I’m not all that sure why I was so devastated when the Canadian Women’s National Soccer team lost to the Americans last Monday. Perhaps it was because it was against a bitter rival, or because of the way it happened, or maybe I just came down with a good old-fashioned case of Olympic fever. Either way, it’s still stinging.
It had all the elements that a painful sports loss possesses. It was a game Canada deserved to win, it was against a rival, there was some sketchy officiating, the game was a roller-coaster ride, and there were championship implications on the line. Nevertheless, Christine Sinclair planted herself in Canadian sports lore with a hat-trick, and the team rebounded to win the Bronze medal.
This loss just missed out on cracking my personal top five painful losses list. These other five debacles were not so lucky.
5) Bayern Munich – 2012 UEFA Champions League Final
Bayern last won a Champions League trophy in 2001. If you think about it, that really isn’t all that bad as far Championship droughts go, but as a supporter I really wanted this one. After losing to Inter Milan in the 2010 final, Bayern would get to play this title game in their hometown of Munich against Chelsea. After dominating essentially the entire game, Bayern went ahead 1-0 in the 83rd minute after a goal from Thomas Muller, and a victory looked certain. Didier Drogba then delivered a counter punch to the gut in the 88th minute off a corner kick that sent the contest into extra time.
Petr Cech then saved a penalty in the extra frame that Arjen Robben didn’t really look all that interested in scoring, to keep Chelsea alive. Ultimately the German side would lose on penalty kicks giving Chelsea their first Champions League title.
4) Italy – EURO 2000 Final
Rooting for the Italians is no picnic. They have the ability to compete with the best in the world, but they tend to play up and down to the level of their competition. When they met France in the EURO 2000 final though, they came ready to play. The Azzuri carried a 1-0 lead late into the game after a 55th minute strike by forward Marco Delvecchio. With Italy’s defensive style, a 1-0 lead might as well have been 5-0. I could already taste the celebratory cold cuts that were laid out for all our family members that had gathered to watch the game.
Alessandro Del Piero, however, proceeded to miss two glorious chances that would have sealed the game, but instead kept French hopes alive. In the 94th minute, just seconds before the final whistle, French keeper Fabien Barthez launched the ball all the way down the field where Sylvain Wiltord slotted it in to send the contest into extra time. At the time FIFA was using the sudden death Golden Goal format, and it didn’t take long for French striker David Trezeguet to illustrate just how quickly things can end while stunning the Italians in the process. Never have Mortadella and Prosciutto tasted so bitter.
3) New York Giants – 2003 Wild Card Game
If you are a lifelong Giants fan you really appreciate the heroics of Eli Manning and company during their two Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots because things haven’t always been that good. After losing the Super Bowl two years earlier to the Baltimore Ravens, the G-men were back at it against the San Francisco 49ers on Wild Card weekend in early 2003. The team was full of weapons that season and despite having about as much athleticism as Police Chief Wiggum, quarterback Kerry Collins could really throw the ball.
The Giants led 35-14 in the third quarter and were driving. For once I thought I was going to be able to relax while watching them play instead of spending three hours hyperventilating. When will I learn? Jeremy Shockey proceeded to drop a sure touchdown pass and the Giants had to settle for a field goal, making the score 38-14. Terrell Owens then caught a touchdown from Jeff Garcia and as he was celebrating Giants defensive end Michael Strahan pointed to the scoreboard to mock the receiver. It was all down hill from there. The 49ers scored 25 unanswered points to take a 39-38 lead.
The Giants were not licked yet, however, as Delvin Joyce returned the ensuing kickoff almost to midfield and Collins then led them to the 49ers 23 yard line for a winning field goal attempt. Long snapper Trey Junkin butchered the snap though, leaving punter/holder Matt Allen in a panic and he heaved a prayer down field. As the ball fell to the turf amongst a sea of offensive and defensive lineman, flags flew. The Giants were screaming for a pass interference call, but the officials ruled the player who was fouled was an illegal man down field. The Giants did in fact have an illegal man down field, but it wasn’t the player who was interfered with. Therefore the penalties should have offset and the down should have been replayed. All I knew was that the game was over and I was so distraught that I didn’t even want to go to school the next day.
2) Italy – 1994 World Cup Final
I can still remember everything about the 1994 World Cup. I could tell you every group and how the standings finished. I was nine-years-old and was just old enough to really start appreciating soccer. Italy started off slow and only advanced out of the group stage by gaining a wild card spot. They then subsequently went on a great run led by Roberto Baggio as they beat Nigeria, Spain, and Bulgaria on their way to the finals.
If Italy was an upstart team, Brazil was a juggernaut that looked unbeatable. They had a striker in Romario who could score at will. They Italians, however, did a great job of neutralizing him in the final and ultimately held the score at 0-0 to force a shootout. Baggio would miss a kick that could have extended things by sailing his shot over the crossbar. The miss unfortunately is what most soccer fans remember him for, which is a real shame because he had an unbelievable career. To this day I still can’t stand shootouts.
1) Toronto Maple Leafs – Game 6 1993 Campbell Conference Final
If you are a Maple Leafs fan this one is most likely at the top of your list as well. It was tough on so many levels. After beating the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues in seven games, the Leafs met Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Conference Final. The Leafs had a chance to end the series in LA as Game 6 headed to overtime. Gretzky would clip Doug Gilmour with a high-stick that drew blood, but went uncalled by referee Kerry Fraser. Moments later Gretzky scored the winner forcing the series back to Toronto. Gretzky scored a hat-trick and ended the Leafs season in Game 7.
I recently read Kerry Fraser’s book “The Final Call” in hopes to alleviate some of my pain. If anything it made me feel worse because I sympathized with him and his version of events. Now I can’t really make him the scapegoat and have no one to blame.
What made things even worse was that if the Leafs won they would have faced the rival Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. The series would have been unreal to watch as a fan, and because the Leafs have moved into the Eastern Conference now, we can never see those two teams in the finals again. While that series would have been great for Canada, the league I’m sure wanted the Kings in the final to better grow the game in non-traditional hockey markets. Conspiracy anyone?