What is your memory of the greatest sports comeback? There are moments in sports history that captured the attention of the world and made the term “never stop playing until the final whistle” a staple that every coach has spoken at some point in their coaching years. Think back to when you stomped out of a room or left the game convinced of impending doom and disappointment only to catch yourself at that very moment when a positive outcome re-entered your mind again. There is no better a feeling than when that occurs. That feeling of hopelessness replaced with a sliver of hope that success can still happen, has to be one of the most amazing sensations we are capable of experiencing as mere mortals. I suppose I have had some come from behind wins as a player or coach, but the comebacks I am talking about are shared experiences with fans all over this globe; much bigger than anything I have ever been a part of.
There are seven iconic sport comebacks that I’ll share with you here. The first happened back in the year 2004 during the American League’s Championship Baseball Series between the Boston Red Sox and their arch-rivals New York Yankees. The Yankees had won the first three games of the best-of-seven series and nobody in Boston that night felt good about the home team’s chances of winning the series. In game four, the Red Sox were trailing in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Yankees were one out away from sweeping the series and celebrating their win at Fenway Park. I remember leaving the television set resigned to the fact that this was the last night I would get to watch my team until next spring when I would start hoping again for that elusive World Series title for the Red Sox. The curse of the Bambino was alive and well. Minutes later I heard the noise on my television from another room. I returned to see the game had been tied in dramatic fashion. The Sox would win go on to win that night and win the following three games and move on to win the World Series. Eventually, the Red Sox would defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the World Series and be crowned World Series Champions.
Another incredible come from behind story happened on a golf course at the British Open in 1999. Paul Lawrie was trailing the event leader, Jean Van de Velde, by 10 strokes heading into the final round that Sunday. Van de Velde did the unthinkable, a triple-bogey on the 18th hole, allowing Lawrie to slip by and win the title in dramatic fashion.
When I was younger I followed World Cup soccer faithfully and remember reading about the German national team’s dramatic first-ever World Cup win in 1954. In the first eight minutes of the championship game against Hungary the team from Germany allowed two goals against in the first eight minutes of play. Undaunted by their disastrous start this team slowly clawed their way back and by half time the score was even at two goals apiece. Then with under six minutes left to play Helmot Rahn gave Germany their first lead in the game securing their country’s first-ever World Cup Championship.
The Cleveland Indians, in 2001 rallied from a 12 – run deficit against the first place Seattle Mariners to win the game 15-14 in 11 innings. In the sixth inning trailing by 13-1 the team began to rally, tying the game at 13 apiece and just 4 innings later going on to win in extra innings. In college basketball, I watched the Duke Blue Devils defeat Maryland in an NCAA Final Four game in 2001 that still has me gasping for breath when I think about the excitement of the game on that night. The Duke team outscored Maryland down the stretch 23-12 to post one of the most impressive come-from-behind team victories I had ever witnessed. Two nights later Duke went on to win their third National Championship defeating the Arizona Wildcats. Their momentum from their win against Maryland could not be denied. Or how about Team USA Women’s Hockey team finally defeating the Canadians in the last Olympic Games after losing many times in both Olympic and World Championship Tournament games previous? At a moment when nobody expected their team to come away with a victory, against the odds and a building momentum favoring their opponents, Team USA played the perfect game and stole a championship!
There is one more miraculous (and painful, as a Boston fan) story I will share with you. The year was 2010 and it was the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers had been totally overwhelmed by Boston in the series’ first three games and were trailing 0-3. Miraculously the team rallied and recorded three straight victories, all hard fought wins, to tie the series at three games apiece. Then in the seventh game Boston rallied and scored the game’s first three goals in the first period to take a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead. The Flyers never gave up and over the next two periods of hockey scored four unanswered goals to win the series 4-3. They would be only the third team in NHL history to overcome a three game deficit in the playoffs.
For me, there is nothing more inspiring than a comeback whether this happens through sport or in life. The other day I witnessed a very annoying snow squall in southern Vermont on the second weekend in May when I saw one of the most amazing comebacks I can ever recall. A day earlier, I had noticed a nice clump of daffodils that had appeared naturally in the woods by the side of my driveway. Seeing these flowers reminded me of Mother Nature’s rebirth each spring and I was confident warmer days would be arriving soon. However, that evening several inches of snow fell and by sunrise the landscape had changed dramatically. Those daffodils lay flattened on the ground under the snow and the temperature that morning put every sign of spring on hold. Those poor flowers I thought to myself; they never got the chance to experience a full life.
It was not until later that morning, around 10:30 a.m., that the sun had come out and began melting away the unwelcomed snow on the ground. I noticed then that those same daffodils, the ones I had written off just hours earlier, were standing tall and looking as strong as ever before. Somehow they had survived their unexpected setback, dusted themselves off, and were now readying themselves for what had been planned already before the unpredicted mishap of a mid-May snow storm. It was back to business and carrying on with living their full life in the months ahead.
Setbacks are a natural part of life. Seeing the recovery of the clump of daffodils that morning was remarkable and of course, serves as a great reminder that we all are capable of comebacks; of recoveries. Everybody loves a good comeback story just like the ones I just shared with you. There is not a doubt in my mind everyone has the capacity to overcome adversities that come before them in their lives. Some comebacks happen through physical strength that allows you to come out ahead like in the case of the daffodils emerging from the snow. Most often comebacks start with the mental challenge and this sets the course for any kind of success. Any team has to have leaders that dare to dream big and step in to uncomfortable scenarios. You can’t find success if you are afraid of challenge, and in life you will always be challenged.
We are living in a time with unprecedented circumstances and challenges. I was calmed by witnessing the simplicity and the tenacity of the daffodil’s existence. I am inspired by what teams and people can do when they work together and believe in what they are capable of doing. Comebacks do happen and all of us will experience our personal triumphs and setbacks in the weeks and months to come. Think about your journey and where you want to be. Then remember your strengths, your teammates, and the resources you have access to. Don’t be afraid to step into a challenge and create your own comeback. There is no time like the present.