1. LA Clippers – 2015 Western Conference Semifinals
This may be too fresh for Clippers fans, but it deserves to be on this list because the Clippers were leading three games to one against the Houston Rockets, needing only a win at home to wrap up the series and advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals. But the pressure proved too much as the Rockets swept the next three games and bounced the luckless Clippers out of the playoffs.
2. New York Yankees – 2004 American League Championship Series
It’s not just that the Yankees were up three games to zero in the American League Championship Series, they were one game away from eliminating their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. But a funny thing happened on the way to the World Series, as the Yankees became what the Red Sox had always been: chokers. Boston swept the next four games and went on to win the World Series for the first time since 1918.
3. Phil Mickelson – 2006 U.S. Open Championship
Mickelson was on his way to winning the 2006 U.S. Open, with just a bogey standing between him and victory. Nerves got the best of Mickelson, and he gave up the lead with three of the worst golf shots ever, finishing second. Mickelson would redeem himself years later, but the pain of that choke job probably resides in some part of his memory.
4. Chicago Cubs – 2003 NLCS
In 2003, the hapless Cubs were leading 3-2 against the Florida Marlins. They were one game away from their first World Series in 60 years, and they were up 3-0 in the eighth inning, needing only five more outs to break the curse of futility. But after fan interference on a fly ball by Cubs fan Steve Bartman prevented outfielder Moises Alou from making a second out, the dam burst. The Marlin scored run after run, and they beat the Cubs in that game and game seven, a loss from which the Cubs still haven’t recovered.
5. Kansas City Chiefs – 2014 AFC Wild Card Game
This is one of the more unbelievable choke jobs in NFL playoff history. The Chiefs were up 38-10 on the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter, gliding smoothly toward the Divisional Playoff in the next round. But then Andrew Luck guided the Colts to 35 second half points, and the Chiefs choked away a game they had no business losing.
6. John McEnroe – 1984 French Open Final
McEnroe is one of the great tennis players of all time, and his fiery personality made him a love-him-or-hate him kind of athlete. In 1984, he played one of his main rivals, Ivan Lendl, in the final. Up two sets to none and in total control, McEnroe screamed at a cameraman who he claimed had made noise during a point, and his game unraveled. He lost in five sets, and admitted later that his emotional outburst cost him a Grand Slam.
7. Houston Oilers – 1992 NFL Wildcard Game
The Oilers were up 35-3 on the Buffalo Bills in the third quarter. There was no way the Bills could make up 32 points less than a half, right? Well, that’s why they play the game. Second-string quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half, and Steve Christie’s overtime field goal completed the comeback as the Bills won the game. The Oilers made history by becoming the biggest single-game chokers in NFL history.
8. Jana Novotna – 1993 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Final
Novotna lost the first set, then crushed all-time great Steffi Graf in the second set, 6-1. She was up 4-1 in the deciding set when nerves took over. Novotna began hitting shots into the net, and with each failure, grew more unhinged. Graf took confidence from her opponent’s lack of composure, and won 6-4.
9. Dan O’Brien – 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials
O’Brien was the poster child for American Olympic athletes prior to the trials, and he was expected to easily earn a spot on the U.S. decathlon team. But though he was in first place before the pole vault, he failed to clear the height and tumbled to 12th place. He failed to make the U.S. team, but did return in 1996, won the trials and then the gold medal.
10. Dan Jansen – 1992 Winter Olympics
Jansen was a dynamic speed skater who was the world’s best in the 500 meters and 1,000 meters, favored to win gold in both events. But after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 500, he placed a disastrous 26th in the 1,000 meters, choking away two gold medals. But four years later he did win a gold medal, proving that sometimes failure is the father to success.
11. San Antonio Spurs – 2013 NBA Championship
The Spurs had outplayed the heavily favored Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, and going into Game 6 in Miami, they had a 3-2 lead and were super confident. The Spurs played their beautiful good-to-great game to perfection, and lead by five points with 28 seconds to go. They still blew it. Ray Allen’s desperation three-point heave after the Spurs failed to rebound a LeBron James miss, sent the game to overtime, and the Heat prevailed. The gassed Spurs lost game 7 and choked away a title opportunity. They did come back the very next year and spanked the Heat in five convincing games.
12. Portland Trail Blazers – 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals
The Trailblazers had the Lakers number all season, using their size, length and defense to stymie the LA team lead by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. In Game 7, the Trailblazers had the Lakers down 16 points entering the fourth quarter, and the LA fans were already streaming out of the building. But the Blazers managed to choke away the lead by playing the clock instead of the game, and the Lakers caught fire. Portland shot 22% in the 4th quarter and choked away the biggest Game 7 lead in NBA playoff history.
13. New York Knicks – 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals
The Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks had a fierce rivalry that was paid for in blood, sweat and tears. It was a conflict where only grown men, confident in their ability to dish out and take punishment were permitted to ply their craft. The Knicks were up 105-99 in Game 1 with 18.7 seconds left, and the Pacers had all but conceded the game. But then Reggie Miller decided to enact the most destructive nine seconds in NBA history. He scored 8 points in the next nine seconds of playing time, giving the Pacers a two point lead. The Knicks lost the game, and in all truth, lost their way for years to come as their coach, Pat Riley, resigned.
14. Brazil – 1998 World Cup Final
In 1998, a stacked Brazil squad entered the final against the upstart and home-supported French squad, needing only a victory stamp their name in as one of the greatest futbol squads of all time. But French midfield general, Zinedine Zidane, had other ideas, and the French stunned the favored Brazilians 3-0. It wasn’t just that Brazil lost, it was how listless and scared they looked against the loose and free French. It was clear that the pressure was too great for the Brazilians to bear.
15. Brazil – 2014 World Cup Semifinal
This was one is ranked below the 1998 final because this match didn’t take place in the actual final. However, the Brazilians were playing at home in the 2014 World Cup, so they had the full support of the rabid fans attending. The Brazilians choked on expectations and samba music, losing 7-1 to the hated Germans who played like a well-tuned instrument.
16. Miami Heat – 2011 NBA Finals – Game 2
You may be scratching your head and wondering why Game 2 would be considered a choke job, since Miami lead 1-0 against the Dallas Mavericks before the game started, and the series was knotted up after this game ended. But…the Heat were up 15 with seven minutes to go in the 4th quarter, and then they simply choked on every point thereafter, allowing Dallas to outscore them 22-5 in less than seven minutes. Oh, and another thing…the Heat lost the series 4-2.
17. JR Hildebrand – 2011 Indianapolis 500
You’ve probably never heard of Hildebrand unless you’re a diehard race-car fan. But you would have remembered him as an Indy 500 winner if he hadn’t choked the final turn of the race that he was winning, and let Dan Weldon zoom by to take the win. Although Hildebrand made $1 million for finishing second, he was 10 seconds away from stamping his name into racing history.
18. New York Giants – 2010 vs Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants and Eagles are long-time NFC East rivals, and in this regular season game, the Giants were pasting the Eagles 31-10 with eight minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Then the Giants realizes they were actually winning the game and stopped playing. The Eagles tied the game with three quick touchdowns, then won it when punter Matt Dodge declined to kick away from speedster DeSean Jackson, who housed the punt, giving the Eagles an improbable 38-31 win.
19. Boston Bruins – 2010 NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals
The Bruins were cruising in their playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, leading 3-0. But they couldn’t seem to handle success, losing the next four games, and allowing the Flyers to become only the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
20. New York Giants – 2003 Wild Card Playoffs
The Giants have won two Super Bowls in the past 10 years, so they deserve some respect, but this game was a clunker. Leading 38014 in the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, the Giants went to sleep and woke up to find that the Niners had scored 25 points and won the game 39-38. But considering that the Giants quarterback was Kerry Collins, the Giants shouldn’t have expected anything less.