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The Loop

13 out-of-nowhere comeback moments that shocked sports

March 15, 2018
Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard - Round One

Mike Ehrmann

Tiger Woods' resounding start to 2018— which continued with a 68 in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Thursday — doesn't guarantee anything yet. He could go on to win two more majors. He might never make another cut. But for now, it's not only a great feeling, but a great opportunity to revisit the greatest comeback moments in sports history. However brief, these second lightning strikes were as unlikely as they were iconic, serving as welcome reminders that when it comes to sports, there's no such thing as never.

Magic Johnson's 1992 All-Star MVP

1992 NBA All Star Game

Andrew D. Bernstein

Johnson's abrupt retirement from the NBA in the fall of 1991 after acquiring HIV shook the sports world, but fans still voted him to that year's All-Star Game. Although his appearance in the game was met with some resistance, Johnson scored 25 points and made nine assists to win MVP honors. He later was an integral member of the 1992 U.S. Dream Team that won the gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics. - Sam Weinman

Tom Watson's 2009 Open Championship

The 138th Open Championship - Final Round

Warren Little

This was not what “golf’s for all ages” is supposed to mean. In a sport increasingly dominated by strength and athleticism, Tom Watson, at 59, was a hole away from winning the 2009 Open Championship. Almost four decades after he turned pro, 26 years since his last major title. It doesn’t matter that Watson bogeyed the 72nd hole, or subsequently fell in his playoff against Stewart Cink. That he found himself in such a position is “out of nowhere” incarnate. - Joel Beall

Niki Lauda's Heroic Italian Grand Prix

Niki Lauda, Grand Prix Of Monaco

Paul-Henri Cahier

Rarely are sports a matter of life and death, but when Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda was pulled from the flaming wreckage of his Ferrari in 1976—his face quite literally melting off—the question wasn't if he would return, but if he would survive at all. Just 43 days after the accident and ensuing coma, however, Lauda was back behind the wheel for the Italian Grand Prix in what remains one the single most shocking, inspirational moments in motorsports history. Though he would go on to win two more F1 Championships, this fourth-place finish would never be topped. - Coleman Bentley

Lindsay Vonn's 77th World Cup Victory

Lindsey Vonn - Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Women's Downhill

Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom

A crash in November of 2016 put Lindsey Vonn in the hospital with a badly fractured humerus. After surgery, she had nerve damage that left her unable to move her fingers. After what Vonn calls the most difficult recovery of her career, she raced again just two months later. In Germany in January 2017, bibbing up in just her second race after the injury, Vonn won her 77th World Cup race, bringing her just nine wins shy of the record. - Keely Levins

Bode Miller's 2010 Vancouver Olympics Trifecta

Bode Miller Vancouver 2010 - Alpine Skiing - Men's Combined

Tim Clayton

Expectations were high in 2006 for Bode Miller. The No. 1 skiier in the world and reigning World Cup winner figured as the favorite for the 2006 Olympics in Turin, but a bizarre segment of ‘60 Minutes’ in which Miler admitted to competing “wasted,” threw his career into a spiral, not medaling at all in the next month’s Olympics. Following that heavy disappointment, Miller apologized repeatedly, took some time off, and came back in a big way in 2010 in Vancouver to win three medals, which seemed far-fetched just a couple years earlier. - Stephen Hennessey

Mario Lemieux's Incredible Epilogue

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers

B Bennett

Lemieux had an earlier improbable comeback when, in 1993, he missed an extended stretch because of cancer treatments and returned to win the scoring title. Seven years later, after injury and illness forced him into retirement for 44 months, he came back again, tallying three points in his first game back with the Penguins, then finishing the season 76 points in 43 games. He played five more seasons. - Sam Weinman

Monica Seles's First Win After Shocking Stabbing

1995 Du Maurier Canadian Open

Focus On Sport

Tennis isn't short on incredible comeback tales—Connors in 1991, Agassi in 2002, Federer in 2017—but one stands apart: That of Monica Seles. On April 30th, 1993, Seles, midway through a match with Magdalena Maneeva, was attacked and stabbed on the court by a psychotic fan of her chief rival Steffi Graf. While the physical wounds would heal in a matter of weeks, it would take Seles nearly two years to mentally recover, returning in 1995 to win the Canadian Open, her first professional tournament in nearly two and a half years. - Coleman Bentley

David Duval's 2009 U.S. Open

David Duval 2009 U.S. Open - Final Round

Darren Carroll

Without a top-10 finish in any event since 2002, David Duval improbably played his way into contention at a rain-soaked Bethpage Black in the 2009 U.S. Open. Having overtaken Tiger Woods as World No. 1 in the middle of Tiger’s prime, Duval had been one of the game’s greats—for a short period of time—and entered that week 882nd in the world. That’s what made Duval’s name atop the leaderboard in a U.S. Open at Bethpage such a surprise, and his rally from a triple bogey at the fourth hole to earn a share of second place so impressive. - Stephen Hennessey

George Foreman's Second Heavyweight Title

Referee Joe Cortez (R) holds George Fore


If ever there was a young man’s sport, it would seem to be boxing. And George Foreman was young in January 1973 (just 23) when he first won the heavyweight title (Down Goes Frazier!). The second time he held up the championship belt, however, came at age 45 in 1994, seven years into arguable the most unlikely comeback in sports history. The three full years in the 1990s he was the heavyweight champ easily surpassed his 22-month reign in the 1970s. - Ryan Herrington

Vinny Pazienza's Counterpunch

Vinny Pazienza V Duran

Holly Stein

In 1991, Vinny Pazienza, the reigning light middleweight champion, broke his neck in a car accident and there were concerns about his ability to walk again, let alone fight. He spent three months in a metal halo that was literally drilled into his skull to hold his neck in place, allowing it to heal. Thirteen months after the accident, he fought again for the first time and won in ten rounds. In 1993, he won the Middleweight World Title. - Keely Levins

Eric Cantona's Red Devils Redemption

French Soccer Player Eric Cantona

Christian Liewig - Corbis

When Manchester United star Eric Cantona drop kicked a rival fan in the chest in January 1995, neither the Premier League nor the English judicial system knew what to do. The Premier League levied an eight-month suspension while the courts handed down a two-week prison sentence. Though the latter was eventually appealed, it seemed to certain to almost everyone—including Cantona himself—that he would never play in England again. Following a series of conersations with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, however, Cantona returned to Manchester United on October 1st, 1995, assisting and scoring against arch rivals Liverpool in his first game in nearly 10 months. - Coleman Bentley

Johnny Miller's 25th Career Win

Johnny Miller

Gary Newkirk

Miller had last won a PGA Tour event seven years before and after retiring to the television booth, had played a total of five tour events the previous four years. But at 46, he channeled his old magic at Pebble Beach, occasionally putting with his eyes closed to outduel Tom Watson to win his 25th career title. - Sam Weinman

Doug Flutie's 1998 Buffalo Bills

Patriots V Bills

Rick Stewart

The NFL had no use for Doug Flutie, with the Heisman winner making just 14 starts in four years after college. Banished to the CFL, he enjoyed a decade of success before the Buffalo Bills desperately needed a backup arm. When starter Rob Johnson went down, Flutie took the reins and guided the Bills to an improbable 8-3 record and playoff berth. Not bad for someone who’d been drafted 14 years earlier. - Joel Beall