By: Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)
The most successful University of Houston basketball season since the Phi Slamma Jamma days ended in the most heartbreaking way, on a contested buzzer beater by a freshman bench guy. Unfortunately, for the city of Houston, finishes like this are nothing new.
I’m not talking about heartbreaking loss, I’m talking finishes to a season, where there wasn’t a tomorrow, so I put this list together. Astros, Rockets, Cougars, Oilers, Texans, and even TSU have had seasons end in especially cruel fashion, so here are the 17 that came before Jordan Poole’s Hail Mary.
1979 AFC Championship Game: Oilers at Steelers
The Oilers were hammered by the Steelers the year before in the AFC title game, but on this day, they were right there with one of the NFL’s great dynasties. Down 17-10 in the third quarter, the Oilers were driving to tie the game, when they were on the wrong end of one of the worst calls in NFL history.
They settled for a field goal, and the Steelers scored the final 10 points of the game. That’s the closest the Oilers ever got to the Super Bowl.
1980 National League Championship Series: Phillies at Astros (Game 5)
The Astros broke a 2-2 tie with a 3-run bottom of the seventh, but the Phillies put up a 5-spot in the eighth to take the lead. The Astros did tie the game in the bottom of the inning, but a pair of doubles in the 10th brought home the winning run for the eventual World Series champs.
1981 National League Division Series: Astros at Dodgers (Game 5)
The Astros won the first two games of this series at the Astrodome only to lose the next two at Dodger Stadium. Still, they had Nolan Ryan on the mound for game 5, but couldn’t touch Dodgers starter Jerry Reuss, who tossed a 5-hit shutout and the Dodgers won the game 4-0.
1983 National Championship Game: Houston vs North Carolina State
It was setup perfectly for the Coogs. Michael Jordan and the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heel were knocked out of the 1983 NCAA in the Elite Eight, as was Ralph Sampson and Virginia. Once Houston got past Louisville in the National Semifinals, a championship felt like a lock, until this happened:
NC State was lucky to even make the tournament that year, it had to beat Virginia in the ACC Tournament. The Wolfpack won their first round game in overtime, and won two other games by a point before doing the same to Houston.
1986 National League Championship Series: Mets at Astros (Game 6)
Really, the entire NLCS was a heartbreak. The Mets got walk-off wins in games three and five at Shea Stadium, but game six was at a whole other level. The Astros led 3-0 in the ninth, but the Mets rallied to tie the game against Bob Knepper and Dave Smith.
The Mets took the lead with a run in the 14th inning, but Billy Hatcher extended the game:
The Mets scored three times in the 15th to regain the lead, but the Astros threatened and had the winning run on base, but Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the game.
1991 AFC Divisional Game: Oilers at Broncos
There were a few early 90s Oilers heartbreaks, but only one gets talked about. In the 1991 Divisional Round, the Oilers led the Broncos 21-6 in the first half and took a 24-16 lead into the fourth quarter, but John Elway led a touchdown drive to make it a one-point game. After a great punt by Greg Montgomery pinned the Broncos at their own two-yard line, Elway converted two fourth downs and setup Jeff Treadwell for a game-winning field goal.
1992 AFC Wild Card Game: Oilers at Bills
35-3 against a backup quarterback, that’s all that needs to be said.
1993 AFC Divisional Game: Chiefs at Oilers
I’m going out of order just this once for convenience. The Oilers entered this game winners of 11 in a row and led Joe Montana and the Chiefs 10-0 at halftime, but Buddy Ryan’s defense, which had been brilliant all year long, couldn’t get a stop in the second half, and the Chiefs won 28-20.
That was Warren Moon’s last game as an Oiler, the team went 2-14 the next season and left for Tennessee two years after that.
1993 Western Conference Semifinals: Rockets at Sonics (Game 7)
This was a pretty lousy series for six games as the home team won each game by at least nine points, but game seven in Seattle was a thriller. The Rockets led by 10 at halftime, only to see a big third quarter give the Sonics a 3-point lead heading to the fourth. The teams battled for 12 minutes, but Kenny Smith missed a jumper at the buzzer that would’ve won it in regulation, and in overtime, the Rockets trailed by 1 with 15 seconds to play. Vernon Maxwell airballed a jumper to seal the Rockets fate. Oh, yeah, there might’ve been some questionable calls that went in Seattle’s favor:
1995 NCAA Tournament: Texas Southern vs Arkansas (Round 1)
TSU just won its first NCAA Tournament game, but they could’ve done it more than two decades earlier in what at the time could’ve been the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. As a 15-seed, the Tigers took on Arkansas, the defending national champs, and after falling behind by 17 points in the first half, the Tigers stormed back to tie the game. Still, Arkansas led by eight with a little more than seven minutes to play, but the Razorbacks scored just six points the rest of the way. TSU had a chance to tie the game, but Randy Bolden missed a free throw with 6.1 seconds left.
After winning that game, Arkansas made it back to the National Championship Game before losing to UCLA.
1997 Western Conference Finals: Jazz at Rockets (Game 6)
Eddie Johnson leveled the series at two games apiece when he hit a buzzer at Compaq Center in game four, but Utah won game five at the Delta Center, setting up an elimination game. The Rockets led by double-digits in the fourth quarter only to see Utah storm back and tie it. Clyde Drexler missed a shot that would’ve given the Rockets the lead. Instead, the Jazz got the ball back with 2.8 seconds left.
I was at this game (Section 108, Row P, Seat 5) and 21 years later, I still have 4 mental images ingrained in my head: 1) Sedale Threatt’s look of terror before the ball was inbounded; 2) Charles Barkley’s late close-out; 3) The ball going through the net; 4) The Jazz celebrating on the near sideline at the other end of the floor. I will also never forget how quiet the concourse was as we walked out.
2004: National League Championship Series: Astros at Cardinals (Game 7)
Jim Edmonds won game six for the Cardinals with a walk-off home run, but Craig Biggio went deep to start game seven, and the Astros had Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan on the ropes the next inning. With two on and one out, it looked like Brad Ausmus might bust the game open, until Edmonds saved the day.
The Astros did score a run in the third, but the Cardinals got the game tied against Roger Clemens, and then Scott Rolen gave them the lead.
2005 World Series: White Sox at Astros (Game 4)
It was the Astros first World Series appearance, and though they were down 3-0, you still felt like they had a chance because of what the Red Sox had done the year before. The Astros lost the first three games by a total of five runs. The White Sox won game two with a walk-off homer, and game three went 14 innings. Game four stayed scoreless until Jermaine Dye singled up the middle to drive in what turned out to be the game’s only run. Then Bobby Jenks closed it out.
2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Jazz at Rockets (Game 7)
A decade after the Stockton shot, the Jazz and Rockets played a maddening series (from the Rockets perspective). Houston won games one and two at Toyota Center, but couldn’t win in Utah. After winning a tight game five, the Rockets were blown out in game six, setting up a game seven. The Jazz led by as many as 15 in the first half, though the Rockets battled back and took a took a 5-point lead with six minutes to play, they just couldn’t put the Jazz away, and Utah had the ball up two with 58 seconds left when one of the more frustrating possessions I can remember took place:
Had the Rockets won that game they would’ve taken on the eighth seeded Warriors in the West semis, so that made the loss even tougher to stomach.
2011 AFC Divisional Game: Texas at Ravens
The Texans probably would’ve lost the next week in New England, but this game was so winnable for them despite losing the turnover battle 4-0 with the Ravens recovering all three of their fumbles. The Texans trailed 17-3 after a quarter, but it was a four point game heading to the fourth, and the Texans had the ball near midfield, but a T.J. Yates interception ended that drive, and the Ravens drove for a field goal, so it was still a one possession game. The Texans drove inside the Baltimore 40 only to have Yates throw his third interception of the game. This is also known as the Jacoby Jones game.
2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Rockets at Blazers (Game 6)
The Rockets were .9 seconds away from sending this series back to Toyota Center for a game seven as Chandler Parsons’ put-back gave the Rockets a 2-point, but Damian Lillard happened:
Chandler Parsons giveth, Chandler Parsons taketh away. I don’t think he’s played a basketball game since, but has managed to sign two contracts worth close to $150 million.
2015 American League Division Series: Astros at Royals (Game 5)
I’m cheating a little on this one because its more of a spill-off from the game before when the Astros were six outs away from eliminating the eventual World Series champions before the Royals rallied to get the series back to Kanas City. In a similar fashion to what happened 11 years prior in St. Louis, the Astros took the lead in the second on Luis Valbuena’s 2-run homer, but Johnny Cueto retired the next 19 men he faced. The Royals took the lead in the fifth and put the game away in the eighth.