As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” That phrase is why sports is so compelling. You never know when something historic like an unexpected comeback might take place. Having it occur when the stakes are at their highest makes it even more legendary.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the greatest sports comebacks ever.
10. Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees – September 28, 2011
This night is known as “Game 162” in baseball lore. The Rays trailed Boston for the American League Wild Card by nine games on September 3. Going into the final night of the season, they were tied. However, things were looking bleak for the Rays: the Yankees jumped out to a 7-0 lead, while Boston led Baltimore in the late innings. The Rays scored six runs in the 8th, then pinch hitter Dan Johnson (who was hitting .108 that season) tied the game with a home run in the 9th. While the teams played in extra innings, the Orioles came back off closer Jonathan Papelbon to beat the Red Sox. Only a few minutes later, Evan Longoria homered to cap the comeback and send the Rays to the playoffs after completing the biggest September comeback in MLB history.
9. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers – Game 7, 2000 Western Conference Finals
The Lakers’ championship three-peat of 2000-02 nearly didn’t happen. Early in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Portland, the eventual champs were down by 15 points. Brian Shaw hit some big 3-point shots, the Blazers went cold by missing 12-straight shots, and then the superstar duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant went to work, leading L.A. to an 89-84 win. A couple weeks later, the two won the first NBA championship of their careers.
8. Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – October 8, 2003
It was the best of times for Tampa Bay: the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers were enjoying a 35-14 lead with just over four minutes remaining over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in front of a nationwide audience on Monday Night Football. The Colts, led by former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy, then charged back with two Marvin Harrison touchdown catches and a 52-yard reception in the final minute to set up the game-tying score. The game went to overtime, but the stunned Bucs couldn’t get anything going, and the Colts won on a Mike Vanderjagt field goal. It was the first time a team ever overcame such a large deficit so late in a game. Manning and Dungy went on to win a Super Bowl and became legends in Indy, while the Bucs are still looking for their first playoff win since that game so long ago.
7. San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights – Game 7, 2019 Western Conference Quarterfinal
A year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, Vegas was looking like a sure bet to advance to the second round of the playoffs in their second season. The Golden Knights were up 3-0 at San Jose when Cody Eakin was called for a controversial five-minute major penalty for cross-checking Sharks captain Paul Stastny. In the ensuing power play, the Sharks scored four times to take the lead. Vegas did tie the game in the final minute with an extra attacker on the ice, but Barclay Goodrow capped the comeback for the Sharks with a goal 18:19 into overtime to win the game and the series.
6. Auburn Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide – November 26, 2010
There have been bigger comebacks in college football, but this one is certainly notable because it happened in the Iron Bowl with national championship implications. The Tigers, led by Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, were undefeated but down 24-0 to rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Newton quieted the crowd with a touchdown run just before halftime and then chipped away at the lead in the second half, before taking the lead for good with a touchdown pass with four minutes remaining. Auburn escaped with a 28-27 win, won the SEC championship, and the BCS national title over Oregon a few weeks later.
5. Duke vs. Maryland – 2001 NCAA Final Four
The Blue Devils and Terrapins had quite the rivalry in the early 2000s, and they met for the fourth time in the 2000-01 season with the stakes higher than ever. In the Final Four contest in Minneapolis, Juan Dixon and the Terps jumped out to a 39-17 lead midway through the first half. Duke, having wiped away an 11-point deficit against Maryland to win the ACC tournament a few weeks prior, did it again. This time a 22-point Terps lead evaporated, as Shane Battier, Jay Williams, and Carlos Boozer helped the Blue Devils outscore Maryland 57-35 in the second half en route to the victory. Duke would defeat Arizona two nights later to cut down the nets.
4. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Texas Rangers – Game 6, 2011 World Series
The Cardinals, who overcame a 10.5-game deficit to make the playoffs as a Wild Card, were down two runs and down to their last strike in Game 6 of the World Series. With the Rangers closing in on their first-ever title, David Freese hit a flyball that landed just beyond Nelson Cruz’s glove. The two-run triple tied the game and sent it to extra innings. After a Josh Hamilton home run in the 10th put Texas up by two once again, the Cards were again down to their last strike when Lance Berkman hit a game-tying single. Then, leading off the 11th, Freese hit a walk-off home run to cap an improbably 10-9 victory. St. Louis would win Game 7 the next night.
3. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins – Game 7, 2010 Eastern Conference Final
The Flyers entered Game 7 feeling pretty good about themselves, having erased a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 in Boston. The Bruins seemed ready for the challenge, as they scored three goals in the first 14 minutes of the game. However, the Flyers were undeterred. Philly tied the game in the second period, and Simon Gagne’s power play goal in the third cemented the pair of 3-0 comebacks for the Flyers, as they became the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games.
2. Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers – AFC Wild Card Round, January 3, 1993
The Bills were two-time defending AFC champions and hosting the Houston Oilers at home in the first round of the playoffs, but Buffalo was without starting quarterback Jim Kelly. Sensing their vulnerability, Houston went to work – behind Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, the Oilers took a 28-3 lead into the locker room at halftime and extended it to 35-3 early in the third quarter. With the Bills faithful beginning to accept their fate of an early playoff exit, backup quarterback Frank Reich engineered five unanswered touchdown drives – four passing scores and one rushing TD by Kenneth Davis. Down 38-35, a stunned Oilers team mustered up enough offense to get a late field goal to send the game into overtime. In the extra session, Steve Christie drilled a 32-yard field goal for the win, capping what is still the largest comeback in NFL history.
1. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, 2004 American League Championship Series
Going into Game 4 of the ALCS, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series title since 1918 and had suffered plenty of heartbreak at the hands of its biggest rival. There’s the Bucky Dent home run in 1978 that capped a Yankees comeback to win the AL East in a one-game tiebreaker; just a year prior, Aaron Boone’s homer capped a come-from-behind win in Game 7 to send New York to the World Series; and in Game 3 of this series, a 19-8 New York blowout win at Fenway Park put the Red Sox at the brink of elimination. Famously, no baseball team had come back from a 3-0 series deficit to even force a Game 7, let alone win the series.
Boston would find itself down a run in the 9th inning of Game 4 against baseball’s best closer ever, Mariano Rivera. After pinch runner Dave Roberts put himself in scoring position with a crucial stolen base, Bill Mueller’s single tied things up. A David Ortiz home run in the 12th kept Boston alive another night. In Game 5, Rivera blew yet another save, and Ortiz drove in the winning run once again, this time with a single in the 14th.
The series shifted back to the Bronx for Game 6, where Curt Schilling pitched through an ankle injury (in the famous “bloody sock” game) to lead Boston to a 4-2 win, forcing Game 7 the next night. There would be little drama in the final game, as Ortiz hit a two-run home run in the first inning, and Johnny Damon’s second-inning grand slam put the game out of reach. Boston would win Game 7 10-3 to complete the historic comeback, and the Sox would then sweep St. Louis to win the World Series.