Afternoon Drive: 4 sports losses too hard to handle

Associated Press file photo / New England Patriots' James White scores the winning touchdown in between Atlanta Falcons' Jalen Collins, left, and Robert Alford during overtime of the NFL Super Bowl LI Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston.
Associated Press file photo / New England Patriots' James White scores the winning touchdown in between Atlanta Falcons' Jalen Collins, left, and Robert Alford during overtime of the NFL Super Bowl LI Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston.

Welcome to The Afternoon Drive, where the sports staff of the Times Free Press will give you a dose of (random) sports-related information that will hopefully get you thinking about more than just what's for dinner. This information will be packed into an online list form each weekday, but the opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff as a whole.

Today's list

Today's list of (random) sports-related opinions comes on the heels of Detroit's painful loss in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Staffer Lindsey Young recalls some of the most gut-wrenching losses he's experienced (some have required therapy). Detroit fans, you've got nothing on me. Let's save the worst for last (you know what it is):

4. 1988 Game 6 Hawks-Celtics

This one hurt even more because I saw it in person. It was supposed to have been the "K.C. Jones Retirement Party," but it turned out to be the one that got away for the Hawks. Atlanta won three consecutive games, including Game 5 in Boston, to go up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinal round. A sellout crowd at The Omni was rowdy and ready to send the Celtics' legendary coach, who had earlier announced he would retire at the end of the season out in style. Game 7 — the iconic Dominique Wilkins-Larry Bird shootout — gets all the headlines, but this one was the heartbreaker, and it was a slugfest. Six players were on the court for more than 40 minutes. The teams combined to shoot just 10 3-pointers (Bird was 0-for-1). 'Nique had 35 points and Doc Rivers 32, but the Hawks trailed by eight with three minutes left before getting within two with five seconds to go. What happens? The Celtics double-team 'Nique on the inbounds, the ball goes to, of all people, Cliff Levingston, who clanks a one-hander off the rim. Curses.

3. Game 7 1991 World Series

The greatest world series in history featured five one-run games and three that went into extra innings as the Braves and Twins — last-place teams the season before — put on a show for the ages. Atlanta led three games to two before Kirby Puckett's 11th-inning homer off Charlie Leibrandt (why, Bobby Cox?) forced game 7 in Minnesota. Jack Morris and John Smoltz dominated on the mound as the game entered the eighth inning scoreless. Lonnie Smith led off with a single and Terry Pendleton followed with a gapper just as Smith took off for second on a hit-and-run. We all know what happened next — Smith, for whatever reason, hesitated around second and was held up at third. The Braves didn't score as Ron Gant weakly grounded out, David Justice was walked and Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play. The Twins scored in the 10th and it was over. Oh, Lonnie. Why?

2. 2017 CFP Championship

Ah, this lifelong UGA fan died a bit that day. A near-perfect defensive first half led the Dawgs to a 13-0 lead over Alabama before Nick Saban turned to Tua Tagovailoa for the comeback. Georgia had several chances to put this one away, including a play made infamous by one of the worst calls in NCAA history. Tyler Simmons was ruled offside before he blocked a punt deep in Bama territory with a 13-0 lead. The referee in the game later admitted the call was incorrect. Don't blow that call and the 2nd-and-26 Tua to Davonte Smith overtime game-winning TD never happens. Of course, don't let Smith run free down the sideline and it might turn out differently as well.

1. Super Bowl LI: The mother of all losses

This loss sits on the iron throne in the hall of misery. All other losses bow down to this abomination. Personally, just writing about it is giving me a headache, but we persevere. We all know the story: Falcons build a 25-point lead in the second half only to see the Patriots rally to win in overtime as then-OC Kyle Shanahan refused to run the ball late in regulation to set up what would have been a clinching field goal. Edelman's catch. The failure to cover running backs out of the backfield. Missed blitz pickups. The complete coaching meltdown. Well, I take some blame for it since, at halftime, I turned to my wife and proclaimed, "This is really happening!" Sure did. Side note: a DirectTV remote control can disintegrate upon hitting a wall, get put back together and still work. I can't be the only Falcons fan who gets some amount of payback by helping keep Bill Beelzebub unemployed. You take what you can get as a fan of Atlanta sports!

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