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Breaking Down The Most Stunning Comebacks in Sports History

From stunning individual performances to teams beating impossible odds, these are the greatest comebacks in the history of sports.

The best sports comebacks in history, by Joker Mag the home of inspiring underdog stories in sports
Credit-NFL/NBA/MLB/Joker Mag

In sports, a comeback can come in all shapes and sizes – an athlete recovering from an injury, a team prevailing from a deep hole, or an underdog overcoming seemingly impossible odds.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” is one of Yogi Berra’s many profound “Yogi-isms”. It’s simple but true.

Sports comebacks teach us that no matter how dire the situation, there is always an opportunity to bounce back stronger than ever before.

Here are the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Table of Contents

18) Tracy McGrady Scores 13 Points in 33 Seconds

Tracy McGrady celebrates scoring 13 points in 33 seconds for one of the best comebacks ever
Credit-Getty Images/NBA

On the night of December 9th, 2004, NBA fans witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime performance that hasn’t happened since. Down 76-68 with 42 seconds left in the game, the Houston Rockets needed serious help to narrow the deficit.

So Tracy McGrady took matters into his own hands.

Draining a series of 3’s over one of the NBA’s best defenders at the time (Bruce Bowen), the All-Star forward put up 13 points in the span of 33 seconds. The Rockets won the game 81-80.

McGrady was on a different planet that night. As one YouTube commenter said, “If he maintained that pace for the entire game from start to finish he would have roughly 1069 points.”

17) ’42 Maple Leafs Comeback From 3-0 Series Deficit to Win The Stanley Cup

The reverse sweep is a rarity in sports. In fact of the three major North American sports leagues, it has only happened five times and only once in the Stanley Cup Finals.

While the first two games of the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings were fairly close in score, the Wings won Game 3 in convincing fashion. Everyone believed Detroit was on their way to winning their third Championship.

But after staving off elimination on enemy ice, the Leafs left Detroit’s Olympia Stadium with a 4-3 victory before laying a 9-3 beating on the Wings back home in Maple Leaf Gardens. Two days later, the Leafs tied the series with a 3-0 shutout.

On April 18th – fourteen days after the series started – the Leafs came back from a three-game deficit to win their fourth Stanley Cup with a 3-1 victory. Leafs forward Syl Apps captured the moment when speaking with the Canadian Press with two simple words, “By Jiminy!”

READ MORE: The 10 Biggest Comebacks In NHL History (Regular Season, Playoffs & More)

16) Cheick Kongo KO’s Pat Barry

The UFC is known for brutal knockouts – and this fight was no different. Pat Barry had Cheick Kongo dead to rights, landing a barrage of punishing blows on the seemingly defenseless fighter. So many that announcer Joe Rogan cried out, “It’s over!”

But it wasn’t.

Kongo hobbled around the ring, getting back on his feet before eating more shots. Then, in a stunning turn of events, he landed a clean right hand to the chin of Barry, who toppled to the mat – unconscious. Fight over.

This fight won “Knockout of the Year” honors and remains one of the craziest comebacks in MMA history.

15) Alex Smith

Alex Smith's injury story and comeback to lead his team to NFL playoffs
Credit-Getty/USA TODAY/Joker Mag

Former #1 overall pick Alex Smith was in the midst of a productive career when his world changed forever. A routine hit caused a devastating – and life-threatening – leg injury.

As he fought for his life, doctors thought his leg would need to be amputated.

Two years later, Smith defied all odds, returning to the field and leading Washington to the NFL playoffs and earning Comeback Player of the Year honors.

14) Reggie Miller vs. New York Knicks

Reggie Miller was the biggest star of the evening of May 7th, 1995 at Madison Square Garden. It was the first game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between Miller’s Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. 

Down 105-99 with 8.9 seconds left, Miller put the Pacers on his back. He dropped an unprecedented eight points in those final seconds to give the Pacers a 107-105 victory.

Miller hit a three to make it 105-102. Then while the Knicks were taking the ball inbounds, Miller stole it and hit a quick three in their face. Tie ball game.

After the Knicks missed two free throws, Miller rebounded the ball and was quickly fouled. At the foul line, Miller drilled both free throws, putting the Pacers up by two and capping off one of the best NBA comebacks of all time.

13) Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Facing the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, Peyton Manning’s Colts found themselves trailing the Bucs 35-14 with 5:09 remaining in the game. Up against a 21-point deficit, it took a Manning miracle to win this game. 

With 3:37 to go, he kept the ball on the ground and handed it off to running back James Mungro. After recovering an onside kick, Manning found Marvin Hudson in the endzone with 2:28 remaining. One possession game.

The Colts defense forced a quick three and out before Manning and company marched 85 yards down the field to the endzone, right before overtime. In OT, after a punt from the Bucs, the Colts gave kicker Mike Vanderjagt a 29-yard field goal look. After banking it off the right upright, it went in. Ballgame.

Manning, the future Hall of Fame quarterback led his team to an improbable run that no one saw coming. 

12) Derrick Rose Comes Back to Drop 50 Points

With the first overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls selected hometown kid Derrick Rose out of the University of Memphis. Rose won the Rookie of the Year in 2009. In 2011, he won NBA MVP, leading the Bulls to the number one seed in the East. He signed a five-year extension the following season at just 22 years of age. 

But after every peak comes a fall. And for Rose, it was a dramatic one. 

In the final minutes of a 2012 playoff game, Rose landed awkwardly on his left leg and tore his ACL, keeping him sidelined for the following season. A month after he returned, Rose tore his right meniscus and missed the next season as well. Injuries kept piling up for Rose, who found himself being traded rather frequently. He even left teams for extended periods of time, contemplating retirement.

After fewer minutes on the court and taking time to adapt his game, Rose found himself on the Minnesota Timberwolves. And 2018-2019 marked his comeback season. On Halloween 2018, Rose dropped a career-high 50 points in a Timberwolves win against the Utah Jazz. It had been a long eight-year journey for the former MVP.

His performance in this game goes to show that you can never count someone out.

11) Michael Jordan

A Michael Jordan quote that reads: I've missed over 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

One of the greatest athletes of all time – and the greatest basketball player of all time – went through one of the greatest individual comebacks in the history of not just one sport, but two sports.

On October 6th, 1993, Air Jordan announced his first retirement from basketball, following his third straight NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls and the death of his father, James. In early February of 1994, days before the start of Major League Baseball’s Spring Training, MJ announced he was signing with the Chicago White Sox.

The greatest athlete of not only basketball, but the entire sports world, decided to retire, during the prime of his career, to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. It was an unprecedented change for Jordan, as he completely changed his workout and routine. Jordan hadn’t played baseball since his senior year of high school, so after a month of Spring Training, “His Airness” was assigned to Double-A Birmingham. 

Jordan was at the center of the basketball world just months ago, in one of the biggest cities in the country. Now, he was in Alabama, playing minor league baseball in the hot and humid summer months.

His minor league career started out with a bang. He went on a 13-game hitting streak, finding himself batting .327. But by the end of April, he was thrown a curveball, literally and figuratively. Jordan could not hit a breaking ball. Pitchers adjusted and Jordan soon found himself learning what it means to be a pro ballplayer. 

When MLB players went on strike from 1994 through early 1995, MJ could not see himself continuing with baseball.

In March of ’95, Jordan announced that he’d return to the NBA and join the Chicago Bulls. After years of being out of the game, MJ got his groove back on the court and helped the Bulls win three more NBA titles. It was like he never left.

10) 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals experienced one of the greatest comebacks throughout a 162-game season and postseason.

In February, ace Adam Wainwright learned he would need Tommy John surgery – out for the year. The Redbirds battled injuries throughout the year, including one to perennial MVP candidate and no-doubt Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols.

Against the odds, the Cardinals held on to win the Wild Card, storming back from a 10.5 game deficit. They defeated the Phillies in the NLDS, and the Brewers in the NLCS, heading to the World Series to face the Texas Rangers.

Trailing 7-5 in Game 6, the Cardinals were down to their final strike of the season.

David Freese took the next Netafli Feliz pitch off the right-field wall for a triple, scoring two and sending the game to extras. However, 2010 Al MVP Josh Hamilton had other plans. He blasted a two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning, to put the Rangers up by two again.

Then, in the bottom of the 10th inning, Lance Berkman, on the Cardinals’ last strike again, hit a game-tying single after an RBI groundout by Ryan Theriot. In the bottom of the 11th inning, David Freese took a 3-2 pitch over the center-field fence, tying the series and sending the series to “tomorrow night.” The Cardinals won Game 7 by the score of 6-2, winning the World Series – capping off a remarkable comeback season.

9) Cleveland Indians vs. Seattle Mariners

The 2001 MLB season was one of the craziest and emotional seasons in the history of sports. The Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees in the World Series in seven games. In September, the season was put on hold in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Barry Bonds also broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record and the Seattle Mariners won 116 ball games.

However, what gets lost in this season is arguably the single greatest game comeback in MLB history. Those 116-win Mariners could have very easily been the 117-win Mariners had it not been for this epic collapse against the Cleveland Indians.

On August 5th, by the fifth inning, the Mariners were leading the Indians 14-2. It stayed that way until the bottom of the 7th, where Cleveland scored three runs to narrow the Mariners’ lead to 14-5. After a Jim Thome solo homer, a Marty Cordoba two-run homer, and an Omar Vizquel RBI double in the bottom of the eighth, the Indians went into the bottom of the ninth down five.

With the bases loaded and two men out, down to their last strike of the ballgame, Indians catcher Einar Diaz sent two runners home with a line drive down the line. The lead shortened further, with the score now 14-11. 

The Indians were able to load the bases when Omar Vizquel, on the eighth pitch of the inning, sent all the runners home with a ringing triple down the right-field line. 14-14, tie game. Both teams went scoreless in the 10th inning. Then in the 11th inning, Kenny Lofton singled and Vizquel singled, sending Lofton to second. 

To the surprise of everyone, the Indians won the game on Jolbert Cabera’s broken-bat single to left field, scoring Lofton and the 15th and winning run of the game. The Indians were down to their final out trailing five runs – down to their final strike twice in the ninth inning.

8) Tiger Woods

The greatest individual comeback in the history of sports might belong to Tiger Woods. Woods’ whole comeback story would take forever to capture. But he’s dealt with so much adversity throughout his career. It’s almost impossible to not be amazed by the legendary golfer’s story.

From the late 90s through the early 2010s, Woods was the center of the golf world. He was a top amateur player out of Stanford University and won more accolades and majors than one could count. When most people think of golf, the first thing they think of is Tiger Woods.

Tiger went through it all: an affair that led to divorce, infidelities, being arrested for driving under the influence, numerous car crashes, and countless injuries. In a short period of time, Woods fell from the number one golfer in the world to a man with no idea if his life had a future on the golf course.

Through time and perseverance, Tiger found himself out of the woods. In 2019, Tiger won the Masters, his first Majors win in 11 years. It has been a long, long road for Tiger but his greatest win, in life, was this importable comeback.

7) Cubs Come Back From 3-1 Hole to Win First World Series in 108 Years

108 years. 108 stitches on a baseball. Steve Bartman. Billy The Goat. 1908 World Series Champions. The Chicago Cubs heard it all and in 2016 they were one loss away from hearing it again. Featuring MVP Kris Bryant, All-Star Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jon Lester, and lights-out closer Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs were stacked.

They finished the regular season with the best record in baseball (103-58), defeated the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS to advance to the World Series. It was a battle of droughts as the Indians themselves have not won a ring since 1948.

The Cubs found themselves down 3-1 against the Tribe, with their backs against the wall. They were looking to become only the sixth team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in World Series play.

The two best words in the English language are “Game Seven”, and Game 7 of the 2016 World Series certainly lived up to the hype. 

The game started with a bang as Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler greeted Kluber, pitching on three days rest, with a lead-off homer over the center-field wall. In the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Cubs up 5-1, Joe Maddon went to Lester in relief. An error by catcher David Ross and a wild pitch off his helmet enabled the Indians to score two, narrowing the deficit to 5-3. In the top of the 6th, in his final at-bat in his career, Ross hit a solo homer to put the Cubs up three. 

In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs and a runner on, the Cubs went to Chapman again. The closer gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Guyer to make it a two-run game. The next batter was Rajai Davis, known for his speed, who hit a dramatic two-run homer to left. Tie ball game in Game 7. Could it get any more dramatic? Were the Cubs going to lose another World Series, extending the curse?

Both teams went scoreless in the ninth inning and before extra innings could start, a 17-minute rain delay halted the game at its most dramatic point. During the rain delay, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward brought the team together, keeping their spirit up and telling them to not give up because they were the best team in baseball.

With a runner on second in the top of the tenth inning, Ben Zobrist delivered the biggest hit in Chicago Cubs history, an RBI double down the left-field line to give the Cubs a 7-6 lead. Rizzo walked and Miguel Montero drove him home with a base hit, extending the lead to 8-6.

In the bottom of the tenth inning, Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground out to Kris Bryant, on what Joe Buck described as, “this will be a tough play. Bryant, the Cubs, win the World Series! Bryant makes the play! It’s over, and the Cubs have finally won it all! 8-7 in 10!”

6) Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 Comeback vs. 73-win Warriors

2016 was not terrible for Cleveland sports. LeBron James and the Cavaliers were coming off a 2015 NBA Finals loss to Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

The problem for the Cavs was that they were facing a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against a Warriors team that won 73 games in the regular season, an NBA record. The Warriors dominated the first two games, winning them handily and totaling their margin of victory for the first two games at 48.

Ultimately, the Warriors established a 3-1 series lead. It seemed all but over for the Cavs. 

Facing the 73-win Warriors, a team considered the greatest team of all time, the Cavs had a major hill to climb. But luckily for them, the game is not over till the final buzzer. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put the team on their back in Game 5, each dropping 41 points as the Cavs won 112-97. Game 6 was more of the same as King James once again dropped 41 points in Cleveland, propelling his team to a 115-101 victory. Series tied 3-3.

Game 7 defined how remarkable of a comeback it was for the Cavs. Both teams entered the game with the same exact amount of points, and the game was like a seesaw. There were 20 lead changes and 11 ties in the game and with 1:50 remaining and the game tied at 89, Lebron blocked the previous year’s Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, by hitting his ball off the backboard as Iggy went up for a dunk.

Then Kyrie Irving hit a three-pointer over Curry with 53 seconds remaining to put the Cavs up by three. After LeBron hit one of his two free throws and a couple of useless three-point attempts fell short by the Warriors, the Cavaliers had won it all and Cleveland became “a city of champions once again”.

They had overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals for the first time in league history.

RELATED: Here Are the Shortest NBA Players Ever

5) Tony Conigliaro

Tony Conigliaro on his miraculous comeback: "I knew if I could just get well, I'd be able to hit again."

In August of 1967, Tony Conigliaro left the field on a stretcher. At that moment, he didn’t know if he’d live or die.

He said a prayer to himself, “God, please, please don’t let me die right here in the dirt at home plate at Fenway Park.”

Though declared legally blind in his left eye, Tony refused to quit his on baseball career. He battled all the way back, defying doctors’ orders and becoming a true “medical miracle”.

600 days after the injury, Conigliaro returned to the field and hit a home run in his first game back. As he circled the bases, everything sank in.

“My God, I did it. I really did it. I ran the bases as though I was floating. I was grinning like a little boy.”

For that full 1969 season, Tony clubbed 20 homers and drove in 82 runs, winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. The following year – joined by his brother, Billy, in the Red Sox outfield – Tony set new career highs with 36 homers and 116 RBI.

Now enshrined in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Tony C will forever be remembered for his legendary comeback.

4) Patriots Win Super Bowl After Trailing 28-3 vs. Falcons

There are three digits the city of Atlanta will never want to see again.

The Patriots went 14-2 in the regular season while the Falcons, led by league MVP Matt Ryan, were 11-5. Tom Brady and the Patriots are not new to the Super Bowl as this would be his and Coach Bill Belichick’s seventh Super Bowl experience together.

No one scored in the first quarter. But in the second, the Falcons erupted for three touchdowns while the Patriots kicked a mere field goal. It was a 21-3 game going into Lady Gaga’s half-time show. 

Midway through the third, the Falcons scored another touchdown to extend their lead to 28-3.

Then Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does. The Patriots scored 25 unanswered points, tying the game with a couple of seconds left in regulation, setting up the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

New England received the kickoff and on their first drive, scored a touchdown, winning the game 34-28. The Falcons did not even get a chance to score in overtime.

This was Brady and Bill’s fifth Super Bowl victory together. Brady was the Super Bowl MVP, completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, two touchdowns, and rushing for 15 yards. But more importantly, the Patriots emerged with the Super Bowl win, against all odds.

3) Bills Storm Back to Beat Oilers

The Oilers were ahead 28-3 at halftime of the AFC Wild Card game. And that lead grew when Houston intercepted a Buffalo pass and brought it 58 yards to the house for another touchdown, making the score an almost laughable 35-3.

Bills starting quarterback Jim Kelly was injured for this game, so he was replaced by backup QB Frank Reich. Miraculously, in a span of six minutes and 52 seconds, the Bills scored four touchdowns, which included an interception by the Bills defense and a recovered onside kick. Just like that, it was a four-point game. 

Later in the game, Houston missed a field goal attempt and turned the ball over. In response, the Bills went up by three on another Reich touchdown pass with three minutes left in regulation. Houston would force overtime with a 26-yard field goal during the final few seconds.

In overtime, Buffalo’s defense intercepted another Houston pass. After a couple of running plays, the Bills drilled a 32-yard field goal to win the game, pulling off the (second) greatest and largest comeback in NFL history.

2) Red Sox Overcome 3-0 Deficit to End “The Curse of the Bambino”

In 1920, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees completed what may be the biggest trade in not only MLB history but in the entirety of sports history. Boston traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000.

This trade led to what became known as the “Curse of the Bambino”. Before 2004, the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918. Fast forward 86 years and these two teams found themselves squaring off in the American League Championships Series. It was a rematch of 2003’s ALCS where the Yankees won on Aaron Boone’s Game 7 walk-off home run.

But this was a new year for the Red Sox, a season 86 years in the making. 

The Red Sox were down 3-0 in the ALCS against their biggest rival. They were one single loss away from pure humiliation and the Curse of the Bambino living on. But it was not over yet.

In Game 4, the Yankees were up 4 to 3 headed into the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera, a man who would eventually finish his career with having allowed fewer runners to score in the postseason (11) than men to have walked on the moon (12), shut the door in the eighth inning and started the ninth inning as well.

Kevin Millar led off the ninth with a walk. Dave Roberts pinch-ran for Millar and fought off several pick-off attempts before Rivera finally threw a pitch. When that pitch came, the entire series shifted as Roberts stole second base, putting himself in scoring position. Bill Mueller got a base hit to score Roberts, tying the game at four-all and sending it to extra innings. After no one scored in the 10th or 11th innings, David Ortiz hit a two-run walk-off home run to right field in the bottom of the 12th inning, winning the game for the Red Sox and giving them all the momentum they needed. 

Game 5 was fairly similar to Game 4, starting just 16 hours after the conclusion of the previous matchup. It went into the 14th inning tied 4-4 when the previous night’s hero, David Ortiz, did it again. “Big Papi” won the game with a two-out single to center field to score Johnny Damon. As Joe Buck said, “Damon running to the plate, and he could keep on running to New York. Game 6 tomorrow night!”

Game 6 was all about Curt Schilling who, with a torn tendon in his right ankle, pitched seven innings of one-run ball on basically one leg. His performance was all done with a completely bloody and red sock.

Alex Rodriguez’s interference as a baserunner prevented the Yankees from scoring, while a couple of other plays which were not in the favor of the New York crowd, caused pandemonium at Yankee Stadium. Debris flew across the field. The Red Sox won the game 4-2, tying the series and becoming the first team in MLB playoff history to force a Game 7 after trailing the series 3-0. 

Game 7 was all Boston, even though the series had shifted back to the Bronx. Big Papi started the game with a two-run homer for the Sox. In the second inning, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam to make it a 6-0 Boston lead. Damon homered later in the game as well to make it an 8-1 ballgame. A few runs later and the Red Sox were leading 10-3 headed into the ninth inning, where they closed it out a minute after midnight. 

The Red Sox came back and won their first pennant since 1986 (like 86 years. Isn’t baseball crazy?) They truly defied the odds and a few days later, the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, breaking the curse of the Great Bambino and capitalizing on their incredible comeback.

1.) Vikings Come Back From 33-0 Deficit

After being down 33-0 at halftime, the 2022 Minnesota Vikings stormed back to beat the Colts and pull off the biggest comeback in NFL history.

“My mentality didn’t change when we were down 33-0,” said cornerback Patrick Peterson. “Came into halftime, what did I say? … I said we need five touchdowns to win the game.”

Minnesota scored their first touchdown with 8:22 left in the third quarter. They needed a miracle to even get within striking distance.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Vikings’ defense adjusted, blitzing Matt Ryan on 12 of 20 dropbacks to keep the pressure on. They got their offense the ball back drive after drive, and Kirk Cousins led them down the field each time.

“When we cut it to 15,” Cousins recalled, “that’s when I felt like maybe there were 12 minutes left, something like that, this is right there.”

Minnesota tied the game and took it into overtime, where a Greg Joseph field goal sealed the improbable comeback with 3 seconds left on the clock.

What’s your favorite sports comeback? Let us know on Twitter!

Written By

Majoring in Journalism at Lehigh University. Huge sports fan, especially of the Oakland Athletics.



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