We love a comeback story, when true greats become legends. These are the times when normal men would simply fold, but the greatest of all time made one last stand and somehow plucked victory from the jaws of defeat. These are the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
It’s life, reduced into a moment. All of these men show that no matter how bad your situation, no matter how far down you are at any given moment, you can choose to make a stand and fight back. It doesn’t always work, but that’s why we celebrate these moments and the stars themselves become heroes.
These are some of the biggest sporting moments of our lives and they live forever on the minds of the fans. So here are our picks for the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. We hope you like them….
1. New England Patriots
Superbowl 51, Houston, 2017
This was one of the great sporting stories of recent years. Tom Brady was the larger than life quarterback approaching the end of a glittering career. But questions were starting to rear their head.
He started the season serving a suspension for Deflategate and his stand-in did a solid job. Brady led the charge to the Superbowl, but there was more than one pundit that suggested he shouldn’t play in the big game.
For the first half, that seemed fair. New England got hammered by the Atlanta Falcons and managed a single field goal in response. In the dying minutes of the first half, the legendary Brady through an interception and watched as the Falcons charged 82 yards for a touchdown.
Brady’s men were 28-3 down and they looked broken. The Falcons were cruising.
The Patriots showed just the slightest sign of a comeback but, at 28-12 down with 9m44s on the clock, it didn’t look good.
But the team came alive. The Falcons found themselves under pressure, the Quarterback got brutally sacked on the 25-yard line and the whole team started to believe.
That final drive from the Patriots’ own nine-yard line will remain the stuff of legend. It cemented Brady’s place as an icon of the game and arguably the best NFL player ever. It took a series of passes before the Patriots rushed into the endzone and it still took a two-point conversion to tie the game.
It was the first foray into overtime in the Superbowl’s 51-year history. The Patriots had the ball and drove down the field again, looking for the decisive touchdown that seemed ridiculous just 10 minutes before.
Again it was a grinding, two-meter running play that sealed the deal for the Patriots. But Brady’s sheer leadership and artistry won him his fifth Superbowl ring and fourth MVP award. It was team performance, but this was Brady’s Magnus Opus.
If you want a 40m film on the Patriots’ comeback, check this one out:
Champions League, Istanbul, 2005
Liverpool fans still talk in breathless tones about that fateful night in Istanbul. Liverpool trailed AC Milan 3-0 at half-time and the game looked lost. AC Milan were in unstoppable form and Hernan Crespo was unplayable in attack.
What followed was an inspirational 45 minutes of football. Steven Gerard was the man that led the charge and scored the first of two girls in two minutes and three in 15. The game finished a tie, went to penalties and Liverpool held their nerve to complete one of the most amazing and unlikely sporting comebacks of all time.
It was an emotionally charged night where the team dug deep and Gerard, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso became more than players. They were soldiers that night and dragged the team back into contention before killing their rivals in the penalty shootout.
Liverpool held their nerve in the dying moments and completed one of the greatest comeback stories ever.
3. Buster Douglas
World Heavyweight Championship, 1990, Tokyo
Mike Tyson was the monster. He was the man that struck fear into the heart of his opponents and then dismantled them in minutes. But when Tyson met Buster Douglas, it was destined to be a different night.
Douglas was a 42-1 outsider going into the fight. Nobody gave him a chance except Douglas himself. He dictated the pace early on and had the measure of Tyson. But the wrecking machine came back with a trademark uppercut that put Douglas down in the dying seconds of the eighth round.
There was a sinking feeling of inevitability, even though Douglas beat the count with a second to spare. The bell gave him one invaluable minute to unscramble his senses. Tyson moved in for the kill in the ninth, but it never came.
Douglas came back fighting and, in the 10th round, he put Tyson down for the first time in his career with a violent uppercut and a flurry of follow up punches. Tyson fumbled for his mouthpiece on the floor, but he was out of it. The fight was over.
It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history and although Buster Douglas went on to get knocked out by Evander Holyfield in the third round of his first defence, he was a giant that night. On so many levels, this was one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
4. USA Winter Olympic Hockey Team
Lake Placid, USA, 1980
The Soviets were destined to win their seventh gold medal in the last eight games and a semi-final with the American team was just a formality.
The soviet team was an all-star cast, future Hall of Famers and legends of the sport. The US team was made up of amateurs and it was the youngest team in the tournament’s history. They were meant to be sacrificial lambs on home soil in Lake Placid, New York.
Going into the final quarter, it looked like the game was going to plan. America was a goal down, even though the 3-2 scoreline was surprising in itself.
The USA had acquitted itself well and saved face, but the team wasn’t quite ready to roll over and accept an honorable death.
This comeback is known as the ‘Miracle on Ice’ and Sports Illustrated named it the greatest sporting moment of the 20th Century. We’re not sure about that, but the US comeback to take a 4-3 win is the stuff of legend.
There has even been an episode of American Dad devoted to this iconic win and it’s still celebrated to this day. At the height of the Cold War,a ragtag bunch of misfits managed to turn over the best team in the world, a bunch of racing robots that were built for the sport. It was pretty much a Hollywood script.
5. Alex Zanardi
CART, 1996, Laguna Seca
Alex Zanardi was running in fourth, well down the order, in the closing stages. Somehow, he muscled his way into second. But he ran wide, put three wheels into the dirt and almost crashed as he fell behind Bryan Herta.
Traffic helped his cause, but Zanardi still fought hammer and tongs to close the gap before pulling off one of the most famous, and infamous, motorsport moves of all time.
He dived down the inside of Herta at the legendary Laguna Seca corner, missed the second part of the chicane entirely and somehow bounced into the lead. It was a contentious move, but a legal one.
It is one of Zanardi’s greatest victories and it shows what happens when you just refuse to lose.
6. Boston Celtics
NBA Finals, 2008
The Celtics came into the fourth game 2-1 up and arguably the team was in cruise control. The Lakers made them pay dearly and they found themselves 24 points down in the third quarter.
Boston somehow turned it around and went on a 21-3 run in the scoring. Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and company came alive and started nailing three-pointers.
Just four minutes from the end, the Celtics took the lead and finished the game 97-91 winners. It was the biggest NBA Finals comeback since 1971 and the Celtics went on the win their 17th title.
7. Rocky Marciano
World Heavyweight Championship, Philadelphia, 1952
This is pretty much the blueprint for Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky when he went in against Apollo Creed.
Walcott schooled Marciano in the early part of the fight and controlled the encounter right up to the 13th round. Before the fight, Walcott described Marciano as “amateurish” and openly laughed at the brawler’s lack of technique.
He knocked the challenger down in the first after a series of hard punches found their mark. It was the first time Rocky had ever been knocked down and the writing was on the wall.
Marciano always had a puncher’s chance and he forged his entire career on devastating knockouts and all-out wars. Both fighters began to tire and it turned into a vicious dogfight. They were both throwing and taking knockout punches in a last man standing affair.
That came in the 13th round, when Marciano swung a perfectly timed right into Walcott’s undefended jaw. He was out on his knees and only the ropes held him there. Marciano had turned it around at the last moment and won one of the most memorable heavyweight title fights of all time.
8. Bill Elliott
NASCAR Winston 500, Talladega, 1985
This fight back from almost five miles down to win without a caution period to help close the gap is often hailed as the best comeback drive in NASCAR history.
He was almost two laps down, after a one-minute pit-stop to fix a leaking oil line that was sending smoke billowing from the engine bay. He came out the pits like a man possessed and tore his way through the leaderboard in his Ford Thunderbird.
He was quick all weekend and took pole position with an average speed of 209.398mph, but that nightmare start to the race left him floundering.
It took 97 laps to make up that difference, but on lap 145 of 188, he stormed past Cale Yarborough for the lead and he went on to record an iconic win that we still talk about today.
9. Utah Jazz vs Denver Nuggets
NBA, Salt Lake City, 1998
Karl Malone and the rest of the Utah Jazz were playing like kids and they slipped 36 points behind. That is just too much…
The defence was non-existent and Denver simply overran the Jazz. At one point, they were running through the opposition at will for basket after painful basket.
Somehow, though, the Jazz put on their big boy pants and went to work. They slashed the gap, then defied all the odds by snatching a 107-103 victory in the dying minutes. It remains the biggest comeback in basketball history and Malone scored 31 points.
Marvin Williams woke up and nailed a memorable three-pointer. But this was just a team picking itself off the floor and coming back with all guns blazing.
This was the greatest comeback in NBA history and one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever.
10. Boston Red Sox
Playoffs, USA, 2004
The Red Sox were 3-1 down and the general feeling was their 2004 World Series was over.
Boston already had a reputation for choking in the big games and it looked like history would repeat itself. The Yankees needed just one more game to put the Red Sox out of their misery.
What followed was a fairytale. The Red Sox won eight straight games, dumping the Yankees out of contention and then sweeping the St Louis Cardinals.
Bronson Arroyo, Doug Mirabelli and more simply refused to be pushed around anymore. They made a conscious decision that they weren’t going out like that and created one of the greatest stories in baseball history.
11. Cheikh Kongo vs Pat Barry
UFC, Pittsburgh, 2011
Kongo looked basically unconscious for half of the first round after being smashed in the side of the head with a vicious right hook that scrambled his senses.
You see him fall to the floor, limp, at least twice. Somehow, he sparks right back into life and keeps going both times.
He’s fighting back on pure instinct, but then he shows just what can happen if you keep going and refuse to give in.
It took just a right hook and an uppercut to destroy his opponent, who actually went down cold and simply couldn’t get up. Kongo leapt in to finish the job, but it was really done before Barry hit the floor.
12. Henri Cochet
Wimbledon Quarter Finals, London, 1927
He was two sets and 5-1 down in the final set, literally moments from defeat and about to concede in humiliating fashion in the quarter finals of Wimbledon in 1927.
Somehow, he turned it round. Bill Tilden was the unfortunate victim that day, but it was a titanic comeback from Cochet. He went on to win in three sets and then he did the impossible, he went on to win the tournament in the most grueling way possible with more multi-set slugfests.
Cochet was the world Number One for a while and won ten major titles, including two Wimbledon titles.So he was no rank outsider. but still, he came as close as possible to getting whitewashed at Wimbledon that year before coming back to win in spectacular style.
13. Lassi Viren
10,000m Olympic Final, Munich, 1972
He fell heavily at the halfway point of the 10,000 meter final and his race looked to be over. The collision put the other athlete out of the race, injured, but Viren was made of tougher stuff.
He took a moment, then tore off after the leaders of the newly-established pack. Somehow, the Finn was even quicker after the accident and he came back to take the gold medal.
He didn’t just win, he won it at a canter and it was an astonishing display of dominance from a runner who knew he was simply the best at the time and could not be dethroned.
14. Mike Weaver
WBA Heavyweight Championship, Knoxville, 1980
Nobody gave Mike Weaver much of a shot against the slick-moving James Tate in their 1980 WBA heavyweight title fight. For the first 14 rounds, the fight followed the script and Weaver was simply outclassed. In the final round, though, Weaver came out swinging for the fences.
He decided to go out on his sword. But then something magical happened. He connected with a swinging left hook and Tate simply fell face first into the canvas. He didn’t even move during the 10 count.
Nobody saw it coming, but Weaver went on to hold the title for two years.
Ryder Cup, Illinois, 2012
This incredible sporting comeback is now known as the Miracle in Medinah in golf circles. It was that dramatic. Europe was 10-6 down on the final day, but just turned the competition on its head and won 8 of the 12 matches that day to take the title.
This was the 39th Ryder Cup and Europe was intent on retaining the crown. But things started badly and Jose Marie Olazabal’s men simply couldn’t live with the Americans. This looked like a squash match for a long time.
The US had Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Dustin and Zach Johnson. Europe had no answer to them even with Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia in the line-up.
But the Americans self-destructed on the final day and blew the biggest lead in 85 years. Tiger Woods too a lot of criticism for being there in body and not in spirit and team captain Davis Love III was criticized for his team selection.
16. Rick Mears
Indy 500, Indianapolis, 1991
Mears was already off the pace and losing the race when a flat tire looked to put him right out of contention. But when he rejoined the track, he went on a charge, reeled in Michael Andretti and somehow speared past him to take the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Mears won the race four times in total and took six pole positions, which makes him a Brickyard legend. Only three men have won the Blue Riband event four times and Mears counts A.J Foyt and Al Unser Sr as his only peers.
The Penske Chevy driver,in truth, couldn’t have caught race leader Andretti. But a caution period wiped out the leader’s 15-second lead. Still, with that kind of comeback drive, Mears deserved a little luck.
It was one of the greatest racing comebacks of all time on the greatest stage of all. So that means it has to be one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever.
17. Anderson Silva
UFC 117, Oakland, 2010
Anderson Silva went on to become a legend, but back in 2010 he ran into Chael Sonnen. Nobody could live with Silva on the ground as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has 1000 submissions waiting, but wrestler Sonnen dominated him.
Sonnen almost dropped Silva with heavy punches in the first round and there were times in the second and third round when the referee could have stopped it. Sonnen didn’t just have his measure, he was just smashing him in the head from the guard.
Silva never gave up and landed a hard right hand that dropped a tiring Sonnen in the fourth. But soon it was more of the same. Sonnen unloading on Silva and dominating from the top position on the ground.
Suddenly, though, Silva locked in an inverted triangle choke from nowhere and after losing 90% of the fight, he pulled it out the bag right at the death. It is sometimes considered the greatest MMA comeback of all time and it’s certainly one of the greatest sporting comebacks, ever.
18. Manchester United
Champions League Final, Barcelona, 1999
It’s another last-ditch effort in the Champions League Final, which determines the best team in Europe during league and knockout stages.
United were one down within six minutes and had just one decent shot on goal for the first 45 minutes. The British icons were being outclassed and as the game went into a few minutes of additional injury time, United were still 1-0 down. The woodwork saved the British from further humiliation twice, too.
Simply put, the Germans played United off the park for most of the game.
The next few minutes are etched on to the brains of soccer fans around the world. Teddy Sheringham scrambled in an ugly finish and forced extra time, somehow.
Just minutes into extra time Ole Gunar Solskaer got a toe to a fired,low cross and banged it in the back of the net.
United had totally turned the game on its head and crushed the German opposition in the space of three devastating minutes right before the final whistle. Literally, some of the German players could not get off the floor.
It was an emotional night, it was definitely one of the finest comebacks in football history and it might just be one of the best sporting comebacks of all time.
19. James Hunt
F1 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, 1976
The Briton’s duel with Niki Lauda was so intense that Ron Howard took it to the big screen with Rush. It’s well worth a watch as Lauda is virtually the perfect Bond villain in a racing car and Chris Hemsworth presents a great version of F1’s playboy.
Lauda was cruising to victory in the championship after protesting Hunt’s McLaren, which sent the British team into a tailspin. Lauda’s legendary accident at the old Nurburgring changed the complexion of the championship, though, and also nearly killed he Austrian.
Lauda was still bleeding through his bandages when he came back to race at Monza, just 38 days later. He couldn’t sit back and watch Hunt take the title and he’s equally deserving of a place on this comeback list.
It went right to the wire, but in torrential rain at the final round, discretion finally proved the better part of valor for the defending World Champion. Lauda pulled off the track, fearing another accident.
Hunt took the lead, but destroyed his tires, fell down the order and had to pit. For a long time, it looked like Lauda would be crowned Champion.
But the Briton refused to be denied. He charged back through the field to take title on the final lap with a third place finish as the track dried and took the title by a single point.
Epsom Derby, UK, 1867
He shouldn’t even have raced that day. Hermit was nursing a broken blood vessel and had been off track for 10 months, but a huge bet from the Marquis of Hastings meant his owner Henry Chaplin stood to make $130,000 if he won.
In 1867, that was a shit ton of money.
Hermit went in at 1000-15 to win the race. On the day, he came from the back of the field to win the race by the length of his neck. This was a great day for horse racing, but a nightmare for the Marquis of Hastings. That single bet bought him to the brink of financial ruin.
Hermit went on to win at Royal Epsom and that was the last time he was a long-odds underdog.
21. Ayrton Senna
F1, Donington, 1993
The mercurial Brazilian who died at Imola in 1994 is still largely considered the greatest driver of all time. The 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park was one of his finest moments.
After starting fourth and slipping to fifth on the line, he got angry and just carved past the cars in front. He proceeded to take the lead by the end of the first lap.
Other drivers have arguably been more impressive and we have seen more heroic comebacks from the back of the field to finish on the podium. But this is the single-lap comeback that F1 connoisseurs rave about.
The track was soaking wet, fast and treacherous. This, then, was a masterclass from the three-time World Champion. Senna went on to lap all but one car, even though he pitted five times.
He finally broke Alain Prost’s spirit when he stayed out on slick tires in the rain. It was a big gamble and it paid off, as the storm passed, the track dried and Senna drove home his advantage.