|The greatest collapses in sports history|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
After Week 7 of this year's regular season, the Vikings were sitting pretty, sporting a 6-0 record. Then things came apart. They lost to the Giants, at home in the Metrodome. They lost to the Packers the next week, again at home. Then they went on the road and lost two more in a row, to San Diego and Oakland. At 6-4, they still could have easily made it the playoffs ... but, remarkably, they managed to lose two of their final three games -- to the Bears and the Cardinals.
Only one word can describe the last 10 games of the Vikings' season: collapse.
And so, as is our habit, we go in search of the other great collapses in sports history.
1. 1964 Phillies
The Phils should have never gotten off the airplane. They lost eight in a row at Shibe, dropping into second place for the first time since July 15, and then departed for St. Louis, where they lost two in a row to the eventual NL champs. That's where the Phils finished the season, tied for second with the Reds, one game behind the Cardinals.
Lots of folks blamed manager Gene Mauch, who overused ace pitchers Jim Bunning and Chris Short in the season's final weeks.
But prior to a 25th anniversary reunion in Philadelphia, Mauch wouldn't hear of it. "People don't realize what a great year it was," Mauch told USA Today in 1989. "They say to me, 'Oh, what a tough year.' For 150 games, it was the most beautiful year in the world. They were a great bunch of kids. When somebody brings it up about how tough it was for me, I don't even think about that ... If I thought I had to go back there and listen to a bunch of trash about it [the season], I wouldn't even go. When I think back, I think about how wonderful the season was and I refuse to think about anything else."
That, friends, is a shining example of what Freud would have called world-class suppression.
2. Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open
Van de Velde, following in the footsteps of Pascal, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Bergson, Simone Weil, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and other great French thinkers, proved remarkably philosophical.
"There are worse things in life," he said. "Some terrible things are happening to other people. This is only a golf tournament. Yes, I blew it on 18. All it proves is I was capable of being three ahead of the best players in the world on 18."
Or, as Pascal wrote, "Man's nature is not always to advance; it has its advances and retreats."
3. Oilers vs. Bills in 1992 AFC wild-card game
Houston, in its sixth consecutive playoff appearance, actually looked, prior to the playoffs, like it had a decent chance to make it to the Super Bowl.
They blew the Bills away in the first half, 28-3, with Warren Moon tossing four TD passes.
The Oilers extended their lead to 35-3 early in the third quarter, but they soon unraveled. In just under seven minutes, beginning with nine minutes left in the period, the Bills, without Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, scored four TDs.
Backup QB Frank Reich had the game of his life, tossing three straight TD passes during that span and adding another with three minutes left in regulation to give the Bills a 38-35 lead. The Oilers managed to force OT, but Steve Christie kicked a 32-yarder three minutes into the extra period to give Buffalo a 41-38 win.
Oilers defensive end William Fuller was in disbelief. "I didn't believe it when it was happening, and I still don't believe it now," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm in a fog. But I know I'm embarrassed."
4. 1978 Red Sox
The Red Sox, as you probably know, managed to come back in late September and force a one-game playoff, but were done in by the (gulp) heroics of Bucky Dent.
Reggie Jackson, never one to shy away from taking credit, told the Post, "We played great, but we didn't win it. They lost it. If they'd played .500 the last half of the season, we'd never have caught them."
5. 1978 Redskins
The high point of the Skins' season had come at RFK on a Monday night, when they defeated the Cowboys, 9-5. "I thought the stadium was going to take off that night, like some kind of spaceship, just rise off the earth," one fan, no doubt fresh with memories of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," told the Washington Post during the season finale. "You should have heard the crowd before the game."
But, referring to all the empty seats at RFK in mid-December, she added, "People just don't give a damn now."
Redskins GM Bobby Beathard didn't hesitate to put the blame squarely on his predecessor, former head coach and GM George Allen.
"He has done everything he can to screw up the Redskins," Beathard told the Washington Post. "I think he's taken advantage of his position not being in coaching this year. Nobody's asked for his advice, but he certainly didn't hesitate to give it, and I don't think what he's done is very fair. It's unbelievable a guy would be so small as to say some of the things he said. He's always second-guessing: 'I would have done this, I wouldn't have gotten rid of this guy.' "
6. 1942 Red Wings
Though Detroit reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1941, 1942, and 1943, in 1942 the Wings were mediocre, finishing fifth in the regular-season standings with a 19-25-4 record, 15 points behind the second-place Maple Leafs, who'd win it all.
Detroit led the series 3-0, and led in the fourth game 3-2 with 15 minutes left. But the Leafs, with goals by Syl Apps and Nick Metz in the waning minutes, pulled out the win, and eventually came back to tie the series at 3 games apiece.
Detroit then managed to turn victory into defeat in Game 7 at Maple Leafs Garden. They led 1-0 going into the third period, but surrendered three goals in a 10-minute span to lose the game, the series and the Stanley Cup, and win a permanent place in the record books.
7. 1995 California Angels
Then theskid began. Anaheim lost nine in a row, and were caught by the Mariners on Sept. 20. In just five weeks, Anaheim had blown a 10½-game lead, the fastest fall of that magnitude in modern major-league history.
The Angels managed to hold on for a first-place tie, but lost the one-game playoff in Seattle. They'd gone 14-29 in their final 43 games.
"Every phase of our game was shaken, and your concentration tends to slip when you're not feeling confident," shortstop Gary DiSarcina told the L.A. Times. "We lost that intimidation, that edge, the feeling that we were going to go out and hammer teams ... we lost the feeling of what it's like to win."
8. Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon finals
"Her forehand deserted her, then her backhand went, and then she was just a walking bundle of jitters, a total disaster," wrote Filip Bondy in the New York Daily News. "Novotna did not win another game. All those daring, artful moments in the first two sets were squandered."
During the trophy presentation, Novotna broke down in tears, soaking the Duchess of Kent's royal shoulder in what Adrian Mole might call a salty fluid of despair.
9. Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters
Norman had a six-stroke lead going into the final round, and would have been OK if he had just shot an even-par 72 -- but instead, his play ranged from poor to miserable, as he missed fairways and hit water while shooting a six-over 78, losing to Nick Faldo.
Norman's play was so consistently abysmal that there was little satisfaction in watching the meltdown. Wrote Gary D'Amato in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "It was like watching a funeral procession on grass."
10. Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals
"If you can't make 10-foot shots, you don't deserve to win the championship," wrote ESPN.com's Mitch Lawrence. "Portland handed [the Lakers] the series."
Also receiving votes
Thanks to ESPN studio production and ESPN Radio for their nominations.