WITH BASEBALL’S STRETCH DRIVE JUST HEATING UP, the threat of stumbling over the next few weeks will be looming in the clubhouses of division leading teams.
No team wants to be remembered as a bunch of chokers.
Over at TSJ we’re like elephants. We never forget. Here are the seven worst chokers of all time.
1. BOSTON RED SOX (GAME 6 1986 WORLD SERIES)
Everyone always remembers Bill Buckner’s fielding error, which led to the Mets’ winning run. But what often gets forgotten is that if Buckner had made the play, the game wasn’t over; it was going to the 11th.
The Sox had already blown the two-run lead they had earned in the top of the 10th after getting two outs on the first two pitches of the inning.
First Gary Carter got a single, then Kevin Mitchell followed up with another, and then Ray knight hit a third that scored Carter and advanced Mitchell to 3rd. The Sox brought Bob Stanley in to face Mookie Wilson and he threw a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score.
Setting Wilson and Buckner up for the moments of glory and shame respectively, and the Mets won the game 6-5 and won the Series the next night.
2. HOUSTON OILERS (1992 NFL WILD CARD)
While the game is known as “The Comeback,” the fact remains that the Houston Oilers blew a 32-point, second half lead in a playoff game.
With backup quarterback Frank Reich under center for the Bills!
Houston did everything right in the first half and then went to sleep after a TD early in the second that gave them a 35-3 advantage. By the end of the 3rd quarter the Bills had scored 28 points to cut the lead to 4. And would even take the lead in the 4th quarter on Reich’s fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon.
The Oilers would tie the game to send it to overtime, where an interception led to the Bills winning field goal, completing the greatest melt down in NFL playoff history.
3. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (1998 NCAA TOURNAMENT)
Duke dominated most of the game, leading by 18 points in the first half, 10 at halftime, and a score of 71-60 with just over eight minutes to play.
But then the wheels fell off.
The Wildcats just wouldn’t quit and finally started hitting shots. Every player seemed to get hot just as the Blue Devil shooters went cold.
Finally, with just over two minutes to play, Kentucky took its first lead at 80-79, and went on to win 86-84.
Duke, outscored 26-13 over the final eight minutes, frittered away their lead.
4. NEW YORK YANKEES (2004 ALCS)
Red Sox fans will tell you it was one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, and it was. But the other side of that kind of win is, obviously, the collapse of the leading team.
The 2004 Yankees are the only team in baseball history to cough up a 3-0 series lead, an event so shocking it had newspapers eating their words.
The New York Yankees hold numerous Major League records, but I’m guessing the greatest choke in Major League post-season history is not one they’re going to be bragging about.
5. BOSTON BRUINS (2010 NHL PLAYOFFS)
The Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, which was only the third time this ever happened in NHL history.
That alone would be considered a choke by any standards, but add to it the fact that the Flyers were backstopped by their second- and third-string goalies and the Bruins had a 3-0 in game 7, only to lose it and the series 4-3, and it enters into the realm of infamous collapses.
Of course the Flyers would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup final that year while the Bruins would captured the Cup the following season, sweeping those same Flyers along the way.
So that probably took some of the sting out of it.
6. JEAN VAN DE VELDE (1998 BRITISH OPEN)
French golfer Jean Van de Velde’s collapse on the final hole of the 1998 British Open was so epic his name has become synonymous with chocking.
Needing only a double-bogey 6 on the 18th to win the tournament, he overshot the fairway with his drive, then went for the green in 2 but ricochetted it off the grandstand into knee-length rough.
From there he chucked one into the creek, thought about playing it out of the water but ultimately took a drop, and chipped into a bunker.
He got up from there for a triple-bogey 7 and a spot in a three-way playoff, which he lost. Most people had never heard of Van de Velde before that weekend, and chances are, had he won he wouldn’t be as well remembered as he is today.
7. CHICACO CUBS (EVERY YEAR SINCE 1908)
It’s not for nothing the Chicago Cubs are nicknamed “The Lovable Losers.”
They’ve pretty much written the book on choking.
It’s been a 104 years since their last World Series victory. Sixty-eight years since they even went to the fall classic—soon to be 105 and 69 when this season ends.
It’s a travesty!
It’s an embarrassment is what it is.
Yet fatalistic as they may be, Cubs fans stick by their team through low after low after low.
Every team has a bad century, right?