In retrospect, I made a mistake in hastily throwing together a Levels of Losing 2.0 column after the Mets’ collapse, as evidenced by the fact that the Boone homer and Bartman games were nowhere to be seen. I’m an idiot. Upon further review, we should be able to expand it to 20 Levels and squeeze in another 35-40 examples, which means there’s a “Levels of Losing 3.0” coming this winter. In the meantime, the readers obliged with levels and examples that I may have missed, so we stuck the best ones here. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write in.
No offense, Bill, but your timing sucks. You put out a new “Levels of Losing” column just BEFORE a defeat that none of your categories describe adequately. I mean the Rocks/Pads game had various fielding errors that felt like Broken Axle moments, only they weren’t. The extra innings felt like Sudden Death, because everyone knew the next run scored would win, and every batter was swinging from the heels for a homer. Once Jorge Julio came up in the 13th, it immediately became a Guillotine Game for the Rockies (I’m sure Hairston’s homer surprised no one), capped by Hoffman’s appearance with the “all-time career saves leader” graphic. Only Hoffman gave up that leadoff double to Matsui, and suddenly it was a “This can’t be happening” game for the Padres! And to top it all off, the game ended on a Monkey Wrench when Holliday’s hand never touched home plate for the winning run but the ump called him safe anyway. I mean, that one loss covered five categories, six if you add a Stomach Punch for good measure. And this comes on the heels of the Pads blowing a lead in two games last weekend that would have clinched the playoffs. So what the hell was this loss, other than painful? You tell me. But, if it had to happen to someone, I’m glad it was the Padres, because if it had happened here in Philly, half the city would have killed themselves.
— Brian C., Philadelphia
I love the updates to your Levels of Losing, but somewhere in one of the categories has to be mentioned the biggest collapse in NFL playoff history: the Houston Oilers blowing a 35-3 lead to the Bills. That’s the “I Turned Off the Game to Go Sleep Off My Hangover and What the F— Happened” Game.
— Chris Miller, Houston
Perfect example of “Level X: The Monkey Wrench”: The recent debacle in China involving the women’s soccer team. I mean, COME ON!! Who changes goalies in the semifinal of the World Cup when she hadn’t been scored on in … WHOA! What the hell just happened? Was I talking about women’s soccer? Damn, sorry about that. Won’t happen again.
— Matt, Lansing, Mich.
Can you create a level of losing for anger, like the level of anger I’m feeling right now thanks to the dual implosion of the Chargers and Padres? Or at least can you talk me off the ledge? Milton Bradley breaks Mike Cameron’s hand by stepping on it, then tears his ACL when his manager Bud Black has to tackle him to prevent the first on-field [murder] of an umpire. Then they blow three straight games, one with TONY GWYNN JR. getting a triple against Trevor Hoffman with two outs and two strikes. And last night’s debacle, in which Jake Peavy showed he’ll never cut it in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. And then you have the Chargers and Norv Turner, a combination that’s just too sad to think about. At least they won’t have to worry they’ll lose another playoff game.
— Dan, San Diego
Great article on the Levels of Losing, but the Drive By should have been higher. I was at the game. This is my senior year here. I have been a Michigan fan my whole life. I was so excited this offseason. Last year’s two losses (I was at both) hurt a lot, but it was OK because we had a shot to set things right this year. And then it happened. And the worst thing is that in retrospect I’m not even surprised. I’ve seen this all in person before, just not at this level. I was there when Drew Stanton torched us, when Vince Young had his coming out party, when Troy Smith beat us single-handedly three years in a row. And now just add on Amanti Edwards. It’s so beyond comprehension that we lost these games the same way, and there are a lot more I don’t have room to mention. How many times do we have to lose to a spread offense. Has Lloyd Carr been paying any attention to offensive evolution for the past 10 years? This will haunt me forever. How can I look an MSU or OSU fan in the eyes again? They have bragging rights forever, and they didn’t even do anything. I almost got in a fight with a fellow fan when I refused to cheer midway through the Oregon game. I will not cheer for this team and their pathetic coach until they earn it.
— Clark Ruper, Ann Arbor, Mich.
How can you not have “fourth-and-26” (GB-Philly) as the greatest example of the stomach punch? It has it’s own Wikipedia page, for Christ’s sake! I was 14 when it happened and I cried after the game, and then I refused to talk to my friends and family for a week. The fact that it came a week after “We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” Matt Hasselbeck’s failed overtime guarantee, made it even worse.
— Kevin M., Milwaukee
I think you are understating the impact of the Blazers-Lakers game in 2000. I think that was probably the second or third worse loss in sports history and very nearly set a new level of losing, “The Franchise Killer.” They went from perennial playoff contender, to one of the all-time sports embarrassments, and the value of the franchise fell so far, if not for Paul Allen having a change of heart, the franchise would have folded.
— Griffin, Portland, Ore.
I didn’t see a mention of Gibson’s home run in the 1988 series. I was there. The lowest point of my sports spectator life (perhaps only because I was only 5 when the Immaculate Reception happened). Even though the A’s managed to win the third game, they were, in your parlance, “dead men walking” after that 3-2 pitch landed in the right field bleachers.
— Jay, Oakland, Calif.
With all the talk of the Mets’ “historic” collapse over the past 17 games, why is it that everyone forgets about the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987? Let me take you back: 148 games into the season and the Tigers had a one-game lead over the Blue Jays. Jays go on a seven-game win streak while the Tigers go 3-4, including three losses to the Jays. The Jays then proceed to lose their last seven games, including three in a row to the Tigers — each game decided by one run; the last game a 1-0 affair with Frank Tanana getting the win over Jimmy Key — to finish two games back of the Tigers. So please, a little respect.
— Elan, Los Angeles
I think there is a far better classic example of the Achilles’ heel, and a game that should always been in your levels of losing column. The 1991 NCAA semifinal game between Duke and UNLV. UNLV comes into the game undefeated with something like 900 wins in a row, and having absolutely CRUSHED Duke the previous year in the final game (Level IX loss). Coach K figured out one of the players couldn’t shoot, wish I could remember who, so they just left him wide open at the top of the key, he couldn’t pass in because of the pressure on the other four players, and he proved he couldn’t shoot. Remember, this was back in the day when Duke was the Chicago Cubs of college b-ball, seven trips to the Final Four, no wins.
— Ken T., Portland, Ore.
The Ron Artest Game, to my knowledge, has happened exactly twice. It’s when your team is a clear-cut championship contender, and you have a statement game against the biggest challenger to your supremacy. Unbelievably, your team blows their rival off the court/field in thoroughly convincing fashion. However, suspensions result directly from the game which completely and unequivocally end your season and, possibly, the entire franchise for years to come. Obviously the brawl at the palace fits the criteria, but so does the Phoenix/San Antonio playoff game with the Amare/Diaw suspensions. Anyway, with five minutes left in that Pacers game, anyone watching felt like the Eastern Conference title was going through them that year. The franchise has never recovered since. Both games were unbelievable victories and even more unbelievable losses. As a Pacers fan, watching the game live, seeing Artest run into the stands, it was like seeing your own son assault a cop with 10 people filming. “Wait! No! Stop! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!! STOP!!!!!”
— Daniel, Indianapolis
How could you possibly not include Tony Romo’s ridiculous fumble in the NFL playoffs last year in your Levels of Losing column. I would call that level the “oh, we’re almost there, wait, wait, wait, DAMNIT!” And that, of course, is followed by everyone in the city hating said Romo and his stupid happy self. I don’t care if he puts up MVP numbers this year, I will always remember that damn fumble.
— Dave A., Amherst, Mass.
Just curious how Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS isn’t anywhere in the Levels of Losing. I was thinking Monkey Wrench game but combined with the walkoff at the end it has to be something far, far worse. Maybe a Monkey Wrench/Stomach Punch combo. Since Grady was fired before he made it back to the dugout (presumably for his own safety) can we call it the “Tarred and Feathered” Game?
— Dave, Tempe, Ariz.
Where would you rank Games 6 and 7 of the ’02 World Series? Being a huge Giants fan, those games killed me, especially the last three innings of Game 6. I was in church for most of the game, with my friends, and I taking turns to run downstairs to check the score on a TV or radio. When it was my turn I got to hear Barry Bonds’ home run to put us ahead 5-2 (I think … ). Next thing I know, three run homer, Angels win Game 6. Was there any way the Giants pull off Game 7? As much as it pains me to say, no, there wasn’t. I knew it from the moment they announced the starters, from the time the Angels scored their first run, to the last flyout by Kenny Lofton.
— Andrei, San Bruno, Calif.
I read your Levels of Losing column and would like to add one of my own, the “We Were Robbed and There’s Nothing We Can Do About It” Game. This applies mainly to The England Football team in 1986 when the greatest player on Earth, Diego Maradona punched the ball into the net and the goal was given — Argentina went on to win 2-1 and no Englishman has ever gotten over it. Also against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal stage, the referee was hoodwinked into sending our best player, Wayne Rooney, off and we went on to lose the game on penalties. Also, good examples of the stomach punch game are penalty shootouts: England vs. Portugal, 2006 World Cup; England vs. Portugal, 2004 European Championships; England vs. Germany, 1990 World Cup; England vs. Germany, 1996 European Championships; England vs. Argentina, 1998 World Cup. Basically the England Football team lost all of these games on penalty shootouts. I think every Englishman watching the game knew it was coming but allowed themselves to believe, “It’s a penalty shootout we’ve got a chance,” when in truth we were always going home.
— Phil Bedson, London
I just finished reading your Levels of Losing article, and I can’t help but recall the 2001 World Series. This is the prime example of the “This can’t be happening moment.” It was not even two months after 9/11, the Yankees were coming off two of the most improbable game-tying home runs with two outs in the ninth off of BK Kim, and we were heading back to Arizona. It didn’t matter that we were facing the Unit and Schilling. Game 6 ended up being a blowout, but once Soriano hit the HR off of Schilling, and Mariano was looming, there wasn’t a Yankee fan in the world that could see that game ending with a Yankees loss. It seemed like the one time that New York might have actually deserved the WS win, we don’t get it.
— Andrew, Westchester, N.Y.
How could you have neglected the ’94 Sonics in your Levels of Losing? A league-best 63 wins, including a 17-2 streak to close the season? Outscored opponents by nine points per game in the regular season? A nucleus of a 25-year-old, two-time All-Star PF; a 25-year-old All-Star PG; an All-Star SF in his prime; a former All-Star SG who still averages 15 ppg; and a former rebounding champion? A .500 first-round opponent (the Nuggets) that backed into the playoffs with a 7-8 record in April? Blew out the Nuggets in Game 1 by 24 points and won Game 2 by 10 points?
— D.M., Tokyo
I have to argue with your pick for “best example” of Level VIII: The “This Can’t Be Happening” loss. No game fits this description better than the “Miracle on Ice” game from the Soviet perspective. They thought they were going to win up until the last minute.
— Josh, Atlanta
In Levels of Losing, you should have a level that is “Crap Your Pants” Loss. This is a level worse than Dennis Green where the loser is deer-in-headlights before the beginning. Sports moment: Michael Spinks vs. Mike Tyson.
— Wonjae, New York
A better example of your Level IV would be the 2006 MNF game between the Cardinals and Bears. I remember watching a Bears fan two rows in front of me take his Urlacher jersey off as the Cards went up by 20 going into the half. We couldn’t believe our team was playing the way they were. I mean, c’mon, they’re the Arizona freakin’ Cardinals! And yet, in the back of my mind, I could only think of ways they were going to lose that game. Twenty-seven game minutes later, it all came true with Hester’s 83-yard nail in the coffin. Of course, the Urlacher fan put his jersey back on just as the extra point split the uprights. “Seething” only begins to describe how I felt.
— Aaron A., Phoenix
You have to mention the Colts ’06 loss to the Steelers in the playoffs as a [Stomach] Punch loss. Bettis is going in for the game=clinching touchdown only to fumble (Steelers gut punch No. 1) and the ball gets picked up by Harper, who somehow gets tackled by Roethlisberger while he’s sitting on the turf (Colts gut punch No. 1). Colts go down into FG range (Steelers gut punch No. 2) only to have Vandershank miss one about 30 yards wide right (Colts gut punch No. 2). It’s a rare get together with my buddies to this day that someone doesn’t go, “I don’t care how many times you get stabbed by your wife … ” in reference to Harper’s wife having stabbed him in an argument the night before and then being tackled by Roethlisberger when he’s sitting on his ass.
— Jeff, Indianapolis
Full disclosure: I’m a Braves fan. I don’t feel any sympathy for the Mets. My point that I wanted to make, though, is that this is their punishment for Game 6. The Baseball Gods giveth and they taketh away. No new level of losing for them!
— Dan K., Atlanta
Level I: THOSE GAMES. Being that you’re blinded by your Boston loyalties I will forgive you, but there have been other games that have combined the Stomach Punch and the Guillotine (and more): The 1998 NFC Championship. The Vikings were 16-1 (one playoff win). They had the best offense of all time, an Achilles’ heel defense, and a kicker that hadn’t missed all year. That being said they are also one of only two teams ever to reach the Super Bowl four times and lose them all. So, as Vikings fans, we were just waiting for the guillotine to drop. So what happens? Instead of taking a 20-7 halftime lead, Denny Green decides to try to score again starting at our own 18 with 1:17 left. The result: a fumble, a Falcon touchdown, a Monkey Wrench, and the executioner is officially playing with us. Low and behold, we still are clinging to a 27-20 lead with two minutes left. We walk out our perfect kicker for a chip shot … and he misses from 38 to seal it. But noooo … we haven’t been teased enough. Robert Griffith drops the game-saving interception in the end zone and Atlanta finishes off the 70 yard touchdown drive. But there is still overtime!!! We win the toss!! We have the best offense of all time!! … And we look like the 2007 Bears with Rex Grossman. Two drives and we don’t sniff another opportunity to score. By this point we’re resigned to our fate of “This Can’t Be Happening.” You know the rest … the other Anderson hits one from 38 bleeping yards. Jesus wept. Wow, that felt good to get out.
— Graven, S.D.
Hard to believe you didn’t mention one of the all-time great Stomach Punch games in your Levels of Losing 2.0 column — Derek Fisher’s 0.4 shot in San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semis. Not only did it happen at home in Game 5 of a tied series, it followed an improbable 18-foot fallaway by Duncan that appeared to be the game-winner (and a major Stomach Punch for the Lakers). Has any arena ever gone from that level of high to that level of low in such a short amount of time? And to top it off, it was their third straight loss after going up 2-0 in the series. The demoralized Spurs went on to lose Game 6 by 12.
— Bryan, Irvine, Calif.
Remember how you felt in 1986? Picture yourself and how you felt that day, and remember that it was METS FANS who were celebrating while you were devastated. I know you don’t follow hockey anymore, but appreciate the following video, where Matt Cooke scores with give seconds left to send Game 7 to overtime in 2004. Canucks fans had already been through enough with Bertuzzi a month earlier — it was a Bertuzzi jersey thrown on the ice 10 seconds before the goal was set up, like some eerie omen. I was there. Absolute pandemonium the ENTIRE 15-minute intermission, and I thought, this is surreal. What happened? Calgary scored a minute into overtime and in a split second, 18,000+ fans fell dead silent, and you could hear an ant fart in the rafters. Followed by 10,000 fans yelling out one collective four-letter profanity, 20 times in succession, and another 8,000 so devastated they couldn’t even burst into tears. I suffered amnesia and I don’t remember the next two hours afterward. I think I spoke monotone for a week. I will never, never, never feel sorry for Calgary fans, regardless of their team’s fate, because of that day (and 1989, a whole other story). The Mets fans have had their day at the expense of the Red Sox nation. Let them deal with it!
— Rob, Vancouver, B.C.
After reading your latest update to the Levels of Losing, I had to add one: The FRANCHISE KILLER. 1992 NLCS, Braves-Pirates. Francisco freaking Cabrera single-handedly killed a franchise that played in the first World Series. Not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about that base hit. Francisco freaking Cabrera, 14 losing seasons later and the Pirates have never recovered. Anyway, I am choking on my own vomit so I must go now, thanks.
— David, Pittsburgh
Level XVII: The Window of Opportunity
Definition: This defeat goes beyond just the single game (though the single game is usually quite devastating by itself). It represents the culmination of multiple failed attempts to win a championship or even make it to the big game.
Personal Memory: A Pirates fan who was born in 1977 (Stargell’s home run against the O’s didn’t do it for a 2-year-old and, yes, I actually played high school baseball against Tekulve’s son), winning baseball has been few and far between. However, the ’92 NLCS against the Braves epitomizes the brutality of the “window of opportunity” defeat. When Cabrera’s liner sailed past Jay Bell and into Barry Bonds’ average arm in left, and the not so swift Sid Bream slid home barely ahead of Spanky Lavalierre’s tag, this 15-year-old pounded his parents’ carpet in agony. Not so much because of that one game, but because it was the end of the ride. Three tough playoff series losses in a row, Bonilla leaving, Bonds sure to leave the next year, Leyland to follow … we knew it was going to be a long time before we had a chance to win again (15 years and counting … ).
Other Examples: Browns losing to the Broncos for the third time in ’89, Bills’ fourth Super Bowl loss.
— Aaron K., Philadelphia
Your revamped Levels of Losing to include the 2007 Mets was right on, but I think there should be a side note on that one to include the 1984 Minnesota Twins. The Twins led the division through the entire season behind rookie Kirby Puckett and a patchwork pitching staff led by young lefty Frank Viola, and got the magic number down to two with three games left. Ah, but the Twins had a closer named Ron (expletive) Davis, who had a rare knack for giving up game-losing home runs in the ninth inning. RD blew three straight saves against Cleveland in the first three games of a four-game set in Cleveland, when one win would have given the Twins the division title. In the last one, the Twins had a 9-0 lead cut to 9-8 in the ninth, when RD serves up a division-title-losing grand slam to Jamie Quirk! Come on, Jamie Quirk??!? A couple of years ago, good ol’ RD was back at the Dome for a reunion weekend and got to throw out the first pitch. The fans booed him. Loudly. Afterward, RD gave the greatest quote of his career: “When it’s 20 years later and the fans still hate you, now that’s charisma.”
— Joel, Windom, Minn.
Rant Alert! Why is there not a Fantasy Sports Levels of Losing yet? Make this happen. At first glance it may seem redundant given the work put into the Original Levels of Losing — but I think not. Why? Because I’m a pissed off Vikings fan. I’m a pissed off Vikings fan because Randy Friggin Moss just took me deep when my team was basically shooting blanks due to injuries, underperforming superstars and bye weeks. Yup, I was actually ahead by 10. Yup, I got completely sucked in thinkin’ I’ve got a shot. … Plus I snagged Kenny Watson for insurance. … But nooooooooooo — bleepin Belichick went and decided, “Yeah, let’s go against years and years of football etiquette and chuck the bleepin pill 10 times while we’re ahead by 17 with five minutes left and give Randy “Yeah, I’m Randy Bleepin Moss” Moss more gratuitous stats. DAMMIT (J. Bauer)! Then to top it off, now I actually start thinking about how damn mad I am at the entire state of Minnesota and the greater Boston area. I mean, has one sports city EVER let go of three absolute superstars that ended up in the same city? To make matters worse, those players will probably provide said city with a championship in their respective sports (you’re 1-for-1 so far)???
Anyway, so what if that’s only a Level XVI. It still counts.
— Eric S., Ramsey, Minn.
I understand that you’re a Boston fan and an NHL hater, so this is probably pointless, but how is the ’99 Cup Finals loss any worse than the Buckner game? No Goal combines The Sudden Death for obvious reasons, The Monkey Wrench because it remains one of the worst calls of all time, and The Stomach Punch. I don’t know if there’s ever been a better example of “fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all.” I felt like I was dreaming, there was no way something so obvious could be missed at such a crucial time. There was no way that the NHL could possibly not go upstairs for a review. It was impossible that it was actually happening.
No Goal is as bad of a loss as anything in the history of sports. The fact that it happened to Buffalo, unquestionably the most tortured sports city of all-time (Sorry Philly, you beat us in the Cup Finals and don’t have nearly as many heartbreaking moments) just seems unfair.
— Brendan, Buffalo, N.Y.
You may want to add Game 6 of the Cubs/Marlins NLCS in 2003, which by my count had the following “levels” occur in a single game:
Level X — the Monkey Wrench, when a fan interferes with what could have been the second out of the eighth inning in a game that the Cubs were leading by five with their ace on the mound;
Level VIII — This Can’t Be Happening, which occurred shortly after the Monkey Wrench and the Marlins started hitting everything even though just minutes before they knew their season was coming to an end and even though most Cubs fans thought the series was over because we had two games at home with Prior and Wood on the mound;
Level VI — the Broken Axle, or when Alex Gonzalez increased the significance of the Monkey Wrench by booting an easy double-play ball that same inning and there were literally shrieks of horror in the stands; and
Level IV — the Guillotine, when the first thought after the Monkey Wrench was that the Cubs were going to blow this game, even though they still had a commanding lead at the time and just needed a pitching change, a position player change, ANYTHING to interrupt the horrible choking feeling in the throats of each Cubs player and fan, but it never came.
Four levels that were clearly implicated in a single game, which was then followed up by a prototypical Level XI — Dead Man Walking game in Game 7 of the NLCS.
— Tony, Chicago
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. You can check out his revamped “Sports Guy’s World” site here.