The look on Willie Veasley’s face after Monday night’s championship game loss to Duke says it all. Actually, you can’t see his face, which says even more. It was one of the most heart-wrenching losses that one could experience as a player or fan, and I don’t say that just because I’ve known Willie since he was in high school. When you consider the greatness of what would have occurred had either of Gordon Hayward’s shots in the final 10 seconds found their mark, the end result makes you feel like you have a hangover for the next couple of days.
It was reminiscent of another underdog near-miss from earlier this year — Team USA’s overtime loss to Canada in the gold medal hockey game. I spent quite a few hours bemoaning a shot that got underneath Roberto Luongo in the first period but refused to trickle over the goal line. But then I realized that the game probably meant more to Canadians at the end of the day and thus found it easier to live with. I don’t share quite the same empathy for Dukies.
Though it will take more introspection to determine this, there is also a chance that the 2010 championship game will make its way onto my list of the 10 Most Agonizing Losses of my sporting life. In fact, I know it will. It’s just a matter of where it will fit in. But here is where the list stood prior to Monday night’s addition.
10. Boston College defeats Notre Dame, 1993
Back in another lifetime — childhood — I was a Notre Dame fan. The summer before the ’93 season, I visited the campus with my parents and snuck into Notre Dame Stadium with my dad, which is something you probably can’t do today. (You probably couldn’t do it then either, but somehow we got in anyway). Then we went to the Joyce Center on a search for Lou Holtz, and lo and behold he rolled up in a golf cart as we were leaving the building. I shook his hand and let him know that I hoped Notre Dame won it all that year.
And after Kevin McDougal led the Irish past Florida State in the “Game of the Century,” it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen. But the damn next week on the schedule had to come, and a 41-yard field goal by BC’s David Gordon as time expired killed any hopes of a national title. The Irish have pretty much underachieved ever since, and I don’t care anymore.
9. Donald Igwebuike beats the Bears on last-second FG, Nov. 19, 1989
Sunday nights were never looked forward to in my childhood because it meant I had to take a bath. Those suck. But Sunday afternoons weren’t so bad because I got to watch the Bears, and they were good. Until Nov. 19, 1989.
After falling behind the lowly Buccaneers, the Bears made an amazing fourth-quarter comeback and took the lead late in the game. But Igwebuike’s field goal gave the Bucs a 32-31 win, dropping the Bears to 6-5. They would never recover, losing the remainder of their games and missing the playoffs for the first time in my young life. At least it prepared me for the future. That was of little consolation at the time, though, as I went to my weekly bath in tears.
8. North Chicago beats Mundelein, Homecoming 1999
Entering my senior year of high school, we still had never won our homecoming football game. Not that I was actually on the team — golf was my bag — but I was among the most dedicated followers of our lousy squad.
It looked like everything had a chance to change when we scheduled the one team in our conference that was traditionally worse than us, North Chicago, for our senior homecoming. And for most of the game we were in control, but then with just a shade over 2 minutes left some North Chicago running back busted a crapload of tackles and scored a 78-yard touchdown to hand us our fourth-straight homecoming defeat. (Actually the streak was probably even longer, but I’m just going on what I know).
The game was shown tape-delay on public access, and at the point the touchdown was scored my buddy Nick claimed he could hear my voice and counted 21 straight f-bombs. I also went on a rant about how much we sucked at football, which caused a girl to threaten to kick my ass. My friends had to escort my out of the stadium so she wouldn’t come after me.
Oh, that North Chicago running back? Turns out he was some guy named Michael Turner. In retrospect, this wasn’t such a bad loss after all.
7. Luke Recker buzzer-beater, 2002 Big Ten tournament
There was no one more hated on the Indiana campus than Luke Recker circa 2001-02, so when he nailed a buzzer beater to beat the Hoosiers in the semifinals of the 2002 Big Ten tourney, I did the only thing that could logically come to mind.
I took off my shoe and threw it at the TV screen.
Unfortunately, the TV belonged to the parents of my buddy, the Yo Dude. While they were watching. And even though it took place seven years later, I’m pretty sure this plays a large role in why I did not receive an invitation to the Yo Dude’s wedding.
At least IU would recover from the loss to make a run to the national championship game.
6. Blues sweep Blackhawks in first round of the 1993 playoffs
In the ’92-93 season, the Blackhawks were a machine that kicked ass and took names later. Not only were they the best team in the best video game ever made, NHLPA ’93, (a fact that is proven by the game’s presence in “Swingers“) but it was also the season I attended my first Hawks game a Chicago Stadium. I fell hard for hockey that year and couldn’t get enough.
Despite cruising to the best record in the Campbell Conference, the Hawks were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by a Blues team that only qualified for the postseason by three points. My friend Nate and I collected hockey cards at the time, and we promptly gathered all Blues cards we could find after the loss and destroyed them. I’m pretty fire was involved. And that Brett Hull’s card was spared. I do know I’ve hated Curtis Joseph ever since.
On a sidenote, this year Hawks won the division title for the first time since ’92-93. Can’t wait to see what happens next!
(Although two of my crushing losses occurred in 1993, at least that sports year was pretty effectively redeemed by John Paxson’s 3-pointer to win the NBA Finals over the Suns).
5. Super Bowl XLI, Feb. 4, 2007
Without question, one of the 10 most exciting moments of my sporting life happened when Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff to the house, prompting me to run around my apartment like an imbecile.
And then the rest of the game happened.
Despite playing like ass for the majority of the game, the Bears were still in it until a classic Rex Grossman interception was returned for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden, giving the Colts a 29-17 lead with 11:44 left. To show that I’ve matured over the years, I started throwing every magazine in reach at the TV, which was mine. In front of my guests.
4. The Tapani Game, 1998 NL Division Series
In Game 2 of the 1998 NL Division Series, Kevin Tapani pitched one of the best games of his career. And because he was on the Cubs, he still lost.
The Cubs were the wild card winners that year, sneaking into the postseason after defeating the Giants in a one-game playoff. Everyone on earth knew there was no chance the Cubs would win Game 1 of the series as Mark Clark became the worst pitcher to ever start the first game of a postseason series.
But with Tapani on the hill for Game 2 and rookie phenom Kerry Wood scheduled for Game 3 at Wrigley, it seemed like the whole axis of the series could be shifted so the ball could be given to ace Steve Trachsel for a potentially shocking clincher in Game 4. Yeah, that’s right. Ace Steve Trachsel. (I think this paragraph says everything anyone will ever have to know about Cubs fans).
Anyway, Tap threw one of the underrated gems of playoff history, carrying a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth against Tom Glavine. Then, with one out, steroid user Javy Lopez took Tapani deep and tied the game. (Luckily, none of the Cubs’ success that year was thanks to Sammy Sosa’s steroid use, so this is in no way the pot calling the kettle black. Cough).
After a terrible call robbed Mickey Morandini of an obvious stolen base in the top of the 10th — it ended the inning on a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play with Glenallen Hill already standing at third base — Chipper Jones finished the job in the bottom of the inning to give the Braves a 2-1 win and effectively end the series.
3. LaTroy Meets the Mets, 2004
My stomach still hurts whenever I think about this game. Ugh. I can barely write sentences as the rage and despair builds up. I remember pulling into the parking lot at work when rookie Victor Diaz sent a two-out, 2-2 Hawkins pitch over the wall at Shea for a three-run homer that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. The Mets would go on to win in the 11th.
The Cubs entered that Saturday game — just eight days left in the regular season — nursing a 1.5-game lead in the wild card race. LaTroy would gag another save against the Reds later that week, and the Astros would wind up with the wild card. That Cubs team was even better than the one that came with five outs of the World Series the year before, making almost as painful to live through the meltdown. Almost.
2. Game 6, 2003 NLCS
I regret calling my internship boss in the Wrigley press box during the seventh-inning stretch and asking him if he could believe what he was witnessing, and that he would be covering the Cubs in the World Series. I regret it a lot.
I also shattered the previously established record for consecutive f-bombs when a certain play happened down in the left-field corner. I know it’s silly to blame Bartman, but at the moment that play happened I knew everything was going to come crashing down. Because if you have watched the Cubs long enough, you know the exact moment in each loss where the game is going to spin out of their control. And that was the moment. It was clear the second it happened.
While Alex Gonzalez deserves the blame for muffing the double-play ball, the fact of the matter is everything changed on that stupid foul ball. That’s what happens when your fans and team aren’t mentally tough enough. Stupid things kill ya.
1. Game 7, 2003 NLCS
Even though I damn well knew it was over before it started, moments of false hope like a Kerry Wood home run gave me reason to believe these weren’t my father’s Cubs. Or my grandfather’s Cubs. Or my great-grandfather’s Cubs. But they were.
After the game, I remember wandering aimlessly around Bloomington in a Charlie Brown-daze. Strangers even asked if I was OK. After walking the entire circumference of the IU campus (or whatever word is used for going around the outside of a square), I went to the bar for two shots of Wild Turkey — or maybe it was three — then stumbled to my buddy Sean’s apartment, where we just sat on the ground and talked while staring into nothingness.
It would take a randomly planned road trip to Ole Miss to watch Eli Manning face Alabama the following weekend to snap me from the doldrums. Assuming that they’ve been snapped.