By winning their first-ever men’s basketball National Championship in program history, the 2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers etched their name in the history books for a number of reasons. Most notably, they went from rock bottom to the mountain tops, after suffering one of the most devastating losses in sports history. In honor of that achievement, here are the top-10 one-year turnarounds in sports history.
Honorable Mention: 2014-18 U.S. Men’s Curling
The world-famous “Rejects,” featuring the ever-popular John Shuster were considered failures four years prior to winning the gold medal in PyeongChang. In fact, they went 2-7 and were cut from the team after their performance in Sochi in 2014. They rebounded with a win at the 2015 U.S. national championships. Then, they finished third at the 2016 world championships and became clear contenders to represent the United States in South Korea. Next thing you know, they are being talked about everywhere and appearing on Late Night talk shows. What an incredible turnaround, and although it wasn’t a one-year comeback, it still deserved mentioning as an honorable mention.
10. 2016-17 Minnesota Twins
In 2016, the Minnesota Twins were among the worst teams in baseball, as they lost 103 games on the season. That set the path for one of the most incredible feats in sports. Prior to the 2017 Twins, no MLB team has ever gone from losing 100-plus games to earning a spot in the postseason the next season. Manager Paul Molitor led the underdog Twins to an 85-77 record and an American League Wild Card berth out of the Central division. They went on to lose in the Wild Card Game, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that they overcame adversity and beat the odds in 2017.
9. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics were awful during the 2006-07 season, finishing last in the East at 24-58. Then, of course, they pulled off one of the most remarkable offseasons in NBA history and formed one of the first modern-day super teams. Their dramatic improvement can be largely credited to a couple blockbuster trades that helped Boston acquire All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The next season, the Celtics went 66-16 – a 42-win improvement – and captured the NBA Championship. Longtime Celtics great Paul Pierce earned NBA Finals MVP honors, while head coach Doc Rivers completely reversed the dynamic of his own career.
8. 1997-98 San Antonio Spurs
During the 1996-97 season, the Spurs lost NBA MVP David Robinson multiple times for a number of different injuries, which caused their season to spiral out of control. San Antonio finished the season 20-62 and won the NBA lottery, earning the number one pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. As we all know, they selected Tim Duncan, who went on to win two MVP awards and three Finals MVP awards as a member of the Spurs. In his first season, he averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on his way to winning NBA Rookie of the Year and leading the Spurs to a 36-win improvement, ultimately shaping the legacy of what would become one of the all-time great franchises in professional sports.
7. 2012-13 Auburn Tigers
The 2013 Auburn Tigers completed one of the most incredible turnarounds in college football history that nearly ended in a national championship. In 2012, War Eagle won just three games, resulting in the firing of former title-winning coach Gene Chizik in favor of current Tigers coach Gus Malzahn. The following season would feature one of the most memorable plays in sports history. In the Iron Bowl, the “kick-six” was born, when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal attempt on the final play of the game from one end zone to the other for a game-winning touchdown. Malzahn ended up winning 12 games in his first season and earning a bid in the National Championship game, ultimately losing to Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
6. 2011-12 Indianapolis Colts
After Peyton Manning had led them to glory for 14 seasons in Indianapolis, it was time to move on from one of the best there ever was. You could say that the Colts needed a little Luck. Yes, that pun has been overplayed, but it couldn’t be more true in this situation. Indianapolis went 2-14 in 2011, earning the worst record in the league and the number one pick in the NFL Draft. The pick was used to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck. The rookie quarterback was also forced to go through coaching turmoil, as head coach Chuck Pagano was forced to take a leave of absence early in the season to battle cancer. Bruce Arians took over and teamed up with Luck to lead the Colts to an 11-5 season and an AFC playoff berth. Indianapolis won nine of their final 11 games and Arians was award NFL Coach of the Year, despite holding the interim tag and not beginning the season as the head coach. The success from this season spilled over into the following years that featured two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
5. 2012-13 Boston Red Sox
After breaking the curse in 2004, the Boston Red Sox went from loveable losers to a perennial powerhouse that was looked down on by most fans across the league. The lofty expectations caused a lot of drama to creep into the locker room at Fenway Park. The 2011-12 Red Sox finished 69-93, much to the delight of many baseball fans. With that being said, Boston rebounded the following season, improving their win total by 24 games at 97-65. More importantly, they went on to win the World Series, marking their third title in nine years. Not to mention, their 24-game improvement set the record for biggest turnaround for an MLB champion.
4. 2000-01 New England Patriots
The 1999-00 New England Patriots won just five games in Bill Belichick’s first season as head coach, so owner Robert Kraft was expecting improvement the following year. Then, disaster struck, as starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury early in the season. He was replaced by an unknown, second-year QB by the name of Tom Brady. The Michigan product led the Patriots to an 11-5 record and a run all the way to the Super Bowl. New England was an overwhelming underdog in the game, but Brady and Belichick found a way to pull it off. It is still considered one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history. Of course, the legendary pairing has gone on to win five more Lombardi Trophies, shattering the NFL record for most titles by a player, coach and tandem.
3. 2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers
While many might think that this is too high for a team that was a one-seed in both tournaments in back-to-back years. Sure, Virginia was the number one overall seed in 2018, but you have to understand what kind of expectations and pressure that kind of notoriety comes with. They were not only a virtual lock to win that first game, but they were expected to make a run to the Final Four and challenge for the title. Then, they became the first one-seed to ever lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Oh, and they didn’t just lose. The Cavaliers were blown out by 20 points. It completely shocked the sports world, but no one really paid any attention to UVA and how they would be remembered as the losing side of one of the most historical results in sport history that would completely change the complexion of Tony Bennett and his time as coach of the Wahoos. That is, until this season. Bennett led the Cavs to another remarkable season, earning yet-another one-seed in the tournament. This time, he led the Cavaliers to their second-ever Final Four, first-ever title game appearance and first-ever national title. I think it’s safe to say that any damage that might have been caused by the loss to UMBC has been completely repaired just one year later.
2. 1999-00 St. Louis Rams
Prior to the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the 1998-99 St. Louis Rams won just four games. Then, starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in prior to the start of the regular season. He was replaced by former undrafted free agent and ex-Arena League quarterback Kurt Warner, who went on to play out one of the most remarkable individual seasons in NFL history. Warner completely torched the entire league on his way to winning the league’s MVP award. Of course, it didn’t hurt having the addition of one of the most versatile players in NFL history in Marshall Faulk sharing the same backfield. Nevertheless, the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl, completing a tremendous turnaround and establishing a new power in the league. Of course, they would make it back to the Super Bowl the next season and get upset by the afore-mentioned New England Patriots.
1. 2015-16 Leicester City
I will forever be in favor of the European soccer format that features relegation zones for the bottom-four teams in each major domestic league. With that being said, it means there is never any true worst-to-first scenarios in play, considering the worst clubs each season drop out of the top-flight division. The 2014-15 Leicester City football team spent 19 consecutive weeks at the bottom of the English Premier League table, facing relegation with approximately three months left in the season. They went on to win seven of their final nine matches to jump out of the relegation zone and earn a bid in England’s top-flight the following season. They opened up the 2015-16 campaign as 5000-1 longshots to win the Premier League title. Leicester City achieved the impossible by knocking off the already-established hierarchy in English soccer and winning the Premier League title. Absolutely incredible.