30 at 30 List #8: The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

One hour into the month of October, the Oakland Athletics’ heavily anticipated playoff run was over. It ended abruptly in the bottom of the 12th inning in Kansas City against a pesky, never-say-die, smallball playing Royals team that seemed to relish the bright lights of playoff baseball perhaps only a bit less so than their fans did, a fan base that had waited 29 years for playoff baseball to return.

The A’s dramatic fall-from-ahead (three times!) loss added another depressing chapter in the ongoing saga that is being a fan of the Billy Beane-era in Oakland. Moneyball the movie was great, but the real world A’s have proven to write a script too tragic for Hollywood. Their regular season success has been overshadowed by postseason futility. Since 2000, Oakland has now lost seven consecutive winner-take-all games, and has won just one postseason series (a 3-0 sweep of Minnesota in the 2006 ALDS) in eight appearances.

This year was supposed to be different. Oakland was a Major League best 67-42 on Aug. 1 when general manager Beane, who was well aware of the playoff struggles of years past, decided to shake things up and go all-in for a World Series run by dealing slugger Yoenis Cespedes for ace pitcher Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Lester debuted Aug. 2, ironically against the Royals, in a game Oakland won 8-3. However, Oakland’s fortunes quickly took a turn for the worse. They watched a 4-game lead in the AL West over the Angels evaporate, finishing the season with the worst record in AL in the month of September and only clinching the second wild card spot on the final day of the season.

Lester was given the ball on the mound in an attempt to validate why they brought him in. He entered the game with a career 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, good for top-5 all-time. So when Brandon Moss went deep with a 2-run home run in the top of the first inning, many thought Oakland already had given Lester enough support for them to survive in advance. Instead, the wild card game played out, wildly, like a microcosm of the A’s season.  The A’s got off to a fast start only to squander it away in heartbreaking, devastating, typical Oakland fashion.

Lester surrendered a run in the bottom of the first and another 2 in the third, allowing the Royals to play with a lead until the sixth. Oakland’s offense awoke from a month-long drought for a 5-run sixth inning, giving Lester a 7-3 lead. Just when it seemed like Lester was finding his form, the Royals got to him in the 8th, forcing manager Bob Melvin to replace him after recording just one out in the inning. Luke Gregorson came in from the bullpen and struck out the final two batters, but not before the Royals had plated 3 to bring them within a run at 7-6.

Oakland failed to tack on an insurance run in the top of the 9th, and it proved costly as the Royals tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third, and then scored on a Nori Aoki sac fly. The Royals were terrors on the basepaths all night, seemingly bunting runners into scoring position every inning and stealing bases at will.

The A’s had one last gasp in the 12th. Pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo came through with an RBI single to score a run and give Oakland the lead for the third occasion of the evening. But KC battled back yet again in the bottom half. First, an Eric Hosmer triple off the wall. Then, Christian Colon hit an unplayable chopper down the third base line to score the tying run. With two outs, Colon then stole second, the Royals’ 7th stolen base of the night. Salvador Perez stepped to the plate against Jason Hammel. Perez was 0-5 on the night, but he delivered with a rope down the third base line, just under the mitt of Josh Donaldson. And just like that, the game, the A’s season, and (most likely) the Jon Lester era in Oakland were done.

Unfortunately, this is not my first rendezvous with sports heartbreak. The feeling has been all-too familiar in my 30 years of life. In fact, I first wrote about the topic of “the devastation game” back in 2008 following Game 4 of the NBA Finals between my Lakers and the rival Celtics. To see where the A’s collapse ranks on my all-time list, read on.

 

30. Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 86
May 8, 2011
NBA Western Conference Semifinals

This series was already a foregone conclusion at this point. L.A. entered Game 4 trailing 3-0 to the eventual champion Mavericks. Nonetheless, this loss earned its place on the list though because of the nature of the loss, and the significance with how dreadfully awful the Lakers bowed out in defense of their back-to-back titles. It was the final game of the Phil Jackson era, and he deserved a better sendoff than this. It was embarrassing. The beatdown on the court was bad enough, but ugly ejections for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom only added to the disappointment. It was a classless performance all around.

29. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 13, Michigan Wolverines 6
September 22, 2012
Regular season game

It’s never a good thing when a team’s total number of turnovers matches it’s total number of points, but that is exactly what happened in 2012 when Michigan traveled to South Bend. Denard Robinson threw 4 interceptions in the first half, and then lost a fumble on the opening drive of the second half. Both teams entered the game ranked, but Michigan did not come close to living up to their #18 ranking. Despite the 6 turnovers, the Wolverines were never out of this game, which is what made it so frustrating. If only they’d had 5 or 4 turnovers, perhaps the result would’ve been something more akin to Michigan’s miracle wins over the Irish in 2009, 2010, and 2011. But the turnovers were simply too much to overcome for the Wolverines.

28. Green Bay Packers 41, Oakland Raiders 7
December 22, 2003
Monday Night Football

The Raiders were only a year removed from playing in the Super Bowl, but the team had seemingly aged exponentially. Remembered by Packers fans as the game Brett Favre won for his father, who had died a day earlier, this game was the nail in the coffin of the Raiders franchise’s early 2000s run. The fact that it was in prime time on Monday Night Football only accentuated the focus on the Raiders’ shortcomings. Favre finished the night 22-30 for 392 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs. The Raiders were finished, period.

27. Minnesota Twins 5, Oakland Athletics 4
October 6, 2002
American League Division Series, Game 5

Of all the Athletics’ postseason disappointments, this one ranks least devastating, I think, simply because it was the Twins. They were making their first postseason appearance since 1991, and they were from Minnesota. In comparison to the spend-heavy Yankees and Red Sox, losing to the thrifty Twins didn’t hurt QUITE as bad, but it was still devastating. First, the A’s blew a 2-1 series lead. Then, after trailing 2-1 from the third inning on in Game 5, Oakland surrendered 3  ninth inning insurance runs to the Twins. In the bottom of the inning Oakland scored 3 runs of its own, falling one run short of advancing (again!)

26. Phoenix Suns 126, Los Angeles Lakers 118 in OT
May 4, 2006
Western Conference playoffs, first round, Game 6

The seventh-seeded Lakers had no business competing with this loaded Suns team. No, seriously. This Lakers bunch was a playoff team that started Kwame Brown and Smush Parker, but the Lakers also had Kobe Bryant. They led the series 3-1 before dropping Game 5 in Phoenix. Still, the Lakers returned to Los Angeles with a chance to close out the series in Game 6. Bryant scored 5 points down the stretch to give L.A. a 3-point cushion in the final seconds. Then, Tim Thomas happened. Thomas did his best Robert Horry impression, and drilled a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left to tie the game. Another 3-pointer by Thomas in overtime extended the Suns’ lead to 7, effectively ending the game. Game 7 was the infamous “Kobe decides not to shoot in the second half of a blowout game,” and the Suns advanced.

25. USC Trojans 32, Michigan Wolverines 18
January 1, 2007
Rose Bowl

Michigan had only lost one game all season, which you can find at #3 on this countdown. They thought they had a legitimate gripe about being left out of the BCS title picture. USC silenced that opinion completely. After a first half stalemate that saw the teams enter the locker rooms knotted 3-3, the Trojans dominated the second half of the game in all aspects. Michigan briefly cut the deficit to 19-11, only for USC to come roaring back immediately with a 62-yard touchdown pass from John David Booty to Dwayne Jarrett to break the game open for good.

24. New York Yankees 7, Oakland Athletics 5
October 8, 2000
American League Division Series, Game 5

The A’s were in the postseason for the first time since 1992, and they were going against the mighty force that everyone loves to hate, the New York Yankees. The A’s took Game 1, dropped Game 2 and Game 3, and won Game 4 by a whopping 11-1 final. Then, the Yankees whopped back in the form of a 6-hit, 6-run first inning that the A’s never could recover from. Little did I know that this do-or-die failure was going to become a pattern for the A’s over the next decade plus.

23. Ringgold Rams 77, Cathedral Prep Ramblers 67, 2OT
Date Unknown, 1995
PIAA Class AAAA state quarterfinals

Sandwiched between appearances in the state championship game in 1993, 1994 and 1996, the Cathedral Prep Ramblers suffered this heartbreaking loss in the state quarterfinals of 1995. Prep’s all-time leading scorer Jed Ryan was a senior leader of what may have been the best Prep team of that era, but their dreams of Hershey died early.  Prep appeared to have the game locked up in regulation. They led by 10 with less than 7 minutes remaining. They made two free throws to go up by 3 as the final seconds ticked away. However, the Rams’ Jeremy “Czar” Walsh made a miraculous heave as the regulation buzzer sounded, sending the game into overtime tied at 57. I don’t know if video of the shot exists, but in doing my research the reports conflict on whether the shot was inside or beyond midcourt. Regardless of exactly where Walsh launched the shot from, it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Prep shook of the shock of that shot to battle their way into a second overtime where they fell by 10. Ringgold went on to win the state title making every Rambler fan wonder what might have been had that halfcourt heave missed the mark.

22. Ohio State Buckeyes 42, Michigan Wolverines 41
November 30, 2013
Regular season game

Michigan entered the game 7-5 (3-5 in the Big Ten) whereas Ohio State had a pristine 12-0 record and had yet to lose a game since hiring coach Urban Meyer in 2012. In a game that would have driven legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler crazy, the two teams combined for more than 1,100 yards of total offense, more than 50 first downs, and nearly 100 points. Despite being more than a two touchdown underdog, Michigan drew first blood, leading 7-0 on a Devin Gardner run less than 6 minutes into the game. The Buckeyes battled back and led 35-21 entering the fourth quarter. But Michigan responded with a 21-point fourth quarter, including Devin Funchess’ touchdown reception with just 32 seconds remaining that made it 42-41. Michigan struggled to stop Ohio State’s offense all game. Rather than kicking the extra point and taking their chances in overtime, coach Brady Hoke made the gutsy call to go for the 2-point conversation, but the try failed. I liked the call to go for it, but I hated the play call. Rather than utilizing Gardner’s athleticism in a run/pass option, they tried to have him thread the needle to Drew Dileo, and the conversion attempt was intercepted in the end zone.

21. Baltimore Ravens 16, Oakland Raiders 3
January 14, 2000
AFC Championship

Before the Tuck Game, before the Super Bowl disaster, the Raiders ran into the buzzsaw that was the Baltimore Ravens defense. The Raiders’ league best rushing offense managed just 24 yards, and the team had only 191 yards of total offense. A Tony Siragusa hit on Rich Gannon injured the Pro Bowl quarterback’s arm in the first half, and he was ineffective after that before eventually being replaced by Bobby Hoying. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl two weeks later. The Raiders’ next two seasons would end in even more devastating fashion. Scroll further down the list to read the details.

*20. Michigan State Spartans 27, Michigan Wolverines 23
October 17, 2015
Regular season game

The first rivalry game of the Harbaugh era had extra interest as a surprising 5-1 Michigan team entered as the home favorites against an undefeated Michigan State team. The Wolverines never trailed and led by as many as 9 in the fourth quarter. After what seemed like a final defensive stand, Michigan regained possession of the ball with a 23-21 lead and less than 2 minutes to play. Unable to gain a first down, the Wolverines were left with a 4th and 2 from near midfield with 10 seconds remaining. The Spartans put all 11 men on the line. All Michigan had to do was punt the ball and the game would be over. Michigan punter Blake O’Neill had been great all game long in terms of swinging field position, including an 80-yarder in the first half. Unfortunately for O’Neill and the Wolverines, no one is going to remember that 80-yarder because of everything that went wrong on the final snap. The snap was low. O’Neill failed to handle it. Then, he tried to kick it away anyway, losing the ball in the process. Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped the loose ball and ran it back 38 yards for the game-winning score as time expired, sending 100,000+ fans in The Big House into a state of disbelief not experienced since Appalachian State. ESPN metrics said Michigan State had a 0.2% win probability lining up on that punt play, yet somehow Michigan gave the game away.

19. Kentucky Wildcats 75, Michigan Wolverines 72
March 30, 2014
NCAA Tournament Regional Final (Elite Eight)

The second seeded Wolverines knew they were in for a fight against the Wildcats, whose talent far exceeded their number eight seed. The game was well played throughout. Down the stretch, Michigan had the ball trailing 72-70 for what proved to be a wild sequence. First, Nik Stauskas missed a layup and a 3-pointer. Then Derrick Walton missed an open 3. Finally, the ball was tipped in with 31 seconds left. Jordan Morgan got credit amid the scramble under the basket, though it was Kentucky’s Julius Randle who actually tipped the ball in. Kentucky wound the clock down, and the ball found Aaron Harrison. Caris LeVert played textbook defense on Harrison, who launched a contested NBA-range 3, and drilled it, putting a dagger in the hearts of the Wolverines fans who were eyeing overtime and the potential of a second straight Final Four appearance.

18. Louisville Cardinals 82, Michigan Wolverines 76
April 8, 2013
NCAA Tournament Championship Game

Freshman Spike Albrecht appeared in line to become one of the most unlikely heroes in NCAA Tournament history. Filling in for foul-plagued All-American point guard Trey Burke, Albrecht lit up the Cardinals for 17 first half points, including four straight makes from 3-point range. The Wolverines, sparked by Spike, led 33-21, but Louisville stormed back with a 16-3 lead to gain their first lead of the night shortly before halftime. The Cardinals controlled the pace in the second half, but Michigan was never out of it. With 5:09 left and Louisville leading 67-64, Burke attempted a LeBron James-esque chasedown block of Peyton Siva’s layup attempt. It looked like a clean block, but Burke was whistled for the foul. Siva sank both free throws, and the Cardinals went on a 7-2 run that extended Lousiville’s lead to double digits. The Wolverines never recovered.

17. Boston Red Sox 4, Oakland Athletics 3
October 6, 2003
American League Division Series, Game 5

2003 marked the fourth straight year that Oakland was in the playoffs and the fourth straight year that they were playing in a Game 5 of the ALDS. They lost Game 5 in each of the previous three seasons. In 2003, the A’s had won Games 1 and 2 at home before losing Games 3 and 4 in Boston. They returned home to Oakland for the series finale, hoping to exercise the demons of the previous postseason flameouts. Boston had other ideas. The A’s, who blew a 1-run lead of their own in Game 4, had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, but Boston’s Derek Lowe pitched his way out of the jam. The loss marked the ninth straight game the A’s had lost in which they could have clinched postseason advancement, a major league record.

16. Buffalo Bills 51, Los Angeles Raiders 3
January 20, 1991
AFC Championship

My favorite Raider of all-time was Bo Jackson. This was the first game the Raiders played after Jackson sustained a hip injury that would prematurely end his career. I don’t know if Bo would’ve made a 49-point difference. Only Bo knows. But I do know that this was the end of the Bo Jackson era for the Raiders, and that was extremely devastating. One game of Tecmo Super Bowl is all it takes to appreciate just how great he was.

15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31, Michigan Wolverines 0
September 6, 2014
Regular season game

This date doubled as my brother Mike’s wedding. He is a Notre Dame fan. Both teams entered the game at an untested 1-0, having knocked off inferior opponents in the season opener the week before. This particular meeting had added significance in the historic rivalry as the two teams are not scheduled to meet again in the future, a move prompted by Notre Dame. Michigan talked about Notre Dame being afraid to schedule them. They talked big, but they did not back it up. The offense committed 4 turnovers, and the defense had no answer for Everett Golson. Cue the devastation for yours truly.

14. Boston Celtics 131, Los Angeles Lakers 92
June 17, 2008
NBA Finals, Game 6

This series deserves special recognition as the only series to land two games in this top (or is it bottom?) 30. Scroll down further to read about the other one. But this was the game that officially cemented my hatred for the Celtics. Game 6 was the victory cigar for Boston, but as a Lakers fan, I felt engulfed in flames. The 39-point final margin set an NBA record for the largest in a championship clincher. Boston used a 34-15 second quarter to put this game on ice by halftime as the Lakers distressingly went down without a fight. The only upside to a dominant defeat like this is that the outcome was never in doubt in the second half, so I had a long time to digest the disappointment before the final buzzer.

13. Appalachian State Mountaineers 34, Michigan Wolverines 32
September 1, 2007
Regular season game

I imagine some people’s reaction might be surprise that this game “only” merited the number 12 spot on the countdown. Truthfully, it might be higher if I had actually watched the whole game. Instead, I took this game for granted just as many of the Michigan players seemed to do. I was at a movie in Meadville, visiting with Jessie at Allegheny during this game, never even considering the possibility that it would be anything other than a cakewalk for mighty Michigan over little App State. Wrong! The Mountaineers led 28-17 at half and 31-26 after three quarters, prompting Mike to text me, gauging my level of concern. I was blindsided. Stressed, upset, and frantic to find a TV, we drove back to campus just in time to catch the final moments, which remain a blur of absurdity. First, there’s Appalachian State kicking the game-winning field goal with 26 seconds left. Then, wait! Michigan’s Chad Henne connected on a desperation 46-yard heave to Mario Manningham, landing Michigan on the Mountaineers’ 20-yard line, trailing by 2 with 6 seconds left. The Wolverines were going to steal this one and escape—not without a serious scare but with their hopes and win/loss record intact. Wrong again! App State’s Corey Lynch blocked the field goal attempt and ran the final seconds off the clock as the rest of the team ran in celebratory pandemonium. Michigan entered the game ranked number five in the country. They haven’t been ranked that high since.

12. Texas Longhorns 38, Michigan Wolverines 37
January 1, 2005
Rose Bowl

Texas quarterback Vince Young was exasperating to root against. He was like a video game player that had a code for constant turbo. Michigan simply could not stop him as he ran for 192 yard and 4 touchdowns and threw for 180 yards and another score. When Michigan took a 37-35 lead with 3:04 left, I had a very bad feeling that too much time was left on the clock. I was right. The Longhorns moved the ball into field goal range and kicked the game winner to claim the Rose Bowl championship.

11. New York Yankees 1, Oakland Athletics 0
October 13, 2001
American League Divisional Series , Game 3

The A’s had lost in five games to the Yankees the year before. In ’01, they took the first two games in New York and came home to finish the deal. Game 3 featured the now-historic Derek Jeter flip play. If only Jeremy Giambi knew how to slide. The A’s couldn’t manage a run in this game and went on to lose the next two, blowing the series 3-2.

10. San Antonio Spurs 96, Los Angeles Lakers 94
May 13, 2003
Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5

Robert Horry missed the shot he always makes—a potential game-winning three-pointer rattled in and out—and the Lakers furious rally from 25 points down fell two points short. Had that shot gone down, the Lakers would’ve headed back to L.A. with a chance to clinch and possibly extend their bid at a fourth straight NBA title.

9. Detroit Pistons 88, Los Angeles Lakers 80
June 13, 2004
NBA Finals, Game 4

An incredibly frustrating series was unofficially ended in Game 4 when the Lakers lost despite 36 points and 20 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe Bryant shot (and shot and shot) his way to a porous 8-25 night from the field. No one gave the Pistons a chance coming into this series, which made the Lakers’ offensive struggles (averaging just 81.8 points per game) all the more mind boggling for fans.

8. Kansas City Royals 9, Oakland Athletics 8
September 30, 2014
American League Wild Card Game

It’s really hard to be objective about this game, but objectively, this was one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever watched. It’s crazy how all of the same things that make baseball seem boring to me during the regular season are what makes it awesomely dramatic during the postseason. The lack of a clock. The dramatic pause between every pitch. The tension that builds on a full count. On every foul ball with two strikes. The strategy decisions of when to hit away, when to bunt, when to steal. The pitching changes. The list goes on and on. And this game had it all. Unfortunately, it all ended up for naught for my A’s. They went up 2-0 in the first and lost the lead. They led 7-3 in the 8th, and they lost the lead. They led 8-7 in the 12th, and they lost the lead. The Royals stole a record-tying 7 bases and robbed me of another hope at a serious postseason run for the Athletics. Instead, it’s just another disappointment.

 

7. Lower Merion Aces 48, Cathedral Prep Ramblers 43
March 23, 1996
1996 PIAA AAAA Basketball State Championship

My cousin, Keith Nies, was the senior starting point guard for Prep. The other team had some highly-touted senior named Kobe Bryant. Prep held Kobe in check most of the game and led for a good portion of the game, but foul trouble hurt them. Senior Brian Szewczykowski was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game. In a 2011 GoErie.com article reminiscing about the game, both Nies and Szewczykowski said they thought they should have won the game. Prep led 13-5 after the first quarter and 21-15 at halftime, but the Aces picked up the pressure in the third quarter, forcing turnovers and going on an 11-0 run to capture the lead. Trailing 45-43, both Nies and Julian Blanks had good looks at potential game-tying shots, but neither of them went in, and Lower Merion closed out the game on top. Szewczykowski finished the game on the bench, having fouled out earlier in the fourth. He made all three of Prep’s 3-pointers in the game, and perhaps, had he been able to stay on the floor, the outcome may have been different.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes 30, Michigan Wolverines 27, 2OT
November 26, 2016
Regular Season Game

Number three Michigan visited number two Ohio State in Columbus with Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff implications at stake. A win for Michigan would earn them a trip to their first Big Ten Championship Game ever. A loss would eliminate their chances of winning the program’s first Big Ten Title in more than a decade and likely ensure Ohio State a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff. Michigan’s defense controlled the game for the first three quarters. Were it not for three costly turnovers by Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, Michigan’s lead would have been even greater than 17-7, which was the score until Ohio State scored late in the third quarter to make it 17-14. After a last second Buckeye field goal tied the score 17-17 The Game was headed to overtime for the first time in the rivalry’s history. Ohio State scored with ease, and Michigan answered with a 4th and goal touchdown strike from Speight to Amara Darboh. Then, after a controversial no call of a hold/pass interference on 3rd down, Michigan settled for a field goal. Ohio State then had a chance to answer. After a five yard J.T. Barrett run on first down and a -4 yard sack on second down, Ohio State faced 3rd and 9 from the 24-yard-line. Barrett dumped it off to Curtis Samuel, who made a Tecmo Super Bowl style run to get 8 yards out of nothing, setting up a 4th and 1 from the 16-yard-line. Rather than attempting a game-tying field goal, Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer decided to go for it. Barrett plunged toward the line, was met by a Michigan defender and Barrett bounced off the rear end of his own lineman right at the 15-yard-line. In a game full of controversial penalties and no calls, the referee’s spot of J.T. Barrett’s forward progress may be the most heavily debated. As it was called on the field, however, Barrett and Ohio State got the first down, extending the game. They scored on the very next play, a 15-yard run by Samuel, adding to the nightmare for Michigan fans  who have now seen their team drop 12 of the past 13 games to the rival Buckeyes.

5. Boston Celtics 97, Los Angeles Lakers 91
June 12, 2008
NBA Finals, Game 4

As I mentioned before, this was the game that first prompted me to write a devastation games piece. You can read the full article here. In short, the Lakers blew a 24-point lead at home and fell behind in the series 3-1 as a result. Devastating.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels 77, Michigan Wolverines 71
April 5, 1993
NCAA Championship Game

None of the other Michigan entries—basketball or football—would be on this list if it weren’t for the Fab Five. Their baggy, bright maize shorts and brazen attitudes caught my eye as a youngster, and I was hooked. I embraced Michigan wholeheartedly, adopting the school as my favorite team in both major sports on the basis of my adoration for Webber, Rose, Howard, King, and Jackson. In this game, though, the Fab Five era came to a screeching halt as Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have. The Tar Heels used the ensuing technical free throws to ice the game. Webber declared for the NBA after the season, and just like that, the Fab Five was no more.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes 42, Michigan Wolverines 39
November 18, 2006
Regular season finale for the Big Ten Championship

Both teams entered this massively hyped game at 11-0, ranked #1 and #2 in the country. The winner would take the Big Ten Championship and earn a spot in the BCS title game. This was a time when The Game was still THE GAME, and Michigan vs. Ohio State had not only national respect, but national title implications. Michigan drove down the field and went up 7-0 on the first possession. And then the Buckeyes just bombarded the Wolverines defense, scoring 21 straight points. They racked up more than 500 yards for the game and scored three touchdowns of 39 yards or more, effectively killing Michigan’s national championship run. I watched the game at a Michigan/OSU party at Allegheny, and while Michigan’s offense fought to make it competitive, their defense had no answer for Troy Smith and the Buckeyes offense. The game was played the day after legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died. The loss was the fifth and six games for the Wolverines against Ohio State, and the writing was on the wall for the exodus of coach Lloyd Carr. Although he would return the following season, the program was left without top-tier talent, and Michigan has been struggling to catch up to Ohio State ever since.

2. New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13
January 19, 2002
AFC Divisional Playoffs

It was a fumble. I don’t care about the Tuck Rule. Anyone with eyes and a football sense – Tom Brady, Charles Woodson – knew it was a fumble. Surprisingly, this is the only game on this list that I feel my team was robbed and not simply beaten by the opposition. Years before Spygate, this is when I began hating the Patriots.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
January 26, 2003
Super Bowl XXXVII

It was supposed to be a great day for me. One year after the Snow Job game, the Raiders sans coach Jon Gruden had rebounded and made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in my life. But on the way to the game, my car slid off the road into a snow bank. Things only got worse from there. Gruden, the former Raiders coach was patrolling the sidelines for Tampa Bay, and he seemed to know every play the Raiders fan. NFL MVP Rich Gannon threw five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, and Tampa Bay annihilated the Raiders in one of the most lopsided championship games I’ve ever seen. Oakland has not returned to the Super Bowl since. Oakland has not made the playoffs since. Oakland has not had a winning season since. The franchise has become a revolving door of coaches and quarterbacks, one failure after the next. A franchise once known for its commitment to excellence has become the laughingstock of the league. A silver and black punch line. This Super Bowl was the last time the Raiders mattered. When the game ended, it was total devastation.

*This post was updated Oct. 17, 2015 to include the Michigan State vs. Michigan football game on that same day. It ranked #19, so I bumped everything else down on the list. The previous number 30 entry is listed below:

Michigan State Spartans 26, Michigan Wolverines 24
November 3, 2001
Regular season game

Between 1996 and 2007, Michigan only lost to Michigan State twice. The 2001 episode was particularly painful as the #6 Wolverines visited the unranked Spartans with an unblemished Big Ten record. The controversial conclusion put the clock operator in the spotlight. Spartans quarterback officially spiked the ball with :01 remaining, but Michigan coaches, players, and fans, as well as the ABC broadcasters of the game said that they believed the clock stopped prematurely and time should have run out before the spike was registered. Smoker took advantage of the extra second on the clock, finding T.J. Duckett alone in the end zone for the go-ahead score as time expired.

**This post was updated Nov. 27, 2016 to include the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game from the previous same day. It ranked #6, so I bumped everything else down on the list. The previous number 30 entry is listed below:

Lower Merion Aces 65, Cathedral Prep Ramblers 54
March 16, 2005
PIAA Class AAAA basketball state semifinals 

I don’t remember a whole lot about this game, and since it’s a high school game played in an era just before everything was available on the Internet, there’s limited resources to access to refresh my memory. But I do remember that a fight nearly broke out afterwards. My brother Mike was a junior on the Prep team, so I had an additional connection beyond my orange and black Rambler roots. Lower Merion was bigger, but this Prep team was so feisty and skilled in the backcourt that they made a game out of it before eventually being worn down by the Aces.

4 thoughts on “30 at 30 List #8: The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan”

Leave a Reply