The Most Unbelievable Comebacks in Sports History

The Most Unbelievable Comebacks in Sports History

The great and ever-quotable Yankee legend Yogi Berra was on to something when he said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” 

When it comes to sports, no truer words were ever spoken. Great comebacks by teams or individuals are the stuff of legend. It might be underdogs who pull off upsets, renowned but aging stars awakening the echoes of past glory, snakebitten teams finally winning a title…. In some cases, the other side of the comeback might be the complete collapse of an opponent that had built up what appeared to be an unbeatable advantage.

To compile a list of 20 of the most amazing sports upsets and comebacks of all time, 24/7 Tempo consulted ESPN and other sports websites, as well as general-interest sources including the New York Times and The Guardian.

Our list isn’t comprehensive – comebacks happen often, on every level, in every sport – but is meant as a tribute to certain individual athletes and teams who have delivered astonishing performances in their respective fields, making history in the process. (These are the 40 most successful athletes of the 21st century.)

Seven of the comebacks on our list involved championships in their respective sports – soccer, football, baseball, basketball, sailing, and golf. In the course of scoring their unexpected victories, some of these comeback kids ended long championship droughts. But all the teams and individuals here are inspiring for their successes against the odds – and they all prove yet again how right Yogi Berra was. (Berra’s given names were Lawrence Peter, by the way. “Yogi” is one of the 35 unforgettable nicknames in sports.) 

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

West Germany
> Sport: Soccer
> Year: 1954
> Comeback: Winning after being 2 goals behind in the first 8 minutes of the game

West Germany won its first World Cup final in Bern, Switzerland, by overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat Hungary. The Hungarian side entered the tournament as one of the best teams in the world. It had not lost a match in four years, and had taken home its second Olympic gold medal during that time. In the World Cup match, Hungary scored twice within the first eight minutes of play. West Germany stormed back to tie the match before the end of the first half. Six minutes into the second half, Helmut Rahn scored the difference-maker, winning the first of four World Cups for German soccer.

Source: Steve Powell / Getty Images

Ivan Lendl
> Sport: Tennis
> Year: 1984
> Comeback: Overcoming John McEnroe in French Open final

Ivan Lendl derailed the John McEnroe juggernaut in 1984 to win the French Open, the first of his eight Grand Slam singles titles. McEnroe had won 39 consecutive matches and took the first two sets of the French Open. Then Lendl rallied, and gutted out a victory over McEnroe, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5.

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Buffalo Bills
> Sport: Football
> Year: 1993
> Comeback: Recovering from a 32-point deficit to win

The Buffalo Bills claimed the greatest comeback in NFL history on Jan. 3, 1993, enabling them to eventually reach the Super Bowl. Playing in wintry conditions in Buffalo, the visiting Houston Oilers had built a 35-3 lead by the third quarter of the AFC wild card playoff game behind four touchdown passes from future Hall of Famer Warren Moon. Back-up Bills quarterback Frank Reich engineered the comeback. The Bills scored 35 unanswered points before the Oilers tied the game on a field goal in the final seconds of regulation. In overtime, Buffalo intercepted a Moon pass. The Bills got within field-goal range and kicker Steve Christie booted a 32-yard field goal to complete the record comeback victory.

Source: Courtesy of Plano East Panthers Football

Plano East Panthers
> Sport: High school football
> Year: 1994
> Comeback: Reducing a 24-point deficit before losing

John Tyler and Plano East were two undefeated Texas high school teams known for their defense. So when the two powerhouses collided in a third-round playoff game at Texas Stadium in 1994, few expected offensive fireworks. Plano East rallied from a 41-17 deficit with just over three minutes remaining to take a 44-41 lead after three straight onside kicks were recovered. But John Tyler fired the last arrow in its quiver when it scored on a kickoff return for a touchdown with 11 seconds left to win 48-44.

Source: Stephen Munday / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Paul Lawrie
> Sport: Golf
> Year: 1999
> Comeback: Winning after trailing by 10 strokes entering the final round

Scotland’s Paul Lawrie made his nation proud by winning the 128th British Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, in stirring fashion. Lawrie rallied from 10 strokes behind French golfer Jean Van De Velde to force a playoff, which Lawrie won by three shots. It was the first time in PGA history a golfer had ever come back from such a large deficit. The tournament also is remembered for Van De Velde’s epic collapse, as he carded a triple bogey on the 18th hole.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Cleveland Indians
> Sport: Baseball
> Year: 2001
> Comeback: Winning after a 12-run deficit

Before a national television audience on Sunday night, Aug. 5, 2001, at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the Cleveland Indians staged one of baseball’s greatest comebacks. Down 14-2 through the sixth inning, Cleveland rallied for 13 unanswered runs to defeat the Seattle Mariners. The Indians scored five runs in the last of the ninth to force a tie and won it in the bottom of the 11th. It was the third time in Major League Baseball history that a team had dug out of such a huge hole.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts
> Sport: Football
> Year: 2003
> Comeback: Overcoming a 21-point deficit with less than four minutes to go

Helmed by quarterback Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to tie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in regulation and won the game on a field goal in overtime. Indianapolis became the first NFL team ever to win after trailing by 21 or more points with less than four minutes to go in regulation.

Source: ALLSPORT USA / Getty Images

Indiana Pacers
> Sport: Basketball
> Year: 1995
> Comeback: Overcoming an 8-point deficit in 11 seconds

Reggie Miller was a target of New York Knicks fans’ animus in the 1990s. And the smooth-shooting forward for the Indiana Pacers became a nightmare for the Knicks in the first game of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, scoring eight points in 11 seconds to lead Indiana to victory. With New York leading by six with 18.7 seconds left, Miller hit a three-point shot, stole the inbounds pass, and stepped back beyond the three-point line to hit another three to tie the game. After the Knicks missed two free throws and a shot to win it, Miller grabbed a rebound, was fouled, and sank both free throws to deliver the victory to Indiana.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Boston Red Sox
> Sport: Baseball
> Year: 2004
> Comeback: Overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the New York Yankees

The Boston Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series to defeat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox were on the cusp of getting sweeped when they faced Yankee closer Mariano Rivera in the last of the ninth and trailing by a run. They tied the game after Dave Roberts stole second and scored on Bill Mueller’s single and won it in the 12th inning. The Red Sox never lost in the postseason after that, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four to win their first World Series since 1918.

Source: Tom Pidgeon / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Houston Rockets
> Sport: Basketball
> Year: 2004
> Comeback: Tracy McGrady scoring 13 points in 33 seconds

In his first season with the Houston Rockets, Tracy McGrady poured in 13 points in 33 seconds to lift Houston to a comeback victory over the San Antonio Spurs. McGrady hit four contested three-point shots and a free throw over that span and his heroics erased an eight-point deficit with 49 seconds remaining.

Source: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

> Sport: Soccer
> Year: 2005
> Comeback: Rallying from 0-3 in the first half

Liverpool won its fifth European Cup in the most unlikely fashion, rallying from three goals down to beat AC Milan in a match played in Istanbul. Italy was a strong favorite to win the cup, and raced out to a 3-0 in the first half. Liverpool evened the game with three goals in the first six minutes of the second half before winning the match in the penalty shootout. Afterward, an awed Diego Maradona said “The English club proved that miracles really do exist.”

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans
> Sport: College football
> Year: 2006
> Comeback: Winning after trailing 38-3 with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter

A week after coughing up a big lead to Notre Dame, Michigan State basked in the glory of the greatest comeback in major college football history on Oct. 21, 2006, scoring 38 unanswered points to stun Northwestern, 41-38. The Spartans scored 24 of their points in the fourth quarter to erase the deficit. Prior to Michigan State’s feat, the biggest rallies in college football history belonged to Maryland and Ohio State, which each wiped out 31-point deficits to win.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Philadelphia Flyers
> Sport: Hockey
> Year: 2010
> Comeback: Winning from being down 3-0 in the best-of-seven

The Philadelphia Flyers picked themselves up off the mat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to stage a rally that wiped out a 3-0 deficit to the Boston Bruins to win the game and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers had been down 3-0 in the series but became the third team to erase that deficit and win an NHL series.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Oracle Team USA
> Sport: Sailing
> Year: 2013
> Comeback: Overcoming an 8-1 deficit in a best-of-17 format

Down 8-1 to New Zealand in the best-of-17 races for the America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA won eight consecutive races at San Francisco Bay to capture sailing’s most prestigious trophy. The American team faced adversity, overcoming one of the stiffest penalties in sailing history because the team had illegally modified its vessel. The team was penalized two points, and a sailor and two offshore crew members were expelled.

Source: Jared Wickerham / Getty Images

Boston Bruins
> Sport: Hockey
> Year: 2013
> Comeback: Winning after being down 3 goals after 2 periods

Trailing by three goals halfway through the third period, the Boston Bruins staged a frenetic rally to tie the Toronto Maple Leafs in regulation and then won in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Patrice Bergeron was the Bruins’ hero, scoring a tying goal in regular time and the winner in overtime. Boston had avoided a repeat of a collapse from three years prior when the Bruins fell to the Philadelphia Flyers after holding a 3-0 series lead.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Chicago Cubs
> Sport: Baseball
> Year: 2016
> Comeback: Coming back from 3-1 hole to win first World Series in 108 years

The Chicago Cubs had had the longest championship dry spell among teams in the major sports. With the weight of a 108-year-old drought weighing on the franchise, the team surmounted a 3-1 disadvantage in the World Series to force a dramatic seventh game and won that contest in equally dramatic fashion, 8-7, to win the world championship.

Source: Tom Pennington / Getty Images

Texas A&M Aggies
> Sport: College basketball
> Year: 2016
> Comeback: Scoring 14 points in 34 seconds

Texas A&M was trailing upset-minded Northern Iowa by 12 points with 34 seconds left in the second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament when the Aggies rallied to tie the game in regulation. Northern Iowa repeatedly turned the ball over while trying to inbound the ball and the Panthers were out of timeouts. The Aggies would go on to win the game, 92-88, in double overtime.

Source: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

Cleveland Cavaliers
> Sport: Basketball
> Year: 2016
> Comeback: Winning from being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven

By defeating the Golden State Warriors in the seventh game, the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team ever to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. The championship was their first NBA title and the first title won by a Cleveland professional sports team in 52 years. Golden State, which had won an NBA record 73 games in the regular season, had reached the finals by surmounting a 3-1 series disadvantage to beat Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals.

Source: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

New England Patriots
> Sport: Football
> Year: 2017
> Comeback: Coming back from a 3-28 hole

In a career studded with memorable moments, quarterback Tom Brady had one of his greatest in 2017, rallying the New England Patriots from a 25-point deficit midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI to tie the Atlanta Falcons in regulation – and then captured the Lombardi Trophy in overtime. Brady completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns and was named the Super Bowl MVP.

Source: Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Tiger Woods
> Sport: Golf
> Year: 2019
> Comeback: Winning the Masters

Many believe Tiger Woods’ improbable victory at the 2019 Masters was the greatest comeback story ever in sports. Given what preceded his emotional triumph at Augusta, it might be. After being the face of golf for years and boosting the sport to unprecedented popularity, Woods’ life fell apart because of a painful and public divorce; an arrest for driving under the influence; automobile accidents; and a series of injuries. In a story of redemption and perseverance, he won his first PGA Major in 11 years in 2019.

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