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LEEInks List: 10 worst Boston sports collapses

09.28.11 at 11:15 am ET

Boston sports have become known through the early 21st century as a success story. The city has celebrated seven championships among the four major sports teams since 2001. But as Boston fans know, the city’s sports scene has its share of historic and painful collapses — and this year’s September swoon by the Red Sox ranks right up there. Here’s a look at 10 of the most noteworthy Boston sports heartbreakers of the past 40 years.

10. 2009-10 Celtics

Just two years removed from their 17th NBA championship, the Celtics returned for a 12th NBA finals confrontation with the Lakers. The Celtics carried a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Los Angeles, but they suffered a crushing blow when center Kendrick Perkins blew out his knee early in the game and had to miss the rest of the series. The Lakers won 89-67, forcing a Game 7 in Los Angeles.

The Lakers and Celtics traded leads through the first half, but it was the Celtics who led 40-34 after two quarters. Boston came out strong in the second half, going on a 9-3 run to extend its lead to 13 points. But the Celtics could not hold on and the Lakers crawled back to within four at the end of the third quarter. The Celtics offense struggled in the final frame while the Lakers caught fire, outscoring the C’s 30-22 for an 83-79 win and their 16th NBA championship.

9. 1974 Red Sox

Before there was the horrific September of 2011, there was the terrible September of 1974. The Red Sox entered September leading Baltimore in the American League East by three games but sank fast. Boston lost six games from Sept. 1-6, three of which came against Baltimore, to fall 1½ games back in the division. The Red Sox never recovered, going 12-13 through the rest of the season and falling to a third-place finish.

8. 1979 Patriots

One year after making their second NFL playoff appearance, the Patriots and quarterback Steve Grogan re-armed for what looked like a promising season. In their first 10 games, the Patriots were 7-3 and poised to clinch a playoff spot, but it was all downhill from there. Coach Ron Erhardt‘s Patriots went 1-4 in their next five games and lost three straight to division opponents Buffalo, Miami and New York. A win in their season finale against the Vikings helped the Patriots finish above .500 at 9-7, but that would be the only accomplishment for New England that season. The Patriots finished second in the AFC East, one game behind the Dolphins, and failed to make the playoffs.

7. 2007 Patriots

The 2007 Patriots were perfect — through the regular season, at least. Tom Brady set an NFL record for touchdown passes in a season with 50 and the Patriots offense broke NFL records for most points (589) and touchdowns (75). The Super Bowl was the final element needed to complete the greatest season in NFL history. But a good offense is not always enough to win a Super Bowl.

The Giants shut the potent Patriot offense down in the first half, keeping the Patriots to just a 7-3 lead with one touchdown entering the second half. Giants broke the 7-3 deadlock in the fourth quarter when David Tyree caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to give the Giants a 10-7 lead. The Patriots struck back, as Brady finally connected with Randy Moss for a touchdown and a 14-10 fourth-quarter lead.

The Patriots had multiple chances to stop the Giants on the game-winning final drive. The Giants converted on fourth-and-1, and on second-and-5, Asante Samuel nearly intercepted Manning. On the next play, Manning completed a 32-yard pass to Tyree, who caught the ball against the side of his helmet. The Giants scored with 35 seconds remaining and held on to the 17-14 lead to ruin the Patriots’ perfect season.

6. 1989-90 Celtics

After Larry Bird missed the majority of the 1988-89 season with a foot injury, Bird and the Celtics came back for the 1989-90 season hungry for the success they had earlier in the decade. The Celtics had a decent regular season, finishing second in the Atlantic Division with a 52-30 record. Boston faced the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. The matchup looked advantageous for the Celtics; the Knicks were a struggling team that had lost four of its last five games entering the postseason and was 1-4 against the Celtics that year.

When the Celtics won the first two games of the best-of-five series, it seemed inevitable that the Knicks’ season was over. But the resurgent Knicks fought back, collecting two home wins to force a Game 5 in Boston. The Celtics lost on the parquet, 121-114, their season ruined with the backward sweep. Celtics coach Jimmy Rodgers was fired in the aftermath of the loss.

5. 1978-79 Bruins

The Bruins and Canadiens wrote another chapter of their storied rivalry in 1979 when they faced off in the semifinals of the NHL playoffs. After splitting the first six games, the rivals played the deciding Game 7 in Montreal. The Bruins entered the third period with a 3-1 lead, but the Canadiens battled back, tying the game on goals from Mark Napier and Guy Lapointe. The Bruins remained resilient, and Rick Middleton cashed in, beating Montreal goaltender Ken Dryden to give Boston a 4-3 lead with four minutes remaining. With the clock winding down, the Bruins made a fatal mistake on a line change and were whistled for too many men on the ice with 2:34 to go. Guy Lafleur capitalized, scoring a power-play goal with 74 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bruins eventually lost in overtime on an Yvon Lambert goal, their Stanley Cup dreams crushed.

4. 2006 Patriots

The Patriots marched into the 2006 AFC championship game against the Colts on Jan. 21, 2007, with momentum on their side. In the teams’ previous two postseason meetings (2003 and 2004 playoffs), New England topped Indianapolis and eventually went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Patriots dominated in the early going and took a 21-6 first-half lead. The second half seemed like it would be a formality for the Patriots, who would surely continue on to the Super Bowl. But Peyton Manning and the Colts came out and tore through the New England defense in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns and completing a two-point conversion to tie the score at 21. The game went back and forth from that point on. The Colts answered a Jabar Gaffney touchdown with a Jeff Saturday touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone. A Stephen Gostowski field goal for the Pats was equaled by an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Patriots took a 34-31 lead on another Gostowski field goal, and with just 2:30 on the clock, all the Patriots had to do was convert on third-and-5. They failed to do so, and Manning orchestrated an 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, giving the Colts a 38-34 lead with a minute remaining.

Tom Brady threw an interception with 16 seconds left, and the Colts, who had at one point been trailing by 18 points, went down in history as the only team to come back from such a large deficit in a conference championship game.

3. 2009-10 Bruins

The Bruins marched into the 2010 playoffs with wins in four of their last five games. In the first round, they topped Ryan Miller and the Sabres in six games before moving on to the Flyers. The Bruins won the first three games of the series but suffered a key loss in Game 3 when David Krejci, who had a goal and two assists in the series, broke his wrist on a check from Mike Richards. In Game 4, Simon Gagne returned from injury in style, scoring a goal in overtime to keep the Flyers’€™ season alive. Gagne continued to haunt the Bruin for the rest of the series, notching four goals and an assist through four games.

In Game 7, the Bruins had a 3-0 lead 15 minutes into the first period. A James van Riemsdyk goal at the end of the first cut the B’s lead to 3-1 heading into the dressing room, but Boston appeared to be in control of the game. Then, the Flyers scored twice in the second period to tie the game less than 10 minutes in. In the third period, memories of 1979 swirled around the Garden when the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice with nine minutes left. The recently returned Gagne played the spoiler for the final time in the series, scoring on the resulting power play to lead the Flyers to a 4-3 game and series win.

2. 1978 Red Sox

One of the benchmarks of the “Curse of the Bambino” era, the 1978 Red Sox held a 14-game lead over the Yankees as of July 19. As is told and retold in Red Sox lore, the Sox blew the lead and had to play the Yankees in a one-game playoff to determine the division winner.

The stories of the 1978 collapse sometimes leave out the details: Starting July 20, the Red Sox went on a 1-9 run, dropping their lead to 4½ games. By September, the Red Sox had their lead up to 6½ games, but then the Yankees came to town for a four-game series and swept the Sox, outscoring them 42-12 at Fenway Park and tying the Red Sox for first place. Boston went on a run at the end of September, winning eight straight games to draw even with the Yankees and forcing a one-game playoff. With the Red Sox leading 2-0 in the top of the seventh inning, Bucky Dent sparked a Yankees comeback with his famous home run out of the ninth spot to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead and help New York to the eventual 5-4 win. Bostonians have cursed Dent’s name ever since.

1. 1986 Red Sox

The 1986 Red Sox looked poised to end the club’s 68-year World Series drought entering the sixth game against the Mets with a 3-2 advantage. Most baseball fans know the story: The Red Sox were just one strike away from winning the title before blowing a two-run lead, eventually losing when a ground ball went through Bill Buckner‘s legs.

Like the story of 1978, however, the Buckner blame game leaves out some important details. Boston blew two leads, a 2-0 advantage in the fifth and a 3-2 lead in the eighth, to push the game into extra innings. Then, with a two-run lead in the 10th, Calvin Schiraldi recorded the first two outs on fly balls before allowing three straight singles to tighten the score to 5-4. With runners on first and third and a 2-2 count on Mookie Wilson, Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch, allowing the Mets to tie the game. On the next pitch, Wilson hit the ground ball that went through Buckner’€™s legs, allowing the Mets to walk off with the win.

The Red Sox had another chance to win the Series in Game 7. Boston grabbed a 3-0 lead early, but the Mets scored three in the sixth, three in the seventh and two in the eighth to clinch the World Series with an 8-5 victory and lengthen the Red Sox’ title drought.

Read More: bill buckner, Bucky Dent, Don Cherry, Eli Manning