Poll time: Where would Hawks’ collapse rank in history?

The Hawks could be lining up for one of the worst playoff collapses in Atlanta history.

The Hawks could be lining up for one of the worst playoff collapses in Atlanta history.

If the Hawks win their next two games against Milwaukee, they can avoid two things: 1) Playoff extinction; 2) A special place in Atlanta pro sports’ infamy.

This hasn’t been Utopia, as you know. Atlanta has celebrated only one pro sports championship — the Braves’ World Series in 1995 (not counting obscure acronyms like NASL and IHL).

What ranks as Atlanta's worst playoff collapse?

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Pain? Oh, there’s plenty of that. It was difficult to choose. But I’m listing eight postseason collapses (including the Hawks’ current plight), with a synopsis of each. I’ve also included two polls, with a simple question: If the Hawks lose this series to the Bucks – be it tonight in Milwaukee or game seven back at Philips Arena Sunday – would it rank as Atlanta’s biggest post-season disappointment? (The second poll gives you a chance to vote for the runner-up.)

For the record, I still think the Braves’ blowing a 2-0 World Series lead and coming back home in 1996 ranks as the all-timer. But this could rank second.

Here are the eight, listed chronologically:

1980 Falcons: Steve Bartkowski threw for a career high 3,544 yards and 31 touchdowns and the Falcons won their first division title. But in their first playoff game at Fulton County Stadium, they blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead to Dallas and lost 30-27. Danny White’s touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the final minute decided it. But at least the Cowboys were of far greater stature that year

What ranks as Atlanta's second-worst playoff collapse?

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than the Bucks were entering this postseason.

1987-88 Hawks: They won over 50 games for the third straight season and defeated Milwaukee in the first round. Then they dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals to Boston before winning the next three games, including game five at Boston Garden. In game six at The Omni, Dominique Wilkins (47 points) and Larry Bird (34) put on a head-to-head scoring clinic in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics won 102-100 to even the series, then took game seven back in Boston, 118-116.

1991 Braves: I almost didn’t include this because the euphoria of the Braves’ leap from worst to first overshadowed the ending. But yes, Atlanta almost won its first World Series in 1991. The magical run to the division title and through the playoffs ended in Minnesota. The problem was nobody lost a home game. The Braves were up 3-2 going back to Minnesota. But the Twins won game six 4-3 in 11 innings on a homer by Kirby Puckett off of Charlie Liebrandt. They won game seven in 10 innings 1-0 on a complete game shutout by Jack Morris.

1996 Braves: They were favored to win their second straight World Series and looked the part. After eliminating Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Braves won the first two games at Yankees Stadium 12-1 and 4-0. Over? Not exactly. New York won game three at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves took a 6-0 lead in game four, but the Yankees scored three runs in the sixth and three more in the eighth on a home run by Jim Leyritz off closer Mark Wohlers, a crusher. Then they won it in 10 innings. The Braves were forever numbed. They lost the next two games 1-0 and 3-2. They scored three runs in the final 23 innings.

1998 Braves: This season isn’t talked about as much. But the Braves won a franchise record 106 games, only to lose to San Diego in the NLCS in six games. The elimination game came at Turner Field, 5-0. Five San Diego pitchers combined to throw a two-hit shuout and struck out 12 Braves.

2006-07 Thrashers: Hey, I have to throw this in the mix. The Thrashers won the Southeast Division and made the playoffs for the first (and only) time in franchise history. But they lost the first two games at home and were swept in four straight games by the New York Rangers. They scored only six goals in the series.

2008 Falcons: A case could be made this doesn’t deserve to be on the list. The Falcons exceeded all expectations in the collective rookie seasons for quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, finishing 11-5. But they lost their divisional playoff game at Arizona, 30-24. Ryan committed three turnovers and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

2009-10 Hawks: They won 53 games, entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed and won the first two games over the Bucks at Philips Arena. Everything pointed to a second-round series against Orlando. Then the roof caved in. Two losses in Milwaukee, one at home. Tonight, they face elimination. And humiliation.

Earlier posts

Gearon is mum on Woodson but expects Hawks ‘to go far’

Frank Wren’s problem: He hasn’t earned benefit of the doubt

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

66 comments Add your comment

brian in Villa Rica

April 30th, 2010
7:11 am

OMG First! I can die a happy man

brian in Villa Rica

April 30th, 2010
7:19 am

Each can be measured by one’s ability to watch it again. I have seen replays of the 1980 game against the Cowboys and I have to turn it off. I know that you didn’t include the Superbowl after the 1998 season but I see that in the same light as we didn’t give them our best game. That game is another that I will not watch again.

jg

April 30th, 2010
7:34 am

there’s been too many to rank!

NCBravesFan

April 30th, 2010
7:35 am

I got the 1996 & 98 Braves teams as my top two. Both teams lost despite a star-laden roster and extensive playoff experience.

The current collection of Hawks is talented, but they haven’t melded as a cohesive, disciplined unit (for whatever reason). And no one with half a brain expected them to get past the second round anyway.

No doubt losing to MIL as constructed is very unfortunate and falls short of expectations – but the issues that are “precipitating the downfall” have been clearly on display all year long and should not in hindsight be terribly surprising given that no one on the team could ever articulate the specific nature of the “focus” problem (let alone how it was supposedly solved).

Dr. Warren

April 30th, 2010
7:43 am

As an 8th grade kid at the Stadium, witnessing the Cowboys’ comeback against the Falcons was bad enough. The emotional pain I felt the next week during school was worse. Would never feel that bad again until Lonnie Smith blew it on the bases against the Twins. On paper, though, the Braves’ choking in ‘96 to the Yankees has to be the most dramatic and dumbfounding loss of all.

82Dawg

April 30th, 2010
7:52 am

Will Atlanta ever have a team we can count on to win they are suppose to??

Willy

April 30th, 2010
7:53 am

FEAR THE FEATHERS! THE HAWKS WILL WIN THIS SERIES!
(pretty please?)

El Bravo

April 30th, 2010
7:53 am

Brian in VR, I couldn’t agree more. I can watch any of those events again (and even enjoy some of them) with the exception of the 96 Braves and 98 Braves. The Falcons loses were against quality opponents and Hawks vs Boston was an all-time classic. The Thrashers were never that good. I think that if they finish the deed the 2010 Hawks will easily take over second place…

Rob Thomas

April 30th, 2010
7:57 am

These are all prime examples of why it’s so tough being a fan of Atlanta sports teams.

Sid

April 30th, 2010
8:10 am

I am still heart broken over the 1980 Falcons. If you think coachs can’t win or lose games there is no other better case evidence. Why did everyone talk like Milwaukee wasn’t going to show up, I had a bad feeling before the first game tip off. Arguably, I believe the Hawks have contributed to the “losersville” label more than any other Atlanta sports team. And should Milwaukee win tonight “LOSERSVILLE” should be put up in neon lights just over the Phillips Arena signage. This is a gut check game for the Hawks and I am not sure they can do it. The Bradley Center is sold out (the fans up there have nothing else to do) and they have the momentum. Fear the Deer, good luck Hawks, bring it home.

All I'm Saying...

April 30th, 2010
8:11 am

No. 1 by far is the 1980 Falcons collapse at home, after having a bye week, and after being up 14 points. Still a painful memory.

No. 2 is 1996 Braves in World Series versus Yanks. Still a painful memory.

The 1987-1988 Hawks loss the C’s was a disappointment given our chance to close it out at home but not as painful because that was Boston in its heyday and we knew we were playing over our heads and not the superior team but including the Thrashers? Are you kidding? You demean your list by having them.

Not really any worse...

April 30th, 2010
8:17 am

…than Dallas’ collapse against the Spurs…it is all in perspective.

DeepDiver

April 30th, 2010
8:18 am

Why are the 2008 Falcons even on the list? Going in people thought a great outcome to that season would be winning six games. They lost a road playoff game to a team that was a couple of plays away from winning the Super Bowl. How does that even rank?

Sid

April 30th, 2010
8:31 am

Super Bowl XXXIII …….. game was over as soon as Eugene Robinson was in handcuffs.

sidslid

April 30th, 2010
8:42 am

Lost fact of game 6:Steve Avery’s last stand giving up the last run in the 10th. This was one year after Bobby Cox’s greatest (luckiest) managerial call of letting a washed up Avery go in Game 4 against the Indians

Strokers all day

April 30th, 2010
8:44 am

Come on now. Josh Smith is about to shock the world. J smoove is ready to send the bucks packing.

OUCH

April 30th, 2010
8:44 am

96 Braves was the biggest and hurt. The 80 Falcons and 88 Hawks actually affected everybody more. Especially in a city that isn’t considered a sports town. Everybody actually talked and sulked about our loved sports teams. We should have knocked off the goliath in both games and fell short.

Dr. Warren

April 30th, 2010
8:47 am

DeepDiver–I hear you, but think about it: the Falcons had won two more games than the Cardinals in 2008. If we’d have beat them, the Super Bowl would have been a very strong possibility.

Clay

April 30th, 2010
8:48 am

Braves, Braves, Braves. The best team in baseball for over a decade and only one title. Breathtaking choking in ‘96 and ‘98.

Bill

April 30th, 2010
8:57 am

1.1996 Braves
2.1980 Falcons

That the list.

reebok

April 30th, 2010
9:00 am

this hawks loss won’t rank with the other big collapses because nobody cares about the hawks. the 1996 braves…mark (bleeping) wohlers…that one still hurts. and the braves were never the same…they went out of the playoffs meekly pretty much every year after.

bigeasy830

April 30th, 2010
9:01 am

That 2008 Falcons team is not a collapse. They were suckers then and suckers now. Matt Ryan is a noodle arm chump and the rest of the team is just as bad.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

April 30th, 2010
9:04 am

for me it was the 1980 Falcons…I was 12yrs old and in shock when we lost…it was sickening

PMC

April 30th, 2010
9:05 am

hate to break it to people this team is not close to the 96 braves with superstars and hall of famers all over the roster. That was one of the most epic and total failures in sports history. Right up there with the 91 Bills. The best team in baseball with a 2-0 lead got turned over and bloodied by the team that would actually become the team of the 90’s. That was a failure of failures and it changed them from being a great team to a nice story. That’s a pretty epic fail.

These Hawks are more like the late 80’s teams although they are more balanced and don’t have anywhere close to Nique.

This is an ok team. They should have won 60 in the regular season… but they aren’t better than at least 2 teams in thier division and thier “star” is known for playing small in big spots.

OUCH

April 30th, 2010
9:17 am

bigeasy. Enjoy your one year on top. We are building a winning franchise in Atl. Saits will come down harder than a Jeremy Shockey drinking binge.

Dean

April 30th, 2010
9:22 am

Dang, Jeff.

I was there in Jan. of ‘81 for the epic flop. Sec. 139. What is forgotten by most, I think, is the Falcons had 3rd and a yard late 4th Qtr. They get the first down-game over. Ed “Too Tall” Jones jumped early and tiptoed to his right to keep from being offside. He ended up in the hole where William Andrews was headed. No gain. YOU COULD HEAR A PIN DROP, ALONG WITH THAT FEELING OF PURE DREAD. Of course, IT happened.

(Talk about feeling The Agony and The Ecstasy; I got a free ticket to Game 7 of the Braves/Pirates 1992 NLCS game. HAIL YES!! Sports Illustrated’s “1992 Year in Sports” called it “The most cruel hit in the history of baseball.”) I still haven’t recovered.

gtm

April 30th, 2010
9:24 am

The ‘96 Braves had won two away games in New York easily. The Hawks this year had a good maybe quarter and a half at the beginning of the first game on their way to winning two closer-than-they-should-be home games. The signs were there that the Hawks weren’t doing so well, but the Braves looked like nothing could stop them. For that reason I would call the ‘96 Braves the biggest collapse.

The Capitals in the playoffs this year, now that is a collapse. The award for this year’s Hawks should be something more like Worst Pretenders or Most Embarrassing to Be a Fan Of.

Doc Holliday

April 30th, 2010
9:32 am

The Hawks don’t play team BB. Instead they atand around to see what Joe Johnson does and the Bucks have realized stop Joe you stop the Hawks. I predict another collapse for Loserville.

Herschel Talker

April 30th, 2010
9:51 am

1996 Braves is still the worst. Nothing compares. Up 2-0 and up 6-0 in game 4 going for back-to-back WS. The franchise have never been the same. This Hawks series doesn’t come close to comparing.

Pi$$onaDAWG

April 30th, 2010
9:51 am

Not being funny, but Hawks collape is right behind the World Trade Center Towers. More people were Killed in the 911 Attacks, but way more Hawks fans hearts were broken. Like 911 I don’t think the Hawk/Thrashers fans are coming back unless some major changes are made.

Big Chokes

April 30th, 2010
9:51 am

Biggest Atlanta chokes:

Yankees, 1996 world series
Falcons against cowboys, 1980
Hawks, 2010

Akron Atlantan

April 30th, 2010
9:57 am

I list it up there with your Negatively Focused Articles Jeff Schultz.

Pi$$onaDAWG

April 30th, 2010
10:00 am

When the Hawks walk off the court as losers, then the GM needs to be standing there with a HUGE PINKSLIP to hand WOODSON. Tell Woodson to miss the press conference and hand him a bus ticket back to the ATL to thinkk about how bad he screwed-up. Don’t worry coach! We will packup your office and ship it to your home or the DUMP! Which do you prefer?

Ted M

April 30th, 2010
10:02 am

this is not that big a deal because nobody expected them to win round 2 against the Magic much less the Title. So a flawed team might go out a little early.

No Big Deal

Ted M

April 30th, 2010
10:07 am

but I guess it is a big deal to Woodson.

D Hawks

April 30th, 2010
10:25 am

For me, it’s the 1980 Falcons because I think that the loss set the franchise back 10 years. There was so much expectation that Bartkowski and Company were on the fringe of becoming a dynasty and it fell apart. The Falcons were supposed to be the better team (they were the top-seed) and they didn’t prove it. The 1996 Braves was a close runner-up, but the fact that the Yankees had home-field advantage established them as the favorite anyway although it was a big collapse. It also didn’t have a long-term impact on the franchise as they were defending champs and they continued to make playoff appearances for several more seasons.

bigeasy830

April 30th, 2010
10:25 am

ouch, I am not a Saints fan I am a Steelers fan, but, at least the Saints have had one year on top the Falcons have never had that. In this day of free agency, you can’t build for the future you win with-in a couple of years or that window of opportunity closes fast. Your team have been one and done in the play-offs and no play-oof appearance the next year. Now let’s see if they can do anything this year. One thing you have to say about the Saints is they are the Super Bowl champs and when the season begins they will be the defending Super Bowl champs, The Falcons are Wanna Be suckers.

D Hawks

April 30th, 2010
10:27 am

As disappointed as I was after the loss Wednesday, shouldn’t we at least wait until after the Hawks are eliminated to add them to this list?

DC toad

April 30th, 2010
10:27 am

I think the ‘93 Braves are worth at least an honorable mention – after winning baseball’s last great pennant race against the *Giants they had nothing left in the tank against a less-than-imposing Phils squad.

Mark C.

April 30th, 2010
10:31 am

96 Braves easily. I’d have put the 97 Braves over the 98 team. The 97 team had the best record in baseball and would have played Cleveland in the WS if they’d gotten by Eric Gregg and the Marlins. The 98 team would have played that insanely good Yankees team.

Crack Head

April 30th, 2010
10:32 am

WOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

THE COFFEE MUG ON THE TREE TOP SHOT AT THE SKUNK WIT A PIECE OF TOE NAIL!!!!

WOW!!!

waw

April 30th, 2010
10:39 am

Inexplicable and painful: 80 Falcons, 96 Braves.

ITP Brave

April 30th, 2010
10:45 am

Jeff:

My personal theory is that the Jim Leyritz Home Run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series effectively killed the Braves’ dynasty. Sure, they continued to win the division and even make the World Series (if you call getting swept in 1999 “making it”), but they never really did anything in the postseason after that Leyritz shot. I’d make that the biggest collapse ever.

On a side note, shame on you for even thinking of adding the 1991 World Series to that list. No one thought the Braves would be anywhere near the postseason in 1991, and that series (while it had a terrible end) was one of the best of all time. Hardly a “collapse”

gtbob45

April 30th, 2010
10:45 am

The Falcons 1980 by far. By the way Ed (Too Tall) Jones was offside during a third down play that would have iced it for the Falcons. I saw a replay of the game a while back had to turn to channel could not watch.The hardest loss I ever saw that I did not bet on.

Hillbillt Deluxe

April 30th, 2010
11:15 am

There were several collapses before 1980. How soon they forget…………The ‘69 Braves in the playoffs for instance.

ChippersLoveChild

April 30th, 2010
11:18 am

Should the BUCKS beat the Hawks and advance to the next round it will represent one of the biggests busts ever in nba history. The Hawks this season had enough talent to have the nbas best record and they blew it. Now they may not even advance to the second round. Mike Woodsen needs to be fired and replaced by either Avery Jobnson, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Byron Scott, Dominique Wilkins, Steve Smith, Kenny Smith or Chris Webber.

For cryin out loud JEFFY

April 30th, 2010
11:22 am

Why play the negative so often? It’s as if they already lost…

This is the kinda crap that makes me sick, It’s game 6 of the playoffs and you are already writing about them flopping. Couldn’t wait could ya.

How about using your time and write something that isn’t crap, seriously dude. You always take this angle and it’s annoying as hell.

How about a write up on keys to victory or maybe some adjustments that could be made. Is that too far over your head to speak intelligently on the Hawks? You do this same crap with college football.

Do some homework and write a decent article for once.

ChokeVille

April 30th, 2010
11:49 am

There are so many chokes in loserville, I’ve lost track. It’s too hard to rank them all. These atlanta teams find news way to lose every year, but their players keep getting more millions for mediocrity and failure. Nice!!!!!

UGADawg83

April 30th, 2010
12:25 pm

Here’s the deal–there are probably a lot folks out there like me that haven’t paid much attention to the Hawks the last ten or fifteen years and were just starting to pay attention again and not this is going to send us back to the sidelines for another ten years.

jg

April 30th, 2010
12:29 pm

i love this hawks team! it’s as simple as that–i’ve enjoyed watching them play virtually every game this season and no matter how tough some of those games have been to watch–i still find myself watching the next one. well tonight could be the last ONE!

the series is not over and a lot stranger things have happened. what if milwaukee gets that “deer in the headlights look” no pun intended–about being the favorite now. they know they have to win this game now. we’re the underdog–the pressure has shifted to them. how will they handle it????

i was at the omni when we felt really good up 3-2 against the celtics and what was supposed to be k.c. jones retirement party. the hawks can win this game if they can just withstand the early part of the game and stay close to the bucks until the fourth qtr and that’s when they’ll get tight and we’ll go right by them and win this one 92-81. then we’ll be back to atlanta with a game 7–at that point it’s a crapshoot…

go hawks–its been a fun season that i would like to see continue. if it does–i’ll be backing you against the magic. but win or lose this series it’s time to pack woody’s bags and bring someone in who we can with not in spite of.