Almost invariably, sports games on TV and in the movies are extremely close, go down to the wire, and are decided by a crucial, unbelievable, Million to One Chance
play at the last second. Usually, the game in which this occurs is the grand finale
; the championship or playoff game pitting the ragtag underdogs
against the seemingly unbeatable Opposing Sports Team
- Every baseball game ends either with (A) a dramatic walk-off home run, (B) a clutch strikeout or incredible defensive play while the tying and/or winning runs are on base, or (C) a super-close play at home plate. Full counts are terribly common.
- Every hockey game ends with The Hero getting a breakaway and going one-on-one against the goalie—or, of course, a shootout, which is a series of forced one-player-vs.-goalie breakaways.
- Every American Football game ends with a Hail Mary, or some bizarre, convoluted ace-in-the-hole offensive play that the team thought of in practice. Or, if the protagonist team is in the lead (which never happens because people like comeback stories), a goal line stand.
- The score usually puts one team up by at least four points, so you can forget about those last-second winning field goals (worth only three points) from 15 yards out. Writers seem to think this sort of thing isn't dramatic, when any sports fan can tell you otherwise.
- Every basketball game ends with free throws with no time left or a three-pointer made in desperation. Often from across the court.
- Alternately, having to dunk on The Rival / the nastiest player from the other team.
- Buzzer beaters are also mandatory.
- Every race ends with a (sometimes literal) photo finish.
- Every golf tournament comes down to making a long putt, or to getting out from a trap or some other nasty place.
- Every association football match ends with a spectacular last-minute goal, usually from a free kick. Or sometimes a last-minute penalty, or a penalty shootout.
- Every bowling game comes down to either striking out or converting an extremely tough split.
- Every poker game comes down to a high-ranking hand being beaten by an even higher-ranking hand.
- Every boxing match ends with a knockout, usually after the scrappy underdog has taken a beating that would certainly put him behind on points, and been knocked to the mat the maximum number of times possible without losing by TKO.
- And so on.
Of course, this is not to say that the hero team
will necessarily be successful and win the game in this final play. It's become a trope itself to have the final shot miss, the closing field goal go wide right, or that last deep fly ball to die at the warning track in order to present a Downer Ending
and teach an Aesop
that you can't always win and that it's okay to lose sometimes. (And also note that it doesn't
make the example an aversion or subversion of this trope; the game is still decided on the final play, even if not in the protagonists' favor.) In Real Life examples this is even more prominent; close games that come Down to the Last Play
are often contested by two evenly-matched teams, both of which are deserving of the win, and thus there isn't a clear protagonist if one is not in either team's fanbase.
This happens, because there are very few circumstances in which it is interesting to see a routine pop fly with a four run lead or a second string quarterback sit on the ball for three downs.
Often preceded by the Miracle Rally
, and the one player who is involved in the dramatic final play is often the one underdog player
who finally gets the chance to prove himself.
A Super Trope
to Who Needs Overtime
. Contrast with Curb-Stomp Battle
See Just in Time
for the non-sport variation of this trope. In politics, this trope is called Decided By One Vote
; contrast with Landslide Election
. See also Underdogs Never Lose
and Misfit Mobilization Moment
. When a game itself is structured so that almost every
match comes Down to the Last Play
, the system enabling this is a Golden Snitch
. Very distantly related to Critical Existence Failure
, which is about video games where only the last hit point counts as far as staying alive or uninjured.
In Real Life
this is much rarer than in fiction, but it does happen (see examples below).
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Anime & Manga
- Eyeshield 21 does this a number of times, such as with Sena's first game against Koigahama and most of the Devil Bats' games during the Fall Tournament. It often doesn't end up so fine and dandy though.
- Subverted in a wildly over-the-top fashion in Sonic X - the speed-obsessed character Sam Speed had demanded a rematch against the titular hedgehog, who had humiliated him at the start of the series. Sam has procured an experimental rocket-jet-car-thing from somewhere, and the race is on! It comes down to a photo finish... until playback reveals that Sonic had reached the finish line WELL ahead of his opponent, hopped over it so as not to break the tape, mugged for the camera briefly, then run back to resume the race for the 'photo finish'.
- Used at least twice in The Prince of Tennis, with Ryoma having to play an extra match when one of the normal games is declared a draw or forfeited by both teams. In the Hyotei arc, he plays Hiyoshi after Kawamura and Kabaji have to draw since they're * both* too injured to continue and both teams. In the anime-only American arc, Sengoku and Bobby Marx pull something similar and Akaya Kirihara is hurt during his game with Kevin Smith, so it's up to Ryoma to finish the last one * and* his feud with Kevin
- In one episode of Lucky Star, there's a relay race in which Miyuki is the final leg runner for her team (it wouldn't do to have a main character somewhere in the middle), and the race is of course decided by a photo finish: her larger-than-average chest breaks the ribbon before the other runner crosses, granting her team the victory.
- Kinnikuman wins so many matches in this fashion that he's been nicknamed the "Miraculous Comeback Fighter."
- Parodied in Excel♥Saga with one of the sports show episodes. Excel's team loses by a ludicrously huge margin (several million runs) in the last inning. Apparently the Downer Ending version of this trope is popular in Japan.
- Every.Single.Lacrosse match in Futari wa Pretty Cure is won by Nagisa scoring at the last second. Every. One. This is not an exaggeration. And there are about 6-7 across two seasons. Originality it's not the writers' friend when it comes to Lacrosse games, it seems.
- In Chapter 58 of the Oh My Goddess! manga, Megumi's four-member softball club forms a team with Keiichi, Belldandy, Urd, Skuld, and Sora to play against N.I.T.'s baseball team, comprised entirely of Jerkasses. During the bottom of the ninth, Megumi's team is ahead by one run when it looks like it's going to be a Downer Ending when the opposing team scores two runs in the ninth inning, but the first runner failed to actually touch home plate, meaning he's out, and Megumi's softball club wins by one run.
- Young football star Aizawa Suguru starts off the opening chapter of the manga Area no Kishi by making what the announcers describe as a "magical pass" in the final moments of an international youth football game against Brazil. His teammates shot is easily blocked by the Brazilian goal-keeper, however since the deflected ball just so happens to land at Suguru's feet, he is able to make the last second shot that ends the game in a tie between Japan and the reigning champions.
- Future GPX Cyber Formula
- In EP 3, Hayato took third place at the qualifying round of the Fujioka Grand Prix by 0.002 seconds by a photo-finish line.
- Episode 26 is even more blunt. His Super Asurada is having a problem, yet he beats Shinjyo out of determination in the last stretch in the English GP. In fact, Hayato is always seems to be this case up until SAGA Arc.
- This almost always happens in every duel in every Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, with the opponents getting in the lead by having the more favorable card/field presence first and cornering the protagonist, setting things up for the latter to win at the last possible moment. Often results in accusations of Ass Pull on the part of the protagonist.
- The anime adaption of Inazuma Eleven plays this straight in most of the matches, except the second season, in which The Worf Effect takes places to show how badass the bad guys are when they debut.
- Very common in the Pokémon anime. Trainers can use anywhere from one to six Pokemon to battle each other, but matches will almost always end with a one-on-one fight.
- Adding a layer to that, many of those final one-on-one fights will end with both combatants being so exhausted that whoever can land the next successful attack will win. The last play of the last play. One major exception is in the Hoenn region when Ash faces Wattson. His Pikachu had absorbed a lot of electricity by mistake, and proceeds to KO all 3 of Wattson's Pokemon with only Pikachu.
- Almost all the matches shown in the anime version of Ro-Kyu-Bu! comes down to this.
- The Girls vs. Guys match was won by the girls through a game-winning shot from Maho via an unexpected assist from Tomoka.
- Hinata made a game-winner against Class D.
- The match against Suzuridani was supposed to be a come-from-behind victory for Keishin, if only Saki did not miss the game-winning shot.
- In their rematch in the prefectural tournament, however, she made the game-tying shot to send it to overtime. Tomoka almost won it for Keishin this time, but only if she made the game-winning shot in time.
- Downplayed in Hidamari Sketch. Arts A's victory in the medley brought them victory... over Arts B. School-wise, they're still second last.
- In Silver Spoon, the Big Game that will decide whether the Yezo High baseball team goes on to the finals comes down to this. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, our heroes are ahead by one and pitching, and talented freshman Komaba is on the pitcher's mound versus the local champion's best batter. Heartbreakingly, Reality Ensues and the more experienced batter hits Komaba's pitch, winning the game for the champs.
- Played with in Dragon Ball. Goku's performance in the final round of each Budokai Tournament is always this case, except that it's his opponents who barely win. Goku wins only once in the show's finale.
- In Reality Is Fluid Eleya is watching a springball* quarter-final match that goes down to the wire because the referee screwed up. It ends in a sudden-death tiebreaker, which her guy wins.
- In the Remake of The Longest Yard, the Cons manage to score on a last second trick play after mounting a miracle comeback to put them one point behind the guards. They have the choice of either kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime, or to go for two and the win. They choose the latter, setting up another trick play that results in them scoring and winning the game.
- In Angels in the Outfield, Mel Clark has pitched an entire game, and his last batter is the other team's heavy hitter. With two outs, and a foul ball that was nearly a home run, it comes down to one last pitch. The batter hits a line drive up the middle, but Mel manages to make a diving catch for the final out, the win, and the pennant for the Angels. And he did it all with no angel help whatsoever.
- Happy Gilmore, because of the play it as it lies rule, Happy is forced to putt for a victory with a collapsed TV Tower fallen on the green. Refusing to putt around it to take the tie and play for the tiebreaker, Happy instead plays it through the tower like it's a putt-putt course, and sinks the winning putt to win the Tournament, and more importantly, to beat Shooter Mc Gavin and win his grandmother's house back.
- In The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, the game comes down to the last runner trying to stretch a lucky hit and a fielding error into an inside-the-park home run. He slides into home plate just as the catcher tags him with the ball. It took a few suspenseful seconds for the home plate umpire to call it.
- The Rocky series often has the boxing matches go down to the final round — and possibly by decision. Averted in Rocky III, when the final fight ends in only three rounds.
- Major League movies:
- In Major League, the final play in the Big Game comes with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but is otherwise a unique twist. The beat-up, has-been catcher "calls his shot" to the bleachers in order to draw the infield out, and then bunts for a base hit, allowing the winning run to score from second. Also, if this play had failed, they would have gone to extra innings rather than losing, as the game was tied.
- Major League 2, however, plays the trope traditionally. With his team clinging to a one-run lead, in a move that would be unheard of in real baseball, Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn intentionally walks the guy he's pitted against, which results in the bases being loaded, in order to set up a confrontation with Parkman, the opposing team's big power hitter and the movie's central antagonist. Vaughn, of course, strikes Parkman out and wins the game.note
- Major League Back to the Minors ends on a home run by the big-hitting prospect, despite the fact that there were no outs in the game and it was an exhibition.
- Mr 3000 and Mr Baseball not only both have "Mr." in their title, but both also end on a game-winning run scored by a bunt. Both bunts also prevent the titular character from making it into the record books (it leaves Bernie Mac stranded on 2,999 hits in the former, and it breaks Tom Selleck's home-run streak in the latter).
- Downer Ending example: In the Pete Maravich biopic The Pistol, Maravich makes an apparent buzzer beating shot and starts celebrating...before realizing that the shot came a split second too late.
- Averted in Rudy: Rudy gets to play at the end of the climactic game only because Notre Dame already has a huge lead over their opponent.
- The movie Hoosiers is based off the real story of tiny Milan's victory over giant Muncie Central. The game was won by a shot at the last second.
- The Mighty Ducks series of movies always ended in some dramatic fashion, though never in overtime. The first movie ended on a penalty shot, the second in shootouts; the third movie again used the trope by having a scoreless tie all the way to the last seconds of the third period, and the Ducks being content with a tie against the varsity team. Then, a brilliant defensive play allows the Ducks a goal-scoring opportunity—from Goldberg, who had been the goalie in the previous two movies and was still a mostly defensive player.
- Cool Runnings, based on the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, uses the trope, though not in the way the viewer expects. The team has a chance for a medal, but crashes in their final run. The inspiration is there when they carry their bobsled across the finish line to finish the race.
- In the Remember the Titans. movie, the Titans overcame a 7-3 deficit by using a trick play (ironic in that, before the season began, Coach Boon looked down his nose at trick plays, as it were) for a 75-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the game to win the state championship. Averted by the real-life 1971 T.C. Williams Titans; in the championship game, the opposing team was not only shut out, but ended up with negative rushing yardage.
- In Escape from L.A., Cuervo Jones forces Snake Plissken to play a deadly game of solitaire basketball for the amusement of him and the crowd.
Cuervo Jones: "Two hoops, full court, ten-second shot clock. Miss a shot, you get shot. Shot clock buzzer goes off before you shoot, you get shot. Two points for a basket, no three-point bullshit. All you gotta do is get ten points. That's it." *dramatic pause* "By the way, nobody's ever walked off that court alive. Nobody."
- Snake does indeed win, by way of making a lay-up, a jump shot from free throw distance, a jump shot from three-point distance, a half-court shot, and a full-court shot. After a few seconds of stunned silence, Cuervo prepares to kill Snake anyway, but Snake is saved when an earthquake happens, giving him the opportunity to escape the caged basketball court, and then the stadium itself. For bonus points, Kurt Russell actually made all those shots (including the full-court shot) during filming, although the number of takes it required is unknown.
- Mystery, Alaska; with seconds on the clock, the underdog hockey team facing off against the New York Rangers needs a single goal to tie and therefore take the match into overtime. In agonizing slow motion, their captain makes a buzzer-beating shot... that strikes off the goalpost, producing the loud, piercing clink that is one of most heartbreaking sounds in sport.
- Happens in the opening game of High School Musical 3, where with 16 minutes to go the Wildcats are losing horribly, but with upbeat inspirational music in their ears manages to even the score, and manages to score a basket just as the clock ticks from 1 to 0.
- Played with in the Kevin Costner movie Tin Cup, where the has-been pro (played by Costner) makes an impressive comeback in the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. It's down to the final hole, and he needs a par to tie and a birdie to win. The hole was a par 5 with a green guarded in front by a lake and he would have to murder his 3 wood to get it onto the green. Any sane golfer would lay up, he doesn't. He hits it into the lake, refuses to drop near the green, hits from where he hit his second shot, going for it again, hits it into the lake again, rinse and repeat until he holes the shot with his last ball in the bag for a 12 (had he dunked that one, he would've been disqualified). More than a few critics found this broke their Willing Suspension of Disbelief, arguing such would never happen in a "real" golf tournament. Until it did, more or less, see the Real Life section below.
- In the final moments of the last game of Shaolin Soccer, the score is tied at 0 - 0 (because the enemy team decided they would rather win by injuring enough players on the good team to force them to forfeit). Naturally, the Love Interest shows up when they reach the point where they are one player short, and she and the main character combine their Kung Fu to make the ultimate shot and win the game.
- In North Dallas Forty, the professional (US) football team of the main characters was predicted to win their championship game and move on to the Super Bowl, but were down by a touchdown near the end of the game. They scored the touchdown, and only needed the extra point to tie and move into overtime. Unfortunately, they fumbled the snap and didn't make the extra point, and so lost the game to the underdog.
- In the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the backstory of Ray Finkle, the primary villain, involves the disastrous loss of that year's Super Bowl by one point due to Finkle missing the 26-yard field goal that would have won the game for the Miami Dolphins. Finkle lost his mind as a result and was committed to a mental hospital, and blames the whole thing on Dan Marino, who according to Finkle didn't hold the ball "laces out" like he was supposed to. His vendetta against Marino and the Dolphins would lead to the plot of the movie.
- A League of Their Own, where the comeback comes from the Opposing Sports Team, with Kit Keller getting the big hit and then plowing over her sister to score the winning run.
- When Saturday Comes in which Sean Bean plays a football player named Jimmy Muir. He spends all the movie trying to become a member of Sheffield United. Of course, his very first match with them ends with him shooting a penalty at the 89th minute.
- In Didier, the team needs one more point to win against the PSG. Of course, Didier marks. After turning back into a dog.
- In Caddyshack, Danny's final putt decides both a substantial bet and his own prospects for the future.
- Beautifully averted in Blood of Heroes when the climactic three-period game is decided in the middle of the second inning.
- Space Jam does the same thing that Shaolin Soccer does, except its Bill Murray showing up instead of the Love Interest (Bugs had that with Lola) and Michael Jordan using his unrealized Looney Tunes-type abilities to win the game and spare himself and the Toons from getting turned into amusement park attractions.
- In the 2006 film Inspired By Vince Papale, Invincible, the movie ends with the first home game of the Philadelphia Eagles — one which they win without going into overtime because Papale calls an audible and then forces a fumble on the resulting punt, which he picks up and runs in for a touchdown.
- Harold Lloyd silent film The Freshman features Harold picking up a loose football and running it all the way down the field for a touchdown as time expires.
- Steve McQueen's Le Mans ends with the 24 hour race as a three car shootout on the last lap, and that is after the previous lead car retires on the penultimate lap. This was nearly Truth in Television though since the movie was made in 1970 and the 1969 race was a two car last lap shootout (see Real Life examples below).
- In Any Given Sunday, Quarterback Willie Beaman, wins the crucial playoff game by diving into the Endzone during the final play of the game.
- Thunderstruck has the final game for Brian's team feature the home team down two points, ten seconds left on the clock, and possession of the ball by the klutzy protagonist. He passes to a more competent player, who shoots a 3-pointer, but is blocked, leading to Brian making his only 3-pointer in the film other than when he had Durant's "talent".
- In Rush, James Hunt needs to finish third or better in the last F1 race of the season to be world champion. He finishes third on the last lap of the race to beat Lauda by a single point and becomes world champion.
- The championship match at the climax of Bend It Like Beckham comes down to a 1-1 tie, broken by Jess's penalty kick with mere seconds left on the clock.
- Older Than Radio: In the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem Casey at the Bat, the great Casey, after deliberately getting two strikes to build even more dramatic tension, strikes out to end the game.
- Justified in the Harry Potter series: Quidditch matches end only when the Golden Snitch is caught; catching the Snitch is also worth 150 points, usually resulting in a win for the team whose Seeker catches it. Thus, most matches end with the Seekers in a mad race for the Snitch. However, large portion of matches still end up by a winning team winning by 10 points.
- The number of Harry Potter parodies that have pointed out how senseless this rule is are too numerous to list. ("This game is very complicated, but none of the rules actually matter, because once you catch this little golden thing everything else becomes irrelevant and your team automatically wins.") Fans have pointed out that this may be because Hogwarts-level Quidditch isn't really very "good" Quidditch — the Quidditch World Cup scene shows scoring happening at a much faster rate, thus making the 150 points from the Snitch less impressive and increasing the probability that grabbing the Snitch too early might lose you the game (as was done deliberately in the Quidditch World Cup). Further, in the Hogwarts Quidditch tournaments, the exact score can matter for a team's placing, meaning even a team that would win when the Snitch is caught will wait if getting it too soon would win the game but lose the championship. (As happened with Gryffindor in Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, and Half-Blood Prince.)
- It also bears noting that J.K. Rowling's "Quidditch Through the Ages" book characterizes Quidditch's rules as primarily being a senseless, thrown-together mess of traditions kept for tradition's sake. (A lot like some real sports, come to think of it.) The Snitch itself only exists because of a riot that once broke up a Quidditch game when the players stopped playing to catch a bird intentionally released by the chief of the Wizard's Council so that the players would hunt the bird for his own amusement rather than play Quidditch for his own amusement. The 150 number is how many gold coins he offered as an incentive, and we're told that it would be worth quite a bit more today, so it's probably lucky that it's only 150.
- The film version of The Philosopher's Stone emphasises this element of it further, although the likelihood is far more that this is a case of sloppy research than deliberately lampshading this trope - Wood explains to Harry, directly after explaining scoring rules with the Quaffles, that "you catch [the snitch], Potter, and we win."
- The John Grisham novel Playing for Pizza opens with the main character, a journeyman 3rd string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, blowing a colossal lead in the AFC Championship Game and being knocked unconscious-costing his team a chance at the Super Bowl. He's so disgraced he has to play in Italy.
- Deliberately invoked in Little Myth Marker, where Skeeve bets a huge fortune on a single hand of Dragon Poker, because he doesn't have a clue how to play and figures an (incorrectly assumed) 50% chance is better than any odds he could get if he tried.
- Happens in a golf game in the McAuslan series, which hinges on the final hole, the final game of a five-game series, and the next-to-final desperate shot from the depths of a sand trap. This is, of course McAuslan's fault.
Live Action TV
- Full House did this thrice, with hockey in "Nice Guys Finish First," boxcar racing in "Michelle a la Cart," and with baseball and a twist in "Stephanie Plays the Field."
- Family Matters:
- "Making the Team," from the fall of 1991, sees the normally clumsy Urkel lead an amazing second-half comeback for his team. Down 20 points late in the third quarter, Urkel connects on a shot just before the buzzer for the go-ahead points and help the team win the game.
- A couple of weeks later, in "A Pair of Ladies," Urkel gets revenge on Carl's big-talking, thinks-he's-macho, hustling superior officer Lt. Murtgauh in a poker game when the nerd one-ups Murtgauh's would-be-winning hand with "two pairs of tens".
- Happy Days: The 1977 episode "A Shot in the Dark," where Richie becomes a basketball hero for Jefferson High when his last-second shot wins a big sectional game. In the next round, he's fouled at the buzzer with Jefferson trailing by two points; he makes the first shot to pull Jefferson to within one, but on the shot that would send the game into overtime ... he deliberately misses.
- Averted in the DS9 baseball episode, "Take Me Out To The Holosuite". The main characters lose the game 10-1 (with their single run being scored on an accidental bunt).
- Glee. In two seperate games, at the start of the Superbowl Shuffle episode, they lose a game by making a moronic play call in a situation where all they need to do is have Finn just take a knee. Then at the end of the episode they win another game when the other team ignores the same basic game ending strategy and and do the exact same error as Finn did in the first. There is a lengthy analysis of this at the Glee JBM for season 2 page.
- In one episode of The The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will is shown to be a very good basketball player, making all sorts of trick shots throughout the game. With his team down at the end, however, he's about to take a shot... when his cousin Carlton, wanting some glory himself, starts grappling with him for the ball, takes it, shoots, and misses horribly.
- In the made for TV movie Second String every playoff game the Buffalo Bills play comes down to the last play with just seconds on the clock.
- Challenges on Top Gear. The presenters sometimes lampshade the ridiculousness of this, and sometimes insist it really was that close.
- Inverted in the race across London. Richard takes the lead instantly at the start and never relinquishes it.
- Many of the challenges on Top Shot ended this way, with sometimes as little as a few hundredths of a second separating who stayed from who went home.
The show also subverts this as often as not, with one particular contestant dominating a given challenge. Kelly's first elimination challenge and J.J.'s performance shooting steel in the finale are standout examples of almost comically one-sided matches.
- Several individual legs of The Amazing Race have been decided by footrace, with the eliminated team in sight of the mat when the second-to-last team checks in. Season 7 had three legs decided this way. However, the only finale to be decided this way was in Season 2, with a footrace from the cabs to the Finish Line. Tara and Wil were in the lead when they jumped out of the cabs, but Tara was asthmatic and could not keep up, allowing more physically fit Chris and Alex to race past her and win the million dollars.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm, Dewey and Reese are playing a basketball game with the foul-happy Hal, with the game tied, one move left and Hal on the offense. The boys realize they have no choice but to use "The Play". It does not go well for Hal.
- Game show examples:
- Family Feud has seen countless Fast Money rounds come down to the final question, with the score in the 180-199 range and the final answer being just enough to win the grand prize (200 is needed to win). Made even more dramatic if there is a string of zero- or low-scoring answers with the second player. Made heartbreaking if the final answer's score is zero or falls just short of the winning 200 score. In either case, the moment will be made more dramatic.
- The Hollywood Squares: A five-square win, only after each of the contestants have filled in four boxes (none of which leads to tic-tac-toe).
- Press Your Luck (and even its precursor, Second Chance and revival Whammy!) will often have its outcome determined based on a contestant's final spin.
- Wheel of Fortune: When a contestant solves the bonus round puzzle (or begins the correct answer) a split second before the buzzer. Sometimes, it's been so close that they've had to stop and check the tape, and not declare the contestant a winner until returning from commercial.
- A few times, the Winner's Circle on Pyramid was cleared only at the last second.
- Jeopardy!: While there were numerous close games through the years, one of the best "down to the last play" games came in the midst of Ken Jennings' incredible 74-game run in 2004. The game where he became champion was decided on Final Jeopardy! (he had the lead and bet liberally). On his 49th day, he had a mere $5,000 ($19,700 to $14,800) lead over the second place contestant and had to have the right answer (his opponent was incorrect) to win, which he did. Another of his games saw one of his opponents wager everything on a Daily Double late in Double Jeopardy! and guess correctly, and that opponent briefly took the lead before Jennings reclaimed the lead just before the end of the round; with Jennings leading by less than $2,000, both he and his opponent engaged in a truly dramatic Final Jeopardy! ... with Jennings winning. Finally, Jennings last game saw him hold a slim lead over the woman that finally beat him (thanks to Jennings giving a wrong answer).
- Tic-Tac-Dough: The use of the special "red" categories frequently led to a showdown for a box that could give either contestant the win upon a correct answer. (In other words, both contestants have two of their mark in a line, and the box both are going for could give either one a tic-tac-toe.)
- This happens a lot on The Chase, usually with the Final Chase ending at a ridiculously low time or the main chase ending with a 'one question shootout' (aka one right answer and the contestant goes through, one wrong one and they get caught and lose everything). Indeed, some of the winning/losing times in the Final Chase are just insane, with players having won/lost games with anything from ten seconds remaining, to two seconds remaining... to even ZERO seconds remaining (as in, they get caught and lose or win right as the clock hits zero at the end).
- The Dukes of Hazzard episode "The Boar's Nest Bears" had such a match with a young prodigy player that was kept out from part of the match by machinations from the Opposing Sports Team's sponsor.
- Arino the Retro Game Master often conquers games on his last few lives, when he's run out of time to play. They even named a song "Last Continue" because of this.
- This happens in the first and only school championship water polo match in My Heart is Beating. The team does score and win, but they're disqualified for other reasons.
- Averted most of the time in Peanuts, where Charlie Brown's team losing a baseball game 216-0 is a regular occurrence. One 1959 episode had his team losing 600-0!!! Another series had him substituting for Peppermint Patty; her team was winning 50-0, but then when Chuck pitched, she got knocked out and later learned (while in bed receiving therapy from Marcie) that the opponents made a 51-run comeback. Patty, understandably, went completely batshit.
In fact, probably the only time that Charlie Brown's team actually wins a game is when Charlie is not playing.
- At the end of a game in Stern's Iron Maiden, the player is given one last chance to play until the Bonus Time he accumulated earlier runs out.
- Joust gives both players a 30-second scoring frenzy at the end of each game.
- Many of the games from Italian pinball maker Zaccaria have a feature called "Game Time Bonus." During the player's last ball, a timer is incremented as the player keeps playing. After the ball drains, the player can keep playing until the time counts down to zero.
- It's extremely rare for a 2-out-of-3 falls match to end at 2 falls. Similarly, an Iron Man match is usually tied, or the score is one fall apart, up until the closing moments. When it does end with only two falls, it is usually the heel in the match, and walk out of the match after losing one of the falls.
- Blood Bowl, the American Football meets Warhammer miniatures game, tends to have this when a fast team like Wood Elves plays against a tough one like Dwarves, with the fast team often scoring a few goals while the tough one is busy whittling them down (and "whittling them down" here means "curbstomp them until they leave the field on a stretcher"). Many games thus end with the tough team frantically trying to get the goals they previously lacked while the fast ones mount a Last Stand with the few remaining players not in the K.O. or Injured & Dead box.
- The Board Game Ricochet Robots has a rule designed to cause this. The game consists of a series of randomly generated puzzles, with the goal being to come up with the shortest solutions. If two players get the same answer within one minute of each other, it's counted as a tie and goes to whoever was currently losing, rubber band style. This, and the fact that there are 17 rounds, means that even with mismatched players, games generally come down to an all-way tie decided by the last point.
- Then again, since the puzzles are generated randomly, there's no guarantee that "last point" can't be solved in two moves.
- Video game example: One stage of "Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose" is the last few minutes of a football game, in which the player must score a touchdown to win.
- Happens frequently in Pokémon, where matches frequently come down to between the last Pokémon on each side. Notable places include:
- Battles against the Champion and maybe the last Elite Four member (even though they use five Pokémon against what should be your team of six) in the main games.
- The last two fights of any cup, in both Stadiums and Colosseum.
- The last few leaders in Gym Leader Castle, the E4 and Champ in the same castle, and all of Round 2 mode in Pokémon Stadium 1 and 2.
- Mewtwo in Stadium 1.
- The last guy in Mt. Battle in Colosseum's Story Mode (seriously, the first 99 trainers are incredibly easy!) as well as Kruger the first time you meet him in Pokémon Battle Revolution: both Trainers rely on Double Battles in which a majority of the team knows Earthquake and is paired with a Flying type or a Pokémon with the Levitate ability. Oh, and there's that Swalot with Ice Beam...
- The Colosseum Masters in PBR, as well as all of Level 50 All mode, Stargazer Colosseum, and even the LOWER levels of Courtyard Colosseum the second time around (when it's in Survival Battle mode). If you don't have Taunt or a Grass/Poison type in L50 All, then the Carnivines, which are all @Leftovers and have Stockpile, Protect, Toxic, and Leech Seed will MESS. YOU. UP.
- And Stargazer Colosseum the second time around is EXTREMELY brutal: the Trainers all have near-Smogon levels of proficiency, relying on incredibly obscure, yet effective, combos such as Lopunny using Switcheroo to put a Toxic Orb on a Normal Pokémon with Guts and the Façade move note , a Pachirisu using Flatter on a Drifblim@Lum Berry with Unburden note , having Berries on all Pokémon that reduce the damage of types it's weak to, and those types just happening to be the types you were going to use on them note , Pokémon with Explosion and a partner who's Ghost type note , putting a Toxic Orb on a Pokémon with Poison Heal note , Pokémon with Pressure and Spite note , Pokémon with heavy defensive stats and HP healing note ...can I stop now!?! (pout pout pout)
- Will be a familiar experiance to many players with regards to tough challenges. Any challenge tough enough to beat you on your first few attempts is likely to result in you finally making it with seconds to spare / a sliver of health / your last round of ammo. (Unless you make a large improvement between your last failure and your first success.)
- Mario Superstar Baseball's intro movie shows a game between Mario and Wario which ends in a walk-off home run by Mario. Downplayed in that the game was already tied, and the home run causes them to win by 2 runs, but a walk-off is a walk-off.
- Many arcade style racing games where you race from start to finish can have this trope if the game lets your car coast down the road when the timer expires. If you're lucky enough, your car can crawl a few inches towards the checkpoint, allowing you to continue playing, or if it's the finish line, you'll complete the race. The game isn't officially over until the timer is expired and the car comes to a complete stop.
- In a Survival of the Fittest flashback scene, David Jackson (a baseballer, the pitcher for Barry Coleson's team) remembers a triple play the team made at the eleventh hour to seal the championship - perfectly exhibiting this trope, though whether David got lucky with the first part of the play and rolled from there or he was just that good is left ambiguous.
- Related to the Pokémon example above, users of Smogon typically write "war stories" which are glorified logs of their battles. The logs are often extremely close matches where both fighters get down to their last Pokémon. You can find the best ones in a "Warstory Archive" here.
- Many of Rooster Teeth's "Achievement Hunter" videos, especially "Let's Play Minecraft" and "Vs." will easily come down to this, especially if it's a game where two players are incredibly close.
- In the Steam Rolled playthrough of Mario Party 4, Ross and Barry end up with a perfect tie at the end of the game, triggering the rare minigame where they simply roll dice to determine who wins.
- Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Homer at the Bat." In the final inning of the softball game, Homer comes up to the plate with the bases loaded, and is hit by the pitch while he's distracted by Mr. Burns's needlessly complicated Hand Signals, forcing in the winning run.
- Averted in Tiny Toon Adventures; one episode had a baseball game that didn't come down to the final play... but only because there was no climactic final play to speak of, as the other team, Perfecto Prep, was forced to forfeit (with a big lead) over illegal equipment. (They did also do a football game which does come down to the final play, however. Again, against Perfecto Prep.) They also did a direct parody of "Casey at the Bat"; Buster, however, hits a home run, to the surprise of the narrator.
- Subverted in Cars: The race at the start of the film results in a three-way tie. However, in the tiebreaker race, Lightning McQueen is well ahead of the competition as he approaches the finish line, but stops short of the finish line to go help the King after he crashes, forfeiting the win.
- Lampshaded so much in the South Park episode "Stanleys Cup"; the subversion at the end could be seen a mile away.
- A horse race in Futurama takes the photo finish concept one step further and ends with a quantum finish. "No fair, you changed the outcome by measuring it!"
- In The Real Ghostbusters episode "Night Game," Winston hits the winning home run in a baseball game between teams of good and evil ghosts. This trope is justified because there was a Secret Test of Character to see if the Ghostbusters would cheat, and, presumably, the temptation was greatest with this situation. Also, the teams were so evenly matched that they were still tied zero-to-zero for the first eight innings.
- Disney Studios adapted Casey at the Bat in 1946, as part of Make Mine Music, and did a sequel in 1954 ("Casey Bats Again") where he ends up having enough daughters to field a very good baseball team.
- King of the Hill:
- The show originally subverted this with Hank Hill's team getting blown out in the state championship. However, this was later retconned to have been a close game that Hank lost for his team.
- They played it straight when Hank and Bobby entered a father and son target shooting competition. It all came down to Hank's last shot, where he needed a bullseye to win— and he missed the whole target. This didn't lead to the expected Downer Ending, though, because Bobby was more than happy with second place.
- X-Men: Evolution - season 2's first episode opens with this trope, as the only goal we're shown in the soccer match is the winning one, scored by Jean, of course.
- In an episode of The Fairly OddParents, Timmy wishes to be the best basketball player ever in order to help a basketball team. He does great until the last play, in which Wanda explains that "Everybody knows that the last two minutes are the real competitive part of any professional basketball game!" and they can't help Timmy win a competition.
- The Beetlejuice episode "The Unnatural" has B.J.'s New Yuck Prankees in a grudge baseball game against Scuzzo the Clown's Jokeland Laugh-letics, with the losing team relegated to a hell hole called "The Loser's Circle." With the score tied, the final inning comes down to a play at the plate with B.J. waiting to tag out Scuzzo, obscured by a cloud of dust. When the dust clears, the two opponents are demanding the umpire call it, but Lydia interrupts and brings everyone to tears with an impassioned treatise on sportsmanship and the simple joys of baseball. The crowd watching the game cries so hard, in fact, that the game is called off on account of rain.
- Bugs Bunny takes on the Gas House Gorillas in "Baseball Bugs." With the score 96-95 in Bugs' favor and two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Gorillas have a runner on base and the batter uses a freshly chopped-down tree as a bat. He wallops Bugs' pitch so far that Bugs has to traverse the top of the Umpire State Building to catch it. The Gorillas batter is called out by the umpire and the Statue of Liberty.
- Earlier and similarly, "Boulevardier From The Bronx" had the Giants leading 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth. With two out, Giants pitcher Dizzy Dan deliberately loads the bases via walks so he could get to the other team's hick Claude and strike him out. On an 0-2 pitch, Claude hits a grand slam, winning the game for his team and getting the last laugh on Dizzy Dan.
- In Monsters University, the Scare Games score is all tied up before the last duel between Mike and Johnny Worthington.
Real Life Examples:
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- Hail Flutie, the 1984 BC-Miami game that ended with a Hail Mary pass from Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan, giving Boston College a 47-45 win.
- Two other famous game-winning college Hail Marys: 1980 Holiday Bowl, BYU's Jim McMahon to Clay Brown for a 46-45 win over Southern Methodist; 1994, Colorado at Michigan, Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook, Colorado wins 27-26.
- Real life is stranger than fiction example. Boise State University, a huge underdog to the perennial-powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners, won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by scoring on three trick plays on the last play of the game and in overtime. The touchdown scoring ones (a hook and ladder, and a halfpack pass) and the final 2-point conversion to win in overtime (a statue of liberty) were all well-known trick plays that fail more often than they succeed. To add to the theatrical quality, the player who made the winning score popped the question to his cheerleader girlfriend after the game (on national TV). She said yes.
- In 1982, college football teams representing arch-rivals California and Stanford played their season-ending game. After a spectacular drive led by John Elway, Stanford took a 20-19 lead on a field goal with five seconds left, meaning "Cal" had to return the ensuing kickoff all the way or they'd lose (theoretically, they could down it promptly and try for a Hail Mary, but that's much more difficult). In the equivalent of a rugby play, Cal used five backwards passes to keep the play alive until they ran it into the end zone and scored a touchdown. Bonus points because the Stanford band thought they had already won, and were filing into the end zone for their victory tune — and got clobbered in the process. It's worth watching, really. - (One of the passes may have been thrown after the player was already down by contact, and so Stanford to this day refuses to acknowledge the game as a Cal win.)
- Also older, and a rare example of both sides of the trope showing up: 1994 Texas HS football: Plano East pulls off a near-impossible 24-point comeback with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. With only seconds on the clock and only the final kickoff to perform, John Tyler High takes the kickoff right back up the field, pulling off the Miracle Win / Downer Ending combo. The play-by-play is almost as entertaining, for different reasons.
- In October 2007, the Trinity University football team recovered from a two-point deficit with two seconds remaining in one play, to win the game 28-24. They moved the ball sixty yards to reach the endzone, and they only needed fifteen laterals to pull it off.
- In Super Bowl XXXIV, the favored St. Louis Rams took a 23-16 lead just after the two minute warning in the fourth quarter. The underdog Tennessee Titans started their final drive of regulation at their own 10 yard line in an attempt to tie the game and force the first ever Super Bowl overtime. The Titans manage to move the ball 80 yards in 1:48. On the Rams' 10 yard line with time for one last play, Titans QB Steve McNair completed a pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who was wide open and set to make the game-tying touchdown. At the last moment, Rams linebacker Mike Jones ran towards Dyson, grabbed him by the legs and dragged Dyson to the ground. Dyson stretched the ball out in an attempt to reach the goal line (the rule states that only the ball has to cross the plane of the goal line for a touchdown), but the ball stopped only a few inches shy of the goal line and time expired. So, after an 80 yard, 1:48 rally, the Titans fell inches shy of tying the game and the Rams won the Super Bowl 23-16.
- In the 2009 Grey Cup (final of the Canadian Football League) game, the Montreal Alouettes were down 27-25, 43 yards from the Saskatchewan Roughriders' goal when time ran out (and this was, indeed, after a comeback from 27-11 early in the fourth quarter). Their attempt at the field goal actually missed. There was a moment where most everyone was actually convinced the game was over and Saskatchewan had just won the Grey Cup. Then it began to filter to people that a 10-yard penalty had just been called against Saskatchewan (for having one too many player on the field), and Montreal got to try again. They won 28-27.
- Actually, it's even more clever. The Alouettes knew the Roughriders had one too many player, and they went in as fast as possible and rushed their kick before the other team realised they were in fault. It was a Xanatos Gambit: Either they had a lucky shot and scored, and won the game, or they missed, called the penalty, and got to try again much closer.
- The tendency to seemingly always lose in these types of situations tends to mark whole franchises as being cursed. The aforementioned Red Sox were the poster children here. As are the Buffalo Bills for things like Scott Norwood missing the potential game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV for the Bills to lose by 1 point, and losing by way of the infamous "Music City Miracle" against Tennessee. Cleveland also has been similarly victimized across the sports spectrum. The Browns' Ernest Byner fumbling at the 1-yard line on a potential game-tying score late in the 4th quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers being victimized by Michael Jordan with his buzzer beater over Craig Ehlo, and the Bulls blocking Charles Smith's possible game-tying layup no less than 5 times at the very end of the game in the '93 playoffs, it can drive a fanbase to tears. Especially with Norwood, who had been clutch all year, and Byner, who was having the game of his life, the moments are even more gut-wrenching because they were two guys expected to come up big when it counts. Just like Casey at the Bat.
- Another example in which the Buffalo Bills were a victim came near the end of the 1999 AFC wild-card game against the Tennessee Titans in what became known as the Music City Miracle. With seconds left, Steve Christie hit a 41-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 16-15. Then came the kickoff, which was a squib kick first fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal, who handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck. Wycheck then threw a controversial lateral to receiver Kevin Dyson, who took the ball 75 yards for a touchdown (which was confirmed after instant replay ruled that Wycheck had not thrown an illegal forward pass), resulting in a 22-16 win that led to the Titans march to Super Bowl XXXIV (as well as providing a measure of revenge for several older players who were members of the team when they were known as the Houston Oilers and lost the 1992 wild-card 41-38 to Buffalo after leading 35-3). The Bills have not appeared in the postseason since then.
- In week 15 of the 2009 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Green Bay Packers 36-30 and faced a 3rd-&-10 at the Green Bay 19-yard line with three seconds remaining. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and fired a pass toward the sideline, and Mike Wallace made a falling catch in the endzone to tie the game as time expired. The play stood as a touchdown after an official review, and Jeff Reed kicked the extra point to give the Steelers a 37-36 win.
- In week 15 of the 2010 NFL season, the Giants were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 31-10 midway through the 4th quarter. The winner of the game would gain a lead in the division race with two games to go. When all hope seemed lost for Philadelphia, QB Michael Vick, himself on a Redemption Quest like many fictional protagonists in sports stories, led the team to three T Ds in under 9 minutes to tie the game up at 31-31. With less than 10 seconds left, the Eagles forced a Giants 3-and-out. All the Giants had to do was punt it out of bounds and the game would have all but certainly gone into overtime. But rookie kicker Matt Dodge apparently missed the memo, and kicked it straight to dangerous return man DeSean Jackson, who took it 67 yards to the house for a walk-off punt-return TD, the first in NFL history, to win 38-31. The Eagles would go on to win the division by one game over the Giants.
- 2007 Arena Football playoff game between the Chicago Rush and the Colorado Crush. (Apparently the Arena League had never heard of the One Steve Limit, as these two teams were even in the same division.) Colorado (the home team) had a three-point lead, but was forced to make a goal-line stand against Chicago on the final play. Colorado made an apparent game-winning interception, the confetti was dropped from the rafters...only to discover that a penalty had been called on the play (for holding the intended receiver of the pass), forcing a do-over. Chicago then went for a game-tying field goal, made it, and forced overtime...the start of which was delayed by over fifteen minutes to clear all of the confetti from the field. Fortunately for the Crush, they won the game in overtime anyway.
- In Super Bowl XLVI (2012), the New England Patriots were down by 4 points with 5 seconds left on the clock. Tom Brady attempted to throw a Hail Mary pass in the end zone, but it was broken up.
- Relatedly, the Patriots got into the Super Bowl when the Baltimore Ravens missed a fairly easy 34-yard field goal on the final play, a field goal that would have otherwise tied the game.
- Say what you will about Tim Couch of the Cleveland Browns; he was able to have two awesome moments in his otherwise lackluster career, both on Hail Marys. On October 31, 1999, he hit Kevin Johnson on a 56-yard bomb to beat the New Orleans Saints for the expansion Browns' first win. Then, on December 8, 2002, he found Quincy Morgan on a 50-yard catch to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (nearly a year after the infamous "Bottlegate" game against the Jags). To date, Couch is the only quarterback to win more than one NFL game on the final play of regulation with passes of 50 or more yards.
- In a regular season game in 2003, the New Orleans Saints trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-13 with 7 second remaining, but in a play involving multiple spur-of-the-moment laterals, scored a TD with no time remaining. But the game didn't go to overtime because the Saints missed the extra point somehow - making this one of the most anticlimactic last-second finishes of all time.
- The infamous "Fail Mary" at the end of the 2012 Monday Night tilt between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. With the game being officiated by replacements due to the regular officials being locked out by the league, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson launched a desperation pass into the end zone that was grabbed by both Seahawks reciever Golden Tate and Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings. Although Jennings appeared to have control of the ball as the two men fell to the ground, the play was ruled an interception by one official, but a touchdown by another. The play was reviewed, but was unable to be overturned due to having been incorrected ruled a case of simultaneous posession in which the receiver is awarded the catch. And to make it even worse, Tate shoved another Packers player, Sam Shields, to the ground before the ball was caught, which should have been called as offensive pass interference and made whether or not he possessed the ball at the same time as Jennings irrelevant. The ensuing controversy caused so many fans to call the NFL commissioner's office that the line was disconnected, and the regular officials were brought back the following week.
- The Minnesota Vikings went into the last week of the 2003 season needing a victory over the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals to win their division. They were up 17-12 with two minutes left, but the Cardinals recovered an onside kick. QB Josh McCown drove down the field and completed a miraculous 27-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Poole. With no time left. On a 4th and 24. The upset win knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs.
- In the 2013 Iron Bowl, the Alabama Crimson Tide were ranked number 1 in the nation, and they were playing their rivals, number 4 Auburn, for the first winner-to-the-SEC-Championship Iron Bowl in history. Following an Auburn drive that scored a touchdown, tying the game 28-28 with only 34 seconds to go, Bama took over in their territory. Auburn stopped them from scoring and even forced a player out of bounds just as time expired, which stopped the clock. The play was reviewed, and one second was put back on the clock. Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal. If it missed, the game would just go to overtime. Their starter had missed three earlier that game, so they put in the backup. He kicked the ball well, but it fell short, where Auburn returner Chris Davis waited. Davis then took the ball all the way back to the Alabama endzone to win the game 34-28.
- This play can be viewed here.
- In the English First Division (now Premier League), Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield in 1989 is considered the most iconic example of this in football. By sheer coincidence, this match had been postponed due to the Hillsborough Disaster, and so took place on the last day of the league season. Having thrown away a significant lead they'd had earlier in the season, Arsenal were now three points behind Liverpool at the top of the table, with slightly inferior goal difference but having scored more goals. If they wanted the title, they'd have to beat Liverpool, at their home ground, by two goals or more, something no team had done in three years, and something Arsenal hadn't managed in fifteen. Furthermore, Liverpool had never previously been defeated when playing forwards John Aldridge and Ian Rush together. Arsenal had it all to do. Yet they went 1-0 up early in the second half thanks to an Alan Smith header. Then with 25 seconds left this happened.
- This goal was credited not so long back (along with Hillsborough and the launch of Sky TV) with saving the institution of British football, which, at the time, had a (admittedly not undeserved) reputation as being filled with Football Hooligans, especially Liverpool. The Liverpool fans, who by rights should've been livid with having the title snatched from under their noses in the last ten seconds of the league (the celebratory champagne was even on its way to the Liverpool dressing room), instead chose to applaud Arsenal's well-deserved victory.
- The Turkish national team was nicknamed "The Comeback Kings" in Euro 2008 for doing this repeatedly:
- Won against home country Switzerland by a last minute goal outside the box in the group stages.
- Pulled back from 0-2 to 3-2 against the Czech Republic in 15 minutes, with the third goal scored in the last minute, also in the group stages.
- In the quarter finals, held off the much stronger Croatia for some 119 minutes after going to extra time, when, one minute before the end, Croatia scored. Since it's virtually impossible to score a goal with only a few seconds on the clock in soccer, Croatia's fans and management were already celebrating. Yet Turkey went on to score out of nowhere in the last minute and then win easily on penalties, having totally crushed Croatia's spirit with that incredibly unlikely comeback.
- Karma finally intervened in the semifinals, where Germany scored the winning goal (3-2) in the 90th minute, denying the Turks an extra time they were already counting on. This match was infamous for the international TV coverage failing during the second half due to adverse weather conditions in the TV broadcast centre in Switzerland - many worldwide viewers saw little of the second half, while broadcasters in the UK and France switched to delivering their RADIO commentary through the TV for a time.
- The 2007 MLS Cup. The New England Revolution scored 8 minutes into the second overtime to go up 1-0, but since it was not sudden death like many sports, the Houston Dynamo had time to score the tying goal - and did, just over a minute later. The Dynamo eventually won on penalty kicks.
- Likely the most famous example is the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. With Bayern leading 1-0 going into stoppage time, United tied it up on an absolutely wild goal and then scored the winning goal two minutes later on virtually the final kick of the game. The ending was so unexpected that they had to take the Bayern Munich ribbons off the Cup before presenting it. Not only did United win in the most dramatic fashion but the victory made them the only English team to win The Treble, being the Champions League Cup, FA Cup and top in the Premier League in the same year.
- And everybody forgets that this wasn't exactly novel for them - they did basically the same thing to overhaul Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup earlier that season.
- The 2004 Copa America Final between Brazil and Argentina. The score was 2-1, but Brazil managed to score a goal at the last second. This is made even more dramatic, because Brazil and Argentina are the biggest rivals in the history of soccer. Brazil then won at the penalty shoot out.
- Liverpool were 3-0 down against AC Milan at half-time in the 2005 Champions' League final. 15 minutes into the second half, and a few Gerrard dives later it was 3-3, and Liverpool won on penalties.
- FC Barcelona needed to either win 0-1 or tie 1-1 to advance to the final round of the 2009 Champions' League final. After Chelsea scored first 10 minutes in, the result didn't change until minute 92, when the "Iniestazo" happened.
- Jimmy Glass. The fate of Carlisle's attempts to avoid relegation out of the Football League (and probable folding due to the subsequent finances) has come down to the fourth minute of injury time in the last game of the season, when Glass, their (on loan) goalkeeper, comes up for a corner. Via a couple of rebounds and deflections, it comes to him in the six-yard box, who duly pokes home. The result is the world's fastest pitch invasion, as 7000 Carlisle fans immediately mob him in celebration.
- Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain advancing on a draw, 1-1 as they head to stoppage time. Saudi Arabia scores one minute into stoppage time, breaking Bahrain's hearts until they score with seconds to play. As the commentator says, "Bahrain were down and out and dead and buried and now they're back in."
- Unfortunately they were then beaten by New Zealand in the final World Cup play-off.
- During the 2010 World Cup round-robin match between the United States and Algeria, the United States needed a win to advance. The score was tied at 0-0 going into stoppage time in the second half. Landon Donovan scored the winning goal for the United States during stoppage time, causing very emotional reactions all over the United States.
- They did it again in World Cup Qualifying action against Jamaica. They scored early to go up 1-0, but at 89', Jamaica equalized. At 90'+3', Michael Bradley passed to Bradley Evans, who slotted it in and won the match 2-1. The US went on to win all three June qualification games and take the lead in the Hex.note
- A-League, 2006-07 Major Semi-Final. The first leg had ended goalless, and the second saw away team Adelaide United take an early lead, and even though home team Melbourne Victory equalised, Adelaide looked set to go through to, and host, the Grand Final on away goals. Two minutes into second half injury time, a substitute, who had never scored for Melbourne, and never did again, loops a header over the keeper and sends Melbourne into the Grand Final. Melbourne ended up crushing Adelaide 6-0 in the decider.
- The 2010-11 Grand Final. Brisbane Roar, the red hot favourites, against the Central Coast Mariners, who have never won the Grand Final. The match goes into Extra Time at 0-0, when a substitution turns the game in the favour of the Mariners. They score in the 96th and 103rd minutes, leaving Brisbane 15 minutes to come back in the 2nd half of extra time. Time slowly ticks away, until the 117th minute comes and Brisbane score. The final kick of the game is a corner kick in the 120th minute, which one of their defensive midfielders jumps up and scores with. They then win the Grand Final 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
- The year after in the 2011-12 Grand Final, Brisbane came up against Perth Glory. Perth were massive outsiders, but fought and harassed the free flowing Brisbane team and scored through a Brisbane own goal in the 54th minute. Brisbane managed to push and force an equaliser in the 84th minute, then in the 4th minute of injury time Brisbane were awarded a penalty after their striker was tripped when about to shoot, he scored and won the game for Brisbane.
- The final day of the 04/05 Premier League season. The four bottom teams (Southampton, Norwich, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion) were fighting to be the one team that would avoid relegation. All four clubs played simultaneously and at some point during the aftenoon each team looked like they would stay up. In the end, the team who stayed up were West Brom, who had been bottom of the table that morning, and even bottom at Christmas (which was considered an unlucky omen). The result was only decided in the 82nd minute.
- Happened not once, but arguably twice in the 1970 World Cup semi-final between Germany and Italy. Italy led 1-0 for all of regular time, until Germany equalized on the 90th minute, leading to extra time and a total of 5 goals, the last and clinching goal happening at the 111th minute. CMoA doesn't begin to describe this match.
- This game was dubbed "Match of the Century" for a reason, and there's still a plaque at the stadium remembering it.
- The two got to it again in 2006, where Italy won in overtime with goals at the 119' and 121' minutes - even more painful for Germany as they were hosts. The second goal broke a record that stood since 1990, where England scored over Belgium at the 119th minute of their round of 16 game.
- Arsenal v Liverpool in the 2010-11 Premier League; after an injury to Jamie Carragher, and other delays, the referee calls for eight minutes of stoppage time. Arsenal finally manage to work their possession and pretty play into an opening, they win a penalty in the 97th minute, Van Persie converts it in the 98th, 1-0 Arsenal, They Think It's All Over. It's not. The referee adds on time for the remonstrations and penalty, Liverpool win a free kick at the other end, it breaks towards Leiva, he's fouled, and Liverpool have a penalty of their own. Dirk Kuyt steps up and scores; the 102nd minute goal really is the last play.
- The 2010 Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Fulham was decided by a last minute goal in extra time from Atletico's Diego Forlán.
- A final they were playing thanks to another extra-time goal by Forlán in the semi-final against Liverpool.
- The 1995/1996 season of the Danish Superliga, saw Brřndby IF (THE top dog of the league) and Aarhus GF (fielding perhaps their best squad of the past 25 years) locked in a hard-fought duel for the title. In round 30 (of 33) the two faced each other on Aarhus' homefield, Brřndby leading the table with 1 point. In the dying moments of 1st half Peter Mřller pulled Brřndby ahead 0-1. After 75 minutes, Aarhus, with an outstanding performance (speaking as a Brřndby fanatic), had a comfortable lead of 3-1! Under normal circumstances this would be the end of Brřndby. A late goal brought some hope, and with 1˝-2 minutes again Brřndby got a corner kick. On a whim Brřndby goalie, Mogens Krogh, decided to move into the Aarhus' penalty field (losing the match would spell the end for Brřndby's title aspirations, later Krogh admitted he didn't had the approval of coach Skovdahl to make this move) in order to disrupt their defensive play. In a frantic play, Krogh managed to make the equalizer, with 90 seconds to go. The match ended 3-3. At the season end, Brřndby secured the title with 67 points against Aarhus' 66.
- In the first leg of the 2012 Copa del Rey Quarterfinal, 3rd Division Mirandés were 0-2 in the 85th minute when 1st Division Espanyol came back to 3-2 before full time. Then, in the second leg, Mirandés were 1-1 in the last injury time when a last minute free kick got them 2-1 and into the Semifinals on away goals.
- The 2012 English Premier League Championship was won in the last match of the season by Manchester City over Manchester United with two goals in stoppage time. United needed to beat Sunderland to stand a chance of overcoming City in the final standings, while City faced Queens Park Rangers. Both matches were played simultaneously; United scored against Sunderland after twenty minutes, putting the pressure on City. City scored against QPR after 39 minutes, retaking the title provisionally. Then QPR equalised after half time and with sixteen minutes remaining sensationally went ahead, leaving City needing two goals to win the Championship. They got the equaliser right on full time and had five minutes of stoppage time to get another. At the same time United vs. Sunderland finished 1-0 in United's favour, leaving United looking like the champions until City's Sergio Aguero fired in a winner right at the death.
- The 2012 Champion's League Final. In the red corner, Bayern Munich, playing on home turf. In the blue corner, Chelsea, who had eliminated FC Barcelona, the reigning Champions, in the semifinals with virtually the last kick of the tie after being 2-0 down with ten men. With seven minutes remaining, Bayern breach the Chelsea defence to take the lead. However, with two minutes of normal time remaining, Chelsea equalise. The match goes to penalties, and with literally the last kick of the game, Didier Drogba scores with his penalty to win the final for Chelsea. He also scored the equaliser, and with his announced intention to leave Chelsea, his penalty was also the last kick for him as a Chelsea player.
- The United States women's national soccer team seems to have a habit of this in recent tournaments.
- In the 2011 Women's World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil, the US was down 2-1 in extra time when Megan Rapinoe crossed a ball in to Abby Wambach, who headed it home to tie the game in the 122nd minute. The US would later go on to win in the penalty shoot out. Wambach's goal is the latest in World Cup history, and the 2nd latest in women's soccer history, behind...
- In the semifinal of the 2012 Olympic tournament, the US came from behind to tie it up against Canada three times. Fast-forward to the 123rd minute and Alex Morgan slotted home a header to win the game for the US.
- Not to be outdone, the Canadian women who suffered that loss against the US would get a last-minute victory of their own in the bronze medal game, courtesy of a Diana Matheson header.
- In the 2008-2009 La Liga, Real Madrid (who needed a win to continue challenging uber-rival Barcelona for the league) was 2-2 against Getafe in the 87th minute when a Getafe striker, Casquero, was tripped in the goal area by Real defender Pepe. Getafe was awarded a penalty kick and Pepe expelled leaving his team a man down. Casquero stepped in to kick the penalty himself, and did a Panenka, a type of kick that if scored is considered humiliating for the goalkeeper. Real's keeper Casillas, however, caught the ball and immediately passed it to his companions, who went to score before final time. Casquero was the national punching bag for weeks after.
- Ghana had a penalty kick in the very last moment of overtime against Uruguay in their 2010 World Cup quarterfinal. This penalty was awarded when a clear goal for Ghana was boxed away bay a Uruguayanfield player. It was missed, leading to a penalty shootout which Ghana lost, eliminating the last remaining African team in the South Africa WC.
- After coming back from a 3-0 loss with a 5-0 second leg win in the 2013/14 Europa League Quarterfinals, Valencia lose 2-0 to Sevilla in the first leg of the semis. In the second leg, they pull it off again, coming back to 3-0. Come the 93rd minute, former Valencia player Albelda comments on the radio how it was a done deal by then and how he never saw their comeback in danger, since Sevilla clearly weren't going to score the away goal that would put them through in the few remaining seconds. You know where this is going.
- Bundesliga season 2000/2001 saw an example of this. "Plucky Underdog" Schalke 04 was chasing "Eternal Champion" Bayern Munich every game of the season. They were level on points after 32 of 34 matches and both headed towards a draw on the penultimate day of the season, when in the third minute of stoppage time almost at the same time Bayern and Schalke's opponent Stuttgart both scored. Thus before the last day, Schalke were trailing by 3 points, and with Bayern playing at Hamburg, only just above the relegation zone, all seemed sealed against Schalke, especially since they went down by two goals themselves against unfancied Unterhaching, only to equalize and immediately fall behind again. In the end, Schalke was able to turn the match around to a "comfortable" 5-3 victory. Then, unexpectedly, 2 minutes from time Hamburg scored the 1-0 against Bayern, putting Schalke in pole position on goal difference. And Hamburg defended the lead until the 4th minute of stoppage time, when a controversial ruling for a handled back pass (and of course Hamburg's goalkeeper who did this was on loan from Schalke) gave Bayern a last shot at the title. At the same time, the whistle was reported in Schalke as the final whistle, so that they would be champions for the first time in half a century, and pitch invasion and celebration followed immediately - until the live scenes were shown on the stadium screen (the free kick was somewhat delayed due to many protests in Hamburg). Bayern converted the last kick, by now 12 minutes in stoppage time, drew and thus became champions (again). Schalke since then carries the moniker "Meister der Herzen" (champion of hearts) and the validity of the ruling is still heftily discussed, with fans and players from both Schalke and Hamburg insisting to this day that this wasn't an intentional pass and thus could be handled.
- Formula One. Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 championship from Felipe Massa on the last corner of the last lap of the last race. Massa won the race and Hamilton had to finish fifth or better to win the championship. On the last lap Hamilton was sixth when Timo Glock's Toyota slowed dramatically because it was still running on worn out dry-weather tyres as a heavy rain shower hit. Hamilton passed the slithering Glock in the last corner finished fifth and won the championship. To put this in perspective, Hamilton was still sixth when Massa crossed the line first and Massa thought he was champion.
- The Indianapolis 500 lead has changed hands on the last lap on two occasions (shown below). Six other races (1982, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2003, and 2014) were won by margins of less than a second (not counting victories under yellow).
- 2006: Sam Hornish was in second behind Marco Andretti with two laps to go. On lap 199, Hornish tried to squeeze past Andretti in turn 3, but had to back off and lost nearly a full second. On the final lap, Hornish caught up (considering the laps take barely 40 seconds, a heck of a piece of driving by itself), then passed Andretti on the final straightaway about one second before crossing the finish line. Watch the clip here, and count the number of times the announcers say "Marco's gonna win this thing!". Marco Andretti's comment? "Second's nothing."
- 2011: Rookie driver JR Hildebrand inherited the lead on fuel strategy three laps from the end when cars ahead had to pit. He made it all the way to the last corner when he misjudged a pass on a slow lapped car, drifted wide into the wall and wiped the right side wheels off his car. As he slithered agonisingly towards the finish line he was passed by Dan Wheldon in the final few hundred metres. By tragic irony Hildebrand and Wheldon would be involved in a massive crash in the last race of the year; Hildebrand walked away unscathed but Wheldon died from head injuries. A further irony is that Wheldon only rand a part-time schedule that year, having lost his drive with the Panther Racing team - to Hildebrand.
- The 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first time that the loophole-abusing Porsche 917 was entered, and throughout most of the race, the sheer speed of the Porsches was difficult to compete with. However, the untested cars were unreliable and attrition set in. The race was eventually contested between a fast prototype Porsche with failing brakes and the then-overweight and underpowered Ford GT 40 driven by the rookie, Jacky Ickx. The last hour of the race had the two cars swapping places constantly, and ended up with Ickx's GT 40 winning by a scant 120 metres after 24 hours of racing.
- Le Mans final laps are usually parade laps as the winning car is often laps ahead by the finish. Other close finishes at Le Mans that have taken place at full speed include in 1983 when the two Rothmans Porsches were 17 seconds apart at the line. The lead car had a broken engine and it seized practically as it crossed the line to win. In 2011 the gap between the winning Audi R18 and 2nd placed Peugeot was 13.8 seconds, or about the length of the last few corners.
- The 1976 Daytona 500 went into the last lap with Richard Petty and David Pearson running 1st and 2nd respectively. Pearson passed Petty for the lead on the backstretch, but as the two entered the 4th and final turn, Petty passed Pearson back. Approaching the finish line, the two cars made contact and both hit the retaining wall before spinning out onto the infield grass. Petty's damaged car ended up stalling a mere 150 feet from the finish line. As members of Petty's pit crew ran over to try and get him re-started, Pearson limped his equally-wrecked car past Petty and over the line for the victory. Both drivers had been so far ahead of the rest of the field that Petty was able to eventually re-start his car and, despite the delay, cross the finish ahead of the 3rd place driver for second place.
- Tony Stewart won the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship by 1.3 seconds in the last race of the year. Stewart won the race ahead of Carl Edwards second, tying the two on points with Stewart winning by virtue of having more wins in the year.
- Talladega Superspeedway is known for this in NASCAR, because the finish line is past the exit to pit road, unlike Daytona where the finish line is in the tri-oval. Numerous races there have been decided by a last lap pass in the tri-oval area.
- The 2011 British Superbike Championship came down to the last corner of the last lap between riders Tommy Hill and John Hopkins. The two riders battled nose-to-tail for the last two laps, the lead changed hands six times on the last lap and Hill beat Hopkins to the line and the title by 000.6 seconds. Needless to say it was quite a finish.
- Professional drag racing is all about this, particularly in the top tiers of high-powered nitro-fueled cars. Winning margins measured in hundreths or even thousandths of seconds are not uncommon.
- In baseball, since the teams take turns with the visitors batting in the top of the inning and the home team batting in the bottom, a Down To The Last Play moment can really only happen to the home team. This is often referred to as a "walkoff".
- Ten World Series have ended in this way, with the home team winning the last game on a walkoff. However, four of those occurred before Game 7, so those Series would have continued if the road team had won that game. Six World Series have been won in true Down To The Last Play fashion, with the home team winning in the last at-bat of a winner-take-all final game:
- In 1912, the Red Sox beat the New York Giants* on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 8. Game 2 was called on account of darkness with the game tied.
- In 1924 the Washington Senators* beat the New York Giants on an RBI double which bounced over the New York third baseman's head in the bottom of the 12th inning.
- Possibly the most famous example is the 1960 World Series, which is the only World Series to end with a true Down To The Last Play home run. Bill Mazeroski's homer on the second pitch in the bottom of the 9th gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a victory over the New York Yankees.
- In 1991 Gene Larkin's single in the 10th won the Series for the Minnesota Twins over the Atlanta Braves.
- In 1997 Edgar Rentería's single in the 11th won the Series for the Florida Marlins* over the Cleveland Indians.
- In 2001 the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th when Luis Gonzalez floated a pop fly over Derek Jeter's head and into short left field.
- However, all six of the World Series victories listed above came with the game tied before the last play, so in each of them the game would have continued if the batter had made an out. In fact, in the history of baseball's postseason dating back to 1903, only one postseason series has truly come Down To The Last Play—a hit by the home team, in the bottom of the last inning of the decisive game, with the home team trailing with two outs, which turned defeat into victory. That was the 1992 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, in which Francisco Cabrera of the Braves drove a single to left in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7, scoring two runs, winning the game 3-2 and winning the series 4 games to 3.
- If you expand Down To The Last Play to include games where the comeback fails, where the home team has a chance to win at the end but does not, this section would be longer. One famous example is the 1962 World Series. The Yankees were clinging to a 1-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 when Matty Alou led off with a single. Next came two outs and then Willie Mays' double into the right field corner, giving the Giants runners at second and third. The next batter, Willie McCovey, hit a screaming line drive—right at Yankee Bobby Richardson at second, who caught it to win the game and the Series.
- This was lampshaded for the next several months in Peanuts where Charlie Brown would shout "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball 3 feet higher?" (or even One foot)
- Many individual games, of course, have been won in Down To The Last Play moments. Some notable examples are listed below.
- The only World Series besides 1960 to end on a home run was the 1993 Series. Toronto won four games to two when Joe Carter's three-run homer in the bottom of the 9th won Game 6 8-6.
Blue Jays radio announcer Tom Cheek: Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!
- In the 1986 World Series the Boston Red Sox, leading the Series three games to two, led 5-3 going to the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6, and were three outs from a championship. The first two New York Met batters made quick outs. The Shea Stadium scoreboard operator prematurely flashed the message "Congratulations World Champion Boston Red Sox". Then everything fell apart. Three straight singles cut it to a one-run game and put the tying run at third. A new reliever was brought in, and a
passed ball wild pitch allowed the tying run to score and the winning run to advance to second. Then, an infamous error, as veteran Boston first baseman Bill Buckner allowed the ball to get past him, allowing the winning run to score. The Mets then won Game 7note and the championship.
- However, even in that game, the error came after the game had already been tied. The only time in postseason history that an error directly led to a team losing a game that they would have won right then and there if the play had been made came in 2009, when with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in game 2 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cardinals ahead 2-1, Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday dropped a line drive off the bat of James Loney, allowing the inning to continue. The Dodgers went on to score twice in the inning and won the game, eventually sweeping the series.
- This was not the first time that Holliday had been involved in such a moment. In 2007, he was a member of the Colorado Rockies, who had been buried deep in the NL wild card standings when they went on an 11-game winning streak, but when that streak was snapped in the third-to-last game of the season, they found themselves two games back with two left to play, needing to win both of their last two games and have San Diego lose both of their last two just to have a chance at a one-game playoff. (The New York Mets were also tied with the Rockies and were just one game back in their division, so the tiebreakers had the potential to get even more complicated.) San Diego entered the ninth inning of their penultimate game ahead 3-2, but with two outs and two strikes, Tony Gwynn Jr.note hit a game-tying triple for the Milwaukee Brewers, who won the game in 11 innings (a walk-off) to give the Rockies life. The Rockies would end up winning their last two and the Brewers beat the Padres again the next day, setting up a one-game playoff in Colorado that was tied 6-6 at the end of nine innings. San Diego scored two runs in the top of the 13th, but Colorado led off with two straight doubles, followed by Holliday hitting a game-tying triple and then scoring on a sacrifice fly in which he may not have ever actually touched home plate. Just to add to the madness, statistics compiled in one-game playoffs are counted as regular season statistics. Holliday's game-tying hit was his second RBI of Game 163, giving him a total of 137 on the season—one more than Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, whose 136 led the National League through 162 games.
- Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was dealing with injuries to both legs that caused him to limp visibly as he walked to the plate, hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to beat the Oakland A's 5-4. The victory propelled the underdog Dodgers to a shocking five-game victory over the heavily favored Athletics.
CBS Radio announcer Jack Buck: I don't believe...what I just saw! I don't believe what I just saw!
- The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers played a special three-game tiebreaker for the 1951 National League championship after finishing the season with identical 96-58 records. In the bottom of the ninth of the third game, trailing 4-2, Bobby Thomson hit a three-run homer off of Ralph Branca to win the NL pennant. Thomson's homer is remembered to this day as The Shot Heard 'Round the World.
- One of the weirdest Down To The Last Play moments in history was Merkle's Boner (ha ha ha now stop laughing), which happened on September 23, 1908. The Giants should have beaten the Cubs on a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning, but Fred Merkle, who was on first base, failed to advance to second. The Cubs retrieved the ball, which may or may not have gone into the stands, and threw to second base for a force out of Merkle. The game was called on account of darkness immediately after. Naturally, this proved crucial, as the Cubs and Giants wound up tied for first place and the game had to be replayed. The Cubs beat the Giants in the makeup game and won the pennant.
- Game 6 of the 2011 World Series provided several remarkable moments.
- The Texas Rangers, seeking their first championship in forty years of existence (fifty if you count their previous 10 years as the Washington Senators), led the St. Louis Cardinals three games to two, and led 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs and two runners on base, David Freese fell behind the count 1-2, leaving the Rangers one strike away from victory and a championship. Freese hit the ball over Nelson Cruz's head and off the right-field wall for a two-run triple to tie the game 7-7.
- After Yadier Molina flied out to end the ninth, the Rangers proceeded to take a 9-7 lead in the top of the 10th on a homer by Josh Hamilton. The Cardinals came up in the bottom of the 10th and went single, single, sac bunt to advance the runners, and RBI groundout to make the score 9-8 with two outs. Lance Berkman batted next and fell behind the count 1-2, leaving the Rangers again one strike away from victory and a championship. After the next pitch was a ball, Berkman lined a single to center field, again tying the game, this time 9-9.
- Finally, after the Rangers failed to score in the top of the 11th, David Freese had his second hero moment in three innings, leading off the bottom of the 11th with a home run to center that won the game 10-9. The Cardinals won Game 7 and the championship the next day.
- Basketball lends itself to Down To The Last Play moments; it is not uncommon for a team to go from defeat to victory on the last shot.
- In what may be the most shining example, the 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack's improbable run that earned them the nickname "Cardiac Pack"note . Ranked 5th in the ACC (of 9 teams), they had to win the conference tournament to even qualify for the NCAAs. They proceeded to win against Duke 71-70 on free throws with time expired. Forced double overtime on last-second shots each time against Carolina before finally winning 94-89, and again on a last second shot against Virginia. They then proceeded to the NCAA Championship game by winning 4 of their 5 games by 2 points of less. In the final game, the managed a 30-foot heave as time was running out, that was caught and dunked for a win as time ran out. This remains the only pre-64-team NCAA tournament image still shown as part of 'great moments' intros. Last second shots in 7 of 9 games to win a championship!
- An infamous example is the basketball final at the 1972 Olympics. When the time expired, the USA had an 50-49 against the Soviets. However, the referees added three seconds back to the clock on the direct order of the head of FIBA, who had no authority to do so (the FIBA head claimed the Soviets had attempted to call time out prior to the last free throw). After the Soviet shot failed, the referees added three MORE seconds back to the clock due to an error in restarting the clock. In this three seconds—on their third chance to win the game—a Soviet player scored, winning the team the gold medal. The Americans refused to accept the silver, and filed a protest, but it was denied. It was the first loss ever for the US Olympic basketball team. To this day, the American players from that game still refuse to accept the silver medals, and at least one has left it in his will that his family can never accept the medal after he dies.
- A 2004 playoff game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, who had combined to win the last 5 titles and had each swept the other out of the way during that time, contained two improbable last-second shots. First the Spurs, trailing by a 1 point with almost no try left, tried a handoff screen from Tim Duncan to Manu Ginóbili. Ginóbili was cut off from receiving the ball, so Duncan just had to just turn around, take a quick dribble, and throw the ball up from the top of the key. He was way off balance and actually fell on his back yet somehow the shot swished through. Now the Lakers had to score in 0.4 seconds or else lose the game. Derek Fisher, who received the in-bounds pass, had to grab it, spin around in mid-air, and shoot, all in one quick motion, because the clock starts the instant it touches any player. It also went right through the net, giving LA the game and a 3-2 series lead, cementing Fisher's reputation as one of the best clutch shooters ever, and leaving Duncan's shot as one of the best all-time clutch plays that didn't result in a win. As Shaquille O'Neal commented, "One lucky shot deserves another." Jaw Drop.
- David Lee, New York Knicks. Tips it in with 0.1 seconds.
- An important game for Maccabi Tel-Aviv (The European semi-finals?) which ended with a literal last-second desperate shot that earned the necessary 3 points to win the game...
- A high school basketball example that made national news for its sheer improbability: 2005 Minnesota state championship game, Eastview vs. Hopkins. In overtime, the game was tied. Eastview scored with 2.5 seconds left to go. Hopkins threw the ball the length of the court. One of their players fell on the floor, the ball bounced his way, and he grabbed the ball and threw it at the basket, while lying down on the floor. It went in to become the game-winning shot. It simply has to be seen to be believed.
- In the 2010 Big Ten basketball tournament, Michigan led Ohio State by 2 with 2.2 seconds left and the Buckeyes needing to drive the length of the court. What happened next proved beyond a shadow of a doubt who the National Player of the Year was.
- The Findlay Oilers won the 2009 Division II National College Basketball championship on a buzzer-beater.
- Butler tried it against Duke in the 2010 NCAA men's championship game with a half-court shot, but missed and Duke won. Both teams' Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
- The Chicago Bulls beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 in 1989. Michael Jordan makes the game winning basket with 2 seconds left on the clock. Famously known as "The Shot"
- Hill to Laettner, turn, swish.
- The last 40 seconds of the 2011 Unicaja-Real Madrid must be seen to be believed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi6jEaBj_qs
- Former UConn standout and current Seattle Storm star Sue Bird has a long list of last minute, clutch shots, from the 2001 Big East tournament championship game after Notre Dame had tied the game with 5 seconds left and she drives down the length of the court for the winning shot, to the 2010 WNBA Playoffs, where successive game winning baskets in the Western Conference Finals Game 2 and the WNBA Finals Game 1 gave her the media nickname of "Big Shot Bird."
- Watford for the win...
- Arizona vs. Cincinnati, February 10, 1996: The game is tied 76-76 with just a couple seconds left and Arizona's Miles Simon gets his hands on the ball. Just before the buzzer, he throws up a desperation 3/4ths court shot that, by some miracle, makes it in and Arizona wins 79-76, giving Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson his 500th career win.
- In the 2013 New York state Section 1 Class AA high school championships, with Mount Vernon leading New Rochelle 60-58, Khalil Edney's in-bounds pass with 2.9 seconds left is intercepted by a Mount Vernon player, who heaves the ball up into the air to kill the clock—only it comes down in Edney's hands with enough time for him to toss up a half-court shot, which goes in and, after a lengthy video review, is ultimately counted, giving New Rochelle the 61-60 win.
- In 2014's NCAA Division III playoffs, The University of Texas at Dallas Comets hosted the regional for their division. The final of said regional pitted them up against Whitworth, a school from Washington state. The game went to overtime off of a Whitworth basket to close out regulation, and UTD fell behind by seven early in the overtime. They came roaring back thanks to good free throw shooting and poor free throws by Whitworth, making it to 75-77 with 9.6 left to play. UTD fouled the inbounder, stopping the clock with 7.1 left and forcing a one-and-one free throw, which was missed. With the final 7.1 seconds, UTD dribbled the ball upcourt, and then put off a shot at 0.4 seconds left. The last 9.6 seconds plus stoppage time can be seen here.
- A real life example occurred in the 2005 Ashes, specifically in the second Test. Australia were just two runs away from victory when Harmison took the wicket of Mike Kasprowicz to level the series. It was almost universally hailed as the best Test match ever.
- Arguably just as exciting was the third Test a week later where Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath (at that time the worst Test batsman in the world) managed to cling on for a draw to keep the series level. The real hero was Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who defied the England bowlers for seven hours before getting out with only four overs to go.
- 2009, and the shoe's on the other foot as Monty Panesar and James Anderson hold out for twelve overs - nearly an hour's play. Panesar is a strong rival for McGrath's claim to be the world's worst batsman, and he held out much longer.
- The rules of fencing (in epee, saber, and foil) state that when the score is tied with one touch remaining, the fencers must salute each other (in other words, when this trope comes into play). When bouts go to five touches, it happens all the time, but it's considerably more epic when it happens in a bout to fifteen.
- In April 2009, Boston University's hockey team played against Miami (the one from Ohio, not Florida...)note and were down 1-3 in the last period. Boston had won every game so far that season and was doing flawlessly until that game. They scored two goals in the last minute of the game and won in overtime.
- Australian Rules Football has had the Adelaide Crows failing to make it to the semi-finals by the opposing team scoring a goal in the last ten seconds of the last quarter. Twice.
- The true "down to the last play" situation, however, is when a player takes a mark or is awarded a free kick within scoring distance when the final siren goes - if this happens, the player is allowed to take their shot after the siren. North Melbourne's Malcolm Blight was the subject of two famous examples. The first was when he kicked a goal from around 80 metres out to defeat Carlton. In the second, Blight had kicked a behind (one point) to tie the score against Hawthorn, but was awarded a free kick as the siren went. He had the option of accepting the behind or taking another shot, chose to take the shot... and missed the goals completely, resulting in Hawthorn winning the game.
- Hell, Wikipedia has a whole list of Aussie Rules examples.
- The 1999 US Open Golf Championship's final day was almost perfectly set up for this trope, especially in the final groupings, which contained three of the most popular golfers of the year.. The young prodigy Tiger Woods was hitting his stride as one of the best golfers of the decade, and fan favorite Payne Stewart was paired with another young gun, Phil Mickelson, who was attempting to gain his first major victory in his career. The fun part? All three were within a shot or two of each other, and the tournament was settled with Payne Stewart's 15-foot putt for par, barely breaking free of the tie between him and Mickelson.
- In the 2010 Winter Olympics men's hockey final, Canada lead 2-1 against the USA. The Americans managed to tie the game by 2-2 in last period, with only 20 or so seconds left for the period, but Canadian Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal during overtime.
- A similar but much older match was the eight-game Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972. After going down a game after four games at home, the Canadians went to the USSR determined to beat the team of "supermen". The tournament was tied and came down to the last game, when Canadian Paul Henderson scored the winner goal with less than a minute left on the clock.
- Happened at the 2009 Women's Field Hockey Champions Trophy in Sydney, Australia. The Hockeyroos, the Australian women's team, were the only team to have attended each edition of the annual tournament since it's inception in 1987. The competition pits six of the best countries against each other in a week-long tournament. Due to the format of rules following an Olympic year, the Hockeyroos had to win to qualify for the tournament in 2010. They won all round games, except against Argentina, who they then faced in the finals. In the finals full time ended on a draw, and golden goal extra time ended with no goals, so the event went to penalty flicks to decide a winner. At the end of five flicks each, both teams had scored three goals. It then went to sudden death flicks, Australia missed and Argentina scored. The Hockeyroos now miss the Champions Trophy for 2010, even though they came second.
- The 1985 World Snooker Final, between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor fits the Trope ludicrously well. Davis (aged 27) has already won the title 3 times, is the best player in the world, and is hot favourite to win again. Taylor (aged 36) is a lovable Irishman, always joking with the crowd, in the world's top ten or so but apparently outclassed, despite having had a good season (coming back bravely after the death of his mother). In the first-to-18 final, Davis races to an 8-0 lead. Taylor fights back to 11-11, but can't get ahead. Davis takes a 17-15 lead, only for Taylor to pull back again to 17-17. The edgy final frame takes over an hour, and eventually Taylor pulls out a brilliant pot to take it to the final black. He then gets the first chance, but misses badly. Davis looks sure to be left a sitter, but it goes slightly awkward - still, he's left with a pot he'd get 9 times out of 10 to win. He misses too, leaving an easy chance. Taylor steadies himself, and pots it to win 18-17 after nearly 15 hours of play.
- That final was awesome, in fact Taylor says that the ninth frame was his turning point. Davis just barely missed a black pot which would have put him up 9-0. Taylor was able to pot the colors and win his first frame. Davis has said that he "lost the plot" after that, and Taylor began to make his comeback. The final 35th frame was an epic, it lasted SIXTY-EIGHT minutes, since each player played so many safety shots. Truly a sight to behold for any billiards fan
- Cycling: Tour de France 1989. After winning the Tour de France for the first time in 1986, in 1987, Greg LeMond was seriously injured in an hunting incident; his recovery took two years. The last stage of the 1989 Tour de France was a time-trail; Laurent Fignon was leading LeMond by 50 seconds, by many considered to be a decisive lead, considering the final time trail was a mere 25 km. Using (for the time) unorthodox equipment (flat aerobars; teardrop shaped helmet), LeMond beat Fignot by 58 seconds, winning the Tour de France by the smallest margin ever: 8 seconds. That's 8 seconds after 22 days, 3,285 km and 87h 38m 35s of cycling (a difference of 0.0025%). LeMond would win the Tour de France for a third and last time in 1990.
- Fignon later pushed an idea through to management, that the final stage wouldn't be an ITT, and that the general classification would be safe by the time they reached that final stage.
- In 2011, Andy Schleck had a 57 seconds lead on Cadel Evans before the final counting stage in the general classification that year. The thing is, that stage was an ITT, which is a discipline where Evans is far superior to the highly specialized climbers Andy and Frank Schleck. The 4-second lead Frank had, and the 57-second lead Andy had, was not enough, as Evans beat Andy by 2.31 and Frank by 2.34, leaving the brothers from Luxembourg in second and third.
- This trope can happen in individual stages as well. In stage 14 of the 2014 Tour, breakaway rider Jack Bauer (no, not that Jack Bauer) looked like he was going to hold off the charging peloton, but he was caught less than 50 meters from the finish line. Bauer finished 10th in a stage he looked like he would win.
- Dick Mackey won the 1978 running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 14 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes, and 24 seconds, beating Rick Swenson by one second. The thousand-mile race was literally decided by a nose, as Mackey's lead dog was mere inches ahead of Swenson's.
- A Rugby Union example came in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final between Australia and England in Australia. After a half-time score of 5-14 to England, Elton Flatley kicked penalty goals for Australia in the 47th, 61st and 80th minutes to tie the game at 14-14. English fly half Jonny Wilkinson kicked a penalty goal to put England ahead in the 2nd minute of overtime, which Flatley responded to in the 97th minute with 3 minutes remaining. Wilkinson kicked a drop goal with 27 seconds left on the clock to win the game 20-17 and the World Cup for England.
- Probably more common in Rugby than you'd think - Since after the 80 minutes passes, play doesn't end until the next stoppage (and even then not if it's a penalty), a well disciplined team trailing by a narrow margin always has time to launch a final attack.
- While most poker games are decided by marginal decisions, high-ranking hands tend to provoke all-ins, often eliminating a player outright. A lot less contrived than sport examples, which require a close score and a well-timed window of opportunity.
- The 2012 NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers came down to a penalty shot. The Rangers had a 3-2 lead with just under 20 seconds remaining in regulation when the Flyers were awarded a penalty shot because a Ranger other than the goalkeeper had covered the puck in the goal crease (similar to the FIFA rule, except that the defender is not ejected, and a missed shot or save is dead). The Rangers' goalie made the save, and the Rangers held on to win the game.
- Any Tennis game that goes to the final setnote is like this. The score is completely even so effectively the last set is the only one that counts. In a both tiebreak and non-tiebreak final setsnote this means a minimum of two points settle the winner.
- Wimbledon 2009 men's singles final (Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick) went 2 sets all 16-14 in the final set. After 76 games, two points in the 77th (it went to deuce) are what wins it.
- The very next year, Wimbledon saw a longer match in the first round, with American John Isner beating Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the final set. That's right, that's one hundred thirty-eight games of tennis in the final set alone. It took 11 hours and 5 minutes, not counting the two times the match was suspended on account of darkness.
- The 2012 Australian Open - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic win two sets each, and the fifth goes to deuce before Djokovic wins the last two points in a nearly six-hour-long final.
- This is a trope that could be applied to a match by the Danish handball team in every big tournament since the 2007 World Championships:
- 2007 World Championships - Denmark vs Iceland (quarter final), In the end of first overtime of a very goal-rich match between the two arch rivals, the score is 41-41 before the final offensive play, then this happens. Denmark finished 3rd in the tournament.
- 2008 European Championships - Denmark vs Germany (semi final). After a very even match, Denmark gets a penalty in the last attacking sequence. The legendary winger Lars Christiansen scores. Denmark later beats Croatia in the final
- 2008 Olympics - Denmark vs Russia (group stage). The game is a tie at 24-24, when the time runs out and Denmark has a free throw. Direct free throws are almost never scored on, but that doesn't stop the youngest player in the squad, Mikkel Hansen, from scoring a crazy goal, getting very well known in Denmark. Denmark later got knocked out in the quarter finals, getting the worst result ever for Super Coach Ulrik Wilbek in a big tournament - Mikkel Hansen is now regarded as one of the absolutely best handballers in the world
- 2009 World Championships - Denmark vs Serbia (group stage). A match which will probably be remembered for horrid defending and goalkeeping, it's a 36-36 tie in the final attack. With a five seconds to go, Lasse Boesen scores a goal, giving the victory to Denmark. Denmark lost the semi-finals and finished 4th
- 2010 European Championships - Denmark vs Norway (main round). Same as in the 2008 European championship, except the score being 23-23 before Anders Eggert took the penalty. Denmark finished 5th in that tournament.
- 2011 World Championships - Denmark vs France (final). Again it's the last attacking play, only this time, Denmark is one goal behind the defending champions at 30-31. It's being lined up for a shot, where everyone expects tournament top scorer Mikkel Hansen to take the shot. The ball is passed to Spellerberg instead, who scores and sends it to overtime. Denmark loses the final in overtime.
- 2012 European Championships - Denmark vs Macedonia (main round). Score is 32-32, 10 seconds left and the Macedonians are lining up for a shot which is to be taken by their star player, Kiril Lazarov. Lazarov shoots, save by Landin, rebound picked up by.. René Toft, pass to Hansen, pass to Lindberg, GOAL and with a second to spare. Video here. Go to 0:50 to see the sequence). Denmark went from (literally) zero to hero, the comeback starting with that win, ending with a 21-19 win against hosts Serbia in the final.
- All three races of the 1978 Triple Crown were won by 2 lengths or less, with all three with the same win and place: Affirmed and Alydar, respectively. The most exciting came at the Belmont: the pair remained neck-and-neck down the entire stretch, with Affirmed winning it (and the Triple Crown, so far the last horse to do so) by a nose.
- In the final match of the final event in the WEC promotion, Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson had split the first four rounds going into the fifth. With time running down, Pettis unleashed one of the craziest moves in MMA history, jumping off the fence and nailing Henderson in the face with the same foot. It somehow didn't knock Henderson out (though it did send him to the canvas), but did seal a decision win for Pettis and won him the promotion's lightweight championship.
- Australia's 1999 Cricket World Cup results were a lot like this in the later matches. Their final match in the Round Robin Super Six stage against South Africa was won with only two balls remaining. Their semi-final match, also against South Africa resulted in a tie after a mix-up on the final ball allowed one of the South African batsman to be run out, resulting in a tie and allowing Australia to advance to the final due to a higher net run-rate.
- ComedySportz. This is a popular improvisational theater "sport" played around the world. It's played between two teams trying to get laughs from the audience. Because their goal is only to get laughs, they don't really care who wins or loses. As a result of this, they will do what the audience wants, and they know that the audience will like it when it is down to the last point. As such, a referee will always go out of his/her way in order to make the scores even, by being more strict or more lenient on the given teams. Players will do this as well, by trying to lose if they are winning by a landslide. The most frequent players even lampshade this, by commenting that it seems to happen a lot.
- The final of the netball competition at the 2010 Commonwealth Games between Australia and New Zealand ended up lasting nearly one-and-a-half times longer than a normal netball game. After 60 minutes, the scores were tied and the game went into extra time of seven minutes each way. After that didn't separate them, the game went into double extra time where the first team to be two goals ahead of the other wins. Ten minutes later, 84 minutes after the game started, New Zealand managed to get two goals ahead of Australia and win the game 66-64, and the gold medal.
- Giro d'Italia 2012 has the battle between Hesjedal and Rodriguez in the final time trial on the final stage. 28.2 km against the clock, where Rodriguez had a lead of 31 seconds before the stage. While Rodriguez put up one of the best time trials of his career, it wasn't enough to hold off the Canadian, leaving Hesjedal to win the Giro, the first Grand Tour by a Canadian.
- In a one day international cricket match in February 1981, when New Zealand was six runs behind Australia on the final ball, and New Zealand needed to score a six off the final ball to tie the game. This lead to the infamous underarm bowling incident in which bowler Trevor Chappell bowled the ball slow underarm, not illegal but incredibly unsportsmanlike, so it was impossible for batsman Brian McKechnie to even score a single run off it. The incident was condemned by both Australian and New Zealand cricket fans, and even each country's respective Prime Ministers.
- When a volleyball tiebreaker surpasses the regular 15 points and is forced to the "team only clinches it after getting a two point advantage" rule it gets particularly nail-biting. If it reaches the 25 points of regular sets - or even surpasses it - both audience and players will be nervous beyond any description.
- Similarly, playoffs in ice hockey can get exciting when games go into overtime, because in the playoffs the game doesn't end until one team scores the tiebreaking goal. The excitement grows even more when the game can be a series-clincher (moreso if it's for the championship), and especially if it's the rubber game (the last in the series, usually game seven).
- In 1992 Olympics, gold medal favorite Midori Ito looked unlikely to win a medal at all, thanks to the disastrous short program she skated (she was crumbling under the intense pressure to win). Literally at the last minute of her long program, she threw in her signature triple Axel jump (she was the first woman to ever land one), resulting in her winning the silver medal.