#5 - January 16, 2000; Titans 19 - Colts 16
#4 - 2000 NBA Finals, Game 4, Lakers 120 - Pacers 118
#3 - January 16, 2005, Patriots* 20 - Colts 3
So, I've finally recovered enough to get this over with and recall the top two. Part of what was delaying me was searching back through my memory to make sure that I wasn't missing anything particularly devastating, that this would truly capture the awfulness of my sports fan history (and not be like those polls of the greatest songs ever that have the top ten from the last three years).
And there have been other awful losses, let's be clear.
2008 NCAA, 2nd game, Marquette loses to Stanford 82-81 in OT on a circus shot.
The Montreal Expos had baseball's best record at 74-40 and were six games up on the Braves when the players strike began on August 12, 1994. Les Expos would never recover - the franchise didn't get a new stadium, the management authorized a fire sale of their best players (Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom, Rondell White, Wil Cordero and Pedro Martinez, among others, within two years) and the first Major League expansion franchise in Canada relocated to Washington, D.C., as the Nationals in 2004. At least they stink, though it's cold comfort, and while not technically a "loss" and so probably ineligible for inclusion on this list, it was a terrible string of bad luck for a proud and promising franchise.
The incessant and inexplicable Colts losses to the Patriots* for much of this decade, particularly the gut wrenching 24-20 loss at home in the RCA Dome to a Patriots* team we had on the ropes for the whole game but didn't close out, in part because Anthony Gonzales dropped a sure touchdown pass that hit him between the 1 and the 1 on his uni; the embarrassment of the UH loss in the Sugar Bowl to Georgia (though unlike many of the others, this one was not "one we had"); the inability of Marquette to beat inferior teams in the state of North Carolina (how do you lose to ECU?!), in Tampa against USF, or against Dayton anywhere (how are we 1-5 against them over the last decade?) all have taken their toll.
Of a lesser order of magnitude (for me), how about all the times that the Purdue Boilermakers pull defeat from the jaws of victory against Notre Dame and ____ (insert Big Ten opponent's name here)? Green Bay losses to Chicago? Teams from the Midwest crapping the bed every bowl season? And on, and on...
But nope, I've thought about all of them and here's the top (bottom) 2 -
#2 - Chargers 23 - Colts 17
How's this for a headline? "Sproles, Chargers shock Colts 23-17 in overtime upset" This was the Colts season to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots weren't even in the playoffs; the Steelers were beatable (cuz we did it in the regular season); the NFC wasn't impressive. I really, really thought that the Colts were going to win the Super Bowl. Before the playoffs I looked around and thought that Marvin Harrison, Hall of Famer, wasn't going to hang around forever (he's now gone) and Peyton isn't getting any younger; this was our year. Well, except it wasn't. A crappy San Diego team (and that's not sour grapes, they were terrible - they barely made the playoffs from the worst division in the AFC) once again beat a superior Colts team. I've written about my emotional reaction in another post. Just awful.
#1 - UConn 93 - Marquette 82.
This was a killer not just for the result, but because the season, and four of the most impressive individual careers in the history of Marquette University basketball (#'s 1, 2 and 8 in scoring; #'s 2 and 7 in assists; #'s 1 and 4 in steals) ended here. Dominique James, the point guard who came back every year to graduate a Marquette Golden Eagle and help his team return to a Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight or Final Four, was injured at around the 4:00 minute mark of this game. It was a broken bone in his foot, and that quickly an amazing season was one of could-have-beens. He was effectively done for the season and for his career, or so we thought at the time. The team was completely different without their four-year-starting point guard, and it couldn't have come at a worse time as Marquette had the toughest stretch of games of any team in the country - remaining opponents from that time had a .837 winning percentage. We lost them all. I felt just sick watching that game, and thinking about how it must feel to be that young man. It's fair to say that I've never worked as hard at anything in my life as he had at basketball for the past four years while he was in Milwaukee. He was a good kid - all of them were, Jerel and Wes and Dwight - they had great character and represented Marquette so well. When I saw James go down and realized that he wouldn't be back before the end of the season I just felt sick - that all that those four had worked for would come to no more wins, no more deep runs in the NCAAs, no Big East title. Losing to UConn at home without him hurt, yeah, but just in my gut I knew that one amazing college basketball career was over, and three others were diminished, and nothing could change it. Any other time in the season, any other opponents lined up - things mighta been different. But I guess that's one of the take away lessons of sports, and one way that athletic competition can matter: you learn how to lose. Tough lesson. Tough loss.