Sports' most stinging losses

Zdeno Chara, left, goalie Tuukka Rask and the rest of the stunned Bruins try to absorb going from forcing a Game 7 to season over.
Zdeno Chara, left, goalie Tuukka Rask and the rest of the stunned Bruins try to absorb going from forcing a Game 7 to season over.
Published Jun. 30, 2013

tom jones' two cents

Rough week to be a Boston sports fan, huh? You have the whole Aaron Hernandez mess as the Patriots tight end was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder. Less serious, of course, but perhaps just as depressing to sports fans in the Hub, the Celtics are being dismantled. And the week started with one of the most heartbreaking losses in sports history. The Bruins were less than 90 seconds away from forcing a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final when they allowed two goals in a 17-second span and lost Game 6 and the series to the Blackhawks. While it would be considered one of the greatest comebacks in sports by Blackhawks fans, it goes down as one of the most difficult losses to swallow for hockey fans in New England. And that's how it goes. For every dramatic victory, there's the other side. While each of you might have your particular heartbreaking loss, here's a Two Cents list of the losses we found to be most upsetting.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Game 7, 1992 NLCS

After being knocked out of the NLCS two years in a row, the Pirates took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 and were three outs from their first World Series appearance since 1979. Then, after giving up a run, the Pirates were one out away from locking down the series when Atlanta's Francisco Cabrera lashed a two-run single to left to give the Braves a 3-2 victory.

What made the loss so bad: Everyone knew the talented Pirates players couldn't be kept together and the organization would quickly descend into a loser. In fact, the Pirates haven't had a winning record since that season. That's 20 seasons without a winner, a record among the four major North American sports.

Billy Conn

Boxing heavyweight title bout, 1941

Conn gave up the light-heavyweight title to fight for the heavyweight belt against the great Joe Louis. Conn dominated the fight and held a solid lead on the scorecards after 12 rounds of the scheduled 15-round bout. All Conn had to do was stay on his feet and the title was his. Instead, he got greedy and went for the knockout. He ended up getting knocked out himself in the 13th.

What made the loss so bad: He never would be the heavyweight champion of the world.

Chicago Cubs

Game 6, 2003 NLCS

Best remembered as the "Steve Bartman Game." The Cubs had a 3-0 lead and were five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. But, Bartman leaned over the railing, disrupted a foul ball and potential out and, before anyone could spell C-U-R-S-E, the Marlins had scored eight runs to force a Game 7, which the Marlins also won.

What made the loss so bad: The curse continues. The Cubs still haven't won a World Series since 1908 and they appear nowhere close to even making it to the Fall Classic anytime soon.

Jean Van de Velde

1999 British Open

Okay, Jean, you've got a three-shot lead going into the final hole of the British Open. All you have to do is make a double-bogey six and you win. Wait, you made what? A triple-bogey seven? You ended up in a playoff? You ended up tied for second?

What made the loss so bad: Van de Velde has never come close to winning a major again. His best effort was a tie for 19th at the 2000 Masters.

Doug Sanders

1970 British Open

Playing at the legendary course at St. Andrews, all Sanders needed to do to win was navigate the final 74 yards in three shots. But, on his third shot, he missed a 3-foot putt and ended up in a playoff. The next day, he lost by one stroke in the 18-hole playoff to Jack Nicklaus.

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What made the loss so bad: He finished fourth two years later at the British, but that's as close as he came to winning a major.

Minnesota Vikings

1998 season, NFC Championship Game

These Vikings, led by quarterback Daunte Culpepper and receiver Randy Moss, had one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history and seemed a lock to make it to the Super Bowl. Leading by seven with a little more than two minutes left in the NFC title game against the Falcons, kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, hooked a 38-yarder. The Falcons tied the score and then won 30-27 in overtime to go to the Super Bowl.

What made the loss so bad: The Vikings were convinced they would win a Super Bowl. They didn't, and they still haven't.

Greg Norman

1996 Masters

One of the greatest meltdowns in sports history. Norman took what seemed like an insurmountable six-stroke lead into the final day. Not only didn't he win, he lost to Nick Faldo by five strokes! Norman bogeyed Nos. 9, 10 and 11 before making double bogey on No. 12. He shot 78 in a round too cruel to even watch.

What made the loss so bad: Norman, who had won two majors earlier in his career, never won another. And his career ended without a victory at the Masters.

JR Hildebrand

2011 Indianapolis 500

Imagine being a rookie driver on the IndyCar circuit and you're one turn away from winning the Indianapolis 500. That's the position Hildebrand was in when, for no reason whatsoever, he drifted into the wall, tore up his right-side tires and could only watch as he was passed by Dan Wheldon. To show you how far ahead he was, he still had enough momentum on two tires to finish second.

What made the loss so bad: He's still young (25), but he has never won an IndyCar series race and finished last at this year's Indianapolis 500.

Dan Jansen

1988 Winter Olympics

Among the most heartbreaking stories you will ever hear. While at the 1988 Olympics, Jansen, the best speed skater in the world, was told his 27-year-old sister died from leukemia. Just hours after the news, in his first race — the 500 meters — Jansen inexplicably fell in the first turn. Seeking redemption a few days later in the 1,000 meters, Jansen was on a world-record pace when he fell again, this time only 200 meters away from the gold.

What made the loss so bad: The story of the 1988 Winter Olympics still is a horrible time for Jansen. However, he did finally win a gold medal at the 1994 Olympics.

A tie for 10th, and it's all Boston

The only reason the Bruins were in this year's Stanley Cup final was because the Maple Leafs, still seeking their first Cup since 1967, blew a 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 7 in the opening round against Boston. They also choked away a two-goal lead in the final minute-and-a-half of regulation before losing in overtime.

Boston fans, meantime, still vividly recall the Bill Buckner game in 1986. That's when the Red Sox had a two-run lead and were one strike away from winning their first World Series since 1918. The Mets mounted a comeback that ended with a grounder going through Buckner's legs. The Mets won the series in seven games.

But the only reason the Red Sox made the World Series that year was because the Angels, who had never been to a World Series at the time, lost a heartbreaker in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Angels were one out away from winning the series against the Red Sox when Dave Henderson homered in the ninth in a game the Angels lost in extra innings. Boston then went on to win the final two games of the series.