Power Ranking the Top 50 Worst Chokes in Sports History

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst IApril 28, 2011

Power Ranking the Top 50 Worst Chokes in Sports History

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    14 Apr 1996:  Greg Norman of Australia tees off to start his final round during the final round of the 1996 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Mandatory Credit: David Cannon/Allsport
    David Cannon/Getty Images

    What is a choke?

    Like pornography, we know it when we see it.

    A choke is being favored going into a championship game and playing flat.  A choke is having a game locked up and giving it away.  A choke is doing something completely boneheaded in the most crucial moment.

    In 2011, a choke is going into Sunday at Augusta with a four-stroke lead and then shooting the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the third-round of the Masters. Rory McIlroy, whose name was just a little too similar to Roy McAvoy's for the golf gods, did just that when he finished tied for fifth at the Masters.

    Let's take a look at the top 50 chokes of all-time.

50. Brazil, 1950 World Cup

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    Playing in their home stadium before an are-you-kidding-me crowd of 199,954 (what?) and needing only a draw against Uruguay to capture the World Cup, Brazil fell to their neighbors to the south by a score of 2-1.

49. France, 1994 World Cup (Soccer) Qualifying

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    I really think France is going to make some noise in the 1994 World Cup.  They have a great squad.

    The good news is that they will definitely be there.  They have a great squad, and just have to get past Bulgaria in the qualifying.

48. Boston Bruins, 2010 Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals

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    Man, those Flyers did not even put up a fight!  Now that the Boston Bruins are up three games to none in the Stanley Cup semifinals, there is no way the Flyers can come back.  Sure, they might scrape out a win or two, but they could never peel off four straight.

    And if the Bruins can build up a 3-0 lead in the deciding Game 7, there is definitely no way the Flyers can come back.

    That never happens.

47. Chicago Cubs, 2003 NLCS

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    This is unbelievable!  The Chicago Cubs are five outs away from going to the World Series!  Mark Prior is cruising and the Cubs are up 3-0, and there is dancing in the streets.

    Only something preposterous could stop the Cubs from going to the World Series now!

46. Brazil, 1982 World Cup

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    Brazil was the pre-tournament favorite and had won all five of their matches leading up to a Group C contest with Italy.  In the first round, Italy played all three matches to a draw and had to qualify for the second round based on goals scored.  Italy's striker, Paolo Rossi, had failed to score up to the Brazil match, but won the game almost single-footedly by scoring a hat trick.

45. Philadelphia Flyers, 2000 Eastern Conference Finals

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    Up 3-1 in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and needing only one victory out of two remaining home games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Philadelphia Flyers could not scrounge out another win.

44. Chicago Cubs, 1984 NLCS

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    Hey, wow, the Cubs are leading the San Diego Padres 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh of the deciding game of the NLCS.  The Cubs just need seven outs, and they are going back to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

    I sure do hope that Leon Durham does not let a score-tying grounder go between his legs.

    (Why would you say something like that?)

43. Boston Red Sox, 2003 ALCS

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    Hey, Red Sox manager Grady Little, you have a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 against the might New York Yankees.  Pedro Martinez is tiring. 

    Let's let the bullpen wrap this up.

42. Scott Norwood, Super Bowl XXV

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    All right, Scott Norwood, the most exciting and competitive Super Bowl in years is in your hands.  Knock this 47-yard field goal through the uprights, and the Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl champions.

    But hey, even if you miss it, with this team we've got three more stabs at this thing.  No way we lose four Super Bowls in a row.

41. Mariano Rivera, 2001 World Series

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    After a tense seven-game World Series, the Yankees are leading 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, and are intrusting the game to the greatest relief pitcher of all-time.

    There is no way they can lose this one now.

40. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII

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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.

39. Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas, 1990

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    Buster who?

    You got this, Iron Mike Tyson.

38. 2009 Detroit Tigers

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    Up three games on the Minnesota Twins with four games left to play.

    We are going to the playoffs guys.  No one has ever blown that kind of lead in baseball history!

37. Scott Boswell, 2001 C&G Trophy Final

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    Hey everybody, remember when Scott Boswell bowled that 14-ball in the 2001 C&G Trophy final against Somerset at Lord's?  That was definitely one of the worst overs in history.  I mean, this is the same guy who took four wickets for 44 runs in the semifinals against Lancashire, all of which were England internationals.

    Gee whiz, what a choker.

36. Karl Malone, 1998 NBA Finals

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    Hey Karl Malone, you've got the ball under your own basketball.  Score and you force a Game 7 in these NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

    Speaking of Michael Jordan, he's right behind you, in your blindspot, about to steal the ball from you because you are not looking.

    And he's about to make history.  At your expenses.  Again.

35. Roberto Duran, "No Mas," 1980

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    Roberto Duran had just beated Suger Ray Leonard six months prior for the Welterweight title despite famously making only a fifth of the money that Leornard was.  In the rematch, after trailing slightly through eight rounds, Duran turned to the referee and said "No mas," quitting the bout in mid-round.

34. Rory McIlroy, 2011 Masters

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    KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - APRIL 17:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland during 4th round of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club on April 17, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    In 2011, a choke is going into Sunday at Augusta with a four stroke lead shooting the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the third-round of the Masters, like Rory McIlroy, whose name was just a little too similar to Roy McAvoy's for the golf gods, did when he finished tied for fifth at the Masters.

33. 1978 Boston Red Sox

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    Going 99-64 and finishing in second place is an impressive feat.

    Made all the more impressive by having led the division by 14 games at one point.

    And by being swept at home by the New York Yankees coming down the stretch.

    And by losing a one game playoff at home on a dramatic home run by Bucky Dent, who had only hit five home runs all season.

32. Kyle Brotzman, 2010 Boise State

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    Kyle Brotzman missed a 26 yard field at the end of regulation that would have beaten Nevada in a 2010 game, then missed a 29 yard field goal in overtime that would have given Boise State a lead.  When the game was over, Boise State was no longer undefeated and had no shot at a national title, and the nation mourned as the best-yet case for the dismantling of the BCS went by the wayside.

31. Boston Bruins, 1930 Stanley Cup

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    In 1930, the Boston Bruins posted an .875 winning percentage, the best in NHL history, and never lost consecutive games.

    Until the best of three Stanley Cup Finals, when the Montreal Canadiens beat them in two games, 4-3 and 3-0.

30. Pittsburgh Penguins, 1975 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals

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    Up 3-0 against the New York Islanders, the Penguins needed just one victory to advance to the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals.

    That win never came.

29. Portland Trailblazers, 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals

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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.

28. Doug Sanders, 1978 British Open

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    Alright, Doug, all that stands between you and the British Open championship is 74 yards to the cup on the final hole.

    As long as you do not need four shots to get there, you have got this in the bag.

27. San Francisco Giants, 2002 World Series

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    Hey, wow, the San Francisco Giants are up 3-2 in the World Series and lead 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning!

    The Giants are about to win the World Series!

26. Jackie Smith, Super Bowl XIII

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    Jackie Smith was wide open in the end zone in Super Bowl XIII, and Roger Staubach placed the ball perfectly in his hands.

    And somehow, given this scenario, Jackie Smith ended up in the position shown here.  Without the football and without the touchdown.

    And without a Super Bowl ring.

25. Oakland Athletics, 1990 World Series

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    The 1990 Oakland Athletics were heavily favored over a Cincinnati Reds team filled with a bunch of nobodies.

    One of those nobodies, Jose Rijo, had come up through the A's system, and allowed his former team just one run in two starts as the Reds blew away the A's in a dominant four game sweep.

24. Doug Christie, 2002 Sacramento Kings

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    Hey Doug Christie, do not just stand there.  Do something.  Anything.

    Whatever you do, please do not admit to the media that you are afraid of the Los Angeles Lakers despite the fact that you are up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals.

23. 1969 Baltimore Orioles

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    The heavily favored Baltimore Orioles came into the 1969 World Series against the New York Mets looking for a world championship and never saw what hit'em.

    The 1969 Mets are not known as the Miracle Mets because they were thought to have a chance in this series.

22. Jana Novotna, 1993 Wimbledon

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    With a 40-15 lead in the sixth game of the third set of the Wimbledon Final against Steffi Graf, you got this Jna NOvotna.

21. Brett Favre, 2009 NFC Championship

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    Hey Brett: You know that thing you've done throughout your career where you throw the ball across your body into the middle of the field and get it intercepted?

    We're about to go to the Super Bowl, so whatever you do, don't do that.

20. Detroit Red Wings, 1942 Stanley Cup

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    Detroit took a 3-0 lead after three games, and needed just one more victory to take the Stanley Cup.  Four games later, they went home empty handed.

19. 1986 Boston Red Sox

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    One half inning away from winning the 1986 World Series, Bob Stanley blew the lead, Bill Buckner blew the game, and then the Red Sox blew Game 7 and the Series.

18. 1968 Baltimore Colts

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    The heavily favored Baltimore Colts came into Super Bowl III against the New York Jets looking for a world championship and never saw what hit'em.

    Joe Namath famously guaranteed that the Jets would win, and they did it.

17. Jean Van De Velde, 1999 Open Championship

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    Armed with a three shot lead going into the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship, Jean Van De Velde needed only a double-bogey six to win the whole thing.

    Can you say triple-bogey seven?

16. Memphis, 2008 NCAA Championship Game

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    Up nine with 2:12 remaining in the 2008 NCAA Championship, the Memphis Tigers biggest weakness was exposed as the Kansas Jayhawks began desperately fouling them to stop the clock and slow down the game.

    The Tigers missed four out of their final five free throws as the Jayhawks scored 12 points in the final two minutes and tied the game on a last second three pointer by Mario Chalmers.

    The Jayhawks would win the championship in overtime.

15. Buffalo Bills, Music City Miracle

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    Another dramatic finish to a wild card round game between the Tennessee Titans (formerly Houston Oilers) and the Buffalo Bills.  This time, the Bills led 16-15 with 16 seconds left and simply needed to tackle the kick returner on the kickoff.

    Mission Not Accomplished.

14. The Stanford Band Play

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    Giving new meaning to "The players tried to take the field but the marching band refused to yield," at the end of the Cal-Stanford game in 1982, Stanford led 20-19 with four seconds left.

    The rest is history.

13. Fred Brown, 1982 NCAA Championship

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    Alright, Fred Brown, your Georgetown Hoyas are up 63-62 with 17 seconds left in the championship game.  Set up for a final shot, and whatever you do, do not throw the ball to a member of the other team in the open court.

12. Fred Merkle, 1908 New York Giants

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    Hey, the Giants just hit a run-scoring single to win the game 2-1 against the Chicago Cubs!  Alright, the Giants have won.  Somebody make sure Fred Merkle realizes that he has to touch second, or he will be forced out, nullifying the run and causing the game to be declared a tie.  Hey Merkle, touch second.  Touch second!  TOUCH SECOND!

    Ah, geez, he did not touch second.  I really hope this does not come back to bite us in the end-of-the-year tiebreaker with the Cubs to see who goes to the World Series.

11. Bayern Munich, 1999 Champions League Final

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    The Manchester United somehow managed to score two goals in extra-time after trailing for most of the match and beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.  

10. Gary Anderson, 1998 NFC Championship Game

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    With 2:07 left in the 1998 NFC Championship against the Atlanta Falcons in Minnesota, Vikings kicker Gary Anderson lined up for a 38-yard field goal to put the Vikings up by 10 points.

    Anderson, who had not missed a single field goal all season, shanked it, allowing the Falcons back into a game that they would win in overtime, and the Vikings 15-1 season came to a premature end.

9. 2007 New York Mets

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    What a great season.  With 15 games to play, the New York Mets are up seven-and-a-half games on the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The Mets are going to the playoffs, and are about to establish themselves as the team to beat for the foreseeable future.

8. Nick Anderson, 1995 NBA Finals

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    Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals is in the bag.  With just seconds left, all Nick Anderson needs to do is knock down one free throw and the game will be out of reach.

    In fact, we'll give him four free throws instead of just two.  That way he'll definitely ice the game.

7. New York Yankees, 2004 ALCS

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    Man, those Red Sox did not even put up a fight!  Now that the New York Yankees are up three games to none in the ALCS, there is no way the Red Sox can come back.  Sure, they might scrape out a win or two, but they could never peel off four straight.

    That never happens.

6. Greg Norman, 1996 Masters

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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

5. 1964 Philadelphia Phillies

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    What a great season!  And now, with 12 games to play, the Phillies have a six-and-a-half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League.

    As long as we do not do something stupid like start the same two pitchers over and over for the last 12 games, we are going to the World Series.

4. Chris Webber, 1993 NCAA Championship

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    Alright, C-Webb, you have the ball and you're down two with 15 seconds to play in the National Championship game.

    First of all, do not travel.

    Second of all, we have no timeouts.

    Play for one shot.

3. Bill Tilden, 1927 Wimbledon

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    You say: 6-2, 6-2, 5-1 (30-0).

    I say: this dude is about to win Wimbledon semi-final match.

    Somehow, he did not.

2. Houston Oilers, 1993 AFC Wild Card Game

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    Hey wow, now that the Houston Oilers have returned an interception for a touchdown to go up 35-3 early in the third quarter, there is no way they can blow this one, especially against backup quarterback Frank Reich and backup running back Kenneth Davis.

1. John Carney, After the River City Relay

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    Hey, John Carney, the New Orleans Saints offense just pulled off the Stanford Band Play for one of the most improbable game-ending touchdowns of all time to put the Saints down by one and keep the Saints' playoff hopes alive.

    As long as you make the extra point, this game is going to overtime.

    While this may not be the greatest choke of all time, it is certainly the most improbable.

    How on earth does a kicker follow one of the most improbable touchdowns in football history by missing the extra point, the easiest gimme in professional sports.