Ranking the worst Atlanta sports losses, from Game 7 to 28-3

Jay Busbee
·7-min read

You know what’s No. 1. Let’s get that right out front. When ranking Atlanta’s many, many sports miseries, there’s nothing worse than the Super Bowl loss of a few years ago. But beyond that? My friend, beyond that lies a veritable symphony of failure; a kaleidoscope of catastrophe; a cornucopia of misfires, mistakes and general eff-ups.

Sunday night brought us a new chapter in the Encyclopedia of Atlanta Misery. Sunday night, the Atlanta Braves gave up two separate in-game leads, en route to giving up a 3-1 series lead, to lose the National League Championship Series to the Dodgers.

Had this happened in, oh, 1991 or 2000 or maybe even 2005, it would’ve been devastating. Now? In 2020, it’s just another little bump on the endless broken road that is Atlanta sports.

How vast is this road, how long, how brutal? So much so that in the top 10, there’s not even room for such gems as:

  • The 10 runs the Braves gave up in the first inning of last year’s decisive NLDS Game 5 vs. the Cardinals. (At the time, I called it “among the most pathetic, most embarrassing, most burn-every-ATL-item-you-own that this beleaguered, beaten-down fan base has ever suffered.”)

  • The 17-0 lead the Falcons blew in the 2012 NFC Championship to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.

  • The sweep the 60-win, top-seeded Hawks suffered at the hands of LeBron James in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. (I wrote on this one, too, midway through the inevitability.)

  • The infamous “Outfield Fly Rule” in the 2012 one-and-done Wild Card game, when Atlanta appeared to have the bases loaded after a pop fly dropped in for what seemed to be a hit. But even though the ball landed somewhere north of Alpharetta, the umpire still called it an “infield fly” and the batter was out. (Atlanta would go on to lose the game, of course.)

Yes, it gets worse. So, so much worse.

Chipper Jones suffered more of these losses than any player should. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Chipper Jones suffered more of these losses than any player should. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

10. The onside kick, September 2020. You could say this is recency bias. But when a team coughs up a 19-point lead to one of the most hated franchises in sports, and caps that off by just refusing to jump on an onside kick — a move that would have sealed the win — it doesn’t matter if the game took place three weeks or three decades ago. Maybe one of the most embarrassing losses in Atlanta history, and this is a city where the Braves’ owner once managed the team for a game himself. (He lost.)

9. Dominique vs. Everybody, the 1980s. This isn’t one particular game, more a cascading array of almost-was’es for Atlanta’s own Dominique Wilkins, the perpetual bridesmaid. Nique and Larry Bird battled in one of the great playoff series of all time back in 1986, a series decided when Atlanta just decided to stop scoring in the third quarter of the decisive game. Boston had no such compunctions, outscoring ATL 36-6 and winning the series. Two years later, Nique got robbed in the 1988 Slam Dunk contest, losing to Michael Jordan in a contest held in Chicago. Weird. Wilkins got only a fraction of the respect (and playoff wins) he deserved.

8. Canada robs Atlanta (2x). Again, not a specific game, more a state of affairs: Atlanta has lost not one, but two hockey teams. Yes, these were moves made at least as much due to ownership issues as on-ice ones, but the effect on a suddenly-bereft fan base is the same. There won’t be a charm coming a third time.

7. SEC Championship, 2012. Athens may be an hour east of downtown Atlanta, but the city still claims the University of Georgia … which might explain why the Dawgs have had some wrenching losses of their own. Back in 2012, Georgia was playing Alabama in a crucial game and blew a big lead. (Yes, this sounds familiar, because this exact scenario has happened three times since then, most recently Saturday night.) This ranks so highly because this game was a de facto play-in to the BCS national championship game, and Georgia would have been highly favored over eventual Bama doormat Notre Dame.

6. Braves blow a 3-1 lead, 2020. This one is ranked so high because of the depth of the fall; giving up a 3-1 lead with the World Series on the line always hurts. But I don’t know a Braves fan alive who was remotely comfortable at any point in this series, not when Atlanta was up 2 games to none, not when Atlanta was one win away from the World Series with three chances to get there. The scar tissue is just too thick. But this is a young team with many more chances ahead. Whether that’s good news or bad news is up to you.

Spoiler: It didn't work. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Spoiler: It didn't work. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

5. Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999. The Eugene Robinson game, though it’s not fair to throw the blame for this one all on the shoulders of the Pro Bowl safety who, uh, got picked up for solicitation the night before the game. Robinson’s arrest seemed to take the spirit out of the Falcons, who got absolutely demolished by the Broncos in John Elway’s final game. On the biggest of stages, the Falcons walked out and fell right into the orchestra pit.

4. Game 7, 1991 World Series. Back in 1991, Atlanta fans were absolutely giddy; their town, dubbed “Loserville” in an infamous Time magazine article a few years before, had finally reached the World Series, and indeed battled all the way to a Game 7. In the top of the eighth, with no one out, Lonnie Smith paused on the basepaths and didn’t advance to third. He would be stranded there, the Braves would never again reach base, and the Twins would go on to win in extra innings. (A crucial baserunning mistake in a critical Game 7? Well, I never!) Atlanta learned an important lesson that day, one that would repeat so many times the next three decades: tough losses hurt so much more when they’re preceded by hope.

3. Game 4, 1996 World Series. By this point, Atlanta had a 1-2 record in the World Series, and had absolutely shredded the Yankees in the first two games of this series. When Atlanta went up 6-0 in Game 4, Braves fans — not yet broken, still hopeful — started dreaming of a franchise-redefining second championship. And then came the 8th inning, when Mark Wohlers — at the time one of the best closers in baseball — hung a curve to Jim Leyritz, who hit it a mile to tie the game. Atlanta would lose in extra innings, and the Braves have not won a World Series game since.

2. National Championship, 2018. Atlanta fans who pull for Georgia Tech may place this one among their most favorite memories, but for the Georgia-aligned, this one hurts almost as bad as the Big One. Georgia held a 13-0 halftime lead against, yes, Alabama, and then — say it with me now — blew it. The Bulldogs knocked Bama QB Jalen Hurts out of the game, only to find that true freshman Tua Tagovailoa was even better. Even so, the Bulldogs went up by 3 in overtime and had Alabama pinned at 2nd-and-26 — only to watch Tagovailoa float a perfect 41-yard season-ending touchdown into the hands of a wide-open DeVonta Smith.

1. 28-3. What else could it be? Super Bowl LI, the Falcons out to a 25-point lead over the New England Patriots, everyone in Atlanta throwing off decades of well-earned caution … thereby leaving themselves wide open to the cruelest arrow Fate ever fired. This is the indignity that will live forever, the rallying cry for literally any team that ever gets behind in any game. When you wish for immortality, careful how you phrase it.

Thus, you can see why Braves fans aren’t exactly wrenched over the NLCS loss. They’ve seen worse, so much worse. Plus, they know in their bones an irrefutable truth: in 10 years, this list is going to be almost completely different.

What could have been. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
What could have been. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee, who has suffered through each of these losses and a thousand more, is a senior writer for Yahoo Sports. Find him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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