May 07, 2020
It's time to make you feel even worse.
After spending some time researching and discussing some of the worst decisions Philly sports teams have ever made when drafting, trading for and signing free agents, it's time to look at the worst losses in the history of this wonderful sports-crazy city.
First, some definitions. When we say worst, we aren't really thinking about margin of defeat. If that were the case, this would just be a list of forgettable double-digit losses that no one really ever thinks about. No, we want the real heartbreakers. The devastating defeats that we still look back at and relive in our heads.
And so we've narrowed it down to 10, plus a few dishonorable mentions, and ranked them in increasing order of the amount of terror and PTSD they unleash in our minds. All of the games on our list are playoff games, because let's face it: the stakes matter. The two biggest factors for our ranking purposes were how important was the game, and how devastating was the result.
The only way to truly heal is to be able to open up and talk about what hurts us the most. Here, first, are a few brutal losses that were not enough to make the Top 10:
Phillies lose Game 3 of 1977 NLCS in ninth
The Phillies and Dodgers split the first two games of their best-of-five series and in Game 3, the Phillies held a 5-3 lead in the top of the ninth. Ace reliever Gene Garber got the first two outs in quick order but a two-out bunt single let loose a confluence of events that saw L.A. score three runs. Philly went down in order in the bottom of the ninth and went quietly in Game 4.
Sixers lose Game 7 of 1986 Eastern Conference Semis
Leading by just one with 29 seconds left, Charles Barkley was called for goaltending, giving the Bucks a one-point lead. With seven seconds left, a Dr. J jumper missed and the Sixers were eliminated. It was Bobby Jones and Bob McAdoo's final NBA game and Barkley's deepest playoff run in Philly.
Eagles lose 2009 NFC Championship game
Trailing the Cardinals 24-6, the Eagles scored 19 unanswered points to take a lead early in the fourth looking to get to their third Super Bowl. But with two minutes left, Kurt Warner hit Tim Hightower to get the Cardinals back on top. They would turn the ball over on downs their next possession as Arizona advanced to face the Steelers in the Big Game.
And now, here's a look at 10 worst losses in Philadelphia history...
The Eagles, for the first time since 1960, were playing for a championship. Unfortunately the team never really gave itself much of a chance to win. After making short work of the Cowboys and Vikings in the playoffs, Philly fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter of the game, held in New Orleans. The Eagles didn't score a touchdown until early in the fourth, a Ron Jaworski pass to Keith Krepfle, but by then the game was well in hand for the Raiders. Jaws threw three interceptions and the Birds were out-gained on the ground 117-69.
This game cracks our list because, let's face it, the Eagles had a better regular season record and had dominated in the postseason leading into their first ever Super Bowl. They were actually three-point Vegas favorites and never showed up. Little did Eagles fans know it at the time, but this would be their only Super Bowl appearance for another 24 years.
After trailing 2-0 in the series, the Flyers won two in a row at home to even it up. After dropping Game 5 in Chicago, Philly needed to force a Game 7 by winning at home. The sixth game was a back and forth affair that eventually saw the Blackhawks jump ahead 3-2 late in the second period. In the third, Scott Hartnell found nylon and the defense held to force overtime.
In the extra frame, it only took four minutes for Patrick Kane to (controversially) fire in the decisive goal, a shot that most lost sight of as it got stuck underneath the padding in the back of the net. Upon a review, the Blackhawks were awarded the Cup and the Flyers continued their championship-less streak.
The Sixers really squeaked out a surprising victory in Los Angeles to open the 2001 NBA Finals. And even after losing Game 2, they still felt pretty good about themselves as they returned home to Philly. Game 3 was really anyone's to seize, especially with the Sixers down by only two points at the 2:21 mark, when Shaquille O'Neal fouled out putting Dikembe Mutombo on the free throw line. He made just one of two (the Sixers missed 10 free throws in the fourth quarter in Game 2 as well, a recurring theme).
Robert Horry drilled a three to put the Lakers up four and the Sixers ran out of time to mount a real comeback. Iverson scored 35 in the loss, but Shaq and Kobe Bryant combined for 62. Philly lost the next two games and would never return back to the NBA Finals.
In the series, the Flyers trailed Wayne Gretzky's Oilers 3-1 but won back-to-back games to force a Game 7 in Edmonton. After getting a rare two-man advantage just minutes into Game 7, the Flyers struck first, going ahead 1-0. They were outshot by 25-8 over the final two periods as Ron Hextall, who would go on to be series MVP, was unable to keep the Flyers in the game against a loaded Oilers team boasting Gretzky and Mike Messier.
Hextall saved 40 shots in the game and the Flyers would have to wait another 10 years before... losing another Stanley Cup final.
Let's set the scene. The Flyers were on the road playing against the juggernaut Islanders, looking to force a Game 7 to win their third Stanley Cup title in a half dozen years. With the game tied at 1, a clearly blown call (the ref himself admitted he called it wrong) that should have been offsides and stopped play instead saw New York score to go ahead 2-1. The Flyers players stopped playing after what was (called by players in the game) an obvious violation, allowing Duane Sutter to put the Isles ahead.
The Flyers rallied back and forced overtime, but a needle-threading pass that was re-directed on net was the go-ahead and clinching score in the game. Philly's players said after the game that the blown call really turned things around and was a deciding factor. Either way, the Flyers gave themselves a real opportunity by staying in the game before faltering in the extra period.
The Phillies of this era had the talent and the will to win, and did five times as they won their division every year from 2007-2011. However their descent from World Series champ, to World Series loser to NLCS loser to NLDS loser was hard to swallow for fans who wanted more from their beloved "World F***ing Champions." There are a lot of tough losses to pinpoint from this generation of baseball (including Game 4 of the World Series in 2009 when Johnny Damon stole two pivotal bases in one play). The 2011 Phillies set a franchise record for wins, and so their elimination in the first round in epic fashion takes the cake.
A gem from Roy Halladay set the stage, as he allowed just one run in the first inning. He went eight strong and it was the Phillies' powerhouse offense that took center stage. But for the wrong reasons. Aside from a fourth inning opportunity with runners on the corners (a threat that ended with a deep Raul Ibanez fly out), Philly did nothing with their bats in the three-hit shutout thrown by Chris Carpenter. With two outs in the ninth, Ryan Howard grounded out to end the series, and tore his Achilles' as he turned to run to first. It was the last playoff at-bat for the Phillies, who saw their run of contention end with that swing from Howard — who would never be the same again.
Things were looking up for the Eagles in their third straight NFC title game. The Bucs had never won a playoff game on the road, they had never won a game below 32 degrees, and the Eagles were huge favorites in the last game they'd ever play in Veterans Stadium. In addition, Brian Mitchell's 70-yard return of the opening kickoff set up a 20-yard Duce Staley touchdown. Everything was great.
And then it wasn't. The Bucs outscored the Eagles 27-3 for the rest of the game and the Birds never really gave themselves a chance. Sports Illustrated, in 2008, called this the worst loss for the city since 1983, and given everything leading up to this Vet finale, you can make the argument that it deserves to be even higher. With some time (and some more heartbreak) since then, it's firmly found a slot within the Top 5 on our countdown.
It might not be as bitter looking back now — you know, because of Nick Foles and such — but this game was absolutely tormenting for Eagles fans. The Andy Reid team finally broke through to beat the Falcons in the NFCCG, a game they lost three times in a row prior and were amped to try and dethrone the Patriots who would get caught cheating (for the first time) this season.
Tied at 14 in the third, the Patriots scored 10 unanswered to take a two-possession lead about midway through the final quarter. A promising drive ended on a overthrown ball by Donovan McNabb that was intercepted, but the Eagles forced a punt and drove 79 yards to score with 1:48 left to play. During that now infamous drive, teammates of McNabb claim he was vomiting (or dry heaving, or coughing) which is part of why they didn't score more quickly. Trailing by three, an onside kick failed but the Eagles did get the ball back with 48 seconds to play. A completion for no gain, incompletion and interception followed as the Patriots clinched and Eagles fans wondered why, and what could have been.
There isn't a lot that can be said about this. Everyone saw it. The Sixers fought hard to force a Game 7 in Toronto and were able to fight and claw to one-point lead with seconds to play. Then, Kawhi Leonard — who was traded to the Spurs in an experiment few expected would work — shot a three from the corner, defended by Joel Embiid that hit the rim four... yes, four times...
It's carnage almost as brutal as the Game of Thrones Season 8 episode that aired that same night. Toronto would go on to win the 2019 NBA Championship while the Sixers lost Jimmy Butler and committed (perhaps wrongly, we'll see) to Tobias Harris and Al Horford for a long time and a lot of money. It was a franchise-altering loss, and one we won't know the full scope of for years to come.
When you lose the World Series on a walk-off home run, it's kind of hard not to pick it as No. 1 worst loss. Yes, the Phillies would have needed to also win Game 7 in Toronto to be crowned as champions, but the Phils had momentum, winning Game 5 in a shutout 2-0. In Game 6, the Phillies amassed a 6-5 lead and sent Mitch Williams to the hill.
In the closing frame, a walk and single put two runners on with one out and Joe Carter at the plate. A 2-2 pitch streaked off the bat for a three-run homer and championship for Toronto. In the aftermath, the Phillies would not reach the postseason again until 2007. And Williams, well, he went down as one of the biggest chokers in the city's history...
"Everybody saw what happened,. . . . I made a mistake, and he hit the mistake. I let my team down today. I'm not going to go home and commit suicide or anything....They did what they had to do to win this series. And I let us down in big situations. I carry that burden. No excuses. I didn't get the job done."
Yes, this list is a little more fun to look back on after the Phillies (in 2008) and Eagles (in 2018) actually did get the job done. But, boy, has this fanbase gone through some heartache.
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