Almost Heroes: Sports Teams That Fell Just Short of Immortality

Darren - February 9, 2024

Almost Heroes: Sports Teams That Fell Just Short of Immortality

Darren - February 9, 2024

Every sports fan dreams of their team winning everything. But the reality is that any team can experience agonizing moments no matter how good they are. They witness their franchises come close to glory but fail to cross the line. It hurts to leave a stadium with a broken heart but that’s part of every fan’s existence.

So today we’ll look at some of the most shocking defeats ever. These sports teams had amazing rosters and may have swept everybody aside in the regular season. But then they suffered one lapse of concentration or ran into an inspired underdog. Check out these teams that came agonizingly close to glory here.

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Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (2023)

The Lions became one of the NFL’s most exciting teams throughout the 2023 season as they won the NFC North. This was a major redemption story for their quarterback Jared Goff and validated Dan Campbell as an NFL head coach. They made their way to NFC Championship Game where they played the Niners.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Larry Brown Sports

However, Campbell’s gung-ho nature and tendency to go for almost every fourth down came back to haunt him. Instead of kicking field goals at opportune moments, he opted to go guns blazing toward the goal line. In the end, the Lions left with broken hearts as they missed out on a first Super Bowl appearance. Later, Campbell admitted that this might have been their only chance (via NBC Sports).

L.A. Times

L.A. Dodgers (2019)

The Dodgers had a phenomenal regular season in 2016 as they won a franchise-record 106 games. They routinely captured the division title and fans expected them to make another World Series appearance. It was 31 years since they last won baseball’s grandest prize but everybody assumed this was their year.

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Spectrum News

However, they crashed out of the playoffs in shocking style against the Washington Nationals. The Nationals beat them across five games in the NLDS and humiliated them at home. At least their supporters didn’t have to travel far to mend their broken hearts. This was one of the most disappointing nights in their recent history (via L.A. Times).

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Elite Sports N.Y.

Atlanta Falcons (2017)

This one has haunted the Falcons for a generation and still does. They led New England by 25 points at halftime and nearly everyone assumed that the Vince Lombardi Trophy was in their hands. It seemed like the game was over but New England didn’t get the memo. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan made some poor calls and the Patriots regained momentum.

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The New York Times

It was one of the most staggering comebacks in sports history. New England scored 25 points as the Falcons wilted before them and the game went to overtime. The world knew what was coming after the Patriots won the toss. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments in Falcons’ history and perhaps sports history overall (via Bleacher Report).


Phoenix Suns (2021)

This was one of the most fascinating NBA Finals in recent years. There were so many narratives that it made it very compelling. The Suns’ elder statesman Chris Paul finally had the chance to break his Championship duck. Meanwhile, it was an opportunity for Giannis Antetokounmpo to seal his legacy as an all-time great.


In the end, the Bucks won the game and Phoenix left with broken hearts. They extended the series to Game Six but they couldn’t get the win at the final hurdle. It was an exciting series as the main players left their mark. Unfortunately, the Suns couldn’t win their first NBA Championship ever (via Forbes).

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The New Yorker

France (2022)

Lionel Messi finally won the World Cup in 2022 as he led his beloved Argentina to victory. They defeated the French in the Final after winning a dramatic penalty shootout. But Les Bleus didn’t stop fighting and their inspiration forward Kylian Mbappe had the game of his life (via ESPN).

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NBC Chicago

Mbappe became the second player ever to score three goals in a World Cup Final. Unfortunately for the PSG star, it wasn’t enough for his team to beat the French. Damian Martinez’s cynical gamesmanship distracted the French players during the shootout and the South Americans won the trophy.

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The New York Times

Boston Bruins (2013)

The Bruins suffered the most soul-crushing defeat in their history in the 2013 Stanley Cup. They were cruising against the Chicago Blackhawks before a late meltdown. Boston thought that they had wrapped up their second title in three years but it wasn’t to be (via

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Bleacher Report

Chicago scored two late goals to stun the Bruins and leave the NHL in shock. Their fans wish they could forget that final two minutes at TD Garden but they never will. Unsurprisingly, everybody outside of Boston thought that this was hilarious.  Meanwhile, Bruins fans went home with broken hearts.

CBS Sports

New England Patriots (2007)

This was the year when New England should have become the first NFL Team to go 19-0. The Patriots had a phenomenal unbeaten season as they ran through their rivals. They made it to the Super Bowl as the overwhelming favorites against Eli Manning’s New York Giants.

David Tyree, Rodney Harrison

New York’s defense led by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and star defensive end Michael Strahan left its mark on Tom Brady as they sacked him five times. He was unable to inspire the league’s best offense and they fell to a shocking 17-14 defeat. Few people if anyone expected this but the Giants stayed calm and pulled off the upset with ‘The Helmet Catch’ by backup wide receiver David Tyree. Brady and the Pats went back to Foxborough with broken hearts (via

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Sports Illustrated

Buffalo Bills (1991)

The Bills are one of sports’ longest-suffering franchises because they’ve had great teams without glory. They infamously made the Super Bowl for four straight seasons in the ’90s. But they went home with broken hearts each time with devastating defeats. One moment particularly scarred the organization.

Scott Norwood
Sporting News

We’re talking about Scott Norwood’s missed field goal attempt when he had the chance to be the hero. Maybe this would have changed everything but the previously-reliable kicker missed his 47-yard attempt. Nobody understood what happened because they thought it was a given that he would make the kick, but instead, it resulted in the historic ‘Wide Right’ (via USA Today).


Golden State Warriors (2016)

The Warriors entered this season as the NBA’s defending champions. However, they proved that they were back with a vengeance as they destroyed every team they faced. The “Splash Brothers” had an incredible year as they led the league in scoring. Meanwhile, the Warriors set a new regular season record as they went 73-9.


They entered the NBA Finals as favorites against the Cavaliers. But they didn’t count on LeBron James helping his hometown franchise break the city’s sporting curse. It was a magnificent moment for the Cavs but arguably the better team lost. This would have been the greatest season in NBA history if the Warriors won the title (via CBS News).

Joe Mixon

Cincinnati Bengals (2021)

The Bengals played in their third Super Bowl ever in 2022 as they looked to finally break their curse. Cincinnati’s young offense was phenomenal all year. Joe Burrow sealed his status as the league’s coolest quarterback while forging a great relationship with wideout Ja’Marr Chase. Joe Mixon was also excellent throughout the regular season.

Rams Bengals Super Bowl Football

However, some missed field goals cost them dearly against the Rams. They also wasted their fourth down attempts as the Rams’ defense held firm. Cooper Kupp won the game’s MVP Award but many people think it should have been Aaron Donald. In the end, Cincy fans went home empty-handed (via Fox Sports).

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Bleacher Report

Toronto Maple Leafs (2013)

The Maple Leafs thought that they were leaving over a decade of trauma behind them. They endured years of misery since 2004’s canceled season but sought redemption. It was in their hands against the Boston Bruins in their first-round playoff clash. They led by three goals in the third period and left fans licking their lips at the prospect of a deep run.

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Sporting News

Then they suffered a meltdown of historic proportions. They shipped four consecutive goals as the Bruins came roaring back to win the game in overtime. This was the most Toronto result ever and their numb fans went home with broken hearts. It remains one of the most notorious results in NHL history (via Sporting News).

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The New York Times

Chicago Cubs (2003)

Steve Bartman became the most notorious man in Chicago as he left the Cubs with broken hearts. The team was cruising toward the World Series but the Marlins pipped them at the post. Bartman was sitting in front row seats when the ball came flying toward him. He reached for it but this prevented Moises Alou from making the catch.

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Poor Bartman inadvertently distracted his team’s player and this was a major turning point. Chicago regained momentum and they fell apart. Security escorted Bartman from the stadium because he received abuse and a barrage of trash thrown his way. In 2016, the Cubs sent him a World Series ring as they achieved redemption (via NBC Miami).

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AZ Central

Carolina Panthers (2015)

We could easily have discussed the Denver Broncos’ meltdowns over the previous couple of years. But they finally won the Super Bowl again with Peyton Manning under center. Nonetheless, it was a heartbreaking day for the Panthers who enjoyed a phenomenal 15-1 regular season record (via Yardbreaker).

The Guardian

However, the Broncos defense stifled the reigning MVP Cam Newton as Von Miller proved his status. They secured seven sacks on their way to victory in Santa Clara. Manning didn’t even have a good game but still won the second ring of his magnificent career. In the end, it didn’t matter because the defense did their job exceedingly well.


Dallas Cowboys (2023)

The Cowboys are the most lucrative sports franchise in the entire U.S. but they don’t back it up on the field. They had a dynasty in the ’90s, but it’s been downhill since then. However, 2024 saw them enjoy a 12-5 record as they wrapped up the NFC East. Meanwhile, Dan Prescott was a bonafide MVP contender.

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The Columbian

Everybody fancied them to go on a deep playoff run but that’s not what happened. They suffered a crushing 48-32 loss to Green Bay and their young quarterback Jordan Love in the Wild Card Round. Fans went home stunned as they called for head coach Mike McCarthy’s head (via Bleacher Report).

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Liverpool (2014)

This was one of the most heartbreaking seasons ever. Liverpool was the strongest soccer team of the ’80s but they went decades without a league title. The dynamic duo of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez led them toward glory in 2013-14. But then they lost momentum in crushing circumstances against Chelsea.

NBC Sports

Gerrard slipped at the worst moment as he received a pass. This allowed Demba Ba to score one of the most infamous goals ever. The incident haunted the Liverpool captain for the rest of his career. It also allowed Manchester City to regain the league’s top position and they won the title by three points (via All Football App).

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Sky News

Seattle Seahawks (2014)

Pete Carroll allowed one of the worst calls in Super Bowl history when the Seahawks lost in 2015. In short, they passed when they should have won the ball. Seattle was at New England’s one-yard line and had one of the most effective running backs in the league. Instead, Russell Wilson threw the ball to Ricardo Lockette.

Pete Carroll

Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass and New England won the game. Seattle fans couldn’t believe what they witnessed. Carroll insists that they made the right call statistically but it remains one of the most infamous decisions in NFL history (via Sports Illustrated).

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Seattle SuperSonics (1994)

This remains one of the most legendary upsets in NBA history. It’s also arguably the moment that killed the SuperSonics franchise. Seattle entered the postseason as top seeds and most analysts favoured them to go all of the way. But they fell at the first hurdle against lowly No. 8 seed Denver.

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NBC Sports

Nobody saw this coming especially after the Sonics won the first two games of the series. But the Nuggets came roaring back and punished Seattle for failing to put them away. Dikembe Mutombo produced one of the sport’s most iconic images when he fell to the hardwood with the ball in his hands.

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (2008)

The Cardinals had a rare opportunity to win the Super Bowl for the first time when they played Pittsburgh in 2009. But they left Tampa empty-handed after a Santonio Holmes masterclass. This was a wild season for Arizona as they became the second 9-7 team to make the Super Bowl.

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Sports Illustrated

Meanwhile, Kurt Warner enjoyed a revival of fairytale proportions but there was no happy ending. The brave Cardinals bounced back from a massive deficit with 16 consecutive points. However, they couldn’t stop two key plays that saw Holmes cement himself as the game’s MVP (via


England (2020)

The Euro 2020 Final saw England host Italy at Wembley Stadium. It was a chance for England to win their first major international tournament since the World Cup in 1966. The perennial underachievers had a superb team and entered the game as favorites against an erratic Italian side.

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However, their manager Gareth Southgate made the fatal decision to sit back and protect an early 1-0 lead. This gave the Italians a chance to gain momentum and they equalized. Finally, the game went to extra-time and penalties. Three England stars missed their kicks as they wasted a generational opportunity (via The Guardian).

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Bleacher Report

Philadelphia Phillies (2011)

This was a harrowing heartbreaker for the Phillies because they had one of their greatest rosters. They witnessed slugger Ryan Howard tear his ACL and he was never the same player again. Meanwhile, the Cardinals beat Philadelphia by a single run after they exploded into life.

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This was typical of a Phillies franchise with more meltdowns than a candle factory. Philadelphia won a franchise record 102 games that season but it meant nothing in the playoffs. They entered the postseason as World Series favorites but they couldn’t make it count (via The Athletic).

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San Antonio Spurs (2013)

Losing in overtime is the worst way to suffer defeat. It means that a team came to the brink of victory but they couldn’t get over the finish line. That’s what happened to the Spurs when they faced the Miami Heat. Ray Allen was Miami’s hero as he scored a miraculous three-pointer to prolong the contest.


The Texan franchise was moments away from ending this game but they failed to stop Chris Bosh from passing. One block would have added another set of rings to their record books but that’s not what happened. In the end, the Spurs went home as LeBron James and the Heat won the Finals (via Bleacher Report).

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Buffalo Bills (2021)

The Bills and the Chiefs had one of the most epic postseason duels ever in 2022. This was a clash of two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. In the end, a coin toss decided this game because these two men were on fire. Mahomes proved his clutch qualities as he led Kansas City on a game-winning drive in overtime.

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Sporting News

It was soul-crushing for the Bills because they were brilliant. Many NFL fans called for the league to change the overtime rules because they felt Allen deserved the right to respond. However, he didn’t get a chance to touch the ball in overtime as the Chiefs sent Buffalo home without another trip to the Super Bowl (via The Athletic).


Utah Jazz (1998)

Everybody knows about Michael Jordan’s iconic final shot in 1998 for the Chicago Bulls. Usually, we celebrate this as the end of an era as well as a dynasty. A compromised Jordan came up clutch in the most dramatic circumstances. However, spare a thought for the Jazz who lost a franchise-changing game.

Fox Sports

History often forgets to mention that Utah entered the NBA Finals as favorites. Furthermore, John Stockton had the chance to seal the series for his team but missed his last shot. In the end, Jordan proved his clutch credentials again as he delivered one of his most legendary moments (via Stateside Sports).


Liverpool (2019)

The Reds feature for a second time on this list after another heartbreaking year. They almost ended their three-decade streak without a league title when they broke their points record in 2019. This was an insane season where they went on a relentless run and finished with a ludicrous 97 points.

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Sports Illustrated

However, this was still two fewer than Manchester City who edged them to the title again. Liverpool sought solace in the Champions League as they won their sixth European Cup. But it wasn’t the prize that their long-suffering fans desired. It was a cruel way for their year to finish because they came so close (via

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L.A. Times

New Orleans Saints (2018)

Saints fans still consider this a massive injustice after one of the most controversial no-calls ever. New Orleans played the Rams in one of the most infamous games in NFL history. It was one of New Orleans’ most heartbreaking moments because they should have won this clash (via SBNation).

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Yes, they wasted opportunities but the officials also handed the game to the Rams. Corner Nickell Robey-Coleman’s pass interference went unpunished and this was the defining moment. The Rams won the NFC Championship and went to the Super Bowl, eventually losing to New England. Everybody knew that the Saints were a better team and should have been there.