My Most Painful Sports Losses Ever

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My Atlanta Braves offseason post helped me greatly in recovering from the Braves’ gut-wrenching NLDS defeat. As much of a cliche as the phrase is, every sports fan at some point takes comfort in the saying, “There’s always next year.” In sports, as in life, some small part of us always tries to maintain the hope that a brighter tomorrow is just ahead. Perhaps sometimes it’s delusional, but it’s also one of the best traits of the human spirit.

Yet there are some defeats that feel particularly agonizing, some losses that are nearly soul-crushing and leave us temporarily unable to take comfort in those old cliches. So now, before I allow myself to close the book on my latest chapter of sporting letdowns, I’m going to revisit some of those losses that hurt the most when they occurred, and linger the most now.

This will not be fun.

My disclaimer: this is a very subjective list. There are several losses that were hard to watch but still missed the cut, such as the 2003 ALCS Game 7 (Aaron Boone walkoff to put the Yankees past the Red Sox), the 2003 NLCS Games 6 and 7 (the Bartman game and its accompanying collapse to keep the Cubs out of the World Series, again), or the 2010 NCAA Basketball Championship Game (with Butler’s miracle shot just missing to deny one of the best sports stories of a generation), to name a few. The reason being, while those defeats were brutal, they didn’t happen to my teams; I had adopted the Cubs, the pre-championship Red Sox, and the lovable Butler Bulldogs as sort-of foster teams to root for, but it wasn’t the same as rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Atlanta Braves, the Denver Broncos, or Oklahoma State football or basketball. Except for the first one, I’ve rooted for those teams nearly my entire life, and their losses are the ones I have felt the most.

Without further ado, my list:

Honorable Mentions

2005-06 AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh beat Denver 34-17 in the Broncos’ first legitimate title contention since the Elway Era. Frustrating game, but unlike the Top 10, there was little drama to the loss; Pittsburgh dominated the whole way in route to a Super Bowl victory. Other Denver nominations included Week 17 losses in 2006 (in overtime to San Francisco) and in 2008 (to San Diego), both of which completed late-season collapses and kept the Broncos out of the playoffs.

Almost every time OSU plays Texas: One OSU-Texas football game made the list, but three others could have. In 2004, the Cowboys led Vince Young, Cedric Benson, and the rest of the Longhorns 35-7 late in the second quarter, but Texas scored 49 unanswered points to win 56-35. In 2005, OSU led 28-9 before Young put together together one of the greatest individual performances I’ve ever seen in person (239 yards passing, 267 rushing, 4 total TDs) to lead Texas to 38 unanswered points and a 47-28 win. The worst was in 2008, when OSU came up just short in a comeback attempt of its own against No. 1 Texas in Austin, falling 28-24.

Though it came in a different sport, an honorable mention from OSU basketball also came against Texas in 2005. In the final regular season game that year, the Cowboys were honoring their greatest senior class in history, but couldn’t hold off the Longhorns, who came into Stillwater and won a thrilling 74-73 game.

1999 World Series: I was too young and wasn’t yet into baseball for the Atlanta Braves’ World Series loss in 1996, which featured the kind of agonizing defeats that would shoot near the top of this list if I had experienced them first-hand (including the infamous Jim Leyritz game). By 1999, I had gotten into baseball more, and followed the Yankees’ sweep of the Braves. In Game 1, the Yankees scored four runs in the 8th inning to win 4-1. In Game 3, Chuck Knoblauch hit a famous two-run homer in the 8th to eventually send the game to extra innings, where Chad Curtis of all people hit a walk-off home run to essentially seal the series. When people argue that Bobby Cox might have won more titles with his own Mariano Rivera, those are two of the games they’re thinking of. These were bad enough losses to perhaps make the list, but I was still a novice baseball fan at the time and didn’t feel the full impact.

2010 NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: The only Thunder game I’ll mention, since we haven’t had a team all that long, and have had meaningful games for an even briefer time period. OKC was up one with time about to run out, when Kobe Bryant’s miss was put back in by Pau Gasol to give the Lakers a 95-94 lead; Russell Westbrook’s final shot narrowly missed. However, while it was a winnable game, the loss was quite bearable; none of us had expected the Thunder to accomplish so much, so soon, and just giving LA such a fight was a treat to see. Given that it would have been nearly impossible for our young team to win a Game 7 in the Staples Center, it was almost better, in a way, for the season to end at home, where the OKC crowd gave the Thunder a stirring ovation even after the loss.

Now, for my Top 10:

10. 1996-97 NFL Playoffs: Jacksonville 30, Denver 27

The Background: Denver was coming off its greatest season in team history, going 13-3 and claiming the top seed in the AFC and earning a bye. Led by an aging John Elway and a dominant Terrell Davis, the Broncos looked to be on a collision course with the Packers for the Super Bowl. Jacksonville had won its last five games of the regular season to go 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed before narrowly upsetting Buffalo in the first round.

The Game: Denver took an early 12-0 lead and looked like it would run away from the Jags. But Jacksonville went on a 30-8 run and the Broncos found themselves down 10 late in the fourth quarter. I remember watching the entire game thinking that any minute now, Denver would start to assert itself and win. But it never happened. Elway tried to lead his customary late heroics with a touchdown pass with less than two minutes left, but Denver couldn’t recover the onside kick and was eliminated.

Immediate Impact: This one hurt a lot at the time, and was the first game I remember being heartbroken by. Elway was in his late 30s by then, and it was unclear if the three-time Super Bowl loser would get this good of a chance again at his first championship.

Lasting Impact: Very little. I included this entry largely to show that sometimes, “there’s always next year” actually comes true. The Broncos’ championship window remained open, and the next year they beat Green Bay in the Super Bowl in my favorite game of all time. The year after that, Denver started 13-0 on its way to another Super Bowl, with Elway winning Super Bowl MVP, capturing back-to-back titles, and retiring on top. Sure, it’s tempting to think Denver might have had a shot at three straight titles, which has never been done, if not for Jacksonville’s upset. But who knows how things would have turned out? In the end, the last few years of Elway’s career worked out as close to perfectly as you can ask for in sports.

9. 2009 NCAA football: Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35

The Background: The hype surrounding OSU football in 2009 was off the charts. The Cowboys were everybody’s sleeper darlings, ranked ninth in the preseason and featuring the kind of high-powered offense that led to good ratings. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated before the season, then opened the season with a victory against No. 13 Georgia, made the cover of SI again, and vaulted to No. 5 in the country. OSU fans were already looking nearly two months ahead to a game against Texas.

The Game: That next week, Houston came into Stillwater. Despite the Cougars boasting a high-powered offense themselves, no one expected OSU to lose to the unranked team. But Houston quarterback Case Keenum went nuts, exposing the OSU defense to the tune of 366 yards passing and three touchdowns. OSU overcame an early 17-point deficit to take a 28-24 lead, helped by a punt return for a touchdown by Dez Bryant. But the defense still couldn’t get stops, and with Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter limited by injuries near the end of the game, the offense lost momentum and couldn’t keep pace with the Cougars, who came away 10-point winners.

Immediate Impact: You could feel the air go out of an entire fanbase. OSU came into the season expecting to have a great shot at its first BCS bowl, but this loss was the first wheel to come off. Soon after, Bryant was suspended by the NCAA for the remainder of the year. Hunter, the All-American running back, would be limited by injuries the whole season, one of several injured players that season. OSU finished 9-4 with a Cotton Bowl loss.

Lasting Impact: Starting to lessen. OSU is showing so far this season that it has progressed far enough as a program to not suffer the lengthy rebuilding periods Cowboy fans have been accustomed to; what was once a once-in-a-generation opportunity might now be just a couple years’ wait. Still, the 2009 season will remain a major “What if?” year for OSU fans.

8. 2006 NCAA football: Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 21

The Background: OSU was having a frustrating season. The Cowboys fielded a very good offense led by quarterback Bobby Reid, running back Dantrell Savage, and receivers Adarius Bowman and D’Juan Woods, yet came into the Bedlam game just 6-5 thanks mostly to defensive struggles. OU came in ranked 13th at 9-2 after taking a couple tough losses, most notably a loss to Oregon that is still infamous among Sooner fans for its shockingly bad officiating. The Sooners lost their starting quarterback before the season, and adding to their adversity for OU was an injury that would sideline All-American running back Adrian Peterson. I was a sophomore student in the stands; we knew we weren’t the better team, but OU’s bad breaks gave us hope that we could steal the game.

The Game: The Cowboys’ maligned defense stepped up and played fairly well overall, never letting OU quarterback Paul Thompson get on track. However, even without Peterson, the Sooner running game was still difficult to stop, as Patrick Allen and Chris Brown frequently had their way on the ground in leading OU to a 20-7 lead that became 27-14 with under five minutes left. But OSU coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora did some of the best coaching of their careers, switching back and forth between Reid and backup QB (and future starter) Zac Robinson, keeping the OU defense off balance and bringing the Cowboys within a touchdown with a chance to win at the end. But the possible miscalculation of leaving the inexperienced Robinson in for the final drive arguably cost OSU; Robinson made some great plays to get OSU down the field, but on the final play of the game from the OU 25 yard line, he overthrew Woods, barely but just enough, in the endzone for what would have been the game winner.

Immediate Impact: OU beat Nebraska and captured the Big 12 Championship in what was probably Bob Stoops’ most impressive year as a coach. The Sooners lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl in one of the best football games I’ve ever seen. OSU rebounded to beat Alabama in the Independence Bowl and finish with a winning record.

Lasting Impact: It’s still an excruciating loss to think about, particularly because it was the last time OSU came that close to beating OU. The debate over whether Reid or Robinson should have been on the field for the final drive came to a head early the next season, when Robinson replaced Reid as the starter and went on to become the most successful quarterback in OSU history.

7. 2005 National League Division Series, Game 4: Houston 7, Atlanta 6 (18 innings)

The Background: The Atlanta Braves had captured their 14th-straight division title, a record that may never be equaled. Yet it was clear that this was a team with some vulnerabilities, and with Philadelphia and New York improving, most Braves fans knew the streak might end soon. The first round pitted them against the wild card team, Houston, which made the playoffs with a big surge in the second half of the season. Houston took two of the first three games, setting up an elimination game at Minute Maid Park in Game 4.

The Game: To call this one an epic is an understatement. The Braves led 6-1 in the 8th inning and looked like a near lock to send the series back to Atlanta for Game 5. Then Lance Berkman hit a grand slam to cut the lead to 6-5 after 8. With the Astros down to their last out in the 9th, Brad Ausmus hit a solo home run to complete the comeback. From there began eight grueling innings, both teams taxing their bullpens but never allowing a run. Houston ran out of pitchers and had to break into its rotation, calling on Roger Clemens to pitch in relief for the second time of his career. Clemens somehow gutted out three scoreless innings on two days’ rest, and finally, in the bottom of the 18th inning, Chris Burke hit a walk-off home run to give the Astros an amazing victory in the longest game in MLB postseason history.

Immediate Impact: By the 18th, so much time had passed that I had nearly healed from blowing the five-run lead earlier. It was an exhausting game to even watch; mixed in with the frustration of being on the wrong side of one of the best games in playoff history, there was the slightest bit of relief that it was at least over. The Astros continued their gutsy performance all the way to the World Series, where they were swept by the Chicago White Sox.

Lasting Impact: Game 4 proved to be the beginning of the end for Atlanta, as its streak would come to a close the next year as the Phillies won their first of four straight NL East crowns. The Braves would go on a five-year playoff drought before making it as the wild card this year.

6. 2007 NCAA football: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 35

The Background: The 2007 season hadn’t gone as planned. OSU fans were looking for a breakout year, but lost at Georgia in the first game; shortly after, quarterback Bobby Reid, once anointed the program’s savior, lost his job to backup Zac Robinson. But the offense started rolling, and OSU came into the game 5-3 off a couple big wins. Texas was No. 15 in the country with a 7-2 record. I was in the stands as a junior in college.

The Game: As you can tell from the honorable mentions, OSU has a bad history against Texas. But at no point did the Cowboys seem closer to a breakthrough than this game. OSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead, helped out corner Jacob Lacey picking off UT quarterback Colt McCoy three times during the game. Zac Robinson had a record-setting game with 430 passing yards, and running back Dantrell Savage and receiver Adarius Bowman also had huge games, with tight end Brandon Pettigrew coming up big a few times. McCoy still made plays to Jermichael Finley and Jordan Shipley, but the Cowboys looked thoroughly in control, taking a 35-14 lead into the fourth quarter. A 21-point lead with 15 minutes left finally seemed like the insurmountable lead OSU needed against Texas. But that’s when Jamaal Charles went off, gashing the Cowboy defense and finishing with 180 yards and three touchdowns, with McCoy adding 106 yards on the ground. Texas tied the game at 35 with three minutes left, yet OSU still had a chance to escape. Kicker Jason Ricks had a gimme 34-yard field goal with a minute left to put OSU ahead, but missed wide right. McCoy then guided Texas down the field to set up a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give Texas the victory.

Immediate Impact: I remember just standing there in disbelief. The entire stadium was shocked. Oh, and bitter. Very bitter. The OSU scoreboard operators didn’t even update the final score, leaving it tied at 35-35, which was terribly petty. And yet you can almost understand why, or at least the sentiment behind why, given the devastating swing of emotions that day, coupled with a growing sense of futility about playing the Longhorns.

Lasting Impact: It’s still hard to think about this game. 24 points in the fourth quarter? Are you fucking kidding me? OSU nearly got redemption the next year in Austin (see the Honorable Mention), but fell short — as always against UT.

5. 2004 NCAA football: Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 35

The Background: Oklahoma State was looking for its third victory against Oklahoma in four years. OU came into Stillwater undefeated at 7-0 and ranked second in the country; OSU was 6-1 and No. 19. I was in the stands for my second live Bedlam game (after attending the 2002 OSU victory).

The Game: OSU seemed overmatched offensively, led by a freshman quarterback in Donovan Woods, compared to OU’s high-powered offense of Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and future NFL players Adrian Peterson, Mark Clayton, and Mark Bradley. Yet the Cowboys stayed in the game early with a couple huge special teams plays to stay within 21-14 at half. Down two touchdowns in the second half, Woods made some big throws to brother D’Juan Woods and Prentiss Elliot to keep bringing OSU within striking distance despite Peterson going off. Down 38-35 with just over a minute left, OSU had its final chances, but Elliot just barely, barely missed catching what would have been a go-ahead 60-yard touchdown pass. With 15 seconds left, Jason Ricks had a 49-yard field goal attempt to tie the game, but missed it wide left.

Immediate Impact: The heartbreak was compounded by OU continuing on its excellent season, making its way to the National Championship game with no one coming as close to beating the Sooners as OSU had. (Of course, in that title game, USC delivered OU a 55-19 beatdown, though the Trojans have now been stripped of that victory.) The Cowboys, meanwhile, ended the year by losing four of five games to finish 7-5.

Lasting Impact: This one has faded some, but it still hurts. OSU hasn’t won a Bedlam game in eight years and counting. Even more so than 2006, this was the best chance the Cowboys had to knock off the Sooners, and it came against one of the best Sooner teams.

4. 2008 NCAA football: Oklahoma 61, Oklahoma State 41

The Background: OSU came into the game ranked 12th with a record of 9-2, its only losses coming to teams that were ranked No. 1 (Texas) and No. 2 (Texas Tech) at the time. The Cowboys now hosted No. 3 OU, with a record of 10-1. OSU was lead by quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and receiver Dez Bryant. OU’s offense was even more high-powered, featuring soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, running backs Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, tight end Jermaine Gresham, and receiver Ryan Broyles and Juaquin Iglesias. I was a senior in college, in the stands for my final football game as a student.

The Game: We were expecting a shootout, but the scoring in the first half was fairly reasonable, with OU taking a 21-13 lead at the break. Things heated up drastically after half time, with the teams alternating scores on every possession, neither side able to stop the other. OSU got big games from Robinson and Bryant, as well as a dynamite kickoff return for a touchdown by corner Perrish Cox. But OU always stayed ahead, as Bradford slaughtered the Cowboy pass defense with strong ground support from Brown and Murray. Gresham finished with nine catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns, including a 73-yard TD when a deep ball was deflected and landed in his open arms 10 yards downfield. That was the sort of day it was for OSU, who kept pulling within one score, only to have OU march down and make it a two possession game again. This see-saw continued most of the second half — with OU leading 30-19, 30-26, 37-26, 37-34, 44-34, 44-41 — until finally the Sooners broke the cycle in the last few minutes, forcing an OSU punt and an OSU fumble. The Sooners then pulled away at the end, including a garbage-time TD with 28 seconds left.

Immediate Impact: OU received a controversial bid into the Big 12 Championship Game, where the Sooners beat Missouri to earn another conference title and make their way to the National Championship Game, where they lost a tough game to Florida. OSU went to the Holiday Bowl, where it blew a lead and lost 42-31 to Oregon.

Lasting Impact: This wasn’t the worst Bedlam loss for OSU — see No. 5 on the list — but it was the worst for me personally. It was my final game, my Senior Day, my last chance to see the Cowboys beat their top rival. While I have and will continue to go to OSU games every now and then, there’s definitely something different about doing it as a student. As odd or corny as it sounds, you’re much more plugged in to the atmosphere and excitement than you can be as an alumnus; you get to be a part of the buildup to the game all week around campus, with everyone wearing OSU shirts and talking about little else than the game. As thrilled as I’ll be whenever OSU next beats OU or even Texas, it would have meant more to me as a student. But the Cowboys went 0-8 against those teams in football while I was there, several of those losses being heartbreakers. And as difficult of a sports loss as this game was, it was more than that. It was the first moment that I felt the full impact of knowing my time in college was coming to a close, that the greatest four years of my life would soon be ending. That’s an emotional moment, and standing there in the bleachers on a cold November night, I actually shed a couple tears. If that sounds melodramatic, then so be it. But this game was representative of my standing on the precipice of some major life changes that I wasn’t ready for, and in that moment, the knowledge that things would never be the same hit me pretty hard.

3. 2010 National League Division Series, Game 3: San Francisco 3, Atlanta 2

The Background: Here we go, the freshest wound: The Atlanta Braves overcame significant injuries and disappointing performances to capture the National League wild card, earning one last playoff berth for legendary manager Bobby Cox, who was about to retire. The Giants narrowly won the NL West. San Francisco won Game 1 on the strength of a brilliant pitching performance by Tim Lincecum, with a little assist from the umpires; the Giants’ sole run in the 1-0 victory was scored by Buster Posey, who replays show was thrown out trying to steal second. He scored soon after but agreed after the game that he had been out at second. The Braves had a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Game 2, winning 5-4 in extra innings to keep hope alive in the series. This set up a pivotal Game 3 in Atlanta.

The Game: Atlanta ace Tim Hudson and the Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez threw a brilliant pitchers’ duel where every run seemed like an epic feat. But … some runs were perhaps more gifted than earned. In the second inning, Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad dropped an easy popout, allowing the Giants to take a 1-0 lead. With Sanchez dealing, that slim lead started to look insurmountable until the bottom of the 8th inning. With Alex Gonzalez on base, pinch hitter Eric Hinske hit a line-drive home run to right field that barely cleared the fence and barely stayed fair. 2-1 Atlanta, with the chance to close the game out in the ninth and move within a game of winning the series. But Braves closer Billy Wagner had been injured in the previous game, so Cox turned the ninth inning over to brilliant rookie Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel got the first out, then walked Travis Ishikawa before striking out out Andres Torres. Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez got two strikes, and San Francisco was down to its final strike. Seriously, one fucking strike. But Sanchez singled, and then Cox, as much as I love him, fucked up, pulling Kimbrel to bring in lefty Mike Dunn to face Giants left-handed first baseman Aubrey Huff — despite Huff hitting lefties better than righties. Dunn gave up an RBI single to Huff, and the game was tied. Cox then brought on Peter Moylan, who got Posey to ground to second base … only to see shades of Bill Buckner as the ball went through Conrad’s legs. The Giants’ scored the go-ahead run on Conrad’s third error of the game. SF closer Brian Wilson then shut down Atlanta in the bottom of the 9th, and the Giants took a 2-to-1 lead in the series.

Immediate Impact: This one pretty much felt like being hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. More than any other game on this list, with the possible exception of No. 6, this game felt like it was won. But Cox let us down, both by pulling Kimbrel prematurely and especially by not bringing in a defensive sub for Conrad in the 9th. Atlanta still had a chance, and Game 4 looked good with the Braves up 2-1 in the 7th. But Cox miscalculated again, leaving starter Derek Lowe in too long; the Giants scored the tying and go-ahead runs for a 3-2 lead as everyone’s minds flashed back to Grady Little. The anemic Braves offense couldn’t manage another run, and Atlanta lost the series with all three defeats coming by one run.

Lasting Impact: Remains to be seen, obviously; I’m aware that I’m overrating this because it just happened. The Braves have a solid foundation, and with some better health and another bat or two (see the offseason post), could be contenders as early as next season. But this one will have some serious lasting impact even if “next year” does come true, if for no other reason than it was Cox’s final season. Despite his blunders in this series, there’s no doubt that he’s no worse than one of the top three managers of his generation, and quite possibly the best. He had one last shot at a run through the playoffs, and it fell painfully short. Cox was a major part of my developing such a love for baseball, and he and former OSU basketball coach Eddie Sutton were kind of like my sports grandfathers. Then, in his final postgame press conference, it was as if I were watching my grandfather break down. No one should have to see that.

2. 2004 NCAA basketball, National Semifinal: Georgia Tech 67, Oklahoma State 65

The Background: OSU had sort of a perfect storm in the 2003-04 season. The Cowboys already had one star, guard/forward (and future NBA champion with the Celtics) Tony Allen, as well as another strong starter in Ivan McFarlin. They were then joined by junior college twins Joey and Steven Graham, both still in the NBA. Then, a tragic scandal broke out in Baylor, and Bears players were allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year; from that, the Cowboys got the final missing ingredient — a big-time point guard in John Lucas III. OSU rolled through the Big 12 and went into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed. After winning a tough game against Pittsburgh, OSU had a showdown with No.1 seed St. Joseph’s, led by Jameer Nelson, with a Final Four bid on the line. It was an epic game, with Lucas hitting a game-winning three-pointer to put the Cowboys into the semifinals (Gus Johnson’s call from that clip still gives me chills).

The Game: Georgia Tech was led by future NBA guards Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum, as well as designated big white stiff Luke Schenscher. Georgia Tech led by as much as 12 points in the second half, and led by six with just two and a half minutes left. But the OSU trio of Allen, Lucas, and Joey Graham kept bringing the Cowboys back. With 24 seconds left, Lucas hit another clutch three to tie the game at 65. The Yellowjackets held the ball for the last shot, and Bynum drove in the lane and made a tough shot with one second remaining to send Ga. Tech to the National Championship game.

Immediate Impact: Very painful to come that close to an actual title, then lose by so little. But honestly, I was far from inconsolable. For one, UConn beat GT convincingly in the title game, and OSU probably wouldn’t have faired much better against the Huskies’ dominant big man, Emeka Okafor. But more so than that, Allen was the only significant senior for the Cowboys, who brought back the rest of their starters and added JamesOn Curry, one of the top recruits in the nation. “Wait til next year” felt like more of a promise than a cliche.

Lasting Impact: As you’ll see in a moment, it turns out that 2004 was OSU’s best chance at a title, making that close loss more painful as time went by.

1. 2005 NCAA basketball, Regional Semifinal: Arizona 79, Oklahoma State 78

The Background: Coming off a Final Four appearance, OSU looked like one of the top contenders for the National Championship. They replaced outgoing senior Tony Allen with freshman phenom JamesOn Curry without losing much at all (at least on offense), and forward Joey Graham became the Big 12’s best player. The Cowboys lost some games they shouldn’t have during the regular season, but won the Big 12 Tournament and were clicking on all cylinders going into the NCAA Tournament, again as a No. 2 seed. They won their first two games with relative ease, setting up a Sweet Sixteen game against No. 3 seed Arizona.

The Game: The game was a back-and-forth battle the whole way. Arizona led by three at half and by as much as seven in the second, but OSU seemed to gain the upper hand, leading by five with just over four minutes left. Joey Graham was huge for OSU, finishing with 26 points and eight rebounds. Arizona center Channing Frye had a double-double, but Wildcats guard and leading scorer Salim Stoudemire was kept quiet until late, thanks largely to the defensive efforts of OSU guard Daniel Bobik. But Stoudemire finally got hot, scoring 10 of his 19 points in the final four and a half minutes. OSU was down one with the ball and under 30 seconds left. The Cowboys went in to Graham, who nailed a tough driving shot for a 78-77 OSU lead with 18 seconds left. But Stoudemire was too hot, and despite great defense from Bobik, hit a beautiful fade-away jumper to put Arizona on top with five seconds left. Lucas, who had made some clutch shots at OSU, had a decent look for 3 as time expired, but it hit the rim and missed.

Immediate Impact: Shock and sadness. When the Tournament began, I was already looking ahead to the regional final against No. 1 seed Illinois. To come up short of the final goal in such a close game slammed OSU fans hard. Arizona lost to Illinois in the next round, thank to a brilliant Illini comeback led by Deron Williams. Illinois in turn would lose in the National Championship game in a hard-fought game against North Carolina.

Lasting Impact: The Cowboys had a graduating class of six seniors who had put together an amazing two-year run (longer for some) for Oklahoma State. They made us feel like we were contenders again, which made it all the worse to fall short. Unlike the 2004 loss, there would be no immediate next year; the window of championship opportunity had closed. In fact, the lasting impact got worse over the next year. The Cowboys brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but the class gradually fell apart with only two players staying all four years, and none of them reaching their full potential. What’s more, in 2006, coach Eddie Sutton would retire in disgrace after driving drunk; he holds the record for most NCAA Tournament victories without a championship (39). His son, Sean, took over but also underachieved while struggling with alcohol/pain pills himself, and was fired after just two years. The Sutton Era ended not with a bang but a whimper, after coming so tantalizingly close just a couple brief years earlier.

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10 Responses to “My Most Painful Sports Losses Ever”

  1. Ryan Says:

    Your top two are my top two, as well. However, the most emotionally draining losses I can remember that didn’t make your top 10 which would certainly be in mine are as follows:

    3. 1997 NCAA football: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri —
    OSU was off to a shocking 6-0 start led by Tony Lindsay, R.W. McQuarters, Alonzo Mayes and the like. OSU entered the game against Missouri ranked 13th-nationally but soon found itself on the wrong end of a route, or so it appeared. OSU went into the half trailing the Tigers 30-7.
    But OSU flipped the switch, as Mayes helped lead a furious rally.
    Mayes had eight catches for 126 yards and his touchdown reception with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter gave OSU its first lead at 37-30. It ended up being the last reception of Mayes’ career as it came the play after he separated his shoulder.
    But with just over a minute remaining in regulation, OSU couldn’t stop Mizzou for the first time that half as the Tigers marched down the field to send the game into overtime.
    After the game remained deadlocked, OSU scored to pull within 51-50 in the second OT. But rather than go for the tie and a third OT, OSU went for a two-point conversion but Nathan Simmons was stopped at the 1-yard line to end the game and the perfect season.
    As a result, the Mayes-less Pokes lost three of their next five games to finish 8-4 and out of the Top 25.

    I just got busy, I’ll write the other two later. I’ll give you a hint: they are both OSU basketball games.

  2. davidry214 Says:

    Oh man, good choice. I had forgotten that game. That reminds me of another good nominee: 1998 against Nebraska (played in KC for some reason). OSU lost 24-17, with Nathan Simmons getting stuffed on 4th and goal from the 1 with seconds remaining. What was it with Simmons getting stopped at the 1 for the loss?

    Another one that should have been nominated was 2006, OSU vs. Texas A&M, where we lost 34-33 in overtime when our extra point was blocked to end the game. Such an awful way to lose. It was Homecoming too, so it was fairly packed, and everyone just suddenly went silent, except for the pockets of Aggie fans going nuts.

    Very curious to see what your basketball choices will be. The Pittsburgh loss in the 2009 Tournament was tough. Bedlam in 2006, when OSU was up one and Eaton fouled that guy with a second left to give OU two free throws, and he hit them both for the win. The 2005 loss at Kansas and 2004 at Missouri both still stand out. I’m getting fuzzy on some of my 1990s OSU basketball, but I still remember the tough Tourney loss to No. 1 seed Auburn in 1999. I only vaguely recall parts of the 1995 Final Four game against UCLA, but you’re a couple years older, so I’ll bet that one made your list.

  3. Ryan S Says:

    Actually none of those hoops contests are the ones I’m using but they’re all great choices and bring back horrific memories. Also left out for me, if this gives you any indication of how horrible my top two are, is OSU’s 1998 loss in Gallagher-Iba to Florida Atlantic. OSU was ranked No. 5 and was 13-0, if I recall correctly. OSU was also riding an NCAA-best 79-game nonconference home winning streak. And we lost to freaking FAU by two on a last second shot. It’s still the biggest win in their program’s history and a blight on our own.
    I still have yet to hear GIA so silent again.

  4. Ryan S Says:

    It wouldn’t let me repost without changing my name and e-mail. That was weird.

  5. davidry214 Says:

    Your FAU one reminded me of losing to Northwestern State at home in 2005, probably the quietest I’ve ever heard GIA. That one was bad, and the moment I think we all fully realized that it could be a long year.

    But I really can’t think of what yours are. Do tell.

  6. Ryan S Says:

    2. 1999 NCAA basketball — No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 2 Kansas
    For the life of me I can’t find highlights or recaps from this game, which is probably a good thing as reliving this game would surely coerce me into fashioning a noose and search for the nearest closet or ceiling fan.
    That said, I will shall my vivid memories of this debacle as best I can.
    As a young boy of 14, I sat down to watch my beloved Cowboys take on the vaunted Jayhawks. At this time in my life i had never witnessed, to my memory, a group of officials steal a game from a visiting team. That innocence was stripped from me that day as my unfettered love for all things basketball was raped by the men in white and black striped shirts.
    OSU hadn’t won in Lawrence since 1989 but today looked to be the end of a decade-long drought in Allen Fieldhouse. Desmond Mason, Adrian Peterson, Doug Gottlieb and Co. were giving the Jayhawks all they could handle on Senior Night, eventually sending the game into overtime.
    The game was tied and seemingly headed straight for OT numero dos. But that was before Ryan Robertson and the men in stripes unjustly took it all away doing nothing more than cheating and looking the other direction.
    This will do the rest of my talking for me…

    Bullshit. OSU loses 67-66. All because of what, by any hoops definition was an obvious no-call situation.
    It’s nearly 2011 and OSU still has yet to end its drought and i still wake up screaming in the night.

  7. Ryan S Says:

    I obviously ended up finding a highlight so disregard my first line or two. Would you happen to own any rope or a sturdy cord?

  8. Ryan S Says:

    1. 2000 NCAA basketball — Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma

    For this one I shall be brief. It is simply too painful to delve into.
    Gallagher-Iba Arena is as close to basketball’s hallowed ground as it gets this side of Cameron Indoor Stadium and this was a setting unlike any other.
    It was the final game in the old “Madison Square Garden of the Plains” before the roof was set to be torn off and the arena doubled in size.
    It was also Senior Night for one of the greatest classes in OSU hoops history. Desmond Mason, Glendon Alexander, Joe Adkins, Doug Gottlieb, Alex Webber, etc. were taking the floor for the final time in the arena’s final night.
    The opponent: hated Bedlam rival Oklahoma.
    It was set to be one for the history books as OSU had already bested the Sooners by seven in Norman three weeks prior. As it turned out, it was a game that will be forever burned into the memories of Cowboy fans but not in the way we had hoped.
    To make a long story short — OU 59-56.
    The Cowboys went on to the Elite Eight but never regained their swagger. The stadium, that team and the dream of a perfect ending to 70 years of history and passion in GIA was forever lost at the hands of its most bitter rival.
    That game still stands out through the thousands of games I have watched in my life as the single game I would love to forget. But I never will.
    Rumor has it that Mason sat at center court through the entire night in shock until he was removed the following morning so the construction crew could tear the roof from the building. If only they could tear the memory from me, as well.

  9. davidry214 Says:

    Wow. Epic stuff. I vaguely remember both, now that my memory is refreshed.

    On #2, your YouTube clip actually looks like it could have been a foul, but I think that’s because of the low-quality VHS; I remember watching that game on TV with my dad, and he was outraged. We still haven’t won at the Phog since, I believe (the ’05 group could/should have, but Lucas missed a game-winner at the buzzer).

    I don’t really remember that 2000 game against OU itself, but I remember the legend (or fact, I don’t know) of Mason just sitting there catatonic for hours. Those Mason/Gottlieb teams could never quite seem to live up to their potential. Of course, that could have something to do with Gottlieb being both one of the best college passers and worst college shooters I’ve ever seen.

    Any non-OSU nominees?

  10. Gary Sheridan Says:

    Your list brings back some painful memories from a much earlier era:
    1968 Curt Flood makes first error in about 3 years. Cardinals lose World
    Series to Tigers 4 games to 3.
    1971 Oklahoma Sooners lose 35-31 to Nebraska in perhaps greatest
    game in college football history. Lost a bet to my wrestling coach
    and had to get a haircut.
    1972 Olympic 5000 meter final. Steve Prefontaine cannot hold off a well
    rested (and blood doped?) Lasse Viren, loses bronze medal in last
    stride.
    1973 Hoosiers score 17 straight points against UCLA in NCAA Final Four
    Semifinal only to have Bill Walton & crew pull away late. I was in a
    attendance as a freshman at IU in a seat rich alums would kill for.
    1975 Missing All American Scott May (who made a token start with a
    huge cast on his broken arm) undefeated #1 Hoosiers lose 92-90
    to eventual NCAA runnerups Kentucky. My (and Bobby Knight’s)
    number one. NCAA regional final in Dayton Ohio.
    1978 IU football Hoosiers somehow allow Michigan to score on the final
    play of the game-a short pass which IU defenders have well covered but collide with each other which has the effect of standing up the receiver and he runs 68 yards to the end zone. Truly one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see. Michigan announcer got so excited he caught himself on fire with his cigarette. Note: Home team Michigan was allowed to get another play despite an illegal fumble out of bounds.

    1984 Two days after knocking of #1 North Carolina led by Michael Jordan in his last NCAA game, Hoosiers lose by one point to Viginia to miss out on a trip to the Final Four.

    1985 Don Denkenger misses call at first base. Cardinals lose World Series to Royals.

    1992 Despite furious comback and truly bizarre double technical called late in the first half which destroyed all of the Hoosier’s momentum, IU loses to Duke in NCAA Final Four Semi Final.

    2007? Super Bowl. Seattle Seahawks lose to Steelers. Lots of horrible officiating in this one.

    Honorable mention. 4 losses by football Hoosiers in last two seasons. Three big leads squandered at Iowa (another top 10 of all time bizarre play which turned an almost certain IU touchdown into a 96 yard interception return for the Hawkeyes) Northwestern, and Michigan (that was an interception?-what is it about the Big House).? last year. Yesterday’s home loss after controlling the entire game, with the lead and having the Hawkeyes pinned back on their own 12 yard line with three minutes to play, letting them score a touchdown,recovering from that by driving down the field and losing on a dropped pass in the end zone.

    Pain and IU football fandom go hand in hand.

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