The 50 Biggest Disappointments in Sports History

Ross LipschultzAnalyst IAugust 17, 2011

The 50 Biggest Disappointments in Sports History

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    While it's easy to defend the Miami Heat for not having a full season together, their preseason shenanigans made one thing very clear: It was championship or bust.

    After losing to the Dallas Mavericks in a flaccid effort after the third quarter of Game 2, it was a disappointing bust.

    But can that be sports' biggest disappointment? Teams and players can let down their fanbases for all sorts of reasons: expectations not met, injuries randomly incurred, scandals unearthed and just general injustice.

    LeBron James said he wanted "not two, not three, not four" titles...and if he's history's biggest letdown, he'll be on his way to one.

50. 1992-93 San Francisco 49ers

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    Even after the legendary Joe Montana went down early, Steve Young was able to lead San Francisco to a 14-2 record and the league's best offense.

    But after a shocking loss to Dallas, the 49ers traded Montana to Kansas City, marking an unceremonious end to his Bay Area career.

49. Brien Taylor

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    Scott Boras said Brien Taylor was the "best high school pitcher" he'd ever seen and helped him get paid like one, wrangling the Yankees' prospect a two-year, $1.55 million deal despite bitter negotiations.

    What Boras actually wrangled was a dead fish. After declining the Yankees' request to work on fundamentals before the 1994 season, Taylor tore his labrum in a fistfight and never returned to form.

48. Charlie Davies

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    Not disappointed with Davies himself, but with the circumstance. The 2010 World Cup was one of America's best chances to show the globe its improved squad, and one of its best players gets hurt in a catastrophic accident.

    Had he been there, who knows if the U.S. loses to Ghana?

47. Andy Roddick

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    For so long, Roddick remained the face of U.S. tennis.

    Now, that face has egg all over it, as Roddick has won only four minor tournaments in the past three years. He started strong but never became a phenom.

46. 2003 Atlanta Braves

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    When every player in a team's entire starting lineup has 11 or more home runs and Russ Ortiz is able to win 21 games, you know the team is running hot.

    The 101-win Braves then reached a slow jog in the playoffs, losing to the cursed Cubs. They even managed to choke the final game at home, registering only five hits.

45. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings

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    It's not that No. 1 seeds should always destroy the eights. Upsets are allowed.

    It's just that No. 1 seeds who dominated the entire year and led the league in points by double digits should always beat a team that barely won half its games and was only plus-five in goals all year.

    Don't tell that to the Wings, who lost two of three at home to the Oilers to exit the playoffs in the first round.

44. 2010-11 Miami Heat

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    Sure, Two and a Half Men made it to the NBA Finals in their first campaign, but after coming in as the favorite and holding a hammerlock late into Game 2, they came up well short.

    Note: Folks make fun of LeBron for "Not two, not three, not four"—but did it occur to anyone that he didn't say, "Not zero?"

43. The Establishment of Women's Soccer

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    It's unbelievable that it took nine years between the U.S. winning the Women's World Cup and its development of a professional soccer league—and it's 13 years if you don't include the defunct WUSA.

    When America has the best product in the world, it should be more publicized than just during the World Cup. These women are tremendous athletes but only see any support once every four years.

    Hell, they'd probably beat the men.

42. Eric Lindros

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    Being mentioned in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky is hard enough. Being called "The Next One" in reference to him is even harder, and Lindros found out the hard way.

    His amazing junior league play earned him the high praise, but it's nearly impossible to live up to that hype. The tough part, however, was that fans actually expected him to.

41. 2008 Chicago Cubs

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    The Cubs had been without glory for 100 years, so when they wound up with the NL's best record, it seemed like destiny.

    Then the Dodgers came to town, outscoring Chicago 17-5 in the two games at Wrigley. All of a sudden, it seemed to fit the pattern.

40. Harold Miner

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    The "Baby Jordan" moniker did the prep star in, as he clearly traded his soul for the comparison.

    Didn't work out so well: Miner's dunking ability only carried him four years in the league. They should've just called him "Baby."

39. Sven Kramer

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    Dutch power company Essent started a program called Svenergy to show their confidence in Kramer. Any customer who signed up in support of the long track speed skater would receive a 50-euro discount for each of his gold medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    So with the opportunity to give back to his country more than just pride, Kramer entered three races as the favorite. He won just one and made sure to make a fool of himself after.

38. 1906 Chicago Cubs

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    Looking at these "athletic" fellas, it's shocking the Cubs led the league by 20 wins in the regular season.

    Wait, no it's not. Neither is the fact that they collapsed against their crosstown foes, losing all three home games at the West Side Grounds.

37. Drew Henson

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    Not many players can disappoint fanbases in two sports, but Henson managed with ease. He was a stud in both amateur football and baseball, yet that skill never carried over.

    One hit and one touchdown pass are all Henson has to show for his career with the Yankees, Cowboys and Lions.

36. Kimbo Slice

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    Slice became a online sensation not only for his underground bouts spread on YouTube, but also for his wonderful beard. People thought he would dominate the field.

    Unfortunately, his beard couldn't deflect the beatings and criticism. After controversially winning in the first prime time, nationally televised MMA fight, Slice became the target of criticism (Frank Mir: "Every time [he] fights, he sets the sport back") and bruises, including a 14-second loss to Seth Petruzelli.

    Two fights later, he was out of MMA.

35. 2001 Seattle Mariners

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    Tied for the most wins (116) in a regular season, the Mariners had all the talent the Northwest could handle, scoring 300 more runs than their opponents.

    Should've made it 400. They couldn't make it out of the ALCS, losing two home games to the Yankees.

34. 1978-79 New York Islanders

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    With the best record in all of hockey, the league MVP in Bryan Trottier and 69 goals from Mike Bossy, the Islanders entered the playoffs as the favorite in the Patrick Division.

    But none of that means anything against your rival. The Rangers toppled the Islanders in the semifinals, making it their second straight playoff exit against a lower seed.

33. 1989-90 New York Giants

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    The Giants were the No. 2 seed in the NFC and boasted the league's second-best defense, led by Lawrence Taylor's 15 sacks. They loved to get after the quarterback, and the Rams' Jim Everett was next.

    Sadly, the vaunted pass rushers came up short, and the offense even shorter: Taylor had the G-men's only two sacks, and Phil Simms only completed three passes to his receivers. Needless to say, that was a loss waiting to happen.

32. 1954 Cleveland Indians

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    111-43. This crew scored more than 240 runs than its opponents and eviscerated its opponents all the way to the World Series.

    The Indians couldn't hold up on the big stage. They faced the New York Giants, a team with 14 more losses, and were swept, being outscored 21-9 in the series.

31. 2007-08 Hawaii Warriors

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    It's not disappointing that Hawaii lost the 2008 Sugar Bowl. Let's be honest—Georgia was a better, more physical bunch.

    What's sad is that the Warriors, if they can be called that after the Sugar Bowl, caused so much BCS hoopla with their 12-0 season, only to get eviscerated after the country desperately cheered on the underdog.

    Don't get our hopes up!

30. 2007-08 Dallas Cowboys

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    The Tony Romo era in Dallas has not gone over smoothly in the playoffs, and 2007 sums it up nicely. With a 13-3 record, the Cowboys were looking good to head to the Super Bowl.

    Until they got on the field.

    Romo completed only half of his attempts, and Dallas' offense looked dreadful in the fourth quarter, leading to a home loss to the fifth-seeded Giants in Texas Stadium.

29. Zinedine Zidane

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    Longtime soccer fans know Zidane for his marvelous goals and legacy of outstanding soccer. Problem is, some athletes get remembered by the wider audience for just one moment.

    This is the Frenchman's moment: an assault.

28. Phil Mickelson

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    Lefty had the perfect setup; he just needed a par to win the 2006 U.S. Open, his third consecutive major. So play safe, right? Not Mickelson.

    He takes out his driver and misses the fairway—big. A corporate hospitality tent, a tree and a bunker later, Lefty lost the win and a chance at a playoff. Hero to zero.

27. Tony Mandarich

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    When Mandarich entered the league as the second overall pick in 1989, Sports Illustrated called him the "best offensive line prospect ever," nicknaming him "The Incredible Bulk."

    Three years later, SI called him "The NFL's Incredible Bust." What a good moniker.

26. Greg Joly

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    The Washington Capitals had their first ever No. 1 pick and didn't want to waste it. With Bobby Orr revolutionizing defense, the Caps realized they needed the best defenseman available: Greg Joly, a Memorial Cup MVP with the Regina Caps.

    The NHL, however, didn't treat him as nicely. While he did play 10 seasons, no player, let alone the top pick, should end his career with a plus/minus of minus-163.

25. LaRue Martin

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    Another college star turned supernova. Martin helped Loyola to unimaginable heights in the '70s, making him the logical choice to be the top pick overall by the Blazers in 1972.

    But logic wouldn't have seen his decision to retire after four seasons coming. He averaged a meager 5.3 points per game, never managing to regain his dominance.

24. 2010 BCS National Championship Game

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    If you are an Alabama fan, this game has no place on this list. For the rest of the country, it's completely reasonable.

    Alabama took the game with ease, 37-21, but the game would've been much more intense had Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy not been injured after five snaps. No offense to Garrett Gilbert, but he just wasn't ready to compete on that stage, leaving fans wondering what could've been.

23. David Beckham

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    He came, he saw, he conquered. Beckham used his foreign fame to leverage one of the "biggest" contracts in American sports history (which turned out to be more inflated than originally reported), and the hype of Europeans finally coming to America began to build.

    Unfortunately, the good vibes didn't last long. He was loaned twice to A.C. Milan, prompting Los Angeles fans to boo him constantly. Galaxy faithful saw him more often in People than on the pitch.

22. 2006-07 Ohio State Buckeyes

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    From day one, Jim Tressel had the Buckeyes on top of the AP poll. A 12-0 season did nothing to discourage fans that OSU was for real. However, the wheels fell off the second Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening touchdown for six in the BCS title game.

    The Bucks' fifth-ranked defense allowed a 41-7 Florida run, and the eighth-ranked offense saw quarterback Troy Smith complete only four passes for 35 yards. The O's in Ohio represented the team's effort in Glendale that evening.

21. Rocco Mediate

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    Mediate had the U.S. Open in his hands in 2008, but pars on the last two holes left the door open for Tiger Woods, who tied him at one-under.

    A true David and Goliath story, the country was rooting for Mediate, who erased a three-stroke deficit to tie the playoff round, setting up a sudden death situation. 

    Now look at the picture and guess who bogeyed.

20. Kwame Brown

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    Doug Collins said Brown looked him in the eye before the draft and said, "I promise if you draft me, you'll never regret it."

    The second Brown donned this suit, Collins knew he was wrong.

19. Freddy Adu

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    D.C. United made the 14-year-old the youngest American athlete in more than 100 years to sign a major pro contract in all team sports. He'd shown promise at every level of amateur soccer.

    Promises weren't made to be kept, apparently. A handful of teams and loans later, Adu now plays for the pinnacle of football clubs, the Philadelphia Union.

    Oh, wait.

18. Muhammad Ali

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    Maybe the title slide should read "The U.S. Government" instead. Ali was found guilty in 1967 of attempting to avoid the draft, stripping him of his title and boxing license.

    Four years of his prime later, the Supreme Court reversed its decision, allowing him to fight again. But if you think Ali had a great career, imagine if he'd had 1967-1971 to mow down the competition.

    He would've made his own class.

17. 2002 French National Team

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    After blasting its way through the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro Cup, France came in as the clear favorite in the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002.

    Well, let's rephrase: The French would've come in as the favorite had they shown up.  They scored zero goals, losing to Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark, making for one of the worst title defenses ever.

16. 2004 New York Yankees

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    Does "the only team in baseball to ever blow a 3-0 lead" ring a bell?

    How about "lackluster start to Alex Rodriguez's Yankee career despite more than 100 wins?"

15. 2003 Chicago Cubs

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    Five outs separated the Cubs and a long-awaited return to the World Series. Then Steve Bartman happened.

    Then Mark Prior didn't. Then an eight-run eighth inning did. Then a blown lead in Game 7 did. Game over.

14. 1972 Men's Olympic Basketball

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    Just wrong. Plain wrong.

    Good on the U.S. men for not picking up their medals after the debacle at the Munich Olympics.

13. The 1990-93 Buffalo Bills

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    Four Super Bowls in four years, and four losses.

    If you were Ron Burgundy, you'd say, "How'd you do that? I'm not even mad, that's amazing." But if not, you would just sigh.

12. Marion Jones

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    Five golds at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney seem like such a thing of the past, as her winnings were forfeited years after when she admitted using performance enhancers.

    Until her admission of guilt, however, she staunchly protested the use of steroids in public, confirming the Shakespeare adage, "The lady doth protest too much."

11. Tim Donaghy

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    Every NBA fan, player, coach, etc. has had a problem with the referees at some point. It's just the nature of the game.

    But thanks to Donaghy and his betting scandal, he's made people take greater issue with the officiating and question the ulterior motives of the refs in every game.

    One bad apple.

10. The Sonics/Thunder

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    The Seattle SuperSonics were a perennial contender in the 1990s, and their fans made the Seattle Center Coliseum/Key Arena a superb place to see a game.

    That is, of course, until there were no games to be played there. After some shady dealings, the Sonics became the Thunder, and Seattle had to wonder if the owners had played fair.

9. Pete Rose

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    I'm going the other way on this one. Most people will say it's disappointing Rose bet on baseball, and that's a fair point. He did deserve most of his criticism.

    But his permanent ban from baseball and absence from the Hall? Not so. The fact that some steroid users get more consideration than the Hit King is absurd and should be rectified.

8. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

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    When a team ranks in the top six in both offense and defense, going 15-1 shouldn't be a surprise, especially with the deadly combination of Cris Carter and Randy Moss spread wide.

    What is surprising is how the Vikings folded. Not only did Gary Anderson, who was perfect on the year, miss an 38-yarder to seal the deal in regulation, but coach Dennis Green also took a knee on third down instead of punting back to Atlanta with 30 seconds left.

    Of course, the Vikes would lose on the same 38-yarder in overtime. Sweet karma.

7. 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Four legends took on five members of a real team in the Detroit Pistons and were dominated.

    I think their expressions say it best.

6. 1990-91 UNLV Runnin' Rebels

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    Any team 34-0 should be considered one of the best ever, as Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon tried to defend their 1990 championship with a lot of exciting hoops. They'd gone 35-5 the previous year, so the spotless record shouldn't be a shock.

    But the dream ran away thanks to Christian Laettner's free throws, which helped Duke exact revenge for the beating the Blue Devils received from the same Rebels the year before in the title game.

5. Ryan Leaf

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    The Colts were on the clock in 1998 with one choice: Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. It seemed like a guaranteed win.

    Just tell that to the Chargers.

4. The Fab Five

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    Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were considered one of the best recruiting classes of all time, and when they scored all of the Wolverines' points in their first start together, they certainly seemed on their way to the top.

    Losses in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA championship games and a basketball scandal later, Michigan was no longer as proud.

3. 2007-08 New England Patriots

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    Who's more disappointed?

    The Patriots for falling one game short of a perfect record thanks to a lucky David Tyree grab, or the kids in Nicaragua who have to live a lie?

2. Tiger Woods

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    No one's defending his personal actions, but all golf fans should be terribly disappointed that Tiger fell off the face of the links.

    Thanks to his demise, those fans followed him away from the game.

1. The Steroid Era

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    From the tarnishing of the record books to the humiliating trips to Congress, sluggers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa turned the game from exciting to embarrassing in a few short years.

    For speed of disaster, they get an A. For the disaster, they get a Q.

    Follow me on Twitter (@Rossel64) and the whole B/R Swagger squad (@BR_Swagger).