With the heartbreaking loss endured in Super Bowl LI on Sunday, Atlanta has unofficially inherited the “Most Cursed Sports City” title for the time being. For proof, look no further than these, the 10 worst losses in the city’s history.
10) 2007 NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 2
After Sunday, Atlanta now has as many Super Bowl losses as they do failed NHL teams. The most recent of the pair was the Atlanta Thrashers, whose lone playoff experience was the 2006-07 season. Matched up with the New York Rangers for their first ever series, the Thrashers played the Rangers well in the first two games at Phillips Arena, though each concluded in a loss. Atlanta magic seemed to be in the air for Game 2, when Ilya Kovalchuk tied the game in the third period, but the Rangers were able to deal swift heartbreak, as Brendan Shanahan scored with just over four minutes to go, giving the Rangers a 2-1 victory. The Thrashers then dropped both sets at Madison Square Garden, completing the sweep, before failing to sniff the playoffs again before becoming the rebooted Winnipeg Jets for the 2011-12 season.
9) 2010 WNBA Finals, Game 1
Of Atlanta’s pro sports teams, it’s perhaps the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream who have been the most successful, having reached the WNBA Finals three times in four years between 2010-13. It was by far the first trip in 2010 that was the most painful, as the Dream were swept by the Seattle Storm in the best-of-five set. The series opened on a sour note, as Seattle’s Sue Bird sank the game winner with 2.6 seconds remaining on the clock, clinching a 79-77 Storm victory. It began a recurring theme of close Atlanta losses in the series; in the three games, Seattle’s margin of victory was a total of 8 points. The Dream earned two more conference titles, but were likewise swept.
8) 1991 World Series, Game 7
How can losing what some deem the best World Series of all time be so low on the list? The answer may not cheer Atlanta fans up, but it reigns true. The 1991 season was a magical run for a Braves team that only was making their first playoff appearance since 1982, but had won 65 games the year before. The Twins were likewise coming off a bad season, and the two turnaround clubs met in a thrilling seven-game Fall Classic. That 1991 season, concluding with Terry Pendleton winning MVP, Tom Glavine winning Cy Young, and Bobby Cox winning manager of the year, was the start of something big in Atlanta. Chris “Mad Dog” Russo put it best when he said that the 1991 Series was “a win for baseball, not a loss for the Braves”. That doesn’t excuse the painful Game 7, which featured Jack Morris and John Smoltz in a epic pitchers’ duel, one that ended in utility man Gene Larkin’s walk-off RBI single, the lone score in the 1-0 win.
7) Super Bowl XXXIII
Buckle up, Falcons fans in particular. The rest of the list is very Falcon not-so-friendly. The Falcons’ first Super Bowl trip, admittedly, was a major accomplishment of its own, the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance coming as a result of topping the mighty 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. Not many felt the Falcons stood a chance against the mighty Denver Broncos, seeking to earn back-to-back rings, but a game had to be played nonetheless. But the night before the game, an extra layer of facepalm was added when Eugene Robinson, recipient of the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award that very weekend, was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. Atlanta actually kept things relatively close, trailing only 10-3 in the latter stages of the second quarter, before Robinson himself was burned by Rod Smith. 80 yards, later, Denver led 17-3 and never looked back en route to a 34-19 win.
6) 2011 NFC Divisional Playoffs
The Falcons might’ve gotten the best of the Green Bay Packers in this year’s NFC title game, but that wasn’t the case in the 2011 Divisional Playoffs. Earning the NFC’s top seed with a 13-3 record, the Falcons seemed destined for a healthy playoff run, but were instead immediately taken care of by the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers, a 28-point second quarter being the main culprit behind a 48-21 walloping. The 27-point loss was the biggest ever divisional playoff defeat of a top seed. If it was any consolation, the Falcons did send nine players to the 2011 Pro Bowl. That didn’t help did it?
5) 2012 NL Wild Card Game
We could probably fill this list alone with key losses by the Braves during their crazy run of semi-dominance, (the but this one that occurred just outside of it ranks higher, as it’s one of those events with its own name, “The Infield Fly Game”. Trailing 6-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals in a single-game playoff, the winner moving on to the NLDS, the Braves had first and second with one out in the eighth inning when Andrelton Simmons popped one up into left field, and a misplay by Pete Kozma and Matt Holliday allowed the ball to drop and load the bases. However, left field umpire Sam Holbrook enforced the infield fly rule, automatically calling Simmons out despite the ball not only never being caught but landing nowhere near the infield. The Turner Field faithful reacted by tossing their empty containers on the field, delaying the game. The call marred what was the final game of Chipper Jones’s career.
4) 1988 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7
It’s tough to fully analyze the Atlanta Hawks. For the most part, they’ve always been decent, but never dominant. For example, the franchise is currently en route to making the postseason for the 10th consecutive season, but they’ve advanced to the conference finals just once, when there were swept by LeBron James and the Cavs in 2015. The Hawks also had these problems in the 1980’s. Between 1982-89, they made the playoffs all but one season, but never advanced past the second round, as teams led by Dominique Wilkins would fall to Larry Bird’s Celtics or Isiah Thomas’s Pistons. The most painful loss came in the 1988 Eastern semifinals, where the Hawks had clawed back from a 2-0 deficit in the series, leading 3-2 before Boston won Game 6 to set up a winner-take-all match at Boston Garden. Wilkins and Bird dueled all night, in a game that never got out of hand. Wilkins would end up outscoring Bird 47-34, but Bird’s clutch shooting down the stretch, including a dagger with 27 seconds to gave Boston a 118-116 win.
3) 2013 NFC Championship Game
Sunday didn’t mark the first time the Falcons blew a big lead in a big game. In their previous trip to the NFL playoffs, the Falcons were the NFC’s top seed, this time earning a win over Seattle in the divisional round before welcoming the San Francisco 49ers to the Georgia Dome. Thanks to a pair of Julio Jones touchdown grabs, the Falcons led 17-0 in the second quarter, but two quick San Francisco scores narrowed it to 17-14. A quick drive before the halftime gun concluded in a Tony Gonzalez touchdown score, giving the Falcons a healthy 24-14 lead at the break. It would be the last time they would score on the season. The vaunted 49ers defense, denied a trip to the Super Bowl by the New York Giants the year before, held Atlanta to nothing in the second half, and Frank Gore scored twice, and the 49ers walked away with a 28-24 victory.
2) 1996 World Series, Game 4
Making the Braves’ lone title during their run of dominance more painful is the fact that it’s the city’s only sports title….but the usual feeling of joy wasn’t exactly there, with the wounds of the 1994 strike season still fresh when Atlanta topped Cleveland in six games in 1995 Fall Classic. That had a chance to repeat in 1996, taking on a New York Yankees team trapped in an 18-year World Series drought, which might as well have been 18 centuries in The Bronx. The Braves took the first two games at Yankee Stadium, including a 12-1 win in Game 1, before the Yankees Game 3 in the closing Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Nonetheless, momentum seemed to be permanently shifted to the Braves’ side in Game 4, leading 6-0 after five innings. But since you’ve gotten this far, you know the Braves would blow that lead, and blow it they did. The Yankees earned three runs in the sixth before officially tying it in the bottom of the eighth on backup catcher Jim Leyritz’s three run blast. The Yankees would score two more runs in one extra frame to win 8-6, tying the series. The next night, Andy Pettitte closed out the stadium with eight shutout innings in a 1-0 Yankees victory, before the Yankees offically began their dynasty with a 3-2 win back in The Bronx. The Braves were also the Yankees’ victims in the 1999 World Series, a four game sweep.
1) Super Bowl LI
I mean, what else could it have been? Things got off to a bumpy start upon the Falcons’ very arrival, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan misplaced a backpack containing Atlanta’s game plan for the big game. But that didn’t seem to be a problem as the Falcons took a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter, before providing instant relief to their fellow partners in choking, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Indians. Not more really needs to be said in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s epic choke, but it’s so appropriate for the