Once a sport’s regular season ends and the post-season begins, each successive game is supposed to increase in importance until you reach the climax of the final game of the NBA Championship, Stanley Cup, World Series, Final Four, College Championship, or Super Bowl.
However, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Sometimes the games during the play-offs can end up being better remembered than the championships that followed. That’s what this thread is about. What play-off games left such a big impact that the subsequent championship series or game seemed like an afterthought?
The first I’ll submit is the 1951 National League tie-breaking play-off game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants which ended with Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard 'round the World.” Most people know that game better than they know the subsequent World Series in which the Giants ended up being defeated by the New York Yankees 4 games to 2. That World Series is only notable for being the third of five consecutive World Championships won by the Yankees and for featuring three players who arguably are considered the best of all time: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays. It was DiMaggio’s last series (and games) as a player and the first World Series for both Mantle and Mays.
The 1980 “Miracle On Ice” was not the final game of the tournament - the U.S. still had to play another game vs. Finland. (I think that detail is usually forgotten)
Also, the Red Sox comeback from 0-3 vs the Yankees in 2004 was in the semifinal round.
ETA - another hockey one is the 1993 playoffs when Toronto narrowly lost to L.A. in the semifinals (featuring a famous blown non-call on Gretzky’s high stick at a crucial moment). It actually turned out to be moot since L.A. ended up losing to Montreal anyway in the final round.
Oh man, how could I forget the most famous own-goal of all: the Steve Smith gaffe in 1986 vs Calgary which knocked the Oilers out of the playoffs. Once again, this happened in the semifinals and Calgary ended up losing to Montreal anyway.
For that matter, a lot of teams have won playoff series on walkoff homers only to see the subsequent playoffs be far less memorable. The 1951 Shot Heard 'Round The World was already mentioned, plus Chambliss, plus;
1999: Todd Pratt walks off the NLDS with a home run; the Mets are subsequently dispatched by the Braves, who get swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
2003: Aaron Boone crushes Tim Wakefield’s floater to win the ALCS; thee Yankees then go on to lose a boring World Series against Florida.
2004: David Ortiz walks off the ALDS against the Angels, but obviously the ALCS against the Yankees is far, far more memorable.
2005: Chris Burke ends the NLDS and the longest game in playoff history; the Astros go the World Series but are swept in one of the most boring playoff years ever.
2006: Magglio Ordonez puts the Tigers into the World Series with a huge home run; the Tigers then really stink up a 5-game loss to the Cardinals in the Series.
The 1981 Epic in Miami" playoff game is often cited as the greatest playoff game ever, though it was just for the Divisional title. The San Diego Chargers got a 24-0 lead in the first quarter; Miami came back in the second quarter to trail by 24-17. They tied it in the third quarter, but the teams traded touchdowns with the score tied 38-38 in regulation (Miami having a last-second field goal blocked). In overtime, San Diego missed a field goal, then a Miami field goal attempt was also blocked. Both teams were completely exhausted when San Diego kicked a field goal almost 14 minutes into the overtime.
It was a Pyrrhic victory for San Diego. They were so exhausted playing with such intensity in almost 80 degree heat in Miami that they had little left when they traveled to Cincinnati and lost while playing in -9 degree cold.
Don’t forget the 1983 NLCS when the Cubs were ahead 3-0 and only five outs away from going to their first World Series since 1945 before the Steve Bartman incident. Cue the Cubs choking the rest of the game and series away so we end up with the Florida Marlins–a team that not even people in Miami care about–in that boring World Series against the Yanks.
Which reminds me…
1984 National League Championship Series - In this best-of-five series, the Chicago Cubs take a 2 games to 0 lead on the San Diego Padres and are on the verge of going to their first World Series since 1945. Cue the Cubs choking and losing three in a row. The Padres advance and are quickly overwhelmed and dispatched by the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1 in one of the more uneventful World Series’ ever.
I’d say that the 2006 AFC Championship game, in which the Colts finally beat the Patriots in a huge comeback, is more readily called to mind then Indy’s rather ho-hum win two weeks later against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
This belies a bias for the Boston-NY axis. That was also the year of the wild NLCS with the Cubs (and Bartman). And the 2003 World Series was great, for baseball fans if not Yankee or otherwise team-bound ones. The best Marlins team ever (more organic and dynamic than '97), the last hurrah for Trader Jack and the first for Josh Beckett (who not only won the clincher with a CG SHO on short rest, but made the final putout himself), and every Florida win was close, with a margin of either one or two runs.
From 1992-1994 in the NFL, the NFC Championship between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers was much more interesting than the often anti-climatic Super Bowl. Just absolutely loaded, amazing teams on both sides.
But yeah, I remember when both the ALCS and NLSC were in full swing in 2003, and people hoping that both the Sox and Cubs would go to the World Series, since then at least one of the teams would have to break their losing streak…save, like, a tornado hitting the park.
But then both teams lost in equally stupid ways…Cubs because of fan interference, and Red Sox because Little kept Pedro in even after giving up several hits and was clearly too tired to be effective.
There was an early-round NFL playoff game (I think in 1993) where Buffalo fell behind the Houston Oilers by 32 or 35 points but came back to win. Then Buffalo went on to the Super Bowl but got crushed by Dallas in a very boring game.
All anyone remembers about the 2002 NBA Playoffs is the Lakers-Kings series in the Western Conference Finals, a great 7-game series, marred by the “rigged” Game 6. The Lakers subsequent sweep of the Nets, if it’s remembered at all, is known only for being one of the least interesting or competitive NBA Finals in recent history.