While every great romance features two halves joined in bliss, in sports, the greatest games end with a winner and a loser. The headlines go to the victors, with the losing team forever forgotten. But sometimes, if the loss is great enough, it's the loser who is remembered most.
In honor of all the heartbroken folks out there this Valentine's Day, here are the five most heartbreaking losses in sports. Grab another pint of Ben & Jerry's, turn on Adele's "Someone Like You" and find solace in the misery of others.
Nick Faldo won the 1996 Masters, but the tournament will forever be associated with the man who took second -- Greg Norman. The Shark shot a course-record 63 in his first round and remained atop the leaderboard for each of the tournament's first three days. He entered the final round with a six-stroke lead, poised to grab his first green jacket. After going 63-69-71 in the first three rounds, he put up a 78 on Sunday, one of the greatest choke jobs in the history of the sport.
He bogeyed three straight holes in the middle of the round, hit into the water for a double-bogey on 12 and found the drink again on 16 to seal the loss. Norman's performance was so shocking, Faldo didn't even celebrate his win, instead offering Norman a hug and even shedding a tear or two with his opponent. Like winning a race when the leader trips or claiming victory because of a blown call, Faldo knew the green jacket wasn't really his. And the 1996 Masters won't be remembered as his, either.
North Carolina won the 1993 national championship, but it will always be remembered as Michigan's loss. With 11 seconds remaining and the Wolverines trailing by two points, Chris Webber got double-teamed. He called a timeout his team didn't have, resulting in a technical foul. The rarely remembered Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Donald Williams, drained both of the ensuing foul shots and Carolina never looked back.
There's no guarantee that, were it not for Webber's mistake, the Fab Five and Michigan would've taken the lead or even tied things up. And yet this game will always be seen as the one the Wolverines let slip away. To add insult to injury for the oft-forgotten Tar Heels, the Wolverines aren't even technically the runner-up. Michigan's basketball program was later found guilty of violating NCAA sanctions, resulting in the entire 1992-93 season being vacated and the offending players being stripped from the record books. Webber and his timeout will forever be the story of the 1993 national title game and yet, according to Michigan's athletic records, he never even existed.
One of the most heartbreaking losses in American Olympic history took place on the ice in Calgary during the 1988 Winter Olympics. American speedskater Dan Jansen, a favorite to win both the 500 and 1,000 meters, fell in both races and left the Games without a medal. It wasn't a failure to live up to potential that made Jansen's story so tragic, it was the burden that he carried when he took the ice.
Jansen, who had 10 brothers and sisters, had been inspired to take up speedskating by his closest sibling, older sister Jane. A year before the Olympics, Jane was diagnosed with leukemia and Dan wasn't able to donate bone marrow because he was suffering from mononucleosis. Their sister Joanna provided the bone marrow for the transplant, but it didn't take and Jane's condition worsened as the Games neared. On Valentine's Day 1988, the morning of his 500-meter skate, Dan spoke to his sister over the phone. A few hours later he would receive another phone call; Jane had lost her battle with leukemia.
By that evening, news of Jane's death had reached the crowd and the viewers at home. They watched in agony as Jansen slipped on the first turn in the 500 and slammed in the outer wall. Four days later he had a second chance to win for Jane. And 600 meters into his 1,000-meter race, he was 0.31 seconds ahead of the eventual winner's pace, but coming around the fourth turn he slipped and fell again. A photo of Jansen sitting on the ice, head in his hands, will forever be the enduring image of the '88 Olympics. (Thankfully, Jansen finally won the gold in 1994, setting a 1,000-meter world record in the final race of his career. He took his victory lap holding his daughter, Jane.)
Mets fans may fondly remember their team's 1986 World Series win, but the rest of the sports world recalls only Game 6. You know the story: The Red Sox, up 3-2 in the series, had a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 10th inning and were one out from their first World Series win in 68 years. The Mets tied things up on three straight singles and a wild pitch, and then first baseman Bill Buckner let a dribbler get through his legs, allowing the winning run to score. New York went on to win the title, but few seem to care. Buckner's play is not only the lasting image of the 1986 World Series, but he became one of the most hated players in all of sports.
The only reason this isn't No. 1 on the list is because the Red Sox finally ended their World Series drought with wins in 2004 and '07, easing the lingering pain of the Buckner game.
Call me biased (I am, admittedly, a Cubs fan), but I still argue it's hard to find a game that haunts a team and its fans more than Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. The Cubs were leading the Marlins 3-2 in the series and had a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning of Game 6. The longest-suffering franchise in the history of sports was just five outs away from its first World Series appearance since 1945 when an essentially meaningless play sparked an epic Cubs collapse.
Die-hard Cubs fan Steve Bartman, along with several others in his section, reached to grab a foul ball off the bat of Florida's Luis Castillo, denying left fielder Moises Alou the chance to catch it. Alou stomped his foot on the ground and looked angrily at Bartman, causing the already uneasy crowd at Wrigley Field to stir, worried they may have just been witness to another "curse." After the Bartman play, the Cubs imploded, allowing eight runs in the inning, losing the game and eventually losing Game 7 and the series.
Bartman, a victim of circumstance and an undeserving scapegoat, has never been heard from publicly, and the Cubs' World Series drought stretches on. Sports fans everywhere will always remember the name Steve Bartman, and Cubs fans will always wonder what could've been.
When it comes to sports fans, there's no shortage of grief, so feel free to share your picks for most heartbreaking loss in the comments.