Sometimes a team is such a perfect mixture of superstars and complementary players, with more chemistry than a Walter White high school class, that it’s almost impossible to imagine them not hoisting the trophy at the end of the season. But there’s a funny thing about sports—outcomes rarely follows the storyline you think they should. No matter how dominant the team, the journey to winning a championship takes more than just a little bit of luck. These five teams prove that no matter how talented your squad, the sports gods can have other plans.
2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers stomped through the NBA regular season with the ease of Godzilla roaming through Tokyo, racking up a whopping 66 wins and breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs without dropping a game.
LeBron James averaged 28 points per game, won the league’s MVP award and was surrounded by the best supporting cast he had played with since being drafted by Cleveland in 2003. Point guard Mo Williams shot 43 percent from behind the arc. Delonte West executed his lethal stepback jumper as a solid second option, and big men Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao cleaned up the boards.
Then the Cavaliers ran into an Orlando Magic team that was hotter than the Carolina Reaper pepper. Names like Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu, all of whom find themselves currently relegated to mediocrity, rained fire from beyond the 3-point line, and Dwight Howard dominated the Cavs inside. It was a lethal inside-outside combination the Cavs could not solve, and Cleveland was pushed aside in six games.
To win 66 games in the regular season and fizzle out in the Eastern Conference Finals will forever haunt Cavaliers fans.
2007 Missouri Tigers Football Team
The offense was stacked. Quarterback Chase Daniel threw for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns in Mizzou’s vaunted spread offense, while wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (1,055 yards and 9 touchdowns) and tight end Martin Rucker (834 yards and 8 touchdowns) created mismatches all over the field. Maclin, as well as the receiver opposite of him, Danario Alexander, both wound up in the NFL, while Chase Coffman lined up in two-tight-end sets and racked up 531 receiving yards of his own. Oh, and the Tigers also boasted a 1,000-yard rusher in Tony Temple.
After an early loss to Oklahoma in which Mizzou actually led for most of the fourth quarter, the Tigers went on a run, culminating with a win over no. 2 Kansas in the final game of the regular season. They catapulted to a no. 1 ranking and were set for a rematch against the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game, with the winner headed to the BCS Championship. But the emotion of the enormous victory over rival Kansas appeared to drain the Tigers, and Missouri’s offense fell flat in a 38-17 loss to Oklahoma.
What could have been?
RELATED: How the University of Missouri Became an NFL Pipeline
2006-2007 Phoenix Suns
The 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns represented the peak of the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense run by head coach Mike D’Antoni, with point guard Steve Nash pushing the offense at a breakneck pace and running a devastating pick and roll with a pre-knee-surgery Amar’e Stoudemire. When Nash wasn’t dishing, he was hitting from outside the arc, while guys like James Jones, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw bombed away from deep as well.
The team shot a blistering 49 percent from the field and scored 110 points per game, both of which led the NBA. The Suns won 61 games that year, a record that included a 17-game winning streak.
With a prolific offense and decent enough defense, the Suns were poised for a serious run at an NBA title. After dismantling the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the first round, the Suns had arch nemesis San Antonio on the ropes until a single play at the end of Game 4 changed everything.
As Steve Nash brought the ball up the court with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Spurs’ Robert Horry hip-checked him into the scorer’s table. The Suns’ bench erupted, and Stoudemire and Diaw, angered by the play, briefly ran onto the court to protect their teammate. The Suns won the game to knot the series at 2-2, but per NBA rules, Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for the pivotal Game 5. The Suns lost Game 5 by 3, then dropped the series in six games.
Learn the Steve Nash Dribbling Drill.
2007 New England Patriots
Tom Brady. Randy Moss. Wes Welker. The New England Patriots offense wasn’t just good in 2007, it was prolific. Brady threw for 50 touchdowns during the regular season, breaking Peyton Manning’s record of 49 (Brady’s mark stood until Manning reclaimed it in 2013 with 55 TD passes), and Moss caught a ludicrous 23 touchdowns, breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 22 (in 1987).
The defense, playing in the shadow of the behemoth that was the offense for really the first time in the Tom Brady era, was not to be overlooked. Cornerback Asante Samuel nabbed six interceptions. Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau roamed the middle of the field, with Vrabel chalking up 12 1/2 sacks. And who can forget one of the best safeties ever—Rodney Harrison—leveling wide receivers who made the poor decision to fly into his air space?
The 2007 Patriots didn’t just beat teams, they stomped them. In a five-game stretch from Week 2 to Week 6, the Pats scored no fewer than 34 points in any game, culminating in a 48-27 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 10, New England downed the Buffalo Bills, 56-10.
The Patriots waltzed to the Super Bowl to face the New York Giants, whom they had beaten back in the final week of the regular season. But things went sour for New England. It was almost as if the offense had scored too many points and had run completely out of gas. Brady mustered just two touchdown drives, but the Patriots still found themselves with a 14-10 lead in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. That’s when Giants quarterback Eli Manning found David Tyree for his infamous “helmet catch,” and the rest is history. The Patriots finished the season 18-1.
1997 Seattle Mariners
When your roster boasts a spritely Ken Griffey Jr., an up-and-coming Alex Rodriguez and a nearly un-hittable Randy Johnson, you’ve got a chance to do big things. The 1997 Seattle Mariners finished the regular season at 90-72, first in the AL West. They led the league in runs scored, and hit 264 home runs, an MLB record that stands today. Six players hit 20 or more home runs, including Griffey with 56 and Jay Buhner with 40.
Randy Johnson went 20-4, posting a 2.28 ERA and striking out 291 batters, while Jamie Moyer slotted in nicely behind him, going 17-5. Inexplicably, the Mariners couldn’t even make it out of the ALDS, even with home field advantage. Their vaunted offense went silent against the Baltimore Orioles, scoring no more than four runs in any game as they dropped the series 4-1.