The 7 Most Gut-Wrenching Losses in DMV Sports History

Any red-blooded American who has any remote interest in sports has been paying attention to the World Cup. So of course, with less than a minute to go in Sunday's game versus Portugal, with a guaranteed trip to the round of 16 in the balance, the equalizing goal to tie the game 2-2 had to feel like a swift kick to the nether-region.

Being a fan of the local sports teams, having the thrill of victory replaced with the agony of defeat is a familiar feeling.

That got me to thinking, "Wow, this sort of thing happens all the damn time, doesn't it."

After taking a second to think about it, I realized that not only does it happen often, but it happens on the biggest stages and to our biggest rivals. So I picked the most gut-wrenching losses for the major local teams and ranked them 1-7. Try not to throw up.

7. Redskins - "Aikman to Rocket" Cowboys 41, Redskins 35 (OT), September, 12, 1999.

It was a most fitting finish to Daniel Snyder’s first game as Redskins’ team owner.

 It the 20+ years that I’ve been a fan of the Washington football team, I have never seen a better played 45 minutes of football, immediately followed by a worse 20. Even to this day, mired in 23 years of general ineptitude, I can’t remember being more sick than I was on this day. 

Behind a re-tooled offense behind QB Brad Johnson and RB Stephen Davis, the Redskins flexed their muscle against arch rival/defending NFC East Champ Cowboys, jumping out at a 35-14 fourth quarter lead and appeared to have the contest well in hand.

Then Cowboys woke up, decided to stop BSing and scored three touchdowns in the final 11 minutes of regulation. The Redskins were dominated in the fourth quarter, making just three first downs to Dallas' 16, with the Cowboys controlling the ball for 11:15 to Washington's 3:45.

Two future Hall of Famers in Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin connected on the equalizing score with 1:50 remaining to send the game to overtime.

The game ended less than five minutes into the extra period when Aikman hit Rocket Ismail streaking through the Redskins secondary for a 76-yard touchdown.

The miraculous victory was the fifth of an eventual 10-straght wins that the Cowboys would take from the Redskins.


 6. Capitals - "The Longest Game in Caps Playoff History" Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 4, Penguins 3, Capitals 2 (4 OT) April 24, 1996

 For our younger Capitals fans, know that this rivalry existed well before Alexander Ovechkin v. Sidney Crosby was a thing. No, the Penguins have been kicking the Capitals butts for almost two decades now, each playoff exit more disappointing than the last. But no loss was worse than Game 4 over the 1996 East quarterfinals.

After stealing Games 1 & 2 in Pittsburgh, the Caps returned to the friendly convinces of the US Airways Arena with the chance to sweep the rivaled Pens out of the playoffs. After losing a heartbreaker 2-1 in Game 3, Washington and Pittsburgh had one of the most epic playoff games in NHL history.

The two teams skated until well past 2 AM ET (my parents didn’t let me stay up to watch the end). The game lasted 79 game minutes past regulation. It was the longest playoff game in Capitals history and still is currently the 5th longest game in NHL history. The Capitals had many chances to put the visiting Pens away, including a penalty shot by Joey Juneau in the 2nd OT, but was stopped by Pittsburgh goalie Ken Wregget.

44 seconds from going to a 8th period, Petr Nedved slapped a one-timer past Olaf Kolzig to give the Penguins the win, and eventually the series. In a lot of ways, the Penguins have owned the Capitals since that series almost 20 years ago.


5. Wizards – “Don’t Miss This, Or You’re Going Home” Cavaliers 114, Wizards 113 (OT), May 5, 2006

LeBron James is easily one of the most polarizing figures in sport. Many basketball fans, especially in the DMV, don’t care much for King James for one reason or another. I don’t know about anyone else, but the genesis of my hated for him comes from this game.

Down 3-2 in the Eastern quarterfinals, the Wizards had a chance to send the series back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 7. Up a point, all Gilbert Arenas had to do was sink two free throws at the end of overtime to seal the victory (Arenas shot 82% from the FT line that year).

After missing the first, James casually walks up to Arenas, leans in, whispers something in his ear, and continues to walk towards halfcourt. Arenas, visibaly shaken from the comment, ended up missing the second free throw, giving Cleveland the chance to win.

But in typical Wizards heartbreaking fashion, Damon Jones nailed a shot to give the Cavaliers the game and the series. Urban legend says that LeBron whispered, “Don’t Miss This, Or You’re Going Home.”

And as big of a Douchlord as LeBron James is, he was right. DAGGER! *Steve Buckhantz voice*

4. Orioles – “The Jeffrey Maier Game” ALCS Game 1, Yankees 5, Orioles 4 (11 innings) October 9, 1996

 Almost twenty years after this infamous play sent two franchises in opposite ends of the baseball success spectrum, I still can’t help but wonder what could’ve happened if 12-year old Jeffrey Maier never intervened.

Up a run in the bottom of the eighth, the O’s only needed to hold on one more inning to steal Game One of the ALCS from the Bronx Bombers (Baltimore would win Game 2, so a 2-0 series lead heading back to Camden Yards was attainable). But when Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter’s warning track ball was snatched from the outstretched glove of right fielder Tony Tarasco by Maier and counted as a home run, the Yankees were able to tied the game and send it into extras. Bernie Williams would hit a walk-off homer in the 11th and New York, stealing Game 1 and eventually won the series 4-1.

The Yankees went on to win the World Series and have won four more since. The Orioles still haven’t reached the World Series since 1983.

3. Nationals - "Drew Storen’s Meltdown" NLDS Game 5, Cardinals 9, Nationals 7, October 12, 2012 

One second, I’m standing on a table at Caddies in Bethesda buying victory rounds for anyone within the bartender’s reach. The next, I’m sitting with my girlfriend in cab home, hands in palms, with an enormous consolation bar tab. I mean, who gives up a 6-0 first inning lead? The Nats do, that’s who.

Even after teeing off on one of the NL’s best pitchers that year in Adam Wainwright, scoring three in the first and another three in the third, the Nationals could not close the door on the Cardinals, allowing them to hanging around.

Leading 7-6 with two outs and in the top of the ninth, pitcher Drew Storen was twice one strike away from sending the Nats to the Championship Series, but couldn’t deliver. A clutch opposite field single by Pete Kozma capped a four-run ninth inning for St. Louis and delivered a blow that Washington couldn’t’ overcome. The Cards took the game 9-7, and the series 3-2.

2. Ravens - "Cundiff's Miss" AFC Championship Game, Patriots 23, Ravens 20, January 22, 2012.

I remember watching this game at Mad River in Baltimore’s Federal Hill. I don’t make my hatred of the Ravens a secret. In fact, trolling that team up I-95 that wears Purple and Black is one of my favorite pastimes. But a fool I am not and being the lone Redskins fan in a bar full of angry, near-homicidal Balti-morons in not a pleasant place to be, let me tell ya. Especially when their kicker just crapped the bed on a chip-shot to cost them a trip to the Super Bowl

The Ravens’ defense turned in a stifling effort, limiting Patriots QB Tom Brady to just 239 yards passing and holding him without a touchdown pass for the first time in 36 games.

Driving late and trailing by just three, the Ravens appeared to take the lead when WR Lee Evans made an acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone, but the call was overturned. Two plays later, kicker Billy Cundiff (who, by the way, was 16 of his last 16 in fourth quarter field goals) did his best Ray Finkel impression missing a 32-yarder badly wide left. The Patriots ran out the clock and advanced to the Super Bowl.

Ravens fans were none too pleased. [NSFW]

1. Maryland – “Gone In Sixty Seconds” Duke 98, Maryland 96 (OT), January 27, 2001

This is easily the winner. This was, and still is, the only Maryland v. Duke game I had the honor to attend. The looks on the faces of the red, yellow & white clad, crowd were those of absolutely mortification. The word mortification probably doesn’t even do it justice. Just sheer disbelief. Considering that it was Duke and when you consider the names on that Blue Devil roster (Jason Williams, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer are all taboo words in my household) only made the complete collapse by Maryland that much worse. Of all the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching losses on this list, this has got to be the one that still makes my head hurt to this day.

In the first of four of Maryland-Duke games that season (Maryland beat Duke in Cameron Field House a month later, Duke beat Maryland in the ACC semifinals and again the Final Four), the 8th ranked Terrapins led the 2nd ranked Blue Devils 90-80 with :54 seconds left. Chants of OV-ER-RATE-ED rained from the capacity crowd as a win (and a night of partying at Cornerstone, I’m sure) was well within reach.

Then came the sh*tstorm to end all sh*tstorms. Bad possession after bad possession one after another, littered with turnovers, bad shots and missed free throws for Maryland. An unkind rim all over the sudden was far more forgiving for Duke as they sank trey ball after trey ball to inch ever closer. Nate James hit to free throws to tie the game at 90 with 21 seconds left.   

Drew Nicholas missed a contested corner three as time expired and the rest is history. Battier scored six of Duke’s eight overtime points and the shell-shocked Terps never recovered as Duke escaped with a 98-96 win en route to their third National Championship.

Longtime Maryland coach Gary Williams still calls it one of his worse losses that he can remember. I think anyone that remembers this game would agree.