They say it's never over till it's over.
The meaning of this adage is sometimes lost in sports where teams take their foot off the gas at dying moments in anticipation of the victory. With the finishing line in sight, cocky competitors halve their effort, lose their concentration, and end up paying the ultimate price, which is eternal humiliation and remorse.
Down below we've highlighted seven such incidents in sports where the dominant party's mistake at the death turned an imminent victory into a shocking loss.
Michigan Dominates And Leads The Entire Game Before Surrendering In Final Moments (2015)
Led by their new star coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan were favorites to beat their local rivals Michigan State. They started off with a bang and led for practically the entire game.
But with just six seconds left on the clock, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill's disastrous mistake turned the game on its head. All he had to do was kick the ball and let the time expire, which would've given his team a well-deserved. But the punter inexplicably fumbled the ball and the Spartans returned it for a game-winning touchdown.
The champagne was ready; the reporters had recorded (and even aired) their reports over Michigan's win before that one misplay changed the result. The Spartans celebrated so hard that the deciding TD scorer Jalen Watts-Jackson dislocated his hip. And the Wolverines mourned so hard that one of their fans had a heart attack there and then. Enough said.
Dustin Johnson's Lets U.S. Open Slips Through His Hand With Last Minute Gaffe (2015)
All that waited between Dustin Johnson and his first major win in June at Chambers Bay was 12-foot putt. He had been nailing those with his eyes closed the entire weekend, yet he missed it when the U.S. Open title was up for grabs. He even missed the four-foot putt, which would've tied the game and forced a Monday playoff. Where he choked, his opponent Jordon Spieth capitalized and stole the title.
Portland Trail Blazers See Their 15-Point Lead Vanish In 4th Quarter of Western Conference Finals (2000)
The Los Angeles Lakers' famous 3-peat would've never happened had the Portland Trail Blazers been able to hold on to a 15-point lead in the final quarter of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals at Staples Center. They had fought outstandingly well for the entirety of the series with their illustrious opponents and were on the verge of meeting the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. But, they failed at the final hurdle. The Lakers rallied late in the game and turned that 15-point deficit into an 89-84 win. To add more insult to injury, the Lakers went on to dispatch the Pacers in six games and lifted the Larry O-Brien trophy.
AC Milan Blows a 3-0 Lead In Champions League Final (2005)
In soccer, if you have a 3-0 lead at any point in the game, it's basically game over. It is very unlikely that teams surrender that big a lead. But it happened and not just in any game, but the 2005 UEFA Champions League final between AC Milan and Liverpool. The Italian club had a team full of legendary players and were correctly deemed the pre-match favorites.
It took them just one minute to prove their superiority as their captain Paolo Maldini gave them the lead. By half-time the lead had swelled to 3-0 and the game was effectively over. But for some reason, Milan's superstars froze in the second half as Liverpool scored thrice in a crazy six-minute spell. They forced extra time and then a penalty shootout, which they won via the heroics of their Polish goalie Jerzy Dudek.
South Africa Can't Get One Run Off Four Balls In World Cup Semi-Final (1999)
Lance Klusenar was the most in-form and devastating batsman at the 1999 cricket World Cup. Facing Australia in the semi-final, his team had lived up to their reputation of being the perennial chokesters by making a mess of what should've been a dominant win. Still, Klusenar came late in the batting order and repaired all the damage. In the final over, his team required nine to win, but it was no problem for Klusenar. He hit fours and two straight deliveries and tied up the scores. Now he had four times more balls than the runs (1) he needed. Only a miracle or a massive case of choking could've prevented South Africa from their first appearance at a World Cup final.
They choked. There was no coordination between Klusenar and his partner Allan Donald. They survived a near run-out on the third ball of the final over before repeating the mistake. This time, the Aussies weren't so forgiving. The South Africans yet again lost an important match they had under total control.
Jose Luis Castillo Couldn't Finish Off Diego Corrales Despite Knocking Him Down Twice (2005)
This was a bloodbath of a boxing match, which is widely regarded as the best fight of 2005 and quite possible the decade. Both Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales had fought a hard but even fight, but it seemed a winner was finally found in the 10th round when Castillo knocked Corrales down twice. With Corrales' left eye almost completely shut due to swelling, the ref heaped more misery on him by deductive a point for excessive spitting.
There was virtually no way Castillo could have lost on points even if he hadn't thrown a single punch in the remainder of the fight. However, he couldn't even get out of the round. Yes, the man who looked utterly dominant a few moments ago got knocked out moments later. You can call it the best comeback or the biggest chokejob. We prefer the latter.
Yankees Become The First MLB Franchise To Blow A 3-0 Lead (2004)
In 2004, the Boston Red Sox had last won a World Series 86 years ago in 1918. It seemed their wait for their sixth title would continue for at least another year as the New York Yankees won the first three games quite easily. The Yankees even held a 4-3 lead in the ninth innings of Game 4 before their wheels came off. The Red Sox staged a historical comeback as everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Yankees. Terry Francona's men won four straight to finally break the Curse of the Bambino.