A Brief History
On March 1, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, returned to France from exile on the island of Elba to reclaim his empire. Of course, his great comeback only lasted about 100 days, but in that time he reshook Europe. Other people, teams and companies have also made impressive comebacks from near defeat, death, ruin or other calamities. Here we list 10 of those that rank among the greatest.
10. John Travolta, 1994.
After becoming a teen idol on television and having experienced success with movies such as Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy in the 1970s, Travolta suffered a decline in popularity until he hit it big again in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, in which he plays a heroin-using hit man. That performance put him right back into the A-List of movie stars and revitalized his career.
Honorable mention to Jessica Lange whose career was almost ruined by the remake of King Kong (1976), but she managed to rebound.
9. Dan Zarzeczny, 2012.
Yes, this is yours truly. In 2012, I suffered a blowout of my aorta and was taken to the hospital where it took seemingly forever to determine what was wrong. Meanwhile, my blood pressure dropped to 40/20, and I was flown to the Cleveland Clinic in a $36,000 helicopter ride, where emergency surgery was performed. Despite the surgery being a long shot in the first place (less than 1 in 10 survival under ideal conditions, more like 1 in a million under my conditions) and a surprise allergic reaction to heparin that gave me clots throughout my body, I survived only to be in a coma for over 2 weeks. My fingers and toes black from gangrene, doctors did not believe I would ever go home and would instead be institutionalized with brain damage, amputations and permanent kidney failure. Then, after undergoing another open heart surgery and second aorta repair only 4 months later, I was able to go home only 4 months after that to a normal life; no dialysis anymore, not crippled, no amputations, just back to being normal. Amazing. Medical bills have totaled over $2 million now, and my story proves that Americans have the greatest health care money can buy; that being the renowned Cleveland Clinic. (The doctors, nurses and aides that took care of me were fantastic. Really fantastic.)
8. Michigan State, 2006.
The Spartans engineered the biggest comeback in big college history with their 41-38 win over hapless Northwestern after having trailed 38-3. Incredibly, this enormous comeback was staged in Northwestern’s home field, making it even more unlikely. For some reason, Northwestern has a tendency to fall to defeat from the jaws of victory in a manner heartbreaking to its fans.
Honorable mention to golfer Paul Lawrie who overcame a 10-stroke deficit in the final round of the 1999 British Open to win the tournament in the biggest final-round comeback in golf’s history.
7. Philadelphia Phillies, 1990.
The biggest major league baseball comebacks have been from 12-run deficits, but this 10-run deficit went into the 8th inning. Behind 11-1 in the 8th, the Phillies rallied for 2 runs in the 8th and then for another 9 in the 9th as a result of errors, home runs and odds-defying luck, taking a 1-run lead into the bottom of the 9th that the Dodgers were not able to catch.
Honorable mention: In 2001, the Cleveland Indians, who were trailing 14-2 in the 7th inning, managed to pull out a win against the Seattle Mariners who had 8 All-Stars in their lineup.
6. Utah Jazz, 1996.
In the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) largest comeback in points ever, the Jazz erased a 36-point deficit to the Denver Nuggets to win the game.
Honorable mention: The largest deficit overcome during an NBA playoffs game was 29 points by the LA Lakers over the Seattle Supersonics in 1989.
Honorable mention to the University of Kentucky for its 31-point comeback win over Louisiana State in college basketball in 1994.
5. Patricia Neal, 1965.
A famous actress in her own right but also known for having an affair with Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm in 1965 at the age of 39 while pregnant. Despite being in a coma for 3 weeks and waking up unable to speak or walk, Neal not only relearned those skills but also delivered a healthy baby and resumed her acting career. She had won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in 1947 and the Best Actress Oscar in 1963 for her role in Hud and would go on to be elected to the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2003 before dying at age 84 in 2010.
Honorable mention to Helen Keller who was born normal and healthy in 1880 but became blind and deaf at 19 months old as a result of scarlet fever or meningitis. With the help of Anne Sullivan (as depicted in the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker), she went on to become a famous author and lecturer, an inspiration to people with infirmities everywhere.
4. The Red Army, 1941-1945.
After an invasion by Nazi Germany in 1941, the Soviet Union’s Red Army was reeling. With over a million men taken prisoner and having lost hundreds of miles of territory, it seemed the Nazi juggernaut was unstoppable. With the help, though, of massive war supplies and food from the United States and huge reserves of manpower, the Red Army reorganized and gradually pushed back the Wermacht, taking the USSR from the brink of crushing defeat to victory on the Eastern Front over the Nazis in perhaps the greatest wartime comeback in history.
Honorable mention to the U.S. Navy for its recovery after Pearl Harbor to rule the seas ever since.
3. Buffalo Bills, 1993.
In a game simply referred to as “The Comeback,” the Bills erased a 32-point deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime. The biggest comeback in National Football League (NFL) history, the Bills trailed 28-3 at halftime and 35-3 early in the 3rd quarter. Amazingly, the Bills achieved this milestone win without their starting (future Hall of Fame) quarterback, Jim Kelly, but were led instead by Frank Reich who threw 4 second-half touchdown passes. In 1984, Reich had also engineered the biggest (until 2006) college football comeback, leading the Maryland Terrapins over the Miami Hurricanes 42-40 after having trailed 31-0.
2. Richard Nixon, 1968.
After losing the 1960 Presidential election to John F. Kennedy despite having served the previous 8 years as Vice President, Nixon then lost the race for Governor of California in 1962, and his resulting bitterness seemed to seal the fate of his political career. Then, in 1968, he earned his party’s nomination for President, won the general election and would even go on to be elected to a second term. Unfortunately, he suffered a fate similar to Napoleon and went down in ignominious defeat when he was forced to resign the Presidency in 1974 and then live his life in relative exile despite efforts to rehabilitate him.
1. Napoleon Bonaparte, 1815.
As described in the introduction, Napoleon spent nearly a year in exile on the island of Elba until loyalists rescued him. Once back in France, the people, especially his former soldiers, flocked to him, and he resumed leadership of the country. Unfortunately for him, he met his “Waterloo” at Waterloo, where he was decisively defeated and was once again exiled; this time to the remote island of St. Helena where more was done to prevent an escape and where he eventually died. To put his comeback in a more modern perspective, it would be something like Adolf Hitler reemerging in 1946 to a resurgent Germany that once again went to war with the rest of Europe.
A late addition to this venerable list of Great Comebacks has to include the 2017 Super Bowl comeback engineered by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Down 28 to 3 in the second quarter, any thought of a comeback existed only in the minds of Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots. The Falcons of Atlanta had dominated the game, and there was no special reason to suspect a second half comeback of monumental proportions. How monumental? The previous Super Bowl comeback record was from only 10 points down!
The Falcons still led by 25 points with only a bit over 2 minutes to go in the third quarter, and with only a tad under 10 minutes to go in the game, the Falcons lead was 19 points. Not to worry, Patriots fans, Brady and friends stormed back to tie the game with less than a minute to go. The Patriots wasted no time in scoring the winning touchdown in overtime, winning 34 to 28. The shell-shocked Falcons had not scored in the second half, a testament to the Patriot’s defense contributing as much to the shocking comeback as the Patriot’s offense.
Question for students (and subscribers): What comebacks would you have included? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Jolley, Willie. A Setback Is a Setup for a Comeback. Griffin, 2000.