Champion golfer Walter Hagen said, “Nobody remembers who came in second.” Vince Lombardi told his Green Bay Packer teams, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
In sports, we play the games to identify a winner. “Almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Today we examine some of the most famous second-place finishes [and finishers] in sports history. None ever boasted, “We’re No. 2!”
It would be blasphemous to ever call Jerry West a “loser.” Voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he was named an All-Star in each of his 14 NBA seasons. West led the NBA in scoring, assists, and earned All-Defensive Team honors four times during his brilliant career. The only NBA Finals MVP ever to come from the losing team, West lost eight of nine NBA Finals. Mr. Clutch never won the regular season MVP Award either, finishing second in the voting four times.
While Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer in history with 18 major championships to his credit, he is also the game’s greatest runner-up. The Golden Bear finished second in golf’s four majors a record 19 times – including four at the Masters.
In a three-year stretch in the early 1960s, Russian high jumper Valery Brumel broke the outdoor world record six times. His mark of 7 feet, 5.75 inches stood for eight years. Brumel also broke the indoor record twice. But at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Brumel finished second. The surprise winner was fellow countryman Robert Shavlakadze, who was lightly regarded heading into the Rome Games before capturing gold.
I just can’t believe I did that. I am such an idiot.
Phil Mickelson has won 43 events on the PGA Tour, including five major championships. One of 16 players in golf history to win at least three of the four majors, Lefty is snake-bit at the U.S. Open. Mickelson has finished second in our national championship a record six times. The most painful came in 2006. After winning two majors in a row heading into Winged Foot, Mickelson held a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole when he suffered one of the most epic meltdowns in major championship history. His drive bounced off a hospitality tent and settled in a grove of trees. Rather than play it safe and pitch out, the overly-aggressive Mickelson went for the green, made double bogey, and handed Geoff Ogilvy the title.
On October 16, 1968, three of the fastest runners in the world stood for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem on the Olympic podium in Mexico City. At the top stood Tommie Smith, winner of the 200m run. Behind Smith, in the bronze medal position, was John Carlos. The white guy on the second-place step was Australia’s Peter Norman, who captured the silver medal. What followed was the black-gloved Power Salute, one of the most infamous moments in Olympic history. After the 1968 Games, Norman was vilified in his homeland. He returned to Australia a pariah, suffering unofficial sanction and ridicule as the Black Power Salute’s forgotten man. At Norman’s funeral in 2006, Smith and Carlos served as pallbearers.
From 1941 to 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers made it to five World Series and lost them all. They found redemption in 1955, when the Boys of Summer delivered the Dodgers their only World Series title during the franchise’s seven decades in Brooklyn.
Nicknamed “Eternal Second,” French cyclist Raymond Poulidor competed in the Tour de France 14 times, finishing second in three.
Ken Rosewall had a brilliant tennis career. He won 133 singles titles, including eight Grand Slam events. The diminutive Aussie is considered one of the game’s greats. Rosewall was ranked among the top 20 players in the world every year from 1952 through 1977 and, at 37, became the oldest man ever to win the Australian Open. But he never won at Wimbledon, finishing second a record four times during his Hall of Fame career.
Larry Doby missed integrating Major League Baseball by 11 weeks – or about the gestation period for an otter. On April 15,1947, Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers and forever changed the landscape of baseball. On July 6 of that year, Doby became the second African-American to take a big-league diamond, and the first to play in the American League.
The legendary Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest forwards in basketball history. He played in eight NBA Finals, losing each. Baylor narrowly missed the crown in 1972, when bad knees forced his retirement nine games into a season that finally saw the Lakers win a championship.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. won 76 Winston Cup races and seven championships in his storied career. Driving the No. 3 car, The Intimidator was stock car racing royalty. Before he won the Daytona 500 in 1998, Earnhardt finished second in NASCAR’s biggest event a record four times.
The Buffalo Bills are the only team to play in four straight Super Bowls — and they lost them all. The Bills were AFC Champions in 1990, ’91, ’92 and ’93, then faced an NFC East opponent on football’s biggest stage to determine the world champion. They entered their first Super Bowl as 6 ½ – point favorites over the Giants, only to lose when Scott Norwood shoved the game-winning kick wide right. Buffalo was the underdog in each of their other three Super Bowls, losing to Washington in their second appearance and getting trounced by the Dallas Cowboys in each of the final two.