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Every Year They Fizzle Out
Chris Graham: Well, they always do. This year, Arizona was supposed to make the Elite Eight. Instead, once again, they turned out to be the Tournament's Peyton Manning.
Ted Trimble: What do you mean?
Chris Graham: Well, you know how, every year, Arizona comes in with impressive stats and all the hype, and, every year, they.. fizzle out!
Ted Trimble: Yeah... sure. But why is that a Peyton Manning?
Chris Graham: You know that expression.
Ted Trimble: No.
Mandy Jensen: Um... it's like — how do I put this? When someone has this great reputation, but you always wonder why, because, when it really counts, they can't deliver?
Chris Graham: Exactly! Exactly!
Ted Trimble: Yeah, fine, but.. still — why a Peyton Manning? I don't get it!
Chris Graham: I think you're missing the point! Uh — basically, the point is: like the rest of us, you bought the Arizona hype, and, when they did their usual Peyton Manning, you got burned!

Saturday Night Live, ESPN's NCAA Tournament Pool Party

This person is rarely successful: they might look good on paper, but when it counts they fizzle out.

Supporters will claim he is the greatest thing since sliced bread, all the high-stakes failures do not prove anything because they really won them and will attack anyone who tries to point out that they can't deliver when it counts.

Compare Fake Ultimate Hero, where most people seem to realize they are not that great, and Small Name, Big Ego, when it's the person himself who has a bloated self-esteem.

The above exchange comes from an SNL sketch while Manning, the former Trope Namer, was hosting after he won the Super Bowl. Manning himself was playing Ted Trimble with Jason Sudeikis as Chris Graham.

This is different from Informed Ability in that the person might have the skills and you have seen them, but they are not able to finish the job with them. A villain who regularly faces a Boring Invincible Hero is likely to be this. Fans of these teams tend to become Acceptable Hobby Targets.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Auto Racing 
Due to the large fields, this trope can occur many times in auto racing, whether in NASCAR, Formula One or the Indy Car Series:
  • In the NASCAR ranks, Mark Martin is like a walking version of this trope. He's a perennial crowd and statistical favorite through his career (even into his early 50s), but he's never won a Cup Series championship nor a Daytona 500; many fans think he's been ripped off of at least one of each (the best known of each being the dastardly 46-point penalty that wasn't his fault and cost him a championship to Dale Earnhardt in 1990, and the infamous finish of the 2007 Daytona 500 regarding NASCAR allowing him and race winner Kevin Harvick to fight to the checkers while a last-lap Big One occurred behind them in a situation where NASCAR would throw the caution flag in other scenarios; it has been debated that Martin was ahead of Harvick when the crash happened).
  • Before the title got passed over to Martin, Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) was best known as the driver that just couldn't win a Harley J. Earl Trophy: wrecks, blown engines, flat tires, being outraced by other drivers (in 1993 and 1996, he got passed late race by Dale Jarrett and had to settle for second), Dale just couldn't win it until his 20th try, in 1998; even then, that race ended under caution, so who knows whether or not he or Bobby Labonte would have led that final lap had it been green.
    • Earnhardt's not alone here: Buddy Baker only won the Daytona 500 in his 18th try, while Darrell Waltrip only won it in his 17th try, and Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Michael Waltrip in their 15th tries.
    • To add to the irony, it took Dale Earnhardt twenty attempts to win the Daytona 500, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. managed to win the 500 twice in fifteen starts, and those were on his fifth try (2004) and 15th try (2014).
  • In addition to Martin and Earnhardt, Tony Stewart has three Sprint Cup championships and won 48 races, but he has been shutout in the Daytona 500 every time it looks like he has a shot. In 2004, he led 98 laps, or almost half of the race, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. overtook him with 20 laps to go after the last pit stop cycle and he couldn't get around him. In 2008, Stewart led coming to the white flag, but he and his then-Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch got outdrafted by the Penske duo of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, and Newman took the flag. Ironically, Newman would join Stewart's new team in 2009; neither driver won the 500 (Newman's Daytona 500 win was with Team Penske Penske in their #12 Dodge), although Stewart has won the Coke Zero 400 four times (2005, 2006, 2009, 2012), making Stewart the only multiple-time winner of that race who has never won the Daytona 500note .
  • Can easily be said about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. when you consider that after that 2004 season, he had single wins in 2005 and 2006, then a 76 race winless streak from the spring Richmond race to the 2008 Lifelock 400 at Michigan, followed by a 143 race winless streak to the June 2012 Michigan race. A concussion that put him out for two races after Talladega made the last part of the season mediocre for him. Fortunately, Earnhardt, Jr. showed evidence of significant recovery, as he scored eight top tens in the 2013 Chase and scored the second most points of all the Chase drivers behind Jimmie Johnson. He then broke a 55 race winless streak by winning the Daytona 500 again in 2014, and then proceeded to sweep both Pocono races.
  • In recent years, Carl Edwards has become one of these, having the misfortune to be one of the best non-Hendrick drivers in an era dominated by Hendrick drivers (the most heartbreaking example being losing in 2011 to the Hendrick-affiliated Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker, he led by three points going into the race - however, the fact that Stewart had more wins than Edwards contributed; for the record, every championship from 2005-2011 was won by Chevrolet - two with Stewart and five with Jimmie Johnson). Likely, if Edwards had been able to pass Regan Smith at Darlington in the spring on the last restart, he would have won the championship.
    • Let's not forget the 2009 Aaron's 499, where approaching the finish line, Edwards spun backwards after contact from Brad Keselowski, causing Edwards to go airborne, and bounce off Ryan Newman's hood into the catch fence.
  • Kyle Busch has become notorious for flaming out once the Chase begins, no matter how well he does in the regular season. The most dramatic example of this is 2008, where he won eight regular season races and led by over 400 points just before the Chase reset - then crapped out immediately after, failing to win a single Chase race on his way to a 10th place finish (out of 12 Chasers).
  • It's been a recent trend that the runner-up in the Chase one year gets massive hype as the series' potential next champion, but not only do the fail to win the Sprint Cup the next year, more often than not their stats fall way off and they find themselves struggling just to make the next Chase, let alone do anything once they get there. Every driver who finished runner up to Jimmie Johnson during his streak of five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010 was subjected to this trope.
    • Carl Edwards is the defining example of this, as part of his larger tendency to fizzle out. After finishing third on a tiebreaker in 2005 (same points as Greg Biffle, but Biffle won six times to Edwards' four), he ultimately missed the 2006 Chase and wouldn't win another race until 2007. In 2008, he won nine times but finished second to Jimmie Johnson after Johnson basically blew away the other Chasers, with even Edwards' three wins in the last four races not being enough to overcome Johnson's lead. He then limped into the 2009 Chase and again went nearly two years without a win. 2011's heartbreak was followed by a series of cascading disasters over the summer of 2012, which took him completely out of the Chase, and he's once again went nearly two years without a race win.
    • For that matter, Biffle also missed the 2006 Chase, and even defending champion Tony Stewart couldn't manage to back up his regular season performance well enough to get in - although he ended up winning three Chase races anyway.note 
    • 2006 runner-up Matt Kenseth didn't fall off as dramatically as the rest of these, but he still failed to follow up his impressive run in 2007, dropping from four wins to two, and from second to fourth in final points.
    • 2007 runner-up Jeff Gordon went from six wins and a modern-era record thirty top tens to zero wins, nineteen top tens and about the same "we'll just be taking up Chase space" sentiment that Tony Stewart expressed in 2011, only this time it was a Self Fulfilling Prophecy.
    • 2009 runner-up Mark Martin actually went into what may or may not be his swansong after he missed the Chase and failed to win in 2010.
    • 2010 runner-up Denny Hamlin is legendary in this regard - everyone thought he would put it all together in 2011 and deliver Toyota its first championship, but the self-destruct that cost him the 2010 championship carried into 2011, as he had only one win, limped into the Chase on the Wildcard, and ultimately parted ways with crew chief Mike Ford after it became clear that the two no longer trusted each other.
    • Initially, it looked like 2012 runner-up Clint Bowyer was going to avert this for 2013, as he was second in points for a big chunk of the regular season. However, his central role in Spingate and the subsequent media hounding got him out of sorts enough that his driving suffered in the Chase - although he got six top tens in the Chase, only two of those (third at Martinsville, fifth at Homestead) were better than ninth, and that was enough to keep him from seriously contending for the Cup, ultimately finishing seventh. It also didn't help that, much like Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and all three of Carl Edwards' letdown seasons before him, he failed to win a single race.
      • Also an inversion with the 2012 runners-up. Brad Keselowski won five races in 2012 to win the championship title, while Jimmie Johnson finished third in the final points. In 2013, Johnson won the Daytona 500 and five more races, led the points for 28 of 36 weeks, and won his sixth championship title. Keselowski, on the other hand, struggled greatly, and ultimately missed the Chase. His only win of 2013 was playing "spoiler" at Charlotte in October.
    • Matt Kenseth in 2014 once again played it straight: after seven wins and a runner up finish to Jimmie Johnson in the points in 2013, he had no wins through the first 21 races of 2014, when he'd won four races through this same time period the year before.
  • Jamie McMurray first raced in the Sprint Cup Series in 2002, turned full time in 2003, and has a trophy collection many stock car drivers would envy: a Daytona 500, a Brickyard 400 and two wins at Charlotte are among his seven Cup Series wins, plus he has an all-star race victory in 2014. He has five top 15 points finishes, but has never cracked the top 10...mostly because 2004 was the first year the Chase system was adopted, and he has never made the Chase.

  • No winless drought in auto racing might be better documented than the entire Andretti family at the Indianapolis 500. Sure, Mario won the race in 1969, two years after winning the Daytona 500 (even that is part of the "curse", as Mario is one of the top Indy Car drivers ever, and most of the rest have 2, 3, or even 4 wins at Indianapolis), but in the 40 years since then, nobody from the clan has won it as a driver, often having it snatched away in bizarre and mind-numbing scenarios, such as Danny Sullivan's spin and win over Mario in '85, mechanical problems in '87, Michael's own problems in '92 (he led 160 of 200 laps), and Marco losing it to Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 despite leading on lap 199 (the first driver ever to lead lap 199 and not win; critics say Marco lost it due to taking the wrong line into turn 3 which cost him too much speed). Having Michael win the race as a car owner for Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, and Ryan Hunter-Reay really doesn't take away any of the sting...

  • In Indy Car racing, Helio Castroneves best embodies this trope - despite racing for Roger Penske (always one of the top teams in the series), winning multiple races most seasons, and being in an elite category as a three-time Indy 500 winner (nobody has more than 4), he has never won a series championship.
    • His teammate Will Power might have inherited the throne. He's an ace on road and street circuits but can't perform on an oval under pressure (i.e. in the last race of the season) to save his life, as he lost the championship lead in the final race for three years running. Each of those seasons, the finale was on an oval. Finally broken in 2014, but Castroneves still finished 2nd in points that year.
      • Castroneves reinherited the throne in 2013, having held nearly a one-race lead on Scott Dixon with three races to go, Castroneves suffered gearbox issues in both legs of the Houston doubleheader, while Dixon finished 1st and 2nd to take a lead he wouldn't relinquish at Fontana. Even worse, Castroneves was sponsored at Houston by Shell & Pennzoil who were the sponsors of those two races.
    • Applies to Japanese manufacturers at Le Mans and as constructors in Formula One. Honda had great success as an engine manufacturer to McLaren and others but the Honda team only has three wins (one each in 1965, 1967 and 2006). The Toyota F1 team raced from 2002 to 2009 in F1 and won nothing despite their huge budget. Toyota has tried the Le Mans 24 Hours several times in different decades and has never cracked the top step of the podium. In fact the only Japanese win at Le Mans was Mazda in 1991. Nissan tried Le Mans but also never won it.
  • This trope is also pretty common amongst the Formula One. Victories are largely determined by the quality of the car, the driver himself can only do so much. If his car is a driving wreck even the most skilled pilot will struggle to even secure some points, not even talking about winning a race here. As such most races are won by drivers from the top two or three teams, with the occasional underdog winning one every once in a while. German driver Nico Rosberg for example is considered an exceptionally good driver with lots of experience despite his young age, but he managed to secure his first win after competing in over 100 races, despite everyone expecting him to be able to this much earlier.
    • Heck, it took Jenson Button 114 tries to win his first race, and even that was a fluke. It was unknown whether he'd even win again, especially after his team (the aformentioned Honda) becoming backmarkers. It can be argued that his career was saved when Ross Brawn bought the Honda cars after they withdrew from the sport. Jenson and the newly-renamed Brawn GP dominated the first half of the 2009 season, and while he didn't win again that year, he finally won his first title, a whole 9 years after receiving all the hype in the world.

    College Sports 
  • The University of Michigan football team was well known for most of the '00s to have an exceptional season, and then lose both The Game versus Ohio State (the biggest rivalry in college football) and their Bowl game. The worst was in 2006, when Michigan went into The Game after a perfect season ranked #2 to OSU's #1 and suffered a heartbreaking 42-39 loss, and then proceeded to go to the Rose Bowl and get thoroughly thrashed by the University of Southern California 32-18 after getting denied a shot at a rematch in the BCS National Championship game. Their only consolation was that OSU was itself thrashed even worse by Florida 41-14 in the title game. Go Blue.
    • Making this a real Kick the Dog moment was that just the day prior to the now-famous edition of The Game, legendary Michigan coach and former Ohio State assistant Bo Schembechler died.
    • Schembechler himself also seemed to embody this trope. In his 20+ year career at Michigan, he dominated the Big Ten, won conference titles almost every other year, and has been hailed as one of the greatest head coaches in college football history... and yet he was never able to win a national championship and was notorious for losing bowl games.note 
    • Ohio State's victory in The Game 2006 turned out to be a Pyrrhic one; they ended up losing to Florida 41-14 in the national title game. Speaking of...
  • Ohio State is a perennial powerhouse and generally acknowledged by everybody except Michigan fans as the top team in the Big 10. But they also have a well-earned reputation for postseason futility against the Southeastern Conferencenote , with their only bowl win against an SEC team being in the 2011 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas...which was officially vacated (along with all of their other wins for the 2010-2011 season) due to OSU putting 5 ineligible players on the field. The losing streak against the SEC includes two years in a row in which a #1 ranked Ohio State met an SEC team in the national championship game, and proceeded to lose in embarrassing fashion (once to Florida and once to LSU).
    • Heck, at one point, the above example was reversed - the Buckeyes would often see a great season ruined by losing to Michigan. OSU went 33 years without a national championship from 1969-2001, often due to losses to the Wolverines. Perhaps the two biggest examples: OSU was a consensus #1 in 1969 and then lost their last regular season game 24-12 to the Wolverines (in Bo Schembechler's first year as head coach). Then in 1995, a 31-23 loss to Michigan made OSU lose the Rose Bowl bid to Northwestern, who hadn't gone to Pasadena in 45 years.
  • While we're still on the subject of Big Ten teams, let's not forget Michigan State. Often times they would always get off to a flying start only to end with late season collapses and embarrassing losses, leading to the nickname "Same Old State". For the 2010-2011 season, it seemed that they may have finally proven themselves to be a real contendernote , sharing the Big Ten title with Wisconsin and Ohio State. Then came the Capital One Bowl against Alabama, which was a loss deemed so bad by many (Alabama won 49-7.) that people wondered why they even bothered to show up to the game, let alone continue to play after halftime. In turn, the team lost the credibility they built up that year, as people just chalked up the loss to Michigan State "holding their illusion up longer than usual".
    • They finally shed the label in 2011-12 by beating an SEC opponent (Georgia) in the Outback Bowl. In double-overtime. The fact that it came down to hoping for Georgia's kicker to miss a chip-shot field goal in the first overtime and blocking a field-goal in the second overtime did not make the win any more impressive.
    • And now, in 2013-14, Michigan State won its division and a #10 ranking by going 11-1 (with the sole loss being a nail-biter against Notre Dame), and then roundly beat until-then-undefeated (indeed, two-seasons undefeated) national #2 Ohio State 24-34, sending MSU to the Rose Bowl at the #4 slot as a slight favorite over Stanford. The Spartans won 24–20.
  • In College basketball, the NCAA men's and women's tournaments are a subversion of this trope, given that besides the usual powerhouses, different teams tend to appear every other year. One exception is Arizona, who was the last men's team with a notable tournament streak; 25 straight appearances (until 2010). In fact, one of the attractions to March Madness is that it's incredibly, exceedingly difficult for one team to make it to the Final Four two years in a row. On the women's side, however, that is not exactly the case with Boring Invincible Heroines Connecticut, Tennessee and Stanford. Any one of the three (if not all three of them) is a safe bet to reach the Final Four year in and year out.
    • University of North Carolina has been a long-dominant team, but had a nasty reputation between 1976 and 2005 as the University Noted for Choking, because they only won three championships in thirty years despite regularly making the top 8 or the Final Four.
    • People who fill out men's brackets have learned to take Duke and Kentucky no further than the Elite Eight in most cases. In fairness, Duke won the national title in 2010, and Kentucky won in 2012 and made the final in 2014.
  • The University of New Hampshire Wildcats football team consistently defeats higher ranked teams, NCAA Division I FBSnote  teams (they're FCSnote ), and, from 2005 to 2008, lost in the I-AA/FCS semifinals four years in a row. They lost in the quarterfinals in 2009 and 2010, and the round of 16 in 2011.
  • Oklahoma football almost always has a winning season, but ever since head coach Bob Stoops' brother and defensive coordinator Mike left to become the Arizona head coach, neither has had the success alone that they achieved together, and Oklahoma's reputation for winning big games (To the point where Bob Stoops was referred to as "Big Game Bob") has given way to a reputation for choking in them (Texas and Oklahoma State fans in particular have taken to branding them Chokelahoma), especially after the Boise State game. Even reuniting the Stoops brothers in 2012 has yet to reverse the choking trend.
    • With Oklahoma beating a heavily favored Alabama 45-31 in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, the choking seems to have finally ended.
  • The University of Missouri Tigers have been playing basketball since the early 1900's and still have never appeared in a Final Four, making them the Butt Monkey of border state rival (and Invincible Hero) the University of Kansas. This is despite the fact that Missouri has dominated Kansas in nearly everything else. Kansas could also qualify, as they have just three championships to show for their near semi-annual Final Four appearances.
    • Missouri has made 25 NCAA tournament appearances without a Final Four, but BYU is the leader with 27.
  • Clemson in everything. It's to the point where among college football fans, this trope is called "Clemsoning". The latest example: the 2013 football season, in which Clemson was undefeated, ranked #3 in the country and seen as a serious national championship contender...until suffering a 51-14 annihilation at the hands of Florida State.
    • Continued in 2014, when Clemson was repeatedly handed the chance to upset #1 Florida State - starting with FSU's Heisman winning QB being suspended for the game for yelling "Fuck her right in the pussy" in the student union (seriously) and ending with FSU serving up a turnover inside their end of the field with less than 2 minutes left of a tied game. Clemson denied all these offers and lost in overtime.
  • The Georgia Southern Eagles football team was a powerhouse within Division I FCS, winning 6 national titles. However, in their last three seasons in that division, the Eagles came up short in the semifinals, losing to the University of Delaware Blue Hens in 2010 and the North Dakota State Bison in 2011 and 2012. After that, they invoked Screw This, I'm Outta Here!, announcing a transition to FBS; they will become members of the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
  • The Pitt Panthers Men's Basketball Team managed to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2009. Only once in that span did they make the Elite 8, and they never made the Final Four.
  • The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team in the 80's and early 90's under coach Tom Osborne never lost more than three games a year and were in contention for a national title every year, but choked against the speedy, athletic southern teams (most notably Florida State and Miami, who clinched 3 combined national titles in bowl games against Nebraska). The most painful of these was in the 1983-84 season, when undefeated #1 Nebraska tried and failed a two-point conversion against Miami that would have won the national championship, when a standard PAT kick would have tied the game (there was no overtime in college football until 1996) and STILL kept them at #1 in the rankings. This infamously gut-wrenching moment can be viewed here: [1]

    MLB 
  • Paul Dickson's Baseball Dictionary uses the term "morning glory" for a hitter who shines early in the season but then cools off.
  • The Chicago Cubs have a very long-standing reputation as "lovable losers". It is unlikely that anyone alive today saw their last World Series win (1908), and most people in the stands at their last World Series appearance (1945) are probably also dead. But in the last decade, they've fielded good teams that by all rights should have been contenders. Despite that, they're still the Cubs. No matter how good they seem to be in a given season, you know that they'll choke somewhere short of the World Series.
    • The Cubs' reputation for fizzling is so entrenched that it has led to the supposed Curse of the Billy Goat being blamed. Cubs lore has it that a bar ownernote  was told to leave Wrigley Field (the Cubs' home field since 1914) during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series because his goat was bothering other fans, so the the owner put a curse on the Cubs ("Them Cubs, they aren't gonna win no more.") - the Cubs lost that game, lost the series, and have not played a World Series game since. Superstitious fans have even tried to break the curse through elaborate, usually goat-related means.
  • The 00's New York Yankees were known for this. They were coming off of their unbelievable run of 4 World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. However, between 2001 and 2008, they achieved the top seed in the AL 3 times and made the World Series twice, and didn't win a single title, one of the longest stretches in the history of the club. They had three particularly notable years in that stretch. First was in 2001, when they fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team in only its 4th year, in the World Series, making the D-backs the youngest team in modern American professional sports to win their sport's title. The second was 2004, when they became the first team in MLB history and only the third team in the history of American sports to lose a best-of-7 series after racing out to a 3-0 lead, falling to the division rival Boston Red Sox. The third time was in 2008, when they missed the postseason for the first time since the early 90s.
    • The ultimate humbling, however, may have been 2010: The defending champion Yankees, the team with the most World Series appearances in history, lost the pennant to the Texas Rangers - the oldest MLB franchise to never reach the Series before then. Extra points for Alex Rodriguez - not just the supposed best player in the game, but one the Yanks poached from the Rangers six years earlier - striking out looking to end the AL Championship Series.
    • There was also Dave Winfield, whom George Steinbrenner called "Mr. May" due to his failure to perform in October when it mattered. Alex Rodriguez seems to hold this role now (former Yankees manager Joe Torre has revealed that Rodriguez's nickname "A-Rod" was altered in the locker room to "A-Fraud" for his poor postseason performances), though his recent clutch performance in the 2009 Yankees series win might shake that a bit.
  • The Atlanta Braves won a record-setting 14 consecutive division titles (or 14 in 15 seasons, depending on whether you believe the 1994 season, which ended in strike, counts). They took home the World Series trophy once (the strike-shortened 1995 season). The streak ended with four consecutive first-round exits. This despite having three future Hall of Fame pitchers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz all in their prime (one of those three won the Cy Young Award in a stretch of seven out of eight years in the 1990s, although one belonged to Maddux when he was with the Chicago Cubs), forming one of the greatest rotations in baseball history.
  • The 2011 Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves will forever be linked for one miraculous, baffling and unbelievable 2 hours and 10 minutes: Game 162 on September 28-September 29. Both teams were and still are considered codifiers even after the Braves won the World Series in 1995 (as previously mentioned) and until the Red Sox won in 2004. Anyway, "Game 162" for 2011 does not refer to one game, but four that would determine the wild card seeds for the playoffs. In 2 hours and 9 minutes, the Red Sox and Braves were out of the playoffs, and the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays were in. A short timeline is below:
    • 9:56 pm Eastern in Atlanta: Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a sacrifice fly in the top of the 9th inning, tying the game at 3-3.
    • 10:23 pm Eastern in Tampa Bay: Evan Longoria hits a home run in the bottom of the 8th; the score is Yankees 7, Rays 6. The Rays began the inning down 7-0.
    • 10:26 pm Eastern in Houston: Cardinals defeat Astros 8-0. At this point, they'd need the Braves to lose to have the wildcard outright. If the Braves won, they'd have to play an additional game to determine the National League wildcard seed.
    • 10:47 pm Eastern in Tampa Bay: Dan Johnson hits a home run to tie the Yankees-Rays game. That was Johnson's first hit since the first month of the season.
    • 10:58 pm Eastern in Baltimore: Play resumes after a rain delay of 1 hour 24 minutes, with the Red Sox leading 3-2 at the seventh-inning stretch.
    • 11:28 pm Eastern in Atlanta: Hunter Pence scores in the 13th inning for the Philadelphia Phillies to take a 4-3 lead.
    • 11:40 pm Eastern in Atlanta: Game over. Braves are out, Cardinals are in.
    • 11:45 pm Eastern in Tampa Bay: Sox get knocked on defense. Bill Simmons needs another drink.
    • 11:59 pm Eastern in Baltimore: The Orioles' Nolan Reimold ties their respective game versus the Red Sox at 3-3.
    • 12:02 am Eastern in Baltimore: Robert Andino hits a game-winning single; Orioles win 4-3; it's the backup SS's 7th RBI against Boston in the last eight days. The Red Sox now need Rays to lose to force an additional game for the American League wildcard seed.
    • Just three minutes later...12:05 am Eastern in Tampa Bay: Longoria hits a game-winning home run: Rays 8, Yankees 7. Rays are in, the Red Sox are out.
    • Remember: Tampa Bay was losing 7-0 with six outs to go in Game 162 against the juggernaut Yanks. They had to pull a Miracle Rally just to pull off their September Miracle Rally! It was like a Major League movie come to life (and no team had ever rallied from such a deficit in the final game of the season to get into the playoffs).
    • The Sox, meanwhile, were 89-0 when leading after 8 innings that year, with closer Jonathan Papelbon facing the bottom of the hapless O's lineup with two outs and no one on.
    • This whole ordeal is now Harsher in Hindsight for the Rays and Yankees. Both teams lost in the AL Division Series to the Rangers and Tigers, respectively. "Game 162" was meaningless for the Yankees; they had already won the AL East and were in the playoffs win or lose.
      • It's also this for the Braves when you remember that the Cardinals ended up winning the 2011 title. In 2012, the Braves averted this trope in shocking fashion when an infield fly call went the Cardinals way. In the newly established Wild Card Playoff Game. Where Atlanta had Home Field. Due to having an 8 game advance on the defending Cards, who themselves were only 2 up on the 6th place Dodgers at the end of the Season.
    • And the historical capper: Both teams set the mark for biggest blown September leads in baseball history. The Red Sox led the Rays for the AL Wild Card by 9 games on September 3rd, the Braves led the Cardinals for the NL wild card by 8.5, and no team had ever squandered such a commanding lead in September, with their mathematical odds of reaching the playoffs each being over 99%. Since the Red Sox are the more signature franchise and were the favorites to win it all after adding superstar Carl Crawford, they grabbed most of the headlines, much to the small consolation of the Braves, who are basically the MLB leader in this trope over the last 20 years.
    • Needless to say, probably the greatest day of baseball ever. Except for the fans of the two losersnote .
  • The New York Mets have gotten this in the past few years. Oftentimes, they'll start the year playing fairly well, but by August or September, things will go wrong enough for them to be out. The worst of these were their epic collapses in both 2007 and 2008.
  • The Moneyball-era Oakland Athletics were one of the best teams in baseball from 2000 to 2003, making the playoffs every year, and every year they found creative ways to lose in five games in the ALDS. In 2001, they seemed to have the best team in MLB, winning 102 games, playing better than the 114-win Seattle Mariners... but lost in the first round when Jeremy Giambi failed to slide.
  • The Houston Astros have been this any time they field a good team. Of particular note is their late-90's run, where they won the NL Central three years in a row, but not once made it past the Division Series. They later won the Division Series in 2005, defeating the Atlanta Braves 3-1, and winning the NLCS by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2. Then they would face the AL champions Chicago White Sox, and the Astros were favored to win the Series (their first ever), especially since Roger Clemens was among the notable players in the team. Instead, the White Sox swept them 4-0. To further twist the knife in this ordeal, Clemens had a hamstring tear one month prior to the World Series. While the injury didn't hamper much of his performance in the Division and NL Championship Series, it finally did him in during Game 1 of the World Series (he lasted only two innings), which contributed to the Astros getting swept by the Sox.
  • In both 2011 and 2012, the Cleveland Indians (you'll see teams from this city mentioned a lot) were the #1 team in their division early on in the season (In 2011, they were the #1 team in all of baseball for a short time). In both instances, however, they had a dismal second half and failed to make the playoffs. In 2012, they actually finished the season in last place in their division due to how terrible the second half of their season was.
    • In the '90s, they made it to the World Series twice and lost both times: in 1995 to the aforementioned Braves, and in 1997 to the Florida Marlinsnote .
    • The Indians hold the second-longest World Series victory drought, and longest in the American League since 2005 - their last World Series win was in 1948.
  • The Texas Rangers, sad to say, have entered this territory from 2010 to 2012. Consecutive American League pennants (2010 and 2011) and no World Series title. In 2012, they were forced to play in a wild-card play-in game after losing the American League West division chase to a team that took over first place for the last day of the regular season-the Oakland Athletics. And then, the Rangers lost *that* wild-card game to the Baltimore Orioles.
    • And in 2013 they didn't even qualify, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in a tiebreaker.
  • After 2011 and 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates have now gotten this reputation. At one time the Pirates were one of the top contending teams in the MLB with historic players and World Series titles to match. However, after respected coach Jim Leland left the Pirates in the 90s, they went on a losing streak that lasted for two decades. In 2011, they shocked the baseball world by suddenly having a winning record going into the All-Star break. However, after a marathon game with the Atlanta Braves that lasted 20-innings, the Pirates lost over a suspect call. From that moment onward, they went on a losing streak and finished the year with a losing record. 2012 would even be more painful for them. The Pirates carried a winning record all the way until September, only for them to suddenly start losing series to some of the worst teams like the Chicago Cubs, and ended their season with another losing record - becoming the first team to end 20 straight seasons with a losing record in baseball history.
    • In 2013, the Pirates finally managed to avoid a losing season for the first time in two decades. But now the question is: Can they keep getting better every year from now on, or will they fall back into their losing ways.
  • This, in a nutshell, is what the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" upon the Boston Red Sox consisted of. (For the record, most Sox fans didn't think of their team as "cursed"—just subject to repeated misfortunes.) From 1918 to 2004, the thing with the Red Sox—unlike the other famous "cursed" team of baseball, the Chicago Cubs—was that they were usually very good. It's just that they could never...quite...make it. In a typical year, they would be a very good team—but they often had difficulty assembling the best record in the American League (which was how the pennant was determined until 1969). Even when they made it to the World Series—or in later years, to the postseason playoffs—they kept not quite being able to clinch that last win. If you're looking for the definition of Every Year They Fizzle Out in baseball, it's pretty much the Red Sox for that whole period of their history.

    NBA 
  • The Utah Jazz in The Nineties. Their power forward Karl Malone had a tendency to shoot worse and be less assertive in the playoffs. Also, there was some guy named Jordan who consistently screwed up their postseason hopes.
    • The New York Knicks from the The Nineties say hello. Made even worse by actually facing Jordan before the finals (before he briefly retired and the Knicks defeated the Bulls in 94, New York spent three years in a row losing!).
      • Heck, any good NBA team during the The Nineties that wasn't the Chicago Bulls or the Houston Rockets was this, thanks to Jordan's (and Olajuwon's, during Jordan's temporary retirement) reign. Examples include Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns, Gary Payton's Seattle SuperSonics, the underrated Charlotte Hornets with Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, and the Shaq-and-Penny Orlando Magic.
  • The Golden State Warriors during the brief Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin) era were among the NBA's best offensive teams, yet they never succeeded in the playoffs due to their so-so defense.
  • In the 60's the Los Angeles Lakers were this. Led by Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, the Lakers were often expected to dethrone the Boston Celtics, yet even when they jumped to leads in Finals series and later on added Wilt Chamberlain, they could not overcome Bill Russell and Boston.
    • Part of the reason for this was that Elgin Baylor was getting starter minutes despite playing on destroyed knees and generally shooting poorly (the only thing he was still capable of).
  • After a certain point you get to believing that God simply hates the Indiana Pacers. Take for instance the infamous 2004 season, wherein some of the Pacers' most valuable players were suspended for the rest of the season after Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) assaulted a fan and caused a huge melee. This would also be team legend Reggie Miller's last season before retirement. When the Pacers managed to make the playoffs, it was clearly a golden opportunity for the franchise to finally be champions... Until their playoff series against the Detroit Pistons (the very team they faced in the notorious "basketbrawl"), where an out of nowhere shot block at the very last second sent the Pacers home with their tails between their legs. They've yet to recover, really.
    • Reggie Miller in general was a phenomenal talent who could never seal the deal. This is the man who scored eight points in 9 seconds, who posted game winning threes over Michael Jordan, who ESPN's 30 for 30 described as "the reason [New York] never slept", but all he ever lead his team to were late season collapses and finals blowouts.
    • In The New Tens, the Pacers saw a full resurgence under coach Frank Vogel and swingman Paul George, that still fizzles out in a sad way. Their best so far was in 2013, when the Pacers nearly upset eventual champions Heat. The next season the Pacers got the top seed in the East... while regressing terribly in the final month of the regular season, and afterwards almost falling to 8-seed Atlanta Hawks (who was without their top player). Another struggling series against the Washington Wizards ensued. In the Conference finals, the Pacers that begun the season as favorites finally started to show beating the Heat in Game 1... only for two straight and close losses afterwards. And after a close win in Game 5, getting crushed by 25 points in the sixth to end their series.
  • Since the 2006-07 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James have increasingly become a major example.
    • Advanced to the 2007 NBA Finals only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs
    • Lost in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals to eventual NBA Finals champion Boston Celtics
    • Lost the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 to the Orlando Magic.
    • Lost the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals to the Celtics in 6 games. Also contained a horrible moment when, with just over a minute and a half to go in Game 6, Cleveland (trailing by a far-from-insurmountable nine-point deficit) seemingly gave up, showing no urgency in trying to score or play defense.
      • This last one is getting to be particularly notable, because many analysts are of the opinion that LeBron isn't even trying for whatever reason.
    • And then LeBron himself added insult to injury when he left Cleveland in 2010 for the Miami Heat. Although they were upset by the Mavericks, they avenged it in the 2012 season. LeBron won the regular season MVP, a championship (against the favourited Oklahoma City Thunder team) and the finals MVP, while leading his team in points, assists, rebounds and steals. He did it again in 2013. Meanwhile, the year LeBron left, Cleveland had a 26 game losing streak (a single-season record among American pro sports).
  • NBA cousins Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are widely considered individual-player versions of this trope, to such an extent that nearly EVERY team they play on (they've both played for 4+ teams EACH) happen to find limited success in the post-season. Tracy McGrady's Houston Rockets eventually ended a drought of not winning a Playoff series since acquiring him— as SOON as he was sidelined by injury and unable to play. Maybe this trope should be named after McGrady.
    • The curse was finally broken when McGrady won a playoff series in 2013, while healthy... by only playing the last few minutes of game 4 in a sweep of Los Angeles by the San Antonio Spurs. He also reached his first finals - only for the Spurs to lose to the Heat despite almost clinching the title in Game 6.
  • The Sacramento Kings in the early 2000's. Fans of every NBA team not named the Lakers could rally around them. They became the NBA's Woobie at that time. They are one of a handful of franchises in any sport to have played in FIVE different cities with only one championship to their name. 2012 marks their 51st year since winning a title.
    • Even worse, the Kings at their peak were a victim of what likely appears to be a fix, swinging the crucial Game 6 of the 2002 conference finals back in the Lakers' favor when the Kings had a commanding lead and a ticket to the NBA Finals in hand.
  • Recent example: The LA Clippers. After decades of losing, the Clippers became NBA contenders thanks to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Despite their skill, the Clippers' playoff appearances ended early:
    • During the 2011/2012 season, the Clippers eased past the Memphis Grizzlies in the 1st round, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2nd round
    • The Clippers became considered as championship contenders during the 2012/2013 season, won their first ever division title, but they ended up losing in THE FIRST ROUND to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team they beat a year before.
      • The hiring of playoff-seasoned coach Doc Rivers may change the Clips' fortunes in the future, though. Banning former owner and notable incompetent\bigot Donald Sterling also helps. That season, another Pacific title ensued, as was a Round 1 victory after in-state rival Golden State Warriors. But then despite much effort into upsetting the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC still beat them.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder are a two-fer:
    • First, they're a relocation of the equally unlucky Seattle Supersonics, who after the 1979 title had big names such as Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, but struggled to bypass some better teams (only finals appearance was in 1996... against the Chicago Bulls team that finished 72-10 and only lost one playoff game before the Sonics pushed them to game 6), was the first 1 seed to lose to an 8th, and then got swindled by a new owner who lied that would keep the team while planning the Oklahoma move.
    • Then, the Thunder begun a slow climb towards a dominant team that just can't win the big one: losing the Conference Finals to the Mavs (who would win it all), the Finals to the Heat, trading away rising star James Harden while also losing Russell Westbrook in the playoffs en route to the Grizzlies beating them to the Western finals, and in the season Kevin Durant finally got his MVP award, struggling against the Grizzlies and Clippers before the Spurs outed them in the Conference finals.
  • If the New York Knicks PERIOD don't represent this trope, I don't know who does. They've been to the Finals 8 times yet have only won the Championship twice: one in 1970 and one in 1973. In 1994, they blew a 3-2 series lead in the Finals and lost the last 2 games to the Houston Rockets. They have also not been to the finals since 1999. After a terrible stretch where incompetent GM Isiah Thomas ran the Knicks to the ground, in 2011-12 the team saw a resurgence that still fell short as raising star Jeremy Lin had to sit out the rest of the season and the playoffs due to a knee injury in late March 2012. A month later, the Knicks would lose to the Heat in their first playoff round in 5 games. When they took 54 wins in 2013, and their first division championship in over ten years, they were knocked out in spectacular fashion by the Pacers in the Semifinals. The following season, despite stellar performances by Carmelo Anthony the Knicks lost frequently, and a late-season resurgence fell short as they still got one game behind the final playoff spot.
  • The last few seasons have seen the Chicago Bulls fall into this rut. After a 2010-11 season that saw the Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing 4-1 to the Miami Heat; the 2011-12 team finished the strike-shortened season with a 50-16 record and the top-seed in the Eastern Conference; only for point guard Derrick Rose to tear his ACL in the opening game of their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers; a series that the 76ers won in a 4-2 upset. The next season saw the Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals even though Rose would not play a single game despite having been cleared to play in March 2013. The 2013-14 season saw the Bulls finish 48-34 and 4th in the East only to be upset by the Washington Wizards in the first round 4-1 in a season where Rose returned at the beginning of that season, only to suffer yet another season-ending injury a month later.

    NFL 
  • Peyton Manning who for over a decade with both the University of Tennessee and Indianapolis Colts seemed to always choke and fold before he finally won Super Bowl XLI in 2007, yet he was always near the top of the best quarterback list and received a ton of endorsements despite his record.
    • He's slowly gaining that reputation back, having made the playoffs every year since, winning 12+ games in all but one of those seasons, nabbing 2 NFL MVP awards, and even making it to Super Bowl XLIV, where his Colts were favored against the New Orleans Saints. And yet, during that streak from 2007-2010, the Colts went one-and-done in the playoffs 3 out of 4 years and lost in the Super Bowl the one year they won any playoff games. And he continued that reputation in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, when he (now the Denver Broncos quarterback) threw an interception that sealed the Ravens' comeback.
    • Before 2007, this reputation was certainly not helped by Tennessee winning the national championship in 1998, one year after Manning graduated, behind unheralded quarterback Tee Martin. Who's Tee Martin? Exactly.
    • He finally won a playoff game with Denver in 2014 against the San Diego Chargers, and then won the conference against the New England Patriots, but his number one offense was not good enough to beat the Seattle Seahawks' number one defense in Super Bowl XLVIII. This overwhelming loss triggered a lot of talk about Manning's legacy and his reputation as a choker in key postseason games.
  • Since Manning won his Super Bowl, the "Perennial Choker" label has moved to Donovan McNabb, who lost 4 NFC title games and a Super Bowl. But then came Super Bowl XLIV which Peyton seemed to choke away. So, as with everything in sports, it's a good talk radio argument.
    • McNabb's losing streak was so bad that fans started calling him "McChoke".
    • The Colts had a running game in Super Bowl XLI (the one they won), while the XLIV version seemed to operate by running "a few obligatory running plays, every now and then" between passes. When the pressure was on in XLIV, guess what kind of plays the Saints could safely figure the Colts would not be running?
    • To be fair, Peyton played really well in Super Bowl XLIV, if it's anyone to blame, it's really the Colts' defense (which were like ghosts against the Saints offensive attack). After the Super Bowl, Colts President Bill Polian tried to blame the Colts offensive line and special teams for their loss.
  • Brett Favre seems infamous for this. Despite breaking darn near every major NFL passing record, as well as actually winning a Super Bowl, it seems that whenever the season is on the line (such as the 2007 and 2009 NFC Championships), it's almost certain that Favre is going to throw a game-ending interception. While he's not the only quarterback that's had this problem, none have been as viciously mocked or criticized for this as Favre. That last bit may be due to his holding the record for interceptions, as well. Not to mention the detractors (who increased greatly in number after his repeated "retirements") finding it hilarious for his career at three different teamsnote  to end with an interception.
  • Dan Marino holds or has held almost every major NFL passing record, but only won the AFC Championship once in 1984 (his second season), and he lost the Super Bowl.
  • The Dallas Cowboys, despite being one of the most successful teams in NFL history, had not won a playoff game for years until their home win in the 2010 wildcard round. This has become increasingly worse for Cowboy fans in the last two years with the Cowboys being easily one of the most dominant teams in the league, but choking in the first round (first time was against the Seahawks with a gimme field goal being botched and the second time they lost outright to the heavy underdog Giants). The Cowboys finally got a postseason win over Philadelphia in the NFC wild-card round.
    • That playoff win had Cowboy fans licking their chops at thoughts of a Super Bowl the next year, since Cowboys Stadium was scheduled to host the event. Instead, they got the ultimate humiliation: not only did the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs altogether, but in October, while they saw a head coach fired midseason for the first time in franchise history, the Texas Rangers - long ridiculed by Cowboy fans for their losing ways - went to the World Series for the first time ever.
    • And this isn't the FIRST time that could apply for the Cowboys. During a stretch between 1966 and 1970, the Cowboys were one win away from advancing to the NFL (pre-merger) Championship game (losing to Cleveland in the divisional playoffs in 1968 and 1969), after narrowly losing to Green Bay the two preceding years in surprisingly close matches that cost Dallas a shot at appearing in the first two Super Bowls. The year they finally broke through, 1970, they lost the exceptionally sloppy Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts with kicker Jim O'Brien's game-winning field goal; resulting in the Cowboys' being dubbed "Next Year's Champions" (a moniker they would finally shed in Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins)
    • One more instance of this trope hitting the Cowboys was the early 1980s. Between the 1980 and 1982 seasons, Danny White (replacing the retired Roger Staubach) led Dallas to 3 straight NFC Championship appearances only to lose all three, first to Philadelphia, then San Francisco following a thrilling conclusion with young quarterback Joe Montana throwing the winning pass to a leaping Dwight Clark, and finally arch-rival Washington in a game where Danny was knocked out early. These games, combined with the Cowboys' decline soon after, relegated Danny White to the status as being known as the Dallas quarterback between Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, despite having stats that surpassed Aikman and rivaled Roger's.
      • Another instance of this trope in regards to Cowboys QBs has to be Tony Romo, their current starter. After a series of HORRIBLE starting quarterbacks after the injury-induced retirement of legend Troy Aikman (Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testeverde, and a washed-up Drew Bledsoe), Tony Romo burst onto the scene in 2006, showing incredible talent and drive and reigniting a fizzled interest in the Cowboys franchise, with a decent ability to scramble, a Favre-like gunslinging style of play, and a strong arm capable of deep passing plays. However, the crucial moments of each of his starting seasons(sans 2010, which he missed most of due to a broken clavicle), ended with heartbreaking losses due mostly to blunders on the part of Romo himself. The one time Tony Romo's won a playoff game was 2009, and the jury's still out on whether this is the exception rather than the rule.
      • This trope has seen more use with the Cowboys in recent years. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, they faced a division opponent in the final game of the season, with the division on the line. In each year ('11- New York, '12- Washington, '13 Philadelphia) the opponent won the game and the division, with the '11 Giants going on to win the Super Bowl that year.
  • The Minnesota Vikings are one of two teams that have made it to the Super Bowl four times... and lost all four. They haven't gone back to the Super Bowl since 1977. Since the '70s, they've picked up a reputation for hiring other teams's castoffs, which hasn't helped them any (most notoriously, they hired Brett Favre for his last two years; perhaps coincidentally, the year after Favre left the Packers and joined the Vikings, the Packers won the Super Bowl).
  • The early-90s Buffalo Bills make every other entry on this page look like clutch players. They won 4 straight AFC Championships and attending 4 straight Super Bowls (the only NFL team to ever make it to the Super Bowl four years in a row), the only four in their history. To this day, they're 0-4 in Super Bowls. And they haven't been back to the playoffs in 10 years, since they were eliminated by the "Music City Miracle". Most notably, in 2004 they entered the last week of the season needing to beat Pittsburgh to get in to the playoffs, with Pittsburgh having already locked up their seed and resting their starters. They lost at home to Pittsburgh's 2nd and 3rd string by a touchdown.
    • A common Fun with Acronyms joke: "Boy I Lose Lots of Superbowls" or "Boy I Love Losing Superbowls".
  • The Houston Oilers. Ever wonder why they were nicknamed "Choke City"? It's because they made the postseason during a seven year stretch between 1987 and 1993, but had three exceptional collapses during the postseason between 1991 and 1993.
    • First, the 1991 Divisional playoff game against Denver. The high-powered offense of the Oilers shot out to a 21-13 halftime lead, and late in the game a punt pinned the Broncos back to their 2-yard line, where trailing 24-23, John Elway led a late-game drive punctuated by two fourth-down conversions to set up the winning field-goal in what some dubbed "The Drive II" (same spot on field, and almost five years after "the Drive")
    • The second would be the most infamous. The Oilers raced to a 35-3 lead over the two-time AFC champion Buffalo Bills in the AFC wild-card game, when backup quarterback Frank Reich led a succession of drives culminating in five unanswered touchdowns. The Bills would go on to win 41-38 in overtime.
    • The last one came in the Astrodome after the Oilers had gone on to clinch the #2 seed and a first-round bye. They went on to face the Kansas City Chiefs where, after starting the fourth quarter holding on to a slim 10-7 lead, the Oilers became the victim of another comeback, this time orchestrated by Joe Montana that culminated in a 28-20 loss.
      • Their current incarnation, the Tennessee Titans, isn't much better, losing a Super Bowl (by one yard, sadly) and having short stretches in the playoffs ever since.
  • The Houston Texans took ten seasons and four quarterbacks in the same year to make their first playoffs. When they first started, it was expected they would be terrible because of their expansion status. But after awhile, they put together talented players and their finishes in the late 2000's were disappointing.
    • The fact that ESPN analysts often picked them as "a team to watch out for" and "playoff-bound" did not help matters, as their disappointing finishes rewarded them with nicknames such as "Forever 8-8" and "Next Year's Divisional Champions", a combination of an insult and a reference to the Cowboys' years of being this trope in the 60s.
    • Furthermore, two seasons before they finally made the playoffs, they had gotten themselves into a great position for a wild card berth with an upset win in the final week of the season, only to be pushed out by the final game of the night when the New York Jets defeated a team that had already clinched its best possible playoff position and was resting starters for the second consecutive week.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers between 1994 and 2004 (all under Bill Cowher) advanced to the AFC Championship game five times and lost four of those (and would have lost the 1995 game against Indianapolis had receiver Aaron Bailey not dropped a last-second Hail Mary). The really frustrating fact about this? All five of those games, the Steelers were the home team. Which makes it all the more ironic that the one Cowher-era Super Bowl win (XL) came after the Steelers swept the top three AFC seeds on the road.
  • Another American football example: the Cleveland Browns went to three conference championships in four years (1986-87, 1989) and lost every time. To the same team. Who went on to lose the Super Bowl every time.
    • The City of Cleveland itself can qualify. They haven't won a professional sports title since 1964. Since then, it seems like the city's primary role has been to provide a Moment of Awesome for another team before that team fizzles out.
    • Joke: Do you know why Toledo, Ohio doesn't have a professional football team? Because then Cleveland would want one too.
    • There was the 2007 season where they reversed the trend, went 10-6, and STILL didn't make the playoffs thanks to one Vince Young, quarterback of the Tennessee Titans at the time, along with the fact that the AFC's crop of teams was just that good that year.
  • The San Diego Chargers. At least they're not as bad as they were in 1997-2003.
    • It's not just the Chargers. Every professional sports franchise in San Diego suffers through this. In forty-plus years of playing, the city has claimed only one championship, the 1963 AFL Championship by the Chargers. The Padres are 0-2 in the World Series and all Basketball teams that come to this town (Rockets, Conquistadors, and Clippers) have had short lives. It's so bad in San Diego, that someone made a wiki page detailing their misery.
  • It was basically this trope that resulted in Barry freaking Sanders to retire from the game, even though he was within one good season of passing Walter Payton, and barring injury, could've put the all-time rushing record out of even Emmitt Smith's reach. The Lions followed up two of their best seasons, 1991 (going 12-4 and getting their only playoff win since 1957 to date, over an up-and-coming Dallas squad) and 1995 (in which Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates to finish 1-2 in total receptions) with 5-11 records the following year. Barry didn't walk away because of any issues with coach Bobby Ross, as was speculated at the time, but because the front office absolutely failed to make the necessary moves to improve the team (especially on defense), and the lack of a winning culture that drained him of his love for the game. Needless to say, it went From Bad to Worse under the Matt Millen administration, which saw the Lions' Butt Monkey status not only cemented, but fellow perennial cellar-dweller Arizona make the Super Bowl for the first time (a feat the Lions have yet to accomplish).
    • And it just keeps getting worse. With a healthy Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions made the 2011 Playoffs, only to get curb-stomped by the Saints in New Orleans. They followed up with a 4-4 first half in 2012, followed by an 0-8 second half. In 2013 things seemed to be back on track, with a 6-3 start and control of the NFC North race... only for the Lions to drop five of their next six and eliminate themselves from playoff contention with one week to go.note  The only thing Lions fans hate worse than the constant losing is getting teased with the possibility of winning only to see the team fall short.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the Philadelphia Eagles advanced to the playoffs eight times. During that span, they advanced to the NFC Championship game five times, but lost four of those, and lost their only Super Bowl appearance. The worst part was that three of those years happened in a row, including two years where they were the number 1 seed.
    • The Philadelphia Eagles have picked up something of a reputation, along with a mild AFC counterpart the New York Jets, for a team that is, almost every season, picked to go deep in the playoffs if not win the title, no matter how they finished the season before, but never leave with the trophy.
  • Under head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons have had five straight winning seasons and playoff appearances in four of them. In the first three of those playoff appearances (two wild cards, one divisional) a first appearance loss. The fact that in each loss, the team that beat them would go on to the Super Bowl, probably doesn't help, nor does the fact that they were the favored team in each of their losses.
    • In the 2012 playoffs, the Falcons just narrowly subverted the trope by winning the Divisional Playoffs with a field goal after the Seahawks overcame a 20-point deficit with less than a minute left in the game. However, the Falcons ended up double subverting the trope by falling short in the NFC Championship against the 49ers.
    • This has lead to Matt Ryan receiving the "overrated" and "choker" label by his detractors: A common response used in any response to people talking about Matt Ryan being one of the league's top quarterbacks on Image Boards is "Playoff wins: 0". Kind of ironic, when you remember his days at Boston College, where he was known as a clutch QB (Hence the nickname, Matty Ice).
  • The Baltimore Ravens *were* showing signs of becoming just another team that can't seal the deal. Since their first Super Bowl win in 2001, it became nothing but seasons of "almosts" in the Charm City. Throughout the 2000's and 2010's, the Ravens made the playoffs NINE TIMES, including five consecutive appearances, while consistently fielding one of the league's most prolific defenses led by stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The last postseason collapse (2011-12 AFC Championship Game) perhaps being the most painful chapter yet, thanks to Lee Evansnote  and Billy Cundiff note , with an assist from the officialsnote .
    • The four straight AFC Championship losses have caused the Ravens to be labelled as the Spiritual Successor to the early 90s Buffalo Bills mentioned above note . Some consider it an insult...to Buffalo, that is. At least the Bills made the Super Bowl... As did the Ravens the following year. The difference there is the Ravens got the job done.
    • Given the fact that the Ravens were the '95 Browns transplanted, every victory or close call for Baltimore only twists the knife for Cleveland that much more.
  • The Denver Broncos (and their longtime quarterback John Elway) were former examples of this trope, having been to and lost 4 Super Bowls in the 1970s and 80s. Elway, to his credit, endured and persevered despite these setbacks (as well as a period of struggling in the 90s) and was finally able to lead his team to back-to-back Super Bowl championships at the tail end of his career. Unfortunately, they made it back to the Super Bowl for the 2013-2014 season, only to lose the game and become the first team in NFL history to lose 5 Super Bowls.
    • The Broncos are particularly notable in that they have been absolutely annihilated in every Super Bowl they've lost, never losing by less than 17 points. This includes the largest margin of defeat in any Super Bowl, a 55-10 creaming by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV.
  • The New England Patriots lost numerous Super Bowls before finally breaking through in 2001 under quarterback Tom Brady and setting up a dynasty that dominated the NFL in the early 2000s. However, since "Spygate" (where the Patriots were punished in 2007 for videotaping opposing teams during practice to steal their signals) they have won the AFC East almost every year, only to lose in the playoffs every time (including two Super Bowls, both times on last-minute plays by the underdog New York Giants - led both times by Peyton's younger brother Eli,note  and with the first defeat costing the Patriots an undefeated season. They were even handily defeated by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Championship.
  • Don Shula was an NFL coach from 1963-95 and retired with the most wins by a head coach in NFL history; to go with two Super Bowl titles (the first of which famously concluded the Miami Dolphins' perfect season). However, his first decade as a head coach was this in spades.
    • Following his 2nd season; the Baltimore Colts (the team he coached first) was expected to easily defeated a Cleveland Browns team that was two years removed from owner Art Modell firing original head coach and namesake Paul Brown. Instead, the Browns shut out Cleveland 27-0 in the last championship to date that city has celebrated.
    • The next season; the Colts finished tied for the Western Conference crown with Green Bay and had to play a special tie-breaker playoff without star quarterback Johnny Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo; forcing Baltimore to use Tom Matte; one of their running backs, at quarterback. During regulation, the Colts held a 10-0 halftime lead; while managing to knock out Green Bay's star quarterback, Bart Starr. However, the game went into overtime following a controversial field goal ruling (video footage showed the ball going wide of the right upright)note . The Packers would win 13-10 in overtime on a field goal that there was no question as to its success.
    • In 1967; the Colts would finish tied for the best record in the NFL at 11-1-2 but still managed to miss the playoffs due to two games with the divisional rival Los Angeles Rams. Following a Week 5 game at Baltimore that ended in a 24-24 deadlock; the teams played again on the last week of the season in Los Angeles for the Coastal Division crown and lone spot left to be settled. The Rams would end up blasting the Colts 34-10 to leave Baltimore the odd team out in the postseason.
    • The following year; the Colts advanced to a 13-1 record under journeyman quarterback Earl Morrall (replacing Johnny Unitas; who missed most of the year with an elbow injury). They then advanced to Super Bowl III as the heavy favorites over the AFL's New York Jets. Unfortunately, Morrall ended up playing the worst game of his career; throwing 3 2nd quarter interceptions (topped by a flea-flicker pass in which Morrall missed wide-open receiver Jimmy Orr). By the time Shula yanked Morrall in favor of the ailing Unitas; the score was 13-0 in favor of the Jets — who ultimately upset Baltimore 16-7.
    • Shula left the Colts after 1969; and took the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs for the first time in their short history in his first season. The next year; the Dolphins advanced to Super Bowl VI over the Dallas Cowboys (themselves seeking to shed the "Next Year's Champions" nickname). Dallas would humiliate Miami 24-3; leaving the Dolphins as still the only time to date not to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
  • Since hiring Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers have been extremely dominant, going to at least the conference championship every year. They lost the championship in 2012 by the New York Giants note , the Super Bowl in 2013 by the Baltimore Ravens note , and another championship in 2014 by the Seattle Seahawks note . It's better than how terrible they were before 2011, but it's still disappointing, especially because all three of these losses were extremely close.
  • The New York Jets have been something of a case throughout their history. Their only title win came in Super Bowl III, and they haven't made it back to the Super Bowl since then, no matter what kind of team they field. This has resulted in their being dubbed the "New York Jest".note  In recent memory, their stretch from 2008 to 2011:
    • In 2008, they were led by Brett Favre, started 8-3, they were considered a favorite to win the Super Bowl that year, and were doing things like scoring 56 points against the Cardinals, beating the Rams 47-3, and stomping the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans 34-13. Unfortunately, Favre suffered an injury, didn't tell anyone, and decided to play through the injury. Therefore, his performance suffered, the Jets lost four of their last five games, and floundered their way out of playoff contention.
    • In 2009, the Jets got all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where they got out to a 17-6 lead over the Colts. They were outscored 24-0 from there and lost 30-17.
    • In 2010, the Jets started out 9-2 and actually had one of their best seasons in years, barring a 45-3 loss to the Patriots. How did they cap this off? By practically no-showing the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers, going into halftime down 24-0. They outscored Pittsburgh 19-0 in the second half, but they still managed to find another way to lose.
    • In 2011, the Jets stood at 8-5 and had winnable games left on their schedule. What did they do? They were destroyed by the Eagles 45-19, got embarrassed by the Giants 29-14 in a game they had practically staked their entire season on, then were eliminated from playoff contention by losing 19-17 to the Dolphins, a team they could have beaten. The Giants loss was particularly nasty, as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that year, the same thing the Jets kept swearing they'd do all season.

    NHL 
  • The Ottawa Senators are perennial division leaders, with two conference leaderships, and one President's Trophy (awarded to the team that finishes with the most points). They're only second to the Detroit Red Wings in regular season wins for a decade. No Stanley Cup has been won by Ottawa as of yetnote . They also boast the dubious distinction of winning the most playoff rounds for a team without a Stanley Cup for a decade.
    • And when the Senators did make it to a Stanley Cup final, the game-winning goal in the cup-losing game was booted into their own net by the goalie.
    • The 2000-01 post-season was an extreme example; after winning every single regular season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and ending up 2nd overall in the conference, the two teams faced off in the first round of elimination, with Ottawa heavily favoured to win. Instead they were swept 4-0.
  • The St. Louis Blues went to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first three seasons (largely due to the fact that from 1967-68 to 1969-70, the playoff format forced one of the Finals opponents to be one of the six 1967 expansion teams), only to be swept all three times (most famously in 1970, when Bobby Orr scored the game-winner in overtime). The Blues then had a consecutive-playoffs streak of 25 seasons (1979-80 to 2003-04), but never quite made it back to the Finals, getting closest in 1985-86. Then the streak was broken in the post-lockout season of 2006, with the Blues having the league's worst result. Years of futility aside from a quick playoff run in 2009 (sweep by the Canucks' hands) later, the team was finally rebuilt into a contender in 2011 under coach Ken Hitchcock. A contender that still can't beat the two strongest teams of the west, the Kings and Blackhawks.
  • Canadian teams in the playoffs since 1993 also qualify. The Senators, Flames, Oilers, and Canucks have all made it to the final round, (and as far as Game Seven for the Flames, Oilers and Canucksnote ) and promptly lost, breaking the hearts of a nation.
  • The San Jose Sharks have only missed the playoffs five times since joining the NHL in 1991-92, but have never made a Stanley Cup Final and only twice made the conference finals. They, too, won a President's Trophy, in the 2008-2009 season...and promptly lost to the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks. The absolute nadir may have come in 2014, as the Sharks became only the fourth team in league history to lose a playoff series after leading 3-0. Even worse, they lost to the in-state rival Los Angeles Kings.
  • The Washington Capitals are starting to show alarming signs of this. Between 2009 and 2013, they made the playoffs every year but never got beyond the second round. The worst part? The Capitals' owner doesn't even sound concerned about the team's playoff issues, which did not sit well with Washington fans and analysts alike.
    • 2010 was especially egregious, where they ran away with the eastern half, locking up the top spot a full month before everyone else started qualifying for the playoffs - and promptly crashed out in the first round to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens.
    • In 2011 they spent much of the season revamping their style specifically to suit the playoffs, ending up with a come-from-behind win of the eastern half in the process, showed it off to pretty good effect in the first round - and then got swept in the second by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
    • In 2012, the Capitals arguably got their fizzling out done during the season itself when they dramatically failed to meet very high expectations, after squeaking into the post-season they played fairly respectably through two long playoff rounds, upsetting the reigning champions in the first round, but they still lost in the second.
    • After struggling through the first half of the season in 2013, they finished strong to edge out the Jets for the division champion playoff spot. They took the New York Rangers to a game 7... only for the Blueshirts to dominate them at home 5-0. The next year finally broke the playoff streak.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers. Since joining the NHL as part of the 1967 expansion, they have only missed the playoffs eight times (and just twice since 1995) and reached the final eight times, but have only won the Stanley Cup twice, in 1974 and 1975. Part of the problem is that unbelievable consistency prevents them from bottoming out and having the ability to select a slur of high draft picks; their arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins are built on the first overall pick in 2003 (Marc-Andre Fleury), second overall in 2004 (Evgeni Malkin), first overall in 2005 (Sidney Crosby), and second overall in 2006 (Jordan Staal). Not to mention how the Penguins had a meteoric rise in the 1980s after drafting a young Mario Lemieux...
    • The Flyers "bottomed out" in the mid-1990s, spending heavily to acquire the rights to Eric Lindros from Quebec (which was the first of a series of trades that built the Nordiques into the Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche). They did eventually build back up, led by the "Legion of Doom" linenote , but after being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1997 Finals, they settled back into the Eastern Conference pack. They got a bit lucky in 2010, having Montreal knock off the heavily favored Capitals and Penguins, before losing to Chicago in the Finals.
  • The Detroit Red Wings were this for about a decade, having rebuilt from the "Dead Things era" to make back-to-back Conference Finals and making the playoffs in 9 of 10 seasons (the 1989-90 season was rife with internal strife, resulting in management trading away several young stars for washed-up veterans), but never getting over (swept by the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Finals, nearly trading away captain and star Steve Yzerman to Ottawa). Finally, in 1997, the team got over on new arch-rival Colorado, and then swept the Flyers to win their first Cup in 42 seasons, and the first of four Cups in 11 seasons. Still, it seemed to be feast or famine for the Wings; prior to 2006-07, they either won the Cup or ended in the first or second round.
  • The Vancouver Canucks have fairly consistently made the playoffs, usually by winning their division, from 2000-01 onwards, but always fall short in the playoffs. Even getting Roberto Luongo, a guy many consider to be the best goaltender in the world, didn't improve their efforts.
    • Luongo himself is a perfect example of this: a dominant goaltender during the regular season, yet crumbles in the playoffs, earning himself the Fan Nickname of "LeBrongo".
    • In 2011, it Went Horribly Wrong when the Canucks won the President's Trophy but lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins and riots ensued in Vancouver. The following year, they retained the President's Trophy only to lose 4-1 in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.note 
    • Then in 2013 they won their division and finished third in the West... only to be swept by another team on this page, the Sharks.
    • As of 2014, the team that was once cup favorites has pretty much self-destructed, trading away both of their starting-caliber goalies for a draft pick and an AHL goaltender, firing their GM, and failing to so much as make the playoffs in the juggernaut Pacific Division.
  • Player version: Brian Savage, most notably of the Montreal Canadiens. Savage always went on an early season tear, only to disappear throughout the season. As the NHL season typically began in October, he earned the nickname "Mr. October" because of it.
  • It used to be the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs. Now it's the Maple Leafs in the regular season. Especially the last couple of years where they get off to great starts and then in about February, fans cringe as they watch their team gradually slide down the standings and eventually out of a playoff berth. The Leafs are tied with the Blues for the longest cup drought in the NHL (neither having won since 1967) and not even made the playoffs since 2004 (until the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, probably because they did not have time to choke and get eliminated again - see below...).
    • And in 2012, the team led its division for some time. Then they lost 9 of 10 games and only made 24 points to the end of their season, finishing at 13th on the East. The coach was fired, the owners issued an apology letter, and disgruntled fans started chanting "LET'S GO BLUE JAYS!" at home games.note 
    • In 2013, the nine season slump ended. Despite no one counting on the Leafs passing Round 1, they still pushed it to Game 7, and were leading the final game 4-1... only for the Bruins to tie in 9 minutes and beat the Leafs in overtime.
    • And in 2014, it's back to business, with the Leafs peaking at 3rd place in the Eastern conference, until they obtained an atrocious 2 wins in a stretch of almost a month to eliminate them entirely.
  • The New York Rangers appear to be suffering from this; since the 2005 lockout, they've only missed the playoffs once. Although they often make it past the first round, they usually end up being easily defeated in the second; the one year they have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals (2012), rivals New Jersey beat them in 6 games. All went right in 2014, with their first Eastern title since 1994, only for the Los Angeles Kings to beat them in five games in the final. (Since they share ownership with the above mentioned Knicks, with both teams choking frequently despite good players and "unlimited budget", owner James Dolan is usually listed among the worst of his kind.)
    • Before that, it was the Curse of 1940. The Rangers won the Cup that year, which was also when the mortgage on their home Madison Square Gardennote  was paid off so management celebrated by burning the mortgage document in the Cup itself. The Rangers would not win the Cup again for 54 years. Fans of the New York Islanders (who won the Cup four straight times in the early 1980s), the New Jersey Devils (who at the time played in an arena that seated 19,040), the Philadelphia Flyers, and any other team could and would taunt Rangers fans with chants of "19-40!"

    WNBA 
  • The Chicago Sky of the WNBA were founded in 2005 and used to get into the playoff race every year and trip at the finish line. This happened again in 2011, despite an accomplished coach and several great players. In 2013, they finally got their first playoff berth, only to get swept by the defending championship team, the Indiana Fever. In 2014 they surprised with a finals run, that still resulted in a swept by the Phoenix Mercury.
  • The Atlanta Dream have existed for only six years, but are a good example nevertheless. In 2010, they made it to the WNBA Finals and got swept. In 2011 they made the Finals again, and got swept again.note  They were prevented from making a three-peat, by losing to eventual champion Indiana in the first round. They made it back to the Finals in 2013, only to get swept by the Minnesota Lynx who beat them in 2011. One more finals loss and the Atlanta Dream will become the Buffalo Bills of the WNBA.
  • Before Atlanta, there was the New York Liberty. Six years, four Finals, one miracle shot deemed best playoff moment in league history, no championships.

    Soccer 
  • Everyone on the England national football team, which despite containing some of the best and most famous players in the world haven't won a major tournament since they won The World Cup in 1966.
    • Scotland, as relayed by George MacDonald Fraser in McAuslan.
    • Before the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup titles, the Spanish football team would also qualify. Both English and Spanish players have enjoyed success at club level, though.
    • The Dutch team has also been described as "the best team that never won anything" - the "Clockwork Orange" lost two straight World Cups; Gullit/Van Basten won the European Championship, but bombed in the WC they went to; the recent generation of Bergkamp and Kluivert never went past the semifinals of both the World Cup and European Championships (they even didn't qualify for a WC after being eliminated by Ireland); and the current one (Sneijder, Robben) lost the 2010 finals, turning the Netherlands into the only team to qualify for three World Cup finals and lose them all (though the Dutch's Unnecessary Roughness made Spain really worthy of the title). NFL fans could say they're the Buffalo Bills of soccer.
    • The Portugal team has been this recently, with players like Ronaldo, Deco, and teams like Porto running the Champions League. The national side has still failed to win anything, especially in 2004 when they reached the final of the European Championships, at home, and against Greece, but still lost. This may count as a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for the Greek side though.
    • The Egyptian team has a similar story to Portugal's, with the national team dominating Africa and Al-Ahly and Zamalek running the African club-play scene (to say nothing of Al-Ahly's 3rd-place finish at the '06 Club World Cup). Nevertheless, they have qualified for the World Cup exactly twice (once in 1934 and once in 1990), never getting past the first round. Egyptians suspect that the good Egyptian players are intentionally not playing up to their usual best, in hopes of better European club contracts.
      • And now the Egyptian team having won the past 2 or 3 African Nations Cup championships have fizzled out of the qualifying stage, finishing bottom of their group and the team which topped their group, Niger.
      • Particularly damning was Egypt's performance in the 2014 World Cup qualifications, in which Egypt dominated until it reached the final round against Ghana, when it lost by an all-but-insurmountable 6-1 in the first leg of the two-game playoff—which included an own goal by Ali Gomaa. Granted, the Black Stars are good, but considering Egypt managed to win 2-1 in the second leg pretty handily... (And of course, Ghana ended up in the "Group of Death" with Germany, Portugal, and the United States, so perhaps another Cup appearance wouldn't have done much for Egypt...).
  • In women's soccer there's Brazil, which has a team as strong as the male one (one of their players, Marta, was chosen five years in a row as the best female footballer by FIFA), but not as victorious, fizzling in both the Olympic Games (two straight 4th places followed by two straight runner-ups... losing both finals to the US team! and it got worse in 2012, when they didn't even reach the semifinals) and the Women's World Cup (runner-ups in 2007, 3rd place in 1999, two quarterfinals and two group stages).
    • In Brazil's defense, they might have the best female players in the world, but compared to nations like the United States, the amount of funding Brazil puts into their women's soccer program is on an amateur level. The Brazilian women's team is underfunded to the point that they wear old men's jerseys and cleats, and it was noted at the last big international tournament that the United States had more team cooks than Brazil's entire staff combined.
  • Liverpool FC, the team most likely to come third in any championship you care to name. The stacks of trophies from back when this wasn't the case just make it worse. In some parts of the UK, "Liverpool supporter" is considered roughly synonymous with "masochist". They may have managed a surprise win in the 2005 Champions' League, but the only title Liverpool want right now is the Premier League, having not won it since 1990, and frankly never looking like winning it. Even their 2005 Champions' League win came at the expense of their domestic season; they finished fifth, outside the qualification spots for the next season's Champions' League, and UEFA had to re-write the rule books to guarantee the previous year's champion a chance to defend their title. 2013-2014 became yet another 'what if?' season largely thanks to their own doing - a home loss to Chelsea (who could also qualify in this case) and a draw to Crystal Palace despite leading 3-0 at one point let Manchester City sneak ahead and win the title despite only topping the table after 36 (out of 38) matches.
  • Chelsea and Manchester City both received massive (if controversial) cash injections in the 2000s that suddenly made them contenders for massive silverware hauls, yet the former seemed to keep fizzling out in their attempts to win the UEFA Champions' League (twice losing to Liverpool in the semi-finals and once losing to Manchester United in the final), while the latter never quite seemed to get a league championship run together. Then in 2012, Manchester City won the Premier League for the first time since 1968, and Chelsea conquered the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever (leading to many jokes regarding this as proof of the Mayan apocalypse...or maybe just a Man United apocalypse, given their implosion in the 2013-14 season after Ferguson retired and Moyes took over).
  • Arsenal FC. Despite always being in contention for the League title, they haven't won one since the legendary "Invincibles" season of 2003-2004, consistently finishing either 4th or 3rd in the League, complete with impressive wins at times when it didn't matter...and frustrating losses and draws at times when it did matter. Nowadays, Arsenal has the rather derisive moniker of being "strong against the weak and weak against the strong". Unlike Liverpool, they don't have a rich Champions League history; before they reached the 2006 final against Barcelona, Arsenal had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals. This lack of Champions' League pedigree is a source of frustration to both the fans and manager Arsene Wenger, who could probably win another double armload of Premier League titles and still consider himself a failure if they didn't add a Champions' League championship.
  • It may seem like a long time ago, but during the late 70's and the 80's, English football giants Manchester United (several years removed from the glory years of Matt Busby and the holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton) were this, fielding talented squads yet never winning a single Football League First Division (England's top flight before the Premier League) title thanks to Liverpool's dominance. Then came the 90's, Eric Cantona, Alex Ferguson and Fergie's Fledgelings (Beckham, Giggs, Neville, Scholes etc.); suddenly, United became the Premier League juggernaut football fans now either love or hate.
  • Newcastle United during the late 90's. Despite constantly staying near the top of the table and having excellent goalscorer Alan Shearer, the Magpies never won a Premier League title thanks to powerhouses Manchester United and Arsenal.
  • German soccer has Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04, two top teams who just can't win a championship despite often best conditions (or in Schalke's case waiting for over 50 years since the last one). Leverkusen even managed to be only second place in three different contests in 2002: the Bundesliga, the DFB Cup, and the Champions League. They're nicknamed Neverkusen for a reason...
  • Thierry Henry was accused of this at Arsenal. Despite being their record goalscorer and voted by the fans as one of Arsenal's greatest ever players, he was still thought of as being unable to preform in the big games like Cup Finals. Most notable was in the 2006 Champions League Final where the Gunners were leading 1-0 with ten men against Barcelona, Henry failed to score from a one-on-one with the keeper when usually it would have been no problem. Arsenal eventually lost 2-1, and that's the closest they have come to securing that European trophy they most desire.
  • Aston Villa in the Martin O'Neill era is an excellent example. They would look like they were going to challenge for the Champions League places, and every year, specifically in March, they would go on a bad run of results and drop out of the challenge.
  • Australia's world cup curse: According to former Australian captain Johnny Warren's autobiography, the Australian team, prior to a match against Rhodesia, got a witch-doctor to curse the opposition goalie, and then failed to pay him, causing him to reverse the curse. Australia then suffered a string of failures in World Cup qualifiers, most famously 1998, where they were leading 2-0 late in the game against Iran, only for Iran to score two late goals, and qualify for the World Cup on away goals. In 2004, television personality John Safran paid another witch doctor to remove the curse, and Australia qualified for the 2006 and 2010 world cups (even making it to the second round in 2006).
  • In Brazil, Vasco, Botafogo, Palmeiras and Internacional became infamous in the 2000s for going far but tanking in at least one championship per year (Vasco was runner-up 14 times in 12 years, and Inter managed to finish second thrice in five Brazilian championships, plus losing to an African team in the FIFA Clubs World Cup!).
  • Indonesia in the ASEAN Football Championship. They are consistently one of the favorites to win the cup but they have yet to do so despite numerous times being the runners-up or reaching the semifinals.
  • In MLS, the best example is the New York Red Bulls, or the MetroStars, as they were once called. They're one of the founding teams of the league when it started in 1996 and have fielded some very good squads, and currently have Thierry Henry, one of the league's biggest stars, on the roster, yet they have almost no hardware whatsoever: they didn't win the Supporters' Shieldnote  until 2013 (and proceeded to get bounced out of their first round of the playoffs on late goals by Houston that year), have attended only one MLS Cup Final (2008, which they lost to Columbus), and the one time they made the CONCACAF Champions League, they were eliminated in the preliminaries. The one championship they have won was the 2004 La Manga, a pretty minor international designed so cold countries can play a winter tourney.
    • The New England Revolution have been just as unlucky. They lost four MLS Cup Finals (the last three in a row), and despite winning the 2007 U.S. Open Cup (coincidentally, both the year of their last MLS final... and when the NFL's Patriots, who play in the same stadium, lost the Super Bowl after a nearly perfect season!) have struggled to reach another championship game ever since.
  • Mexican football has the Atlas, one of Guadalajara's top two teams. Not only they tend to lose the derby against the local Chivas, they also have never won a single championship since the mid-fifties.

    Other Sports 
  • Tim Henman is possibly the canonical British equivalent - he's the one everyone follows and cheers for at Wimbledon, even going so far as to have a massive seating area for his fans (Henman Hill), despite being knocked out in the quarter- or semi-finals of every Wimbledon he's entered.
    • Henman's example is slightly more complex. He was the best male British player at the time and by God we could dream and have ridiculous hopes if we wanted, but in reality everyone was well aware that he wasn't quite of the standard to win Slams. He's always been kind of awkwardly apologetic that he's the best we had, because while very decent, he wasn't quite good enough to win big. And we love him for it.
    • In a somewhat Hilarious in Hindsight example, Roger Federer used to be considered this. Tipped to be a future Slam winner as young as 16, he proved himself able to regularly beat the best in the world... in the small tournaments. At Grand Slams he lost in the first round as often as not and hadn't even reached a semi-final before his maiden title. With other young guys such as Hewitt, Roddick and Safin proving that they could succeed where he failed, many people speculated that he was destined to be the talent who could never come good.
    • In another Hilarious in Hindsight example, Novak Djokovic was also considered this when he followed up his maiden Grand Slam title in 2008 with a string of disappointing performances and even retiring halfway through matches with claims of being ill or fatigued. People began calling him "Choke-ovic" and saying that he lacked the mental fortitude to challenge the top players on the big stages. Then 2011 came around and, well, it's safe to say that no one's going to be using that nickname for him anytime soon.
    • Andy Murray suffered from the same fate as Tim Henman for years, being known as the best tennis player to never have won a Grand Slam title (he managed to fight his way into four Grand Slam finals, including Wimbledon which no male British player had reached the finals of since 1938, only to lose all of them) until he finally put an end to that in late 2012.note  And then he won Wimbledon the next year.
    • On the women's side, Caroline Wozniacki held the World No. 1 position in 2010 and 2011 and yet failed to even reach a single Grand Slam final during that time, her lone career Grand Slam final appearance dating back to 2009. It got worse in 2012 when she lost in the first round at both Wimbledon and the US Open to unseeded players.
  • Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater in US history, is justifiably considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all time. In her career she earned more perfect (6.0) scores than any skater in history—a record that will stand indefinitely, now that the 6.0 scoring system has been abolished, twelve US championship medals, nine of them gold, nine world championship medals, five of them gold, and is one of only a handful of skaters to win two Olympic medals—but neither of them is gold. Because both times (1998 & 2002) the gold medal was hers for the taking, she succumbed to nerves and turned in mediocre performances.
    • Kurt Browning, four-time World Champion Canadian skater, never got the gold at the Olympics. In fact, Canadian male figure skaters in general seem to be cursed by this trope: other Canadian men who won the world championships but continually fell short at the Olympics are Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko, and most recently Patrick Chan.
    • The queen of this trope would be Sasha Cohen, and there are more figure skaters than one can easily list that do fit: Josée Chouinard, Nicole Bobek, and Emanuel Sandhu to name a handful.
    • Nancy Kerrigan was a lovely skater who would skate admirably during the short program, only to fall apart in the long (the 1993 World Championships were the worst example of this tendency). And even when she finally got her act together and turned in the best performance of her life at the 1994 Olympics, she still couldn't win gold, being edged out by Oksana Baiul.
  • Until he won the Masters in 2004, Phil Mickelson was known as the best player never to win a golf major. That mantle has passed on to Sergio García. However, Mickelson has still struggled to win the US Open, finishing second a record six times (solo and shared) and yet to win it as of 2014.
    • The only under-50 tour majors Greg Norman won were two Open Championships, contested in Great Britain. He was a long-time contender on American soil majors (The Masters, US Open, PGA Championship) but either through his own bad play or miracle shots from other players, he's had an 0-for in those three tournaments. Norman was ranked #1 in the world for over six years, which would be comparable to saying Tiger Woods still has his four Masters victories while erasing away his other ten major wins and any more in those three he may win in the future.
      • Amusingly, Colin Montgomerie also fit the bill as someone who could never win a major despite several near misses...until he claimed two majors on the over-50 Champions Tour in 2014. note 
  • Phil Gordon. Wrote several books teaching poker. Color-comments several poker tournaments. Has never won a World Series of Poker bracelet, and has in fact never finished higher than third in one (though he does have a high finish of 4th in the main event and has a WPT title). Most importantly, he got rich playing.
    • This is fairly common among well-known poker players/writers, such as Mike Caro or Doyle Brunson (who singlehandedly popularized no-limit Texas Hold'em and the WSOP and hasn't won a tournament in the big-money days). Generally speaking, they honed their skills in ring (live cash) games, which have a very different pace from Tournament Play.
  • Raymond Poulidor finished second three times in the Tour de France, and third five times. Unfortunately, not only did he never win, he never even wore the yellow jersey. Because of this, he became known as the "Eternal Second".note 
  • Take a look at the top seeds in Ninja Warrior. There are ten or so competitors (among them Bunpei Shiratori) that consistently pass the second stage. Then recall that only three men have ever won (and one of them, Kazuhiko Akiyama, has had about a 50/50 record of clearing Stage One since - though to be fair, he's suffered chronic injuries). Pretty much all of them fit the trope.
    • This is slightly hard to say for sure, because every time someone wins the producers go and change the whole course. They may scale it back if no one wins after so many seasons, but the difficulty is upped constantly.
  • The United States men's and women's Curling teams. every match they have played so far has been decided by the very last rock in the 10th and 11th ends, and always not in their favor.
  • In rugby union:
    • The French club Clermont Auvergne. Despite reaching the final of the French Top 14 championship ten times, including three times in the 2000's, and having a squad that many consider to be the best in Europe, they never actually won the competition until 2010.
    • The New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, had not won the Rugby World Cup since the first tournament in 1987 despite going into every tournament as favourite, usually when ranked at number 1. They finally won in the 2011 World Cup which was hosted in their home country, but they struggled in the final against their opponent France, winning by just 1 point, even though they easily won when the two sides met in the pool stages.
    • As for France, they hold the record for most losses in World Cup finals (three) and ties with New Zealand for most losses in semifinals (also three). They have yet to win a World Cup.
    • The Crusaders, a team out of Christchurch, New Zealand in the southern hemisphere Super Rugby competition, gained this reputation under the coach Todd Blackadder. They have a squad full of star players and make it to the knock-out stage without fail, but they always fall just short of actually winning the title.
  • Every professional sports franchise in Seattle. In the forty-plus years of the modern sports era, the city has claimed exactly three championships, one in men's and two in women's basketball.note  (And then the men's team did the ultimate fizzle and moved to Oklahoma City.)
    • The 2001 Seattle Mariners tied an all-time Major League record with 116 regular season victories. They didn't even reach the World Series.
    • With the Seahawks' win in Super Bowl XLVIII, this trope is now gloriously averted. Seattle finally has a championship to rightfully bring back and boast after their men's basketball team moved away to Oklahoma City.
  • South Africa in the Cricket World Cup. A team that has always been highly-ranked since they were allowed back into international cricket in 1992, but has never made it past the semi-finals due to a string of amusing (not to them) failures. Highlighs include:
    • In 1992, they looked to be heading to victory in the semi-final against England, until a rain interruption, which by the rules of the time left them needing to make 22 runs of one delivery to win. This was the impetus for the introduction of the Duckworth-Lewis method, which we'll see below.
    • In 1999, they their semi-final against Australia ended in a tie. Australia advanced to the final due to finishing higher in the super sixes stage of the tournament.
    • In 2003, their group stage match against Sri Lanka was affected by rain. A miscommunication caused the batsmen to leave the field with the scores tied under the Duckworth-Lewis method, causing them to miss out on a spot in the super sixes.
  • Also in cricket, the Melbourne Stars in Australia's Big Bash League, who have made the semi-finals in all three seasons since the league was established (and finished on top in 2013-14), and never progressed to the final.
  • In Australian Rules Football, Collingwood were this from 1958 to 1990, much to the delight of their Hatedom. After Essendon lost to them in the 1990 grand final, the Carlton cheer squad (their team being a major rival of both Essendon and Collingwood) rubbed salt into the wound, with their banner for their first match the next year riffing on Essendon sponsor TAC's slogan: "If you lose to Collingwood in a grand final, you're a bloody idiot."
    • Collingwood haters called the Magpies' tendency to choke in the finals the "Colliwobbles."
    • After 1990, Geelong took over the mantle (although that began in 1989 with their grand final loss to Hawthorn). This lasted until they won the 2007 premiership.
    • At the moment, it's the Western Bulldogs, who have lost the last seven Preliminary Finals they have played in.
    • As the page quote suggests, Port Power was this during the 2000s. Despite being minor premiers two years in row, they choked during the finals both times, before finally winning the Grand Final in 2004. They also reached the Grand Final in 2007, but lost it to the aforementioned Geelong.
  • In Australia's National Basketball League, the Sydney Kings got the nickname "Violet Crumbles" due to (1) their colors of purple and yellow resembling the packaging for the chocolate bar of that name, and (2) their tendency to disintegrate in the playoffs.
  • Mixed Martial Arts
    • David "Tank" Abbott finished second and third twice in his four tournament outings, in spite of plenty of fanfare, due to being an out-of-shape and one-dimensional brawler.
    • Kenny Florian fought at the top level in four different weight classes. He finished second in the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter tournament and challenged four times for various UFC titles, losing each time. He retired without ever winning a belt.
    • Chael Sonnen has lost three championship fights that he was in the process of winning, once in the WEC against Paulo Filho and twice in the UFC against Anderson Silva.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE's angle for the revival of ECW was based on this - Rob Van Dam was built up as, in Joey Styles' words, the greatest competitor to never win a World championship, heading into his battle with WWE Champion John Cena in the main-event of the revival show One Night Stand. By the time the show was over, he wasn't without one anymore.
  • Chris Benoit was the subject of a similar storyline going into WrestleMania XX, where both Triple H and Shawn Michaels made a huge deal over the fact that, despite receiving numerous opportunities, he always seemed to choke in world title matches, and thus both felt he was not in their league. Guess who won?
  • As it stands, most would probably go with either The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase or "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig as the greatest competitor to have not been granted the world title.
    • Curt Hennig was AWA World Champion in 1987-88, before he went to the WWF.
    • Ironically, Dibiase was promised by the then-WWF to win the WWF Title at Wrestlemania IV. However, politics occurred (that didn't even involve him!). WWF wanted The Honky Tonk Man to drop the Intercontinental title to Randy Savage, but Honky refused and threatened to leave WWF with the belt, so WWF caved in and allowed Honky to keep the belt, and gave Randy Savage the WWE title at Wrestlemania IV to make up for it.
  • Another good contender could be Rowdy Roddy Piper, especially since he got quite a few title matches against Hulk Hogan in the 80s. Hot Rod didn't just lose to the Hulkster every time, he got disqualified every time.
  • In ECW, Tommy Dreamer had a long feud with Raven in which he continually ended up losing to him. Dreamer finally won on Raven's last night with the company.
  • Ring of Honor pulled this with Tyler Black and Roderick Strong; the latter was 0-15 in World Title matches at one point. Ironically, Strong would defeat Black to win the title at Glory By Honor IX.
  • Then, there's Lex Luger. He choked against Ric Flair (multiple times), Yokozuna (twice), and Hollywood Hulk Hogan... all for either the NWA/WCW or WWF Championships.
  • WWE tried to do this with John Cena in the lead-up to WrestleMania 29, where he even compared himself to Donovan McNabb as a guy who couldn't win the big one should he lose to The Rock again. Tried being the key word, because Cena was already a 10-time champion going into the match, meaning he not only could win the big one, but had done so ten times already.

    Non-Sports Examples 
Advertising
  • A commercial for Staples features the main character rattling off a series of office archetypes (the paranoid employee, the lazy employee, etc,) before turning to one employee and saying, "Joe, you continue not living up to your resume."

Anime and Manga
  • As much is said about Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, he actually hardly ever won a fight on his own, and only ever mostly succeed when fighting with Simon. Granted when they are fighting, Kamina appears to be doing most of the work. Also, he was able to get Simon to stop being such a wimp, basically get the whole story and rise of man thing started and come back from the dead as a ghost or something to get everyone out of a Lotus-Eater Machine, which makes him something else entirely.
    • All There in the Manual: The supplemental material explains why this is. For all his bravado, Kamina never truly believed in his own abilities, which meant he had the lowest Spiral Power levels of anyone in the series. Meanwhile, it's clearly established that Simon ends up having the highest. While Kamina does the work, he needs Simon to back him up, or he is - quite literally - powerless.
  • Mai Valentine/Kujaku from Yu-Gi-Oh!. Her duelist cred is often accused of being an Informed Ability, but it's really this. She has displayed great skills at times, but never manages to deliver when it comes to the big duels. Of course, much of the blame for this is due to Plot Demanded Losses (of course Mai's not going to be able to beat The Hero or the Big Bad, no matter what her skills are).
  • In the Pokémon anime, Ash Ketchum is turning out to be Mai's Spear Counterpart, only rising above the Elite Eight once with that tournament only having 64 contenders (the others had over 100, involving 1 or 2 extra rounds)note . The fact that he is The Hero makes it worse. At least we get to see his skills in Badge Battles. As well as his adventures with Olympus Mons.note note  The one exception is when he played in the Orange League, which wasn't a tournament but a single battle against the league's other top-ranked trainer, and won.
  • Saki (specifically, the Achiga-hen spinoff) presents Shindouji All-Girls' High School from Fukuoka, which had a long history of qualifying for the National high-school mahjong tournament... and getting no farther than the second round. For the current season, they fielded as Vanguard the incredibly lucky Kirame Hanada, hoping to at least survive through the five phases of each round. Alas, they still came up short, though at least they made it as high as the semifinals.

Film
  • In The Game Plan, The Rock plays one of these before he meets his long-lost daughter.
  • Played with in By The Sword. Alex Villand believes his father was like this, because his father was a modern day fencing champion who died in a duel with a student of his after finding out that the student was having an affair with Villand Senior's wife. This leads the younger Villand to muse "He spent half his life winning fencing tournaments, but the only time in his life that he was in a fight that mattered he got himself killed". This fuels Villand's win at any cost, no matter how dirty your tactics approach to both fencing and life. Later that student, now out of prison for killing Villand Sr, sets Villand Jr straight. Villand's father had given the student a live rapier while arming himself with only a blunt practice sword, and beat the student within an inch of his life with the practice sword. At the end, humiliated by his defeat, (in part because the student had been an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy back in the day) the student had stabbed Villand Senior In the Back when senior was ready to show him mercy.
  • One of the reasons why Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore was such a Jerk Ass was because he was never able to get the Golden Jacket.

Live-Action TV
  • Cowboys Jet & Cord ran The Amazing Race three times, and, due to their ability to blaze through physically or technically based tasks and their huge popularity, were huge favorites to win all three times. However, they lost all three times due to making several small mental or navigational mistakes, all of which accumulated to cost them the game.

Music
  • Any act that gets lots of acclaim but not a lot of sales or chart success.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival infamously had five consecutive singles hit #2 on the Billboard chart, though some of them hit #1 on the rival Cashbox and Record World charts.
  • British boy bands are infamous for being unable to achieve much success internationally. One Direction have averted this, but no other British boy band has made it even halfway to their level.
    • Same deal with British girl groups; the only ones to have achieved any real global popularity were the Spice Girls.

Web Original
  • Byzantium in AH World Cup is meant to be an Expy of the Netherlands in The World Cup, always one of the favorites to win it all but never actually does. Even in the actual simulations, Byzantium struggled against teams they were expected to win against, drawing all their matches before they were finally defeated when facing another favorite.

Real Life
  • The Rafale fighter plane. Consistantly touted by French aviation fans and a few others as close, equal or better than the F-22 despite the disagreements of the foremost authorities on the matter and even a number of French politicians and defense experts. Has been the focus of a major PR campaign in weapons sales by Sarkozy after no foreign sales ten years after going into production to no result, and looks to see either no sales ever or half a squadron's worth of planes. In early 2009 France itself cut production, amidst governmental backroom beatings of the Dassault Thales' managerial staff. Contrast with the highly successful Mirage series, compare with LeClerc.
    • It does, however, easily match or surpass performance of its actual competitors on the export market: the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (American), Eurofighter Typhoon (British/German/Italian), Saab JAS 39 Gripen (Swedish), and Mikoyan MiG-29M and MiG-29K (Russian). The F-16 has been exported to 25 nations, the F/A-18 to 7, the Typhoon to 3, the Gripen to 4, the MiG-29M to 2, and the MiG-29K to 1. The Rafale, as of October 2011, has yet to secure a single export contract.
    • Interestingly, one of the potential buyers for the Rafale was the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi...which France took a leading role in overthrowing by using their own Rafales to bomb the hell out of his military. Perhaps the new government formed by the rebels, which both saw the Rafale in action and has considerable reason to be grateful to France, will finally provide Dassault the opening they need?
  • The Dreadnought line of battleships and all the modern BBs that followed. A fleet confrontation between them never made a decisive contribution to a war.
  • William Jennings Bryan electrified the Democratic National Convention with his famous cry of "you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." and at the tender age of 36 (only one year older than the Constitutional minimum of 35), he became the youngest major-party nominee in history, and he put his dazzling oratorical power to good use, traveling 18,000 miles in three months, giving 500 speeches in 100 days - He lost by a huge landslide in the Electoral College. He was nominated again in 1900 - and lost by another huge landslide. He sat out the 1904 election, quite rightly realizing that he had no hope of beating popular incumbent Theodore Roosevelt. When Roosevelt stepped down in 1908, Bryan jumped back in and proceeded to lose by his biggest margin ever.
  • Similarly, Adlai Stevenson had a reputation as a campaigning orator, and suffered two landslide defeats in a row against Dwight D. Eisenhower. In fairness, he was campaigning against the hero of World War II in Europe in a time of unprecedented prosperity.
    • Stevenson seemed to be quite aware of how little chance of victory he had. When a supporter told him that every intelligent American would vote for him, he responded, "That's not enough. I need a majority."
  • Thomas Dewey was nominated in 1944 to run against FDR - of course he lost by a large margin! He was, unlike the other three unfortunates who had to, renominated in 1948 because Roosevelt had died and he was up against the considerably less challenging Truman. Sensing victory, the Republicans were sure such a popular candidate would win - nope.
  • Henry Clay, considered by most historians to be one of the greatest Senators in US history, unsuccessfully ran for President three times in the general election (in 1824, 1832, and 1844). He also sought his party's nomination in 1840 and 1848, but was passed over both times in favor of popular war heroes. Clay once complained bitterly that his supporters kept nominating him against opponents he had no chance to beat, and passing him over in years where he would have been virtually guaranteed to win.
  • Wayne Owens (D-Utah) served four non-consecutive terms in the US House of Representatives in a relatively safe (by Utah standards) Democratic seat, but went 0 for 4 in statewide elections: three Senate races and a run for governor.


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