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Easily the most popular sport in the United States, American football captures the hearts and imaginations of fans. And it is wildly popular from the grassroots level, widely played in schools across the country, up to the upper echelons of the NFL, which boasts several internationally recognized iconic franchises. Excitement is part of its appeal, and there is no shortage of that. Players have to be tough, dedicated and skillful, but most of all, have a never-say-die attitude. And while some commentators declare games over when there is a wide deficit going into the latter stages, anything can happen when a team musters a fighting spirit. Over the years we have been lucky enough to see some truly epic, heroic comebacks. After the Texans’ unbelievable victory over the Chiefs in January of this year, let’s look back at that game and other incredible match-winning efforts from recent decades.
Chiefs Stun Texans
A modern-day classic, this encounter from the beginning of the year was a high scoring game of (nearly) two halves. Houston Texans were sailing against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoff match, with a 24-0 lead as half time approached. But before the end of the 2nd quarter, the Chiefs sprang into life, scoring three touchdowns in 200 seconds of play. The Chiefs were stunned to find themselves trailing 28-24 at half time, but any efforts to regroup during the break were in vain, as they found themselves up against a rejuvenated opponent from the 3rd quarter onwards. The Chiefs, bolstered by an epic comeback, ran rampant, and by the end of the game had notched up an imperious 51-31 victory. After the game it was reported that the celebratory fireworks had run out sometime in the 4th quarter, such was the regularity of Kansas City’s scoring. A wild game, great for Chiefs fans and casual observers, not so good for the Texans and their supporters.
Super Bowl LI
On February 5th, 2017, Atlanta Falcons squared up against New England Patriots in the championship match. After a scoreless 1st quarter, the team from Georgia began to take control, scoring freely before the break. Possibly spurred on by a rousing halftime show by Lady Gaga, the Falcons continued to dominate, and by the end of the 3rd quarter were sitting on a formidable 28-3 lead. In order for the Patriots to claim victory, they would need to produce the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. Undeterred, they proceeded to claw their way back to level terms, forcing the game into overtime, where running back James White dodged through body checks to score the winning touchdown. Although the final score was 34-28, the game has gone down in football folklore as ‘28-3’. And it holds the record not only for the biggest comeback, but also the first Super Bowl decided in overtime.
49ers Pip the Giants
In the 2002 wild card round the New York Giants were cruising against the San Francisco 49ers, with a 38-14 lead in the 3rd quarter. The seemingly easy victory was not accepted by Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, however, and the pair led the 49ers to a famous comeback, scoring a touchdown and a pair of two-point conversions between them, before Garcia ran in a 14-yard touchdown to seal the victory. The Giants had a chance late on, but a field goal attempt was squandered, handing the 49ers victory by a single point. It was a real nail biter for fans, but great for neutral observers, especially if they had tried their luck betting on the action.
Colts Charge Late
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set a ferocious pace in their 2003 game against Indianapolis Colts, building a solid 35-14 lead, with their opponents floundering. However, in the latter stages, having decided not to throw in the towel, the Colts began to charge, fighting back to level the scores at the conclusion of the 4th quarter. Mark Vanderjagt cooly punted over a 29-yard field goal to take the victory in overtime. And after the match, the Colts’ coach said he had seriously considered swapping the entire offensive line out of the game just before they began their surge.
In 2000, in what became known as the ‘Monday night miracle’, New York Jets were trailing the Miami Dolphins 30-7 as they finished the 3rd quarter. But the Jets weren’t finished, and soared back into the game to force overtime, with Vinny Testaverde throwing four touchdowns to level things up. A 40-yard overtime field goal sealed the deal, as the Jets roared to a famous victory.
No lead is insurmountable in gridiron football. Occasionally, fans are treated to the epic spectacle of an against-the-odds comeback, which is part of the reason we love the game so much.