The Top 10 Biggest Sports #Fails of All Time

For athletes on the world stage, nothing is worse than choking under pressure. Here are the 10 most memorable transgressors

AP Photo / Dave Martin

John McEnroe, 1984 French Open

John McEnroe
(Gilbert Iundt; Jean-Yves Ruszniewski / TempSport / Corbis)
"We all choke," the tennis champion John McEnroe once said. "Winners know how to handle choking better than losers."

McEnroe knew what he was talking about. He entered the 1984 French Open without having lost a match all year and destroyed Ivan Lendl in the first two sets. With the scored tied 1-1 in the third set, McEnroe, enraged by distracting noise from a cameraman's headset, walked over and screamed during a break.

“I thought, What the hell am I doing? If you start lashing out when things are going well, you may be letting your opponent think that you’re not as sure of yourself as you seem," he said years later.

The rest is one of the great upsets in tennis history with McEnroe losing in five sets, a match remembered more for his outburst and collapse than Lendl's fitness and resolve.

In sports, sometimes it's the losers we remember as much as the winners, usually because they were in a position to win and failed spectacularly. The flip side of every great comeback is a great collapse.

Without the Chicago Cubs of 2003, there would be no Florida Marlins miracle World Series season. Without the Houston Oilers of the 1993 football playoffs, there would be no third consecutive appearance in the Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills. Without Greg Norman's meltdown, there would be no Masters title for Nick Faldo, who hadn't been a contender on the tour for two years.

Here are our choices for the ten biggest chokes in sports history:

1. Greg Norman, 1996 Masters

Greg Norman
(AP Photo / Dave Martin)
The plot:Going into the final round of the 1996 Masters he led Nick Faldo, his playing partner that day, by six shots. But he had a history: a decade earlier, Norman led all four major tournaments, but won only the 1986 British Open.

The choke:At the ninth hole, Norman's wedge fell short of the hole and rolled back 30 yards. He made bogey and it was all downhill from there. Norman made three consecutive bogeys followed by a double bogey. In 20 minutes and over six holes, Norman had surrendered six shots. He lost by five strokes.

Editor's Note: This entry originally misstated that Norman had won the U.S. Open in 1996, among other successes that year. He has never won the U.S. Open. We regret the error

2. The 1992 Houston Oilers, January 1993 NFL wildcard playoffs. (1992 season)

Houston Oilers
(John H. Reid / Getty Images)
The plot: The Oilers, considered the best team in the league, led the Buffalo Bills 35-3 early in the third quarter. "The lights are on here at Rich Stadium, they've been on since this morning, you could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now," a Houston radio announcer said.

The choke:Bills kicker Steve Christie recovered his own onside kick after a touchdown run by Kenneth Davis, and the Bills scored four plays later to make it 35-17 with half the third quarter left. Backup quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half, but it was Christie's field goal in overtime, after an interception, that sent the Bills to their third consecutive Super Bowl (all losses). The win is the largest comeback in NFL history.

3. The 1986 Boston Red Sox, World Series

Boston Red Sox
(Stan Grossfeld / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
The plot: Boston's fatalistic fans dared to hope as the Sox were leading 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth inning, with the bases empty and one out away from their first World Series title in 68 years.

The choke: Ray Knight singled on a two-strike pitch to score Gary Carter and put the Mets down one run. Bob Stanley's 2-2 pitch to Mookie Wilson was too far inside, escaping the grasp of catcher Rich Gedman to allow Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run. Wilson, facing a full count, fouled off a couple of pitches before hitting a slow roller that went through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing a jubilant Knight to score the winning run. The Mets, after trailing 3-0, scored eight times in the late innings to win the seventh game.

4. Jean Van de Velde, the 1999 British Open

Jean Van de Velde
(Ross Kinnaird / Allsport / Getty Images)
The plot: Van de Velde seemed on his way to an improbable upset as the first Frenchman to win the Open since 1907 when he teed off on the final hole of the final round needing, ahead by three strokes.

The choke: Rather than play safely after his drive drifted into the rough, Van de Velde went for the green with a 2-iron. His shot sailed right, hit a grandstand and ricocheted back into knee-high rough. Rather than play it safe, he aimed for the green again, only to hit his ball weakly into a creek. He ended up in a playoff, losing to Paul Lawrie of Scotland.

5. Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, November 1980, in New Orleans

Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard
(John Iacono / Sports Illustrated / Getty Images)
The plot: Duran insulted Leonard, the Olympic golden boy of boxing, and then soundly defeated him in a June 1980 match. Leonard turned the tables in the rematch, using his speed to frustrate Duran.

The choke: In eighth round, after taunting Duran in the seventh, Leonard hit him with a vicious right uppercut. Duran turned around and walked to his corner, saying "no mas." Later, there were claims he said something else, including "I do not want to fight this clown."

6. The 2003 Chicago Cubs, National League Championship series

Chicago Cubs
(John Zich / Corbis)
The plot: The Cubs, victims of the curse of the Billy Goat, hadn't won a World Series since 1908, but there they were, leading the series three games to two, just five outs away from defeating the Florida Marlins en route to their first World Series since 1945.

The choke: After fan Steve Bartman deflected a ball hit into the stands, arguably taking away an out from Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, shortstop Alex Gonzalez misplayed an inning-ending double play. The Marlins went on to score eight runs and then win the seventh and deciding game of the series.

Editor's Note: This entry originally stated the Cubs were up three games to zero. We've corrected the mistake and regret the error.

7. Jana Novotna, Wimbledon, 1993

Jana Novotna
(Chris Cole / Getty Images)
The plot: Graf, right, had won the first set 7-6, but Novotna rallied back to dominate the second set 6-1 and was on the precipice of victory, leading the final and deciding set 4-1. In the sixth game, Novotna lead 40-30 and was just five points from winning the championship.

The choke: Novotna faltered on serve, double faulting with a chance to win the game. From there, she fell apart, missing a forehand volley and then an overhead into the net. One double fault followed another and within about ten minutes, Graf had won the deciding set 6-4.

8. Dan O'Brien, 1992 U.S. Olympic trials

Dan OBrien
(Dimitri Iundt / TempSport / Corbis)
The plot: O'Brien entered the year as the world champion in the decathlon, featured by NBC in pre-Olympic coverage and in a Reebok advertising campaign with rival Dave Johnson.

The choke: O'Brien failed to clear his starting height of 15 feet 9 inches in the pole vault, scoring no points and dropping from first to 12th place. He could not recover and did not make the team for the Barcelona games. He did return in 1996, earning a gold medal at the Atlanta games.

9. The 2004 New York Yankees, American League Championship series

New York Yankees
(Shaun Best / Reuters / Corbis)
The plot: The Yankees led their perennial-loser archrivals, the Red Sox, three games to none, winning 10-7, 3-1 and 19-8. All was in order for the greatest team in sports history to advance to yet another World Series. No squad in baseball history had come back to win four in a row.

The choke: Dave Roberts, a pinch runner, stole second base with the Red Sox trailing in the ninth inning of the fourth game and the not-quite invincible Mariano Rivera blew the save as the Sox tied the game and then won it in on a home run by David Ortiz in the 12th inning. They went on to win their first World Series since 1918, ending the curst of the Bambino.

10. Dan Jansen, 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France

Dan Jansen
(Pascal Rondeau / Allsport / Getty Images)
The plot: Jansen, who failed to medal as a favorite at the 1988 Olympics in the wake of his sister's death, was the world's best speed skater, entering the games with the world record in the 500 meters.

The choke: Jansen stumbled in the 500, finishing fourth—more than a second off his world record—then faded on the final lap of the 1,000 meters, finishing a devastating 26th. For Jansen, though, there would be redemption: a gold medal in the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway.

What was the worst choke job in sports history in your mind? Let us know in the comments!

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