Spooky returns from near death: Greatest sports comebacks

Jake Blancher, Associate Editor

Halloween is not the only event to feature ghoulish zombies and creepy creatures crawling back from the dead. The world of sports, too, and the great gods that control it, have been known to spawn many spooky reincarnations throughout the ages. Teams whose championship hopes were six feet under have clawed back to claim their crowns. Gather around the campfire, shine that flashlight under your chin and get ready for the spookiest sports comebacks. 

Super Bowl 51

Perhaps the greatest comeback in NFL history came in the 2017 Superbowl, when the New England Patriots, led by Tom Brady, came back from a 28-3 deficit in less than one half to emerge victorious against the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. Brady earned his fifth career Superbowl despite being dominated for most of the game by the Falcons who scored four early touchdowns, including a pick-six by Robert Alford. But Atlanta’s momentum came to a screeching halt in the middle of the third quarter. Two touchdown passes by Tom Brady, two rushing touchdowns by James White, two converted 2-point attempts and one field goal later, the Patriots emerged victorious, surmounting the odds in the largest comeback in Superbowl history.

2016 NBA Finals

In the second of what would be four consecutive Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers finals, NBA legend LeBron James finally won a championship for his hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, in a glorious fashion. The Warriors had just completed the best regular season performance of all time by winning 73 games, surpassing the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls who recorded 72 wins in the 1995-96 season. Golden State was led by two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who together are widely credited for bringing about the 3-point revolution into the modern NBA. On the other end of the court, defensive standouts Andre Igoudala and Draymond Green regularly stymied LeBron’s efforts. The Warriors had just come back from a 3-1 deficit themselves in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the Cavaliers lost three out of the first four games in the series, James put on a performance for the ages. Over the final three games of the series, he averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, not to mention a crucial block against Andre Igoudala in the closing moments of game seven.

Cubs Indians 3-1, 2016 World Series

Also in 2016, the Chicago Cubs resurrected themselves from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series to emerge victorious and break a 108-year World Series drought. The Cubs were thought to be cursed after kicking out a goat from Wrigley Field during their World Series game against the Detroit Tigers in 1945. Afterwards, the goat’s owner allegedly said, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” and his prophecy held true until four years ago. This series not only featured a 3-1 comeback but also an incredible extra-innings game seven that was filled with tension and a rain delay. 

Paul Pierce stabbing

For the other entries, the “return from the dead” was strictly figurative. For Paul Pierce, his “return from the dead” was more literal. He quite literally almost died after being stabbed 11 times outside of a Boston nightclub in September of 2000. He was immediately rushed to a hospital and underwent emergency lung repair surgery. Nonetheless, Pierce played in all 82 games of the 2000-2001 season, leading the Boston Celtics in scoring with an average of 26.1 points per game.

Ted Williams

Who knew sports could be so spooky? Some of these comebacks do seem supernatural. (Cecilia Hammond)

Ted Williams was just one of many MLB players who decided to stop playing and fight for the U.S. in World War II. However, only a few men fought both in World War II and the Korean War and have had as much success on the ballfield as “the Splendid Splinter.” In Williams’ first four professional seasons between 1939 and 1942, he hit .356 with 127 home runs and was a three-time All-Star. Three years of active military service later, Williams returned to Boston, winning MVP in 1946 en route to one of the greatest careers of all time. Williams then survived a number of near-death experiences as a combat pilot during his two-year stint in the Korean War in 1952 and 1953, when he barely played baseball. Largely considered the greatest hitter that ever lived, Williams posted a career .344 batting average with 521 home runs, tied for 20th all time, and a .482 on-base percentage, the best career OBP of all time.