Whenever there is a team in the modern era that finds a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (especially in the playoffs) the phrase “greatest comeback in history” seems to rear its ugly head and anyone who watches ESPN’s SportsCenter has to watch yet another “Top 10 Sports Comebacks of All-Time” where the “analysts debate” which comeback is best.
Before this past month’s America’s Cup, I was convinced that the 2004 ALCS where the Boston Red Sox rallied back from being 1 strike away from elimination to rallying off 4 consecutive wins against their bitter rival the New York Yankees, only to go on to win the World Series and break the 86 year drought that became known as the “Curse of the Bambino” would be the greatest comeback I would ever witness.
But then, the 2013 America’s Cup happened. Yeah, I know you are either blankly staring at that having zero clue what sport I am even talking about or quickly opening a new tab to Wikipedia that to be able to show off that you “totally know your sports”.
For those who are not completely familiar with international yacht racing (which is absolutely fine) I will give you a quick rundown of the sport and the format of the finals such that this comeback can have the proper backdrop. The America’s Cup is a series of boat races held where any qualified team can challenge the current Cup holder. The 34th America’s Cup which took place throughout September 2013, pitted current Cup holder, Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand.
Without getting into the complex details, it is basically a series of 18 yacht races where whichever team wins the most races wins the Cup. Each race is monitored and judged by a jury who much like referees in other sports, can assess penalties ranging from time advantages, direction (wind) advantages, or even penalizing teams by taking points away from wins.
So why was 2013 so interesting? Well, after the first 8 races had been completed, the score stood Team New Zealand 6 and Team USA 0. But wait a second, how can the score be 6-0 after 8 races? Well, Team USA technically won races 4 and 8, but they did not amass points after penalties placed by the jury. There is also a very strict 40 minute time limit from the scheduled start time of the race to complete the entire race, regardless of the actual start time, if neither team finishes the race by that 40 minute mark, the race is abandoned and rescheduled, even if a team is 10 feet from finishing.
Team USA won race 9 and Team New Zealand won races 10 and 11 making the score 8-1 after 10 races.
This brings us to September 19, 2013 with 2 races on the docket. Team New Zealand needs to win 1 of the next 8 races to secure America’s Cup. Team USA wins races 11 making the score 8-2. The second race of the day was postponed due to excessive winds.
Next day, race 12 gets postponed mid race, with Team New Zealand in the lead at the end of the 3rd leg and with less than 10% of the race to go, because the 40 minute time period had elapsed. Over the next 5 days, Team USA went on a tear and rattled off 6 wins to knot the score at 8-8 heading into the final day.
The final day of the 34th America’s Cup brought only the third winner-takes-all match in Cup history. Team New Zealand took the lead into the upwind third leg, but were unable to hold it. Oracle once again showed their upwind foiling ability and were able to pass with ease. Team New Zealand and Barker refused to give up, but in the absence of any mistakes from Oracle, they confirmed their victory 9–8 by 44 seconds on the line to the cheers of the crowd. This win meant that Team USA won 8 do-or-die races in a span of 6 days.
So the question remains: Is this the greatest sports comeback in history?
My answer: Probably, at least Top 5 of the ones I am aware of.
Will it ever be considered the greatest? Hell no, no one actually cares about international yacht racing and my guess is it is not America’s new up and coming sport. I will be something that lives on for a month or so, if it hasn’t already died off already, and will show up in some feature 30 for 30 or other ESPN plug to remind us that we are the USA and we dominate the sports that no one has heard of.
But that’s the damn shame of this whole thing, it exemplifies the “bubble” we live in, this miraculous comeback may be one of the greatest sports feats in history but it will never be given the credit it deserves.