Top 20 Embarrassing Defeats in Sports

Suggested by SMS

Sports are a grand spectacle, characterized by larger than life athletes, raucous and fiercely loyal fans, and often stunning artistry and creativity, all merging to create a live drama that is arguably the greatest theatre in the world.

Sports though are unscripted theatre, and this often to leads to events that shouldn’t happen, that defy logic, that are simply…embarrassing. From horrible blunders, to lopsided routs, to the just plain weird, sports are filled with moments like these that people remember for a lifetime.

These are 20 such moments, the Top 20 Most Embarrassing Defeats in Sports.

20. Georgia Tech Demolishes Cumberland University 222-0

GT-Cumberland Scoreboard

The game took place on October 6, 1916, in Atlanta. Cumberland University, which at one time fielded fairly decent football squads, didn’t even have a team in 1916, following budget cuts to various programs by the new school president. However, the school had failed to cancel their agreement for a 1916 match with Georgia Tech, and being the savvy penny pusher that he was, the prez decided against risking the ire of Georgia Tech (and the possibility of a $3,000 fine), by sending a ragtag group of people out to play them.

So the writing was on the wall already (or on the scoreboard at the very least, as you can see below), but further circumstances had transpired which would lead to the massive rout, one which normally would not have taken place to such a degree out of sheer sportsmanship. You see, earlier that spring, Cumberland had smacked around Georgia 22-0 in a baseball game that Georgia Tech cried foul over, claiming the Cumberland side was using professional players. They vowed to exact their revenge on the gridiron, and so they did.

Against a squad consisting of people who for the most part had little to no football experience, the Yellow Jackets racked up nearly a thousand yards on the ground, scoring 32 touchdowns. Cumberland was so futile on offence, turning the ball over for further touchdowns to such an extent, that they began punting the ball back to Georgia before fourth down. Not that their defence was doing any better. By halftime it was 126-0, and the only thing stopping Georgia from a 250+ point performance was a ruling to have the second half quarters reduced in length from 15 to 12 minutes.

This game stands as the most lopsided football score ever recorded, though it’s validity considering the circumstances is debatable.

19. The Mighty Mariners Cough Up A 14-2 Lead To The Indians


2001 was a glorious year for the Mariners. They had a stunning 80-31 record as they entered the third game of a four game series with the Indians on August 5, a game nationally televised on ESPN. They had a Japanese rookie sensation in right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who would go on to win the American League batting title and MVP awards that season. They had one of the steadiest lineups in baseball, anchored by Ichiro, DH Edgar Martinez, 1B John Olerud, 2B Bret Boone, and CF Mike Cameron. And after years of bullpen ineptitude, they finally had a great closer in Kazuhiro Sasaki, and a quality bullpen all through the ranks. They would send 8 players to the all-star game that year, and finish with a major league record 116 wins.

Seattle had already taken the first two game of the series, and when they jumped out to a commanding 12 to 0 lead in the Sunday tilt, it seemed like the outcome was a foregone conclusion. That was lead was still 14-2 in the bottom of the 7th when the inexplicable happened. Cleveland would score 3 times in the 7th, putting an end to starter Aaron Sele’s day. No big deal surely, as the M’s still held a commanding 14-5 lead. Yet in the 8th, relievers John Halama and Norm Charlton would get smacked around for 4 more runs, making the gap 14-9. But it was now the ninth inning, and the M’s had their superstar closer Sasaki in the wings. In fact the score was still so lopsided that Sasaki wouldn’t even need to warm up…yet.

But the Indians would smack around Charlton and all-world setup man Jeff Nelson for another pair of runs. With two men on, Sasaki would enter the game, only to give up two more hits, including a bases loaded triple to light hitting Omar Vizquel which tied the game. The game lasted two more innings before the Indians would mercifully conclude the massacre with a 15-14 win.

As it turned out, the most brilliant of baseball seasons was so befouled in this loss that even the most hated man in baseball, John Rocker, would pick up the victory, one of only three on the season. An embarrassing loss in an otherwise glorious campaign.

18. The Biggest Bust Has His Worst Day


In hindsight, choosing Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick may not have been a wise choice. But hindsight is 20/20 they say, unlike Ryan Leaf’s eyesight, which can’t be much more than 10/20 given his horrendous NFL passer rating of 50, and his tendency to mistake opposition players as teammates as judging by his 36 career interceptions as opposed to just 14 career touchdowns.

After a rather promising 2-0 start to his career, the third game of Leaf’s career would prove to be the beginning of the end. Ryan made his first pass of the day, and then missed 14 consecutive receiving targets, a Chargers record, ending the day 1-15 for 4 yards total passing, while chucking 3 interceptions and fumbling the ball twice in a 23-7 Chargers loss.

He would be benched later that year, and finally released. He’d be picked up by several teams over the next few seasons, who all came to the conclusion that the 2nd overall pick could see and throw no better than on that 1-15 day. Leaf eventually announced his retirement from football at the tender age of 26, citing the injuries which had plagued him for much of that time.

17. Calling Timeout With No Timeouts Left (And Other Stupid Things Not To Do)

No Timeouts Left Chris

When thinking of some of the dumbest things you could possibly do (like licking a frozen pole, sticking a metal object into an electricity socket, running around with scissors, etc.), calling a timeout with no timeouts remaining would be up on that list. Maybe not at the top, but certainly right up there. After all, the refs won’t decide to play nice and give you a free one, oh no, instead they’ll slap you with a technical foul, which in the case of Chris Webber’s snafu in the NCAA Championships on April 5, 1993, all but sealed his team’s defeat. Trailing 73-71, with plenty of time to get down court and tie the game, Chris nearly (and arguably) travelled to get out of his own zone before getting cornered by two North Carolina defenders in the offensive zone. Panicking, he tried to call timeout, and the rest is history. UNC would hit both of the free throws resulting from the technical foul and cruise to the win. Chris would go on to have a good NBA career, and rise above his embarrassing mistake, but he never could live it down, and it will likely follow him for the rest of his days.

16. Canseco Takes One For The Team (The Other Team)

Off the head for the win

Jose may have had power, but no one ever said he was graceful

Jose Canseco has become notably famous of late for his tell all tales about his own and other player’s steroid usage. Always known as a bit of a dunderhead, Canseco proved to be a hard head as well on May 26, 1993, in a game against the Cleveland Indians.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Texas was enjoying a 3-1 lead when Carlos Martinez smacked a ball deep into the right-center field gap. Canseco, the right fielder, bounded after the ball, catching up to it near the warning track. However as he got to it, he completely lost sight of it, whether in a sun flare or a roid haze, no one knows. The ball gleefully bounced off Jose’s noggin and up and over the wall for a home run. Cleveland would add two more runs in the inning to take a 4-3 lead, and would eventually win the game 7-6.
As much as he will be remembered for his 462 career home runs and steroid use, Jose’s lasting legacy will probably be the homerun ball of Carlos Martinez, on which Canseco’s cranium earned an assist.

15. Where Oh Where Art Thou Sportsmanship?

On the losing end of a blowout

Despite the loss, the girls of Dallas Academy took it and the resulting media attention with good humour

If there’s one thing that is stressed above all else in children’s sports, it’s fair play, having fun, and sportsmanship. So you can bet that when a high school team composed of children with learning disabilities got their butts handed to them in a 100-0 shellacking on January 13, 2009, the story was bound to make headline news.

Rather than playing a passive game against a team that was clearly outmatched, Covenant continued to apply full pressure until they racked up a full 100 points, celebrating voraciously throughout the game at their performance. Only after reaching the century mark did they finally let their foot off the gas pedal.

Rather than being an embarrassing defeat, this match was an embarrassing victory, one that should not have happened, regardless even of the special circumstances. The Covenant coach, who refused to admit he or his team had done anything wrong, was fired shortly afterwards. Good riddance to bad sportsmanship.

14. The Curse Gets Crushed In Dramatic Fashion

Chowdah Heads Come Back

Boston stunned the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, handing them one of their most embarrassing defeats ever

When the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, little did anyone know that the Curse of the Bambino would follow them from that day forward, as the Red Sox would fail to win a championship after his sale. Until 2004 that is.

Standing in their way in the ALCS were those dreaded Yankees, and the Curse looked to be in fine form as the Yankees cruised to a 3-0 series lead, not to mention holding a lead late in Game 4. Then, the improbable happened. The Red Sox pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, coming from behind to win that 4th game, and the final 3 games in dramatic fashion to take the series, perhaps transferring the curse onto the Yankees in the process, who have now failed to win a World Series since 2000, despite massive payrolls each year.

The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series that year, at last breaking their Curse, and would do so again a few years later. The Yankees embarrassing series loss gave momentum to their most bitter rival, who have since outdueled them in the years that have followed.

Boston stunned the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, handing them one of their most embarrassing defeats ever

13. When Showboating Goes Horribly Wrong


Looked like smooth sailing, but a little showboating caused this ship to sink

So you’re in the gold medal final of the Winter Olympics Snowboard Cross event. You have a three-second lead as you approach the second to last jump, and the gold medal is all but a foregone conclusion. Do you A) Keep your composure and finish the race or B) Take big air off the jump and pull a method grab?

If you answered A, you probably represent 99% of the population. If B, your name is probably Lindsey Jacobellis, who did just this in the 2006 Olympic Finals in Italy, the result of which was a fall, and helplessly watching as her gold medal was snatched up by the racer who should’ve taken silver.
Depending on your outlook, this could arguably be number 1 on the list, a completely embarrassing self-inflicted wound that will haunt her forever.

12. Wide Right

River City Touchdown

One of the NFL’s most famous plays ended in extra point disaster

New Orleans entered their December 21, 2003 game at 7-7, with a chance at making the playoffs for the first time in three years. Down 20-13 with just 7 seconds left the Saints were had one, possibly two plays left to score. The Saints used a series of laterals to bring the ball 75 yards down the field for a touchdown, at which point they only needed the extra point kick, all but a foregone conclusion, to send the game into overtime. Yet kicker John Carney promptly pushed the kick dead right, completely shanking it. New Orleans had lost 20-19, and were officially eliminated from the playoffs in one of the most embarrassing losses imaginable.

11. Hockeytown’s Hockey Disaster


Turk did a lot of puck stopping in the final 4 games against the Wings

Led by goalie Turk Broda and unheralded Syl Apps, the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off an improbable comeback, smacking around and humiliating the Detroit Red Wings in the final 4 games of the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals, after trailing the series 3-0. Toronto is the only team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit in a Finals Series, and the Wings, of course, are the only poor team to cough up a 3-0 lead. Despite the embarrassing defeat, the Wings would make for it by winning the Stanley Cup the next season, also jumping out to a 3-0 series lead in the Finals, and this time finishing it off in 4 games for the sweep. What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

10. Man vs. Machine

Kasparov vs. Deep Blue

This simple chess game garnered worldwide attention, the result of which shocked the world

This has been a common theme in movies and novels over the past hundred years. As technology has further developed, the fears that this very technology will one day surpass us, become sentient, and enslave us have been a common theme in science fiction. This concept was brought to light in 1997, as man (Garry Kasparov) faced machine (Deep Blue) for the second time.

Kasparov, widely hailed before, then, and since as the best chess player in history, had soundly trounced Deep Blue in a match in 1996 4 points to 2. Despite claims the new version of Deep Blue, dubbed Deeper Blue, would put up a much stiffer test, Kasparov crushed it in the first game of the 1997 series.

But that would be the last game Garry would win. He would lose the second game, and immediately claimed something was afoot, that the computer was making moves that a computer simply wouldn’t make. He was held to a draw in the third and fifth games as white, while managing a draw against deep blue as black in the fourth game.

Despite 3 straight draws, Kasparov had the feeling he would lose the last game, and his mind wasn’t in it. He played extremely poorly and got trounced, losing the series 3 ½ to 2 ½. The long standing theory that a computer could never defeat a human chess champion had been wiped out. Were computers now smarter than us? Was humanity on the brink of destruction?

Despite how embarrassing the loss was for Kasparov and humanity as a whole, defeating a computer that can calculate millions of moves per second is hardly something to be ashamed of. It’s hard to imagine anyone could compute math as quickly as a calculator, that doesn’t mean calculators are smarter than humans. Deep Blue is not smarter than us, nor is any computer smarter than us. It was simply programmed to play chess as well as the best player in the world.

9. Bartman (Not A Simpsons Spinoff)


Bartman became the most hated man in Chicago after this play

Your favourite team, the Cubbies, are 5 outs away from the World Series as Marlins hitter Luis Castillo lofts a fly ball out to left field. The ball comes close to your seats, possibly ending up in the stands and out of play, possibly being caught by left fielder Moises Alou if left untouched. You instinctively go for the fly ball and knock it away from Alou. Castillo goes on to draw a walk and the Marlins score 8 times in the inning as the Cubs fall apart, losing their trip to the World Series the next day. You’re put under police protection as you leave the stadium and go home, fans pelting you with debris and shouting curses at you.

Such was life for Steve Bartman after he famously interfered with a fly ball that may have been the second out of the top of the 8th inning in Game 6 of the NLCS. While Bartman’s interference may very well have cost the team an out (though Moises Alou would later saw he probably wouldn’t have caught the ball anyway), the self-destruction of the Cubs afterward is what made this scenario stand out. If the Cubs cruise through the rest of the game and advance to the World Series, the Bartman incident is all but a moot point. Combined though, they amount to one of the most bizarre and horrific meltdowns by a team, an embarrassing loss for both the team and its fans, one fan in particular.

8. The Band’s On The Field

Lost Band

The band jumped the tuba on their post game celebration ceremonies

Not even hundreds of Stanford band members swarming the field in the mistaken belief that the game was over could stop a magical last second touchdown by the California Golden Bears, as they pulled off an amazing last second comeback with a play simply called ‘The Play’.

Trailing 20-19 with just 4 seconds on the clock, California snatched up the squib kick by Stanford’s Mark Harmon and proceeded to lateral the ball around the fault (two of which in particular were borderline forward passes, and have remained heavily debated), as they slowly advanced down field. During the third lateral, when it looked like the California player had been tackled, many of Stanford’s players rushed onto the field in celebration, as did most of the Stanford band (this aspect of The Play is also controversial, as the play should’ve been flagged and called dead at this point, with California getting one last play from scrimmage). The play was not dead though, and after a few more laterals and much dodging (or crashing) of band members later led Kevin Moen into the end zone for the game winning touchdown. The play was briefly discussed by the officials, who ruled it legal, and the game over.

A highly spectacular and controversial end to a game, and one of the greatest and most bizarre plays in football history, but also a crushing defeat for a team that thought they had the game wrapped up.

7. A Legend Defeated By Upset (Literally)


After a rough ride, Man O’ War would lose the only race of his career to Upset

Though not quite as shocking at the time, in hindsight Man o’ War’s loss in the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes stands as possibly the most shocking in horse racing history. Man o’ War would go on to win all 20 of his other races, finishing second in the Sanford to a horse called Upset. Though Man o’ War was clearly the best horse that day, a horrendous series of events which included him being completely turned around as the race got under way led to the massive upset.

While it can’t be confirmed one way or the another, many people believe that upset being used as a term to describe a favourite being defeated in a sporting event came about because of this race, as Upset pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history.

6. The Red Carded Headbutt

Zidane HeadButt

“You got your head in my stomach!” “No, you got your stomach in my head!”

Much like a red headed stepchild, the red carded headbutt was worthy of mockery and derision, resulting in a humiliating end to one of football’s greatest stars.

In the 110th minute of France’s World Cup match against Italy, Zinedine Zidane turned and rammed his head into Italian player Marco Materazzi’s chest, seemingly without provocation. Zidane received a red card and was expelled from the match, which France would end up losing 5-3 in penalty kicks.

While the words that were exchanged between the two players which led to the headbutt are debated, with each side telling a different story, the end result was an embarrassing final match for one of Europe’s biggest football stars.

5. Why You Should Always Eat Before A Big Fight

Tysons Hungry

“You don’t mind do you? All I want is a nibble!”

You could argue that Mike Tyson’s upset loss to James ‘Buster’ Douglas could also make the list as one of the most shocking upsets in boxing history, but his famous fight against Evander Holyfield was far more embarrassing and shocking, and proved to be the first sign of Tyson’s mental unravelling.

After their first fight, which Holyfield won by TKO, Tyson and his camp had complained bitterly about the intentional head butts Evander had delivered repeatedly throughout the fight. Their rematch was one of the most anticipated boxing matches of all time, sadly ending not with a bang, but with a bite.

After what Tyson claimed was more intentional head butting early in the second fight, he retaliated by biting Holyfield’s ear. The fight was stopped, and Tyson given a warning, yet upon resuming Tyson bite down on Holyfield’s ear again, this time so fiercely that a chunk of his right ear was cleanly bitten off.

Despite serving jail time for rape, and having altercations with interviewers and other fighters in the past, Tyson at the time was still one of the most popular figures in boxing. His embarrassing actions in the ring that day would turn him into a circus sideshow throughout the rest of his career, a sad ending for a fighter who was at one time the most feared boxer on the planet.

4. A Giant Slap In Perfection’s Face

No Perfection

Were they simply outplayed, or did they choke? The debate over the Patriots’ Superbowl loss to the Giants rages

After the first 16-0 season in NFL history, and the most dominant offensive display ever, the Patriots were massive favourites to defeat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, despite the two teams playing a closely contested game to end the regular season.

The Patriots, who had averaged a massive 36+ points per game during the season were stymied from the start by the Giants stalwart defence. Still, New England held a 7-3 lead at the end of the third quarter. After the Giants took a brief lead the Patriots would answer right back with a touchdown of their own, taking a 14-10 lead with just under 3 minutes to play. One defensive stop likely would’ve been enough to seal the win and the perfect season, yet the Patriots couldn’t pull it out when they needed it the most, as the Giants went downfield and scoring the winning touchdown with just 35 seconds to play. The Patriots vaunted offence couldn’t muster a single yard on their final possession of the game in an effort to at least get within field goal range to tie the score.

The Patriots dynasty, hailed as possibly the greatest football team ever, couldn’t pull it off when it mattered the most, when they had the potential to permanently etch their names in the record books. Choke or not, it was a shocking and upsetting loss for the team and its fans.

3. Mon Dieu

Smiling for now

Jean would not be smiling by the end of this debacle

Forget Lemony Snicket, Jean Van de Velde’s series of unfortunate events on the last hole of the 1999 Open Championship led to one of the most horrendous defeats in sporting history. Leading by three shots on the last hole, a hole which he had previously birdied twice in the previous three rounds, Van de Velde made the decision to use driver off the tee, when all he needed was a double bogey to complete an incredible fairy tale story. Instead the fairy tale would turn into a nightmare.

Jean yanked his drive right into the rough. Still playing far more dangerously than he had to, he decided to go for the green with his second rather than play it back out to the fairway. His shot bounced of the stands to the right of the green and back 50 yards into more rough. Playing his third shot out of deep rough, he shanked it into the burn that guards the front of the green. He debated hitting the shot where it lay to save himself the penalty stroke, taking off his shoes and socks and getting over the ball before conceding the penalty.

Now playing his 5th shot from behind the burn, Jean dunked it in the bunker, and played his 6th shot from there to about 6 feet. He now needed to make the 6 footer for triple bogey just to get into a playoff, which he miraculously did, wildly pumping his fist. However he would lose to Paul Lawrie in the three man playoff that followed between himself, Lawrie, and Justin Leonard.

The debacle is widely viewed as one of the greatest choke jobs in modern sports, from a player who had won only once in his career and was in an unfamiliar position. Van de Velde would return from the trauma and injuries that followed to win his second title in 2006, though the nightmares of Carnoustie will forever haunt him.

2. Miracles Do Happen


Despite the Miracle on Ice, Americans still despise hockey

When a ragtag group of American amateur and collegiate players hooked up with the mighty Soviets in the 1980 Olympics, a team comprised of their best professional stars, the outcome seemed assured. The Soviets after all were considered the most dominant hockey nation in the world, routinely beating NHL teams in exhibition games, and even whooping the NHL All-Star team 6-0 in 1979.

Despite being generally outplayed by the Soviets, the Americans used a brilliant goaltending performance from Jim Craig, and a number of clutch goals to stun the Soviets 4-3. Not only in hockey terms, but considering the other factors involved, most notably the Cold War, this was a massive win for the Americans, and an embarrassing loss for the Soviets, who quickly swept it under the rug and refused to even mention the results of the game through the media.

Though many wrongly remember this game as the gold medal game, the U.S would eventually win the gold, defeating Finland in their final game, while the Soviets would settle for silver, finishing 7-1 in the tournament with their only loss coming to the miraculous Americans.

1. Doing The Big Apple Shuffle

Buck boots it

The most memorable miscue in baseball history

In rare cases, players make gaffes so devastating that their careers are defined by it, no matter what they did before and after that point. We’ve seen that in some of the examples above, such as Chris Webber and Jean Van de Velde, but no one has had to live through the trauma of a costly mistake more than Bill Buckner.

A career .289 hitter with over 2,700 career hits, Buckner won a batting title in 1980 and was arguably one of the greatest contact hitters of his day, striking out under 500 times in over 2,500 career games played.
When the 1986 World Series rolled around, Buckner was on his last legs, both figuratively and literally. A solid fielder with decent speed earlier in his career, Buckner had since suffered numerous ankle woes which had severely limited his mobility both in the field and on the basepaths. He was routinely pulled for defensive replacements late in games, as he had been in Game 1 of the World Series.

With Boston one out away from the World Series Championship and an end to their Curse, things went haywire. The Mets singled three straight times, scoring twice to tie the game. Up stepped Mookie Wilson, who proceeded to chop a routine grounder towards Buckner at first. Buckner awkwardly shuffled over to it and flat out missed it, as Ray Knight scored the winning run, sending the series to a 7th game, which the Mets would also win.

Though manager John McNamara could arguably be blamed for leaving Buckner in considering the Red Sox had a two run lead heading into the bottom of the tenth, Buckner would largely absorb the punishment for the miscue in the years that followed. Buckner made a popular return to Fenway in 2008, being greeted with a standing ovation that helped ease some of the pain he had shouldered in the years since, but the Big Apple Shuffle will live on in infamy for many years to come.

Honorable Mentions

  • Des Sowden, a career 1-10 boxer, getting knocked out in 4 seconds by Russell Rees in the final fight of his career
  • South Korea smashing Thailand 92-0 in a 1998 hockey tournament, averaging a goal every 45 seconds
  • The Soviets disputed win over the U.S in the 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal game