In honor of the historic collapses of the Red Sox and Braves, I thought I would take a trip back down memory lane at some other fantastic collapses that cost teams the playoffs. Now, playoffs and regular season is a somewhat loose term with some sports. I include a World Cup Qualifier as part of “regular season”. I also include a college conference championship game, since it isn’t really a playoff game (heck, maybe Bowls aren’t either, but losing a national championship game appearance and dropping to the Alamo Bowl probably qualifies as akin to “missing the playoffs”). Hockey and Basketball don’t really lend themselves to regular season collapses, because enough teams make the playoffs that if you miss with a late swoon, you were probably a bad team anyway.
In one night, we saw two of the most dramatic conclusions to a collapse in sports history, and they both definitely would make this list. Here are some of team sports’ other most memorable collapses in a “regular season.” Honestly, for the combination of collapse and last second drama to put a cherry on top, the Boston Red Sox now rival only the French and the Minnesota Vikings.
Miami Dolphins, 1993: The Dolphins were without Dan Marino, but following the dramatic Leon Lett game on Thanksgiving day, they were still 9-2 and leading the AFC with a 5-0 record in close games. They were 3 games up on a playoff spot with 5 remaining. They wouldn’t win again, losing three close games, including a costly one at home to Pittsburgh, and closed the season with an overtime loss at New England when a victory would have still put them through to the playoffs.
France, Qualification for 1994 World Cup: With 2 games remaining in World Cup qualification, France had a 3 point lead over third place Bulgaria, and a home game against Israel where a victory would assure qualification, without even needing to worry about a result at home against Bulgaria in the final game. France led lowly Israel 2-1 late, but gave up two goals, including the winner in overtime, to keep Bulgaria alive.
Still, France needed only a tie at home against Bulgaria to advance to the United States the next summer. They scored first, before Bulgaria tied it. Then, in the 90th minute, David Ginola had possession deep in the corner in Bulgaria territory, needing to kill clock, when he hit an ill-fated cross that Bulgaria turned into a quick counter, with Emil Kostadinov scoring the goal that sent Bulgaria to the World Cup and broke French hearts. Both Sweden and Bulgaria, the qualifiers from France’s group, reached the World Cup Semifinals the next year.
Philadelphia Phillies, 1964: The Phillies had a 6.5 game lead in the National League over the Cardinals and Reds with 12 games left, at 90-60. They then lost 10 in a row, getting swept by the Reds, Braves, and Cardinals, to lose the division lead. They won 2 games to close the season, but finished 1 game behind the Cardinals.
2002 Saints: New Orleans is one of four teams in the modern era to go 0-3 over the final three weeks and miss the playoffs despite a winning record. The Saints collapse was even worse because they had a two game lead over the Giants, had an easy closing schedule (all three teams with losing records) and the only road game was at 1-13 Cincinnati. New Orleans lost the first game at home to Minnesota when Mike Tice went for 2 to win it, after scoring a touchdown. The Saints then lost at the horrible Bengals when Cincinnati scored 13 points in the fourth. New Orleans closed with a 10-6 home loss to the Panthers. Aaron Brooks, legend: 28 of 69 (40.6%), 5.04 yards per attempt over final two crushing losses.
Kansas State, 1998: Kansas State went to the Big XII Championship game looking like a sure thing to make the BCS title game. The heavy favorites jumped to a 27-12 lead with 10 minutes left. Then, Sirr Parker happened, as the Wildcats could not figure out how to cover the running back coming out of the backfield.
New York Mets, 2007: The Mets had a 7 game lead with 17 games remaining. They were swept by Philadelphia, and then appeared to save the season by winning 4 of 5 and still holding a lead. A sweep by Washington and a loss to St. Louis dropped them into a tie with the Phillies. They still had a chance to force a playoff in the final game against the Marlins, but Tom Glavine was rocked and they lost 8-1.
2003 Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings started the season 6-0, averaging 29.8 points a game with Daunte Culpepper throwing to Randy Moss. They then lost 4 in a row, but they righted things with a big win over fellow contender Seattle. With 3 weeks left, were 8-5, a game in front of Green Bay and holding the tiebreaker, holding the head to head tiebreaker of Seattle, and having the advantage over Dallas on conference record. Three of the four would make the playoffs.
Minnesota lost a winnable game at Chicago, 13-10, even though they outgained the Bears by over 150 yards, keeping the playoffs in doubt. But the win over Kansas City the following week still meant they held their own destiny in hand going to lowly Arizona, who sat at 3-12 and tied with San Diego for the worst record in the league. A win at Arizona and they were in as the division champs over Green Bay.
With 6:52 remaining, Minnesota got a field goal to extend the lead to a seemingly insurmountable 17-6 lead. Josh McCown then lead a drive that included two different fourth down conversions, to score at the two minute warning. Arizona needed an onside kick with only one timeout remaining. Then this happened (final play at 6:00 mark if you don’t want to watch the entire collapse), making Nate Poole a reviled name in Minnesota.
[photo via Getty]