Try, try again: The most disappointing rematches in sports
JUN 04, 2014 3:00p ET
The well-adjusted sports-cheering mind has an inherent default setting where we're inclined to root for championship rematches, or bouts that are clearly representative of the top two contenders at any given time. It's the reflexive instinct to root for revenge, or see one's redemption come to bear, that drives this emotion, but it's helpful to remember that sometimes, once in a while, the first meeting is so good that the rematch simply stinks.
As we prepare for the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat to butt heads again in the fishbowl of the NBA Finals, remind yourself of the mind-blowing fun of last year's seven-game contest and how this may not turn out to be as much fun as our first go-around. Here are five instances where exactly that happened:
No. 5: 1983 NBA Finals
Thanks to super-rookie Magic Johnson and the greatest scorer of all-time (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the Lakers knocked off the Sixers for titles in 1980 and 1982. Philadelphia finally got wise and beefed up its frontcourt, trading for Moses Malone. That would ultimately make all the difference, as Philly and the Lakers met again in the Finals for the third time in four years and the Sixers came out on top in a surprisingly uncompetitive four-game sweep.
Playing alongside Julius Erving, Malone -- who was clearly acquired specifically so he could contend with Abdul-Jabbar, should the teams meet yet again in the Finals -- was an unstoppable force for good. He was the Sixers' leading scorer and rebounder in all four games and easily won MVP honors. Unfortunately, the Lakers (still hurting from the loss of rookie star James Worthy, who broke his leg late in the season and missed the playoffs) were no match for the steamroller that was the Sixers. A rare goose-egg for the Lakers on the game's biggest stage made this series a forgettable footnote in the Finals lore.
No. 4: 1973 NBA Finals
Knicks fans will instantly regard this series as notable since it was the last time the team won a title, Hakeem Olajuwon's fingertip be damned. But it was the third time in four years that the two met in the Finals, each having came away victorious once, and this series certainly didn't have the drama of the 1970 matchup, famous for Willis Reed's inspirational Game 7 entrance. Even though the '72 series was only five games, it was the Lakers' breakthrough as Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West finally won their first title. All pretty dramatic stuff.
But the 1973 Finals had none of that. New York won four straight after dropping the opener, Willis Reed again won the Finals MVP award, as he'd done three years prior, and the Knicks' roster featured seven Hall of Famers -- although one, Phil Jackson, would not be inducted as a player, naturally. Regardless, perhaps the only notable footnote worth remembering is that the series-ending Game 5 also officially ended Wilt Chamberlain's historic career, as the iconic 36-year-old center retired soon after.
No. 3: 1978 Triple Crown
Coming in second in three straight Triple Crown can't be a great feeling. But at least when you come in second to the same horse in all three races, you can look in your horsie mirror, "Well, at least if that horse didn't exist, I would've won the Triple Crown! Also, I'm a horse who can talk, which is pretty cool."
Such was the sad fate of Alydar, who, despite his inability to produce human speech, came in second to Affirmed in all three races in 1978 and still stands as an incredibly unfortunate trivia fact. Alydar actually damn close in the Belmont, coming in behind Affirmed by a nose. Affirmed's Triple Crown, as we all know, is still the last time a horse has pulled off the trick. But you know what would've been about 1,000 times more memorable? If Alydar had pulled in front by the wire.
No. 2: 1994, Super Bowl XXVIII
To appreciate the suckitude of this rematch, let's think about what this Super Bowl did not have, compared to its predecessor. It did not have any single play as memorable as the Buffalo Bills' Steve Tasker outrunning a hotdogging Dallas Cowboys' Leon Lett on his way to the endzone with a sure-thing TD. That was a fun thing that most assuredly did not happen in this Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXVIII did not feature a high-scoring blowout, which at least hooks viewers in on some kind of morbid level. It did not feature 98,000 screaming fans at the pictureesque and open-air Rose Bowl, but rather 72,800 at the newly opened Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It did not account for nine touchdowns and two field goals, as the year before, but four TDs and five field goals. (Go, kickers, go!) The Michael Jackson halftime show gave way to The Judds, Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt. This was a very, very bad Super Bowl.
Most salient perhaps is to note that Buffalo did not score in the second half, making for an utterly depressing end to their string of four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Let's forget this game ever happened. Cool? Cool.
No. 1: 1974, Ali-Frazier II
It feels almost sacrilege to place Ali on any list that purports one of his fights didn't live up to the hype, but we must regard Ali-Frazier II in its proper context. The fight took place nearly three years after the first bout, dubbed the Fight of the Century. (Already, you're trying to top something called THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY. Good luck there.) Ali-Frazier I was for the undisputed heavyweight championship, while no belts were on the line in the rematch. This bout, won by Ali by a narrow albeit unanimous decision, only went 12 rounds while the first went 15, so the MSG crowd on hand and ABC Wide World of Sports audience at home got less bang for their buck. And it was generally regarded that both fighters were not nearly as athletic as they were three years back due to the inexorable march of time. (Thanks, time!)
Now, take into account that the Thrilla in Manila -- easily regarded as one of the best matches in the history of the sport -- followed just 20 months later, you have one of the great boxing bookends of any rivalry. Although a fine match in its own regard, Ali-Frazier II simply can't compete with what came before or after.