLB, the NBA, NFL, NHL and PGA, as well as international soccer. The ranking is subjective but placed an emphasis on whether the comeback resulted in a championship. The perceived difficulty of the person or team's return was also a factor.
Honorable Mention: Jonny Venters Returns to MLB
Two seasons into his MLB career, Jonny Venters looked the part of a spectacular reliever. In 2010 and 2011 with the Atlanta Braves, he posted a 1.89 ERA over 164 combined appearances. He even earned an All-Star nod in 2011.
But then, the injuries happened. And they were relentless.
Elbow discomfort ended his 2012 season prematurely. May 2013 brought the second Tommy John surgery of his career, and Venters needed the same procedure in September 2014. Two years later, he needed a ligament reattachment. Still, he persevered through the constant setbacks and finally returned to the mound after a six-year absence.
Venters entered a game for the Tampa Bay Rays on April 25, 2018―a staggering 2,013 days after his last appearance for Atlanta. During the 2018 season, he pitched in 50 total games for the Rays and Braves, who reacquired him via trade midway through the year.
10. Paul George Rebounds After Horrible Leg Injury
Fresh off a career-best season in 2013-14, Indiana Pacers star Paul George headed to Team USA training camp expected to finalize his place on the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup roster.
In the camp-ending scrimmage, however, a hard landing resulted in compound fractures in his right tibia and fibula. The gruesome injury sidelined him for most of 2014-15 and loomed as a potential career-altering―perhaps career-ending―issue.
"It's hard to really express in full detail, except for this: We didn't know, when he got hurt, if he'd ever be back," Team USA executive director Jerry Colangelo said, per Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post. "Not just with us―in terms of his career. We just prayed he'd just be able to come back and continue his career."
A half-decade later, George is coming off an MVP-caliber year in which he posted career-high averages of 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
9. Adrian Peterson's 2,000-Yard Season After ACL Tear
ACL injuries often require an entire calendar year for a player to regain full confidence and function. Adrian Peterson trimmed that timeline to a remarkable eight months, then nearly set an NFL record.
The Minnesota Vikings running back tore his left ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve in 2011 but was ready for the 2012 season opener.
Peterson had a relatively slow start to the campaign, rushing for 60-plus yards in each of the first six games but topping 100 just once. From that point on, though, he was unstoppable. Peterson rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the last 10 contests, hitting 150 seven times and cruising past 200 twice.
The league MVP that season, Peterson finished with 2,097 rushing yards―just eight behind Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105.
8. Kings Recover from 3-0 Hole, Then Win Stanley Cup
In the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Philly eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final.
Four years later, the Los Angeles Kings finished the job.
Los Angeles dropped three games behind the San Jose Sharks during the first round but mounted an emphatic comeback. The Kings won four straight tilts by three or more goals, then they survived two additional seven-game series to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
They dispatched the New York Rangers in five games, capped by a double-overtime victory in Game 5 to claim the championship.
7. Post-Neck Surgery Peyton Manning Sets NFL Records
During the 2011 offseason, Peyton Manning underwent two surgeries to repair a herniated disc in his neck. The procedures caused such severe arm weakness that a four-time league MVP needed to relearn how to throw a football.
While he missed the 2011 campaign, the Indianapolis Colts slumped to 2-14. The reward was a chance to draft Andrew Luck, who Manning himself told the Colts they couldn't pass up.
So, Manning left for the Denver Broncos. It worked out well.
He earned Comeback Player of the Year after throwing 37 touchdown passes in 2012, set single-season NFL records of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns en route to MVP honors in 2013 and won a Super Bowl in 2015. Along the way, Manning set career records in yards (Drew Brees has since broken it) and touchdowns.
6. Liverpool Shocks AC Milan in 2005 UCL Final
On the greatest stage for international club soccer―the UEFA Champions League―Liverpool conquered a three-goal deficit in the second half to stun AC Milan.
Paolo Maldini scored in the opening minute, and Hernan Crespo added two goals to give Milan a 3-0 edge at the break.
During the second half, Liverpool evened the score with a brilliant six-minute flurry. Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso all found the back of the net. The match ultimately went to penalty kicks, during which Liverpool triumphed 3-2.
"It is one of the greatest finals of all time," Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said after the improbable win.
5. Patriots Crush Falcons' Super Bowl Dreams
The Atlanta Falcons ripped off 21 straight points in the second quarter to put the New England Patriots in a deep hole. And when Tevin Coleman caught a touchdown midway through the third period, the Falcons had opened up a 28-3 advantage.
Repeat this scenario 10 times, and New England probably only pulls off a comeback once. Super Bowl LI was that one time.
During the final 17 minutes and six seconds of regulation, Tom Brady threw two touchdowns, James White ran for another, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 33-yard field goal and the Patriots converted a pair of two-point conversions to force overtime.
New England won the coin toss and swiftly drove into scoring position. White capped the drive with a short touchdown run―his third score of the game―to hand Brady his fifth Super Bowl win.
4. LeBron James Ends Cleveland's Title Drought
During the 2016 Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the NBA Finals, the script flipped.
Golden State took a 3-1 lead on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a couple of home games remaining. Since the Warriors owned a 50-3 record at Oracle Arena to that point, the possibility of a Cleveland comeback seemed extraordinarily low.
LeBron changed the story.
Over the last three contests, the King averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 blocks. And in Game 7, Kyrie Irving buried a late three-pointer to seal the championship.
The Cavaliers brought the first major professional sports title to Cleveland in 52 years.
3. Cubs End the Curse, Battle Back from 3-1
While falling into a 3-1 hole in the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs mustered zero, zero and two runs during the losses to the Cleveland Indians. It seemed the Lovable Losers would continue their reign, extending their streak of 108 years without a title.
Not so fast, they said.
A 3-2 triumph in Game 5 pushed the series back to Cleveland, where Chicago took Game 6 with a 9-3 victory. The Cubs surged ahead 6-3 in Game 7, but a three-run eighth inning for the Indians evened the score and forced extras.
Chicago pushed two runs across in the 10th and limited Cleveland to one, securing an 8-7 win to break the Curse of the Billy Goat.
"It happened. It happened. Chicago, it happened," Cubs star Anthony Rizzo said afterward. "We did it. We're world champions. I tell ya, we're world champions. I can't believe it."
2. Red Sox Overcome 3-0 Deficit to Yankees in 2004 ALCS
It all started with a stolen base.
Down 3-0 in the series to the rival New York Yankees and 4-3 during the ninth inning of Game 4, the Boston Red Sox needed a spark. After a leadoff walk to Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts entered as a pinch runner. He stole second base when everyone in the building knew he was going to try.
One game-tying hit by Bill Mueller and a 12th-inning walk-off home run from David Ortiz later, the Red Sox had forced Game 5. They won a 14-inning thriller 5-4, then triumphed 4-2 in Game 6—remembered as "The Bloody Sock Game" because of pitcher Curt Schilling.
Boston crushed the Yankees 10-3 in Game 7, becoming the first-ever MLB team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
Led by World Series MVP Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox went on to snap an 86-year championship drought with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. Tiger Woods Wins the 2019 Masters
For a little over a decade, Tiger Woods was on pace to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories. From triumphs at the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods amassed 14 majors.
His personal and professional life soon crumbled to the point it was reasonable to wonder whether he'd ever play professionally again.
In late 2009, extramarital affairs became public and led to a divorce. Over the next seven years, Woods underwent four back surgeries and dealt with elbow, wrist and leg injuries. In May 2017, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
However, Woods continued his all-around recovery and returned to the grandest stage with a 2019 Masters win.
"It's unreal for me to experience this," he said, per Karen Crouse of the New York Times. "It was one of the hardest I've ever had to win just because of what's transpired the last couple of years."
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.