Top 10 sporting comebacks

By David Leggat

Kiwi finished first in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington 1 November 1983. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi finished first in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington 1 November 1983. Photo / Supplied

This is what spectator sports are all about, the edge-of-seat matches we live for.

ONE
Australia II break the stranglehold, America's Cup 1983

The America's Cup had never been out of America's hands since it began in 1851, so when Dennis Conner and his Liberty crew pitched up in Rhode Island it was assumed to be business as usual.

So it seemed early on as Conner and co eased out to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven. However Australia II, with John Bertrand at the helm and with a radical winged keel design by the late Ben Lexcen, battled back.

The fifth race was won by 1min 47s; the sixth by a decent 3min 25s.

With all the marbles on the line, Australia II won the decider by 41s to unbounded joy.

"Will you stand up Australia, stand up and cheer because this is the finest day in Australian sport," yelled the (Australian) TV commentator.

"Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum," chimed in colourful Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

The America's Cup game has never been the same.

TWO
France vs All Blacks, Twickenham 1999

Even now it still seems unbelievable.

The All Blacks, up 24-10 early in the second half of the World Cup semifinal, had a size 12 boot planted in the final, with the other one hovering.

They forgot the French penchant for doing the unexpected.

A couple of Christophe Lamaison dropped goals in quick order and two penalties and the French, like a class racehorse, were haring up on a big rails run.

Tries to Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles clinched a stunning 43-31 win as the All Blacks were taken apart in half an hour.

THREE
The day a Kiwi flew, Melbourne Cup 1983

This was truly an all-Kiwi triumph. Trained by Snow Lupton at Waverley and ridden by New Zealand jockey Jim Cassidy, at one point in the great race the horse was dead last.

Even 200m from the finish he was well back and given no mention by the commentator.

Then, "Here comes Kiwi, out of the blue!" yelled the commentator.

As if he'd sprouted wings, Kiwi roared up on the outside to produce one of New Zealand sports' greatest moments.

Kiwi had been bought for $1000. He wasn't intended to be a racing galloper, but to "round up sheep on the farm".

FOUR
Boston Red Sox end the Bambino's curse, 2004

When Babe Ruth left the Sox and headed to the New York Yankees in 1918, folklore had it that a curse was placed on the Boston outfit. It was another 86 years before they won the World Series again.

Trailing 3-0 in the American League playoffs to the despised Yankees it seemed the game was up again.

They won Game four 6-4 in the 12th inning; won Game five 5-4 in the 14th inning. It was then the longest-ever post-season game at 5h 49 min.

Game six was won 4-2, all the runs coming in a big fourth inning, to tie it up.

The decider was, er, decided in the second inning with a Johnny Damon grand slam to put the Sox out to 6-0. Damon added another two-run homer later in the game, which was won 10-3.

No team had ever come from 3-0 down to win a series.

The curse was lifted shortly after when the Sox won the World Series, 4-0 over the St Louis Cardinals.

FIVE
Laxman and Dravid to the rescue, Kolkata 2001

Australia were 1-0 up and India were following on, 274 runs behind when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid came together at 232 for four. Things were grim.

They responded with one of cricket's great rearguard actions.

The elegant Laxman produced his finest test innings, 281, while Rahul "The Wall" Dravid made 180.

They batted through the entire fourth day and the stand was eventually worth 376.

It remains the third-highest fifth wicket partnership in all tests, and India's third highest for any wicket.

Australian captain Steve Waugh used nine bowlers, but when India declared at 657 for seven, the Aussies were shattered.

Offspinner Harbhajan Singh followed his seven first innings wickets with six for 73 as Australia were dismissed 212. India won by 171 runs, and went on to win the series.

SIX
Arnold Palmer, 1960 US Open

Golf's most popular player started the final round at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado seven strokes behind leader Mike Souchak.

Souchak had won 15 PGA Tour titles so was no mug.

But Palmer fired up, and roared on by what became known as Arnie's Army, shot a sizzling 65 to see off Souchak, the great Ben Hogan and a 21-year-old amateur called Jack Nicklaus.

Birdies at the first four holes had him out in 30. He surged through the back nine and headed Nicklaus by two shots at the end for his only US Open win, among seven major titles.

Two months earlier he'd won the Masters; soon after he was second in the British Open, a stroke behind Kel Nagle. Some year.

SEVEN
Jimmy Connors topples Mikhael Pernfors, Wimbledon, 1987

He wasn't everyone's cup of Darjeeling, what with his savage fist pumping and crotch-grabbing, but no one would argue that American lefthander Connors was not among the game's great scrappers.

So it was, trailing Swede Pernfors in their fourth-round clash. Pernfors was 6-1, 6-1, 4-1 up in fading light with the 34-year-old two-time champion nursing a leg injury.

Somehow Connors grasped the nettle and won 18 of the last 25 games to complete one of tennis' most fabled comebacks.

EIGHT
Buffalo Bills overhaul Houston Oilers, 1993

American fans simply call it 'The Comeback' and it remains the biggest in NFL history.

The AFC conference champions for the previous two seasons, time looked to have run out on the Bills in the opening championship game of the 1992-93 season.

They'd been whipped 27-3 by the Oilers a week earlier in the final regular season game, and lost star quarterback Jim Kelly to knee ligament damage.

When the Oilers eased out to 35-3 early in the third quarter, the game appeared up. But with backup quarterback Frank Reich calling the shots, the Bills eventually caught up and nabbed the win with a Steve Christie field goal in overtime.

Christie's kicking shoe is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio.

NINE
Portugal 5 North Korea 3, Goodison Park, 1966 World Cup

Shortly before this quarter-final, a chap called Pak Doo-ik scored a goal which sent Italy home in disgrace. A one-hit wonder, you'd have thought.

Come the knockout stage and in 20 minutes the men from the hermit state were 3-0 up and the football world was preparing for a stunning upset.

Then the greatest of all Portuguese players, Eusebio, took charge. By halftime, he'd scored twice. He added two more in the second half, including a second penalty, and another from Jose Augusto saw off the spirited underdogs.

TEN
Dennis Taylor wins the greatest world snooker final, 1985

Steve Davis had already won the title four times. At 8-0, and later, 17-15 up in the best-of-35, No5 seemed a shoe-in against the popular Northern Irishman Taylor, with his celebrated swivel-lens spectacles.

In a cliff-hanging final frame, Davis was 62-44 up with the brown, blue, pink and black - 22 points remaining. Davis needed only the brown to win; Taylor needed the lot.

It came down to the black, the first time the title had gone the ultimate distance.

More than 18 million viewers watched the gripping finale past midnight as Taylor potted the black for his only world crown.

Later a shattered Davis quipped that it had all been there "in black and white".

- NZ Herald

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