The Biggest Choke Ever Debate… Hardly a Comedy of Errors

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Bill Buckner didn’t choke. He committed an error, nothing more. His error was costly, and Red Sox Nation had to wait nearly 20 years after that error before finally seeing a World Series championship. But it was still just a single error on a single play.

The Red Sox still had a full game AFTER that error to recover and win the series, but the better team ultimately prevailed.

As unfortunate as the 1986 World Series was for fans of the Boston Red Sox, they did not lose it because Buckner missed one single ground ball.

Now, a CHOKE in sports is something entirely different than that example. A choke does not hinge on one moment, especially in a seven-game series. When the same two teams are pitted against each other until one of them can win four games, one single play does not define a series.

If you want to talk about choking in the World Series, you need to look for a situation where the losing team had MULTIPLE opportunities to win, but ultimately failed – every time. A REAL choke in the World Series is one where a team REPEATEDLY sets itself up for success, only to stumble every single time.

As evidence, I submit to you the 1997 Cleveland Indians.

Just as hard luck a team as the Boston Red Sox, the Indians carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the 1997 World Series, and STILL lost to the Florida Marlins. Unlike the Red Sox, though, the Indians can’t point to a single unfortunate moment in the 1997 series and bemoan that as the reason their downfall. The entire series was LOADED with downfalls.

The Fall Classic of 1997 played out as a cavalcade of blown chances for the Indians. For starters, they held the lead in EVERY SINGLE GAME of the series. That’s right, the Cleveland Indians lost four times out of seven games, even though they held the lead in each game.

In game one, it was a four-run fourth inning that did the Tribe in, eventually losing that game 7-4.

In game three the Indians led 7-3 going into the sixth inning before giving up two runs in the sixth, and two more in the seventh. Still, they stood tied with the Marlins entering the ninth inning. During their half of the ninth the Indians even managed to score four runs, but it wasn’t enough. Why? Because they gave up seven to the Marlins, thanks to not one, but THREE costly errors. They lost 14-11.

In game five it was another four-run inning, this time in the sixth, which was the Indians’ undoing. They lost 8-7.

Still, despite all those FAILURES, the Indians somehow led in game seven – only three measly outs away from a World Series championship – when the team’s trusty closer, Jose Mesa, was walking to the mound.

Florida’s Moises Alou hit a single to lead off the inning… still no big deal, right?

Then Bobby Bonilla struck out… two outs away!

That was as close as the Indians would get. After Bonilla’s strike out, Charles Johnson singled, moving Alou over to third base. Then, Craig Counsell hit a sac-fly that scored the runner and tied the game. Two innings later, thanks to (surprise) ANOTHER error, the Marlins were celebrating a championship in only their fourth year of existence, while the Indians were sent home as losers.

In all, the Indians gave up TEN runs in the ninth inning or later, eight of which came off of FIVE errors. They led in all seven games of the series, including holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven. Yet, they still lost the Series.

Now THAT’S a choke!

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The Biggest Choke Ever Debate… A Bigger Bust than Dolly’s Cocktail Dress

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

When the heavily favored New England Patriots took the field on that fateful February night in Arizona, so much more than the title of Super Bowl Champion was riding on the line. Perfection was at stake.

The 2007 Patriots completed all 16 regular season games without a loss. Tom Brady and the Pats were staring immortality in the face as they looked to go 19-0, doing what only one other team in NFL history – the 1972 Dolphins – has done. Never has so much been expected, and so little been performed, with the epic collapse of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Today’s debate attempts to answer the question of which team performed the biggest choke job of all time in sports history? Unquestionably, it is the New England Patriots. I am sure that my fellow TSD rivals, Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer, will make compelling cases for their respective busts, but they certainly pale in comparison to the 2007 Patriots’ choke.

Bleacher Fan’s 1997 Cleveland Indians seem like a mere honorable mention in comparison with the 2007 Patriots because so little was expected of the Cleveland franchise. The Tribe had a history of playoff failure. Although the Indians made a respectable playoff run from 1995 to 1999, that the team had not made the postseason since the 1950s… and had not won a World Series since 1948. The expectations surrounding Cleveland’s seven game choke to the upstart Marlins really should not have been too big of a shocker for those who were familiar with Cleveland’s baseball history.

In contrast, the Patriots were amid a dynastic quality run of dominance. The Patriots were coming off of wins during the Super Bowls in 2002, 2004, and 2005 – an impressive and superior feat since football boasts more parity than baseball. It is because of these wins that expectations for New England could not have been any higher. To that end, the team also made the playoffs four straight seasons, and won the Super Bowl two times in that span. Everyone seemed to expect, and nearly demand, that the New England win Super Bowl XLII. Instead, Touchdown Tom and the Pats folded like a cheap umbrella, permanently tarnishing the legacy of the 2007 season, and erasing their chances of being remembered as the greatest football team of all time.

Loyal Homer’s pick of the 2004 New York Yankees, while a true contender for the title of greatest sports choke of all time, still does not top the 2007 Patriots because the Yanks legacy was not really at stake. Sure the “Curse of the Bambino” (which, for the record, I very much believe in) may have ended on that October night in 2004, but the Yankees already assured their franchise’s spot at immortality. The Yankees were 26 time World Series champions, a feat unduplicated in professional sports. New York’s legacy as the most dominant franchise in their sport’s history remains unquestioned. The fact that the Yankees blew a three-games-to-none lead over their arch-nemesis, the Boston Red Sox, was more about the rivalry than their legacy… or the 2004 championship. The Red Sox had an 86 year championship drought. Of course they were bound to win one sooner or later. It is just like the old adage that, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.” Or, more appropriately, like the t-shirt I’ve seen sported around the Bronx which states, “There was no curse… you just sucked for 86 years.”

The Patriots, on the other hand, had everything at stake. History could never have forgotten the Patriots 2007 season had they won it all, but now they will simply have a temporary legacy as the team that came really, really close. When comparing one isolated battle of a rivalry against a teams’ shot at immortality, I think the bigger choke definitely goes to the team that time will ultimately forget – the 2007 Patriots.

I admit I am biased. I do not like Tom Brady or his cleft chin. (Side note: There’s even a Facebook group called “I Hate Tom Brady and his Butt Chin,” which, although I did not create, I plan on joining very soon.)

I do however respect New England’s talent. The 2007 Patriots clearly assembled one of the better rosters in football. The Pats had a seemingly unstoppable offense led by not one, but two 1,000-plus yard receivers in Wes Welker and Randy Moss, who also set a record for most touchdown receptions in a season with 23. New England’s rushing attack was formidable in its own right, featuring an explosive Laurence Maroney and pace-changing pile movers in Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. But, most of the attention (and the pressure) fell on the man under center, Tom Brady.

But, these Patriots were not just one dimensional. They were a team feared on both sides of the ball. Defensive players like Teddy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas, Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel, and Rodney Harrison were just as responsible for the near perfect record as the offense. Despite their super talented roster, however, the ‘07 Patriots realized that the “any given Sunday” scenario can be all too real. The Patriots were not really out gunned or out classed. They were beaten in a straight up contest of “Who Wants It More?” Ironically, that phrase was also the slogan for Super Bowl XLII. Losing a battle of heart for something that seemed so tangible, and meant so much, makes this the biggest choke of all time.

When David Tyree made his mind-boggling catch it turned the tide for the underdog New York Giants, and flushed the Patriots 19-0 dreams down the toilet. All the potential merchandise, endorsements, and legacy of 19-0 was erased by one fateful drive. The 2007 Patriots will continue to be talked about as a great team for a while, but one more win would have ensured they were remembered forever.

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