Pats not alone in imperfection

The Baltimore Sun

With their loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, the New England Patriots officially fell out of the "best team of all time" debate.

Instead, fans are wondering where the Giants' win ranks among the greatest upsets in sports history. These shocking results are remembered as much for the great teams that couldn't win as for the upstarts.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still have three Super Bowl victories under their belts and could add a fourth next year. But the Patriots will never be revered as they would have if they had completed a perfect season with a win over the Giants. New England is not the first dominant team to see its historic aura shattered by a loss.

Here are 10 other teams and athletes whose legacies were undermined by upsets:

1968 Baltimore Colts

The Colts finished second in the NFL in scoring and first in scoring defense. They lost only once in the regular season, to Cleveland, but avenged that with a 34-0 demolition of the Browns in the NFL championship game. They were 17-point favorites in the Super Bowl against the New York Jets of the upstart American Football League. But Joe Namath authored one of the most famous upsets in history, and the Colts left with the wrong kind of legacy.

1969, 1971 Orioles

This remarkably well-rounded team averaged 106 wins over a three-year period. But the Orioles suffered World Series upsets to the New York Mets in 1969 and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. Because of those losses - despite their Series victory in 1970 - they rarely get their due when fans discuss the greatest baseball teams of all time.

1984-85 Georgetown

Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas entered their third Final Four in four years as a prohibitive favorite. A second straight championship might have solidified Georgetown as the best college team since UCLA's heyday. But Villanova, an eighth seed that had already lost to the Hoyas twice, played a near-perfect game in the final to beat Georgetown, 66-64.

1986 Miami

With an NFL-ready crew that included Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, defensive lineman Jerome Brown and receiver Michael Irvin, the cocky Hurricanes were considered too talented to lose to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions missed the memo, intercepting Testaverde five times and swiping the national title. Miami softened the blow by winning the next year with a different crew.

1988, 1990 Oakland A's

The Athletics averaged 102 wins over three seasons and did it with a power-hitting swagger reminiscent of the 1927 New York Yankees. They had great pitching as well. But Oakland suffered two huge World Series upsets, the first to a hobbled Kirk Gibson and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, the second to the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. The mighty A's won only one game in those two Series.

Mike Tyson

His resume would eventually be marred by prison terms and embarrassing losses to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. But his descent began on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo. Before that night, the "baddest man on the planet" had destroyed top opponents and sparked discussion of how he would ultimately compare to Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. But a 42-1 underdog named James "Buster" Douglas wiped all that away, battering the champion for 10 rounds. Tyson held belts again but never regained his aura of unassailable menace.

1990-91 UNLV

There was serious talk that the defending NCAA champion could go undefeated and establish itself as one of the three or four greatest teams in history. The Runnin' Rebels dismantled No. 2 Arkansas during the season and were rarely even tested. They had beaten Duke by 30 in the previous year's final, so a semifinal rematch seemed a formality. Except the Blue Devils won, 79-77, behind a great performance by Christian Laettner. One hated dynasty sprang from the ashes of another.

Michelle Kwan

She was the most accomplished figure skater in the world between 1996 and 2005, winning nine national and five world championships. But Kwan never won gold in the Olympics. In 1998, she couldn't hold off 15-year-old teammate Tara Lipinski. In 2002, she botched two landings and watched unheralded Sarah Hughes surge by her to the gold medal. In 2006, she pulled out, unable to battle through a groin injury.

2004 U.S. men

Since NBA players joined the national team in 1992, the United States hadn't lost an Olympic contest. The dominance was supposed to continue with a great coach, Larry Brown, leading young stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. But Brown couldn't connect with his charges. Argentina showed how far the rest of the world had come, outpassing and outshooting the United States in a decisive semifinal win.

2005 USC

With Heisman winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, the defending national champions were perhaps the most glamorous team in college football history. But they couldn't stop Texas quarterback Vince Young in a classic title game that cost the Trojans a shot at being considered the best ever.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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