Decade Debate: 8 Greatest Comebacks

The word comeback is defined as “a return to a former position or condition (as of success or prosperity).” In the world of sports it refers to the act of wrenching victory from the jaws of defeat. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here are the top eight comebacks of the last ten years. Keep in mind that, to us, the actual size of the comeback isn’t quite as important as the size of the stage. In other words, the “greatest” comebacks happened in big games.

8. Capriati over Hingis at 2002 Australian Open

Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis led very similar careers. Both set several “youngest-ever” records before a combination of drug charges and nagging injuries challenged their potential. While Hingis chose to bow out at the height of her turmoil, Capriati soldiered onward. In 1994, Capriati was busted for marijuana possession. After a feeble return to the game, she retreated for 15 months. But never say die. By February of 1996, she finally meant business. Over the next two years, Capriati would earn three Grand Slam championships, blossoming into a dominant player during a particularly competitive era in women’s tennis. Of those wins, her match against Martina Hingis in the 2002 Australian Open final is a shoe-in for any list of ultimate comebacks. Down 6-4, 4-0, Capriati miraculously saved four match points, a Grand Slam record. The merciless sun blaring, Capriati kept fighting and fighting. As her opponent wavered, Capriati capitalized, eventually winning the match 4–6, 7–6, 6–2. – Christopher Glotfelty

7. Kings over Red Wings in 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs

This was a great series comeback as well (Detroit led, 2-0), but the Kings’ rally in Game 4 was one for the ages. Trailing in the series, 2-1, and down 3-0 with just six minutes to play in the third period, the 7th-seeded Kings didn’t look long for the playoffs. But goals by Scott Thomas and Jozef Stumpel trimmed the Red Wings’ lead to one, and Bryan Smolinski’s game-tying goal with 0:53 remaining sent the Staples Center into a frenzy and the game into overtime. There, the rookie Eric Belanger capped off the “Stunner at Staples” with the game-winning goal. The Kings went on to win the series, 4-2. – John Paulsen

6. Liverpool over Milan in 2005 UEFA Champions League Final

The Champions League is the top football competition in Europe, so the Final is akin to the NFL’s Super Bowl. Milan built a 3-0 lead in the first half and looked to be well on its way to its seventh European Cup. But Liverpool erased the lead with three goals in a six-minute span in the second half, and after a scoreless overtime, Liverpool won its fifth European Cup on penalty shots (3-2). The match was dubbed the “Miracle of Istanbul,” for good reason. – John Paulsen

5. 49ers over Giants in 2002 NFL Playoffs

There have been some thrilling NFL comebacks this past decade, from the Jets’ Monday night miracle over the Dolphins in 2000, to the Bears’ “they-are-who-we-thought-they-were” rally over the Cardinals in 2006, to the Colts’ 21-point OT thriller over the Bucs in 2003. But none of those had the magnitude of the 49ers’ comeback over the Giants in the 2002 playoffs. Facing a 38-14 deficit late in the third quarter, Jeff Garcia hit Terrell Owens on a 26-yard touchdown pass, and again on the 2-point attempt. After forcing a three-and-out, San Fran cut the deficit to 38-30 five seconds into the fourth quarter when Garcia rushed for a 14-yard touchdown and Owens again caught a 2-point conversion. The 49ers added a field goal midway through the quarter to cut the Giants’ lead to 38-33, but New York responded with a drive to the San Fran 24-yard line. With 3:01 remaining, the Giants lined up for a field goal attempt that would have given them an eight-point advantage, but Mark Bryant missed a 42-yard attempt to give the Niners hope. Garcia took advantage by finding Tai Streets for a 13-yard touchdown pass and even though their 2-point conversion attempt failed, the 49ers had the lead at 39-38 with just two minutes remaining. What happened next is pure misery for Giants fans. Kerry Collins led New York to the San Fran 23-yard line with just six seconds remaining and put the G-Men in position to win with a field goal. But newly signed long snapper Trey Junkin botched the snap and after a desperation pass by punter Matt Allen fell incomplete, the Niners began celebrating. The Giants’ sideline immediately started screaming for a flag because on the play, guard Rich Seubert (who became Allen’s intended receiver) was yanked down by 49ers’ defensive end Chike Okeafor. But the officials called Seubert for illegally being down field and San Fran held onto the victory. One day later, NFL Vice President of officiating Mike Pereira admitted that pass interference should have been called on Okeafor because Seubert was a legal receiver, which would have given the Giants another field goal attempt. Instead of winning a playoff game and advancing to the next round, the Giants were sent home as victims of one of the greatest playoff comebacks in NFL history. – Anthony Stalter

4. Heat over the Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals

Heading into Game 3 in Miami, the Dallas Mavericks led the series, 2-0. They played well through three quarters, and held a 13-point lead with just over six minutes to play in the final period. No team had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win the Finals, so had the Mavs held on in Game 3, they were almost certainly going to clinch the title. Unfortunately for Dallas, it was at this point that Dwyane Wade decided he was going to become a superstar. He attacked the rim relentlessly, scoring 12 points in Miami’s ensuing 22-7 run, which gave the Heat the unlikely 98-96 victory and new life in the series. The Mavs never recovered. They were blown out in Game 4, lost at home in overtime in Game 5 and lost another tight one in Game 6. During that four-game run, Wade averaged 39.3 points, capping off one of the best Finals performances of all time. Sure, he got a lot of help from some whistle-happy refs, but it’s still one of the greatest “from the brink” comebacks in the history of sport. – John Paulsen

3. Texas over USC, Rose Bowl, 2006

The 2006 Rose Bowl will arguably go down as the greatest national championship matchup ever, as USC and Texas had been ranked 1-2 for the entire season. With just under four minutes remaining, the Trojans held a 38-26 lead, but the Longhorns cut the deficit to five when Vince Young scrambled for a 6-yard score. On their ensuing possession, the Trojans threatened to run the clock out by marching methodically up the field. Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Texas 45-yard line, USC was set to use battering ram LenDale White to pick up the first down and effectively end the Longhorns’ chances at a comeback. White had already scored three touchdowns in the game, so it would make sense to give him the ball in order to pick up the critical first down. But the Longhorn defense adjusted at the line of scrimmage and stopped White one yard shy of the marker. With 2:09 left to play, Young would embark on a drive that would make him a college football legend. On that critical drive, Texas faced a 3rd-and-12, but converted thanks to a seven-yard pass pickup and a 15-yard USC facemask penalty. With the ball at the Trojans’ 46-yard line, Young rushed once for seven yards and threw two passes totaling 26 yards to receiver Brian Carter to move the ball to the USC 13-yard line. After moving the ball to the 8-yard line on the next three plays, Texas faced a 4th-and-5 and it would appear that their comeback would fall short. But after taking a snap from shotgun, Young scrambled toward the right sideline and thanks to a crucial block by offensive lineman Justin Blalock, the fleet-footed quarterback scored to give Texas a one-point lead. Young then converted on a two-point conversion to push the score to 41-38. Matt Leinart and the Trojans got the ball back, but could only drive the ball to the Texas 43-yard line before time expired. USC’s 12-point lead had vanished in a matter of four minutes. – Anthony Stalter

2. Kansas over Memphis to win 2008 National Championship in OT

Memphis had a nine-point lead with 2:12 to play, but had been battling poor free throw shooting all season. In fact, the Tigers’ accuracy from the charity stripe came up earlier in the tournament, when they almost blew a win over Mississippi State. After that game, John Calipari even called into a radio show to say that he wasn’t all that worried about it. (He did have a point – this late in the season, what are you going to do about poor free throw shooting? If you talk to your team about it, it’s just going to make them tighter when they go to the line.) Anyway, as the Jayhawks started their comeback, Memphis missed four straight free throws that could have iced the game. The Tigers still led by three with just 0:10 to play when Mario Chalmers nailed the game-tying bomb. Memphis was shellshocked. In overtime, Kansas jumped out with a 6-0 run and eventually outscored Memphis 12-5 in the extra period to seal the 75-68 win. – John Paulsen

1. Red Sox over Yankees, 2004 ALCS

The phrase, “never say never” fits perfectly with the 2004 ALCS. The Yankees had built a 3-0 lead rather easily, so with the Red Sox trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning of Game 4, a sweep seemed imminent. But after a Dave Roberts steal, a Bill Mueller single and a game-winning, extra innings home run by David Ortiz, Boston had finally earned a victory. So what? They were still down 3-1 and no team in MLB history had ever come back to win a series after being down 3-0. The Yankees had complete control and certainly wouldn’t allow the BoSox to mount a comeback, right? Wrong. That’s exactly what happened. Ortiz also won Game 5 with a single in the fourteenth inning and then Curt Schilling and his now-infamous bloody sock pitched seven strong innings to help lead the Red Sox to a series-tying Game 6 victory. Suddenly, Boston had all the momentum and was now just one win away from pulling off the greatest comeback in ALCS history. In the deciding game, Boston shocked the Yankees by crushing them 10-3 in front of a stunned Bronx crowd. David Ortiz was named series MVP, Boston went on to win their first World Series in 86 years, and Red Sox fans actually became the Red Sox Nation. – Anthony Stalter

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