Top 10 Greatest Comebacks Of All Time
In choosing ten comebacks as the greatest of all-time some standard was necessary such an auspicious list. My criteria involved two elements and within each element a measurement was used. The elements were the nature of the setback and the prominence of the comeback. The measurement for each was simply the greatness of the span between the setback and the comeback. There have been many great comebacks in history. This book is devoted to the concept that there can be many more. But there are certain comebacks that simply stand apart from all others because of their true greatness.
10. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. had a great amount of success at a young age. He starred in a number of films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the 1992 film Chaplin. After this promising start he began to face problems in his personal life. From 1996-2001, he was arrested numerous times on drug related charges. In April 1996 he was arrested for possession of cocaine, marijuana and an unloaded .357 magnum while speeding down Sunset Boulevard. He was sentenced to three years probation and required to undergo mandatory drug testing.
That first arrest did not stop his destructive behavior. A year later he missed a court-ordered drug test and had to spend four months in the Los Angeles County jail. Even jail time failed to change his behavior, and in 1999 he missed another drug test and was sentenced to three years at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California.
He received a big break when he was unexpectedly released early for previous time served in 1996. Unfortunately, his addiction was too strong and he was arrested yet again the next year for possession of cocaine and valium. In July, 2001 he pleaded no-contest to the charges but avoided jail time because of California’s Proposition 36, which was aimed at helping non violent drug offenders to overcome addiction through court-ordered rehabilitation.
Downey told Oprah in 2004 that he finally decided he needed help and reached out for it. He said, “You can reach out for help in a kind of half-assed way and you’ll get it and you won’t take advantage of it. It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems…what’s hard is to decide to actually do it.” After five years of setbacks, he decided he was going to have a comeback.
While he managed to stay employed with small projects throughout his battle with drug addiction, it was in 2008 when his career comeback really solidified. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Tropic Thunder. He landed the lead role in the movie Iron Man and Entertainment Weekly named him “Entertainer of the Year.” In addition, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2008.
He now has the lead role in two widely successful movie franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. In 2010 his role as Sherlock Holmes earned him a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture. Downey is one of the most popular and sought after actors in Hollywood solidifying his comeback. He has also started a foundation to help others.
9. Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, receiving a $3.96 million signing bonus. He was an unlikely candidate for a future drug addict; unfortunately, adversity struck his life and young career in the form of numerous injuries. In 2001, he was involved in a car accident that placed him on injured reserve. In his first three seasons, he missed a total of two hundred and thirty-six games because of injuries. During this time he self-medicated with the destructive coping mechanisms of drugs and alcohol. As a result, Hamilton tested positive for substance abuse, was suspended, and put into a treatment program.
However, this did not stop his addictive behavior. In 2004, Major League Baseball suspended him indefinitely for violating the joint drug treatment and prevention program. At this point he had become a full blown addict, the substance abuse that initially begun while he was trying to cope with the injuries that stalled his promising career had become the agent of his career destruction. His depression worsened. Finally in 2005, he hit rock bottom, waking up on his grandmother’s doorstep after what would be his final crack cocaine binge. Hamilton had experienced a gigantic setback and his future was very dim.
He chose a road that led to recovery and his comeback in baseball. In an ESPN article about his story he describes his comeback as, “it’s a God thing. It’s the only possible explanation.” In that same article he describes two dreams that encompass his journey back from addiction.
“I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something and every time I hit the devil, he’d fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing.
I woke up in a sweat, as if I’d been truly fighting and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I’d been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I’m not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother’s room and crawled under the covers with her. The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that. I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together. I got word in June 2006 that I’d been reinstated by Major League Baseball and a few weeks afterward, the devil reappeared.
It was the same dream with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn’t knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting and I was filled with strength. The devil didn’t stand a chance.
You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn’t scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn’t win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn’t lose.”
His reinstatement was just the beginning of his remarkable comeback. In 2008 he was selected to his first All Star team, where he also participated in the Home Run Derby, setting an opening round record of 28 home runs and finishing with the second most home runs of all time in Derby history with 35.
His Home Run Derby explosion introduced Josh to the public in a big way furthering his comeback. He has been selected to the All Star team for three straight years (2009-2011). In 2010, he won several single season honors in the American League including the Batting Title, ALCS MVP and most impressively MVP of the entire American League. The man who almost lost his life and career to addiction has now become one of baseball’s biggest stars. In addition to his personal success, he has led the Texas Rangers, who had never won an American League pennant, to the past two American League pennants and World Series appearances (2010-2011). The comeback is still continuing with Josh and only in time will his full success be known.
8. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was both a general and a president. He was an American hero in the truest sense of the word. Misunderstood by many people who don’t know his whole story, his life is a powerful example of a comeback. Grant was the son of a tanner in Ohio and was soft spoken and easily embarrassed. He went to West Point and entered into the Army as an officer. He served in the Mexican-American War and then was sent to the new Oregon territory out west. He did not like it, he did not like the climate and he did not like being separated from his wife and children.
In his depression, he drank too much and quit the Army. He gave up his officer commission and went back home. He tried his hand at a couple of different things. He failed at real estate and he failed at business. He was working in his family’s tannery and making very little money when the Civil War broke out. He was contacted by the Union Army since he was a West Point graduate and had combat experience in the Mexican War. He was asked to rejoin the Army and he did.
His comeback did not start out so great and he actually did not do very well in his first battle. But then he had a great victory at Fort Donaldson and then he won a big battle at Shiloh. That victory got the attention of President Lincoln. Lincoln kept going through generals trying to find somebody who actually would get the job done and he decided that Grant was someone who would actually fight. Grant kept getting promoted until he was the top general of all the Union forces. He won the Civil War not by fancy maneuvers or clever strategy but by confronting the Confederate army in the field and defeating it. The man with the rumpled uniform, unkempt beard and ever-present cigar accepted the surrender from General Lee of the Confederate forces at Appomattox.
Grant was then elected President of the United States. In fact he was re-elected, serving two terms as president. Though his two terms were riddled with political and financial scandals (none directly involving him) he managed to bring a calming influence to the country and bring peace between the North and South and between the US and the rest of the world.
The culmination of his comeback was the book he wrote after he left the Presidency. He wrote Memoirs about his life and it became the biggest selling book in American history, excluding the Bible. The shy boy from humble beginnings who failed at much in the early part of his life had an incredible comeback. He was the top general who lead the Union’s victory in the Civil War, he was elected president for two terms of the United States and he wrote the bestselling book of all time.
7. Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner is a Super Bowl champion, two-time National Football League MVP and Hall a Fame candidate. His journey to success consisted of many setbacks and two remarkable comebacks. Throughout his incredible journey he has always given credit to his faith in Jesus Christ as the foundation for his success. After his college football career at the University of Northern Iowa, Warner went undrafted in the 1994 NFL draft. He was invited to try out for the Green Bay Packers, but was released before the start of the regular season.
With no other options he took a job working at a grocery store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa making $5.50 an hour. He also worked as a graduate assistant coach for the Northern Iowa football program while waiting for another NFL opportunity. No NFL team was willing to give him one, so he signed with the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers in 1995. During his two seasons in the AFL (1996 & 1997) he was named first team All-Arena and led his team to two Arena Bowl appearances. Finally, the St. Louis Rams signed him in 1998, but they allocated him to NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals where he led the league in touchdowns and passing yards. After that season he came back to the Rams as their third-string quarterback.
The 1999 season would change the course of Warner’s life and career. The Rams starting quarterback, Trent Green, tore his ACL in a preseason game and Warner became the starter. Up to this point in his career he had never been a starter in the NFL and had actually played very little. That year he would have one of the all time best single seasons by a quarterback, throwing for 4,353 yards with 41 TD passes and a completion rate of 65.1%. He led the Rams high powered offense known as the “greatest show on turf” to a Super Bowl victory over the Tennessee Titans. In that game he threw for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and was named the Super Bowl MVP. In addition he would become the seventh player to win both the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same season.
He won a second league MVP in the 2001 season when he again led his team to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Patriots. In a close game decided by three points, he threw for the third highest passing total in Super Bowl history.
After winning two MVP’s in three seasons, Warner suffered another setback when he injured his throwing hand and did not complete the 2002 season. In 2003, he was replaced as the starter after fumbling six times in the season opening game. He was released the next season and signed a two year contract with the New York Giants. His setback continued as he was replaced in the middle of the season by the highly touted rookie Eli Manning. At the end of the season he decided to void the second year of his contract and become a free agent.
In 2005 he signed a one year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. He started most of that season and had a good enough year that he signed a three year extension the following year. The Cardinals then drafted quarterback Matt Leinart out of the University of Southern California and he replaced Warner in week four of the 2006 season. For the second time in his career Warner was replaced by a rookie quarterback even though he was a two time MVP and Super Bowl winner.
Leinart was named the starter again in 2007, but was ineffective and Warner regained the job later in the season. Despite his success, there was a quarterback controversy in the offseason. Eventually Warner was named the starter, where he led the Cardinals to a division title, their first playoff appearance since 1998 and the Super Bowl. They lost a very close Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was still able to throw for 377 yards, making him the record holder for the top three passing yard totals in Super Bowl history.
Warner retired as a four-time All-Pro, having played in three Super Bowls and having thrown over 100 TD’s for two different teams. His outstanding play in the playoffs make him one of the best clutch players in NFL history and his off the field accomplishments culminated in his being named the 2008 NFL Man of the Year. Twice tossed aside as not good enough to start in the NFL, his comebacks are truly remarkable.
6. Lance Armstrong
The Lance Armstrong comeback story has been celebrated for good reason. His comeback has inspired millions of people. His “LiveStrong” campaign in partnership with Nike has motivated thousands of people to overcome cancer and other challenges. The LiveStrong Foundation has raised over 325 million dollars for cancer research.
At age sixteen he became a pro triathlete and by nineteen he had won two national sprint course triathlon championships. Then at twenty he became the United States Amateur Cycling Champion. One year later he won his first professional race as a member of Team Motorola. At age twenty-one he became the youngest cyclist to ever win the UCI Road World Championship and by twenty-five was one of the world’s best cyclists.
However, that same year he was diagnosed with Stage Three testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. Armstrong took an active role in educating himself about cancer. Armed with knowledge, support, and confidence he undertook an aggressive treatment. After undergoing surgery where the diseased testicle was removed his doctor gave him less than a forty percent chance to live. Armstrong then had his brain tumors removed and amazingly, by 1998, his cancer had gone into complete remission. With his cancer in remission Armstrong began his comeback. His workouts were legendary for their difficulty and they launched him out of his setback.
Not only did he survive cancer, but his greatest accomplishments as an athlete have come since his recovery. Before being diagnosed with cancer he had only won three stages of the Tour de France and had never won the entire race. His comeback began with a fourth place finish in a race in Spain in 1998. In 1999 he entered the Tour de France and he miraculously won it just two years after cancer surgery. As impressive as that win would be it was just the first of seven straight races that he would win. No one in history had ever won seven straight Tour de France titles and at that point the comeback was complete. After his final 2005 Tour de France victory he announced his retirement.
5. Germany/Japan Post War
The aftermath of World War II left Japan and Germany devastated. Most of their large cities were severely damaged in addition to the countless lives lost. There were shortages of food and a lack of housing and transportation. In addition to all of this was the humiliation of defeat. The collective psyche of these nations was one of worldwide disdain for them as evil empires whose aggression had caused another world war. They had truly experienced a national setback. Both governments and economies were completely restructured by post war occupation from the Allied Forces. The ramifications of this left both in far worse shape than their pre-war conditions. Their comebacks are known as the post war economic miracle. Japan and Germany are now the third and fourth largest economies in the world.
By the end of the war Japan had lost two million lives and over 100 cities were destroyed. Industrial production stood at less than ten percent of its pre-war level. The United States occupied Japan from 1945-1952 during which they brought demilitarization and democratization, as well as industrial, land, and education reform.
The Korean War propelled Japan’s economy into recovery because they became the principal supplier of food and arms for the U.S. armed forces. During this period industry was rejuvenated and by 1955 industrial output was back to its pre-war level. They began rebranding themselves by abandoning militarism and focusing on becoming an industrial and technological nation. Much of modern technology (HD televisions, DVD players, audio equipment) has been invented or made in Japan.
According to the Japanese economist Ryuotaro Komiya, their overriding goals have been making the economy self-sufficient and catching up with the West. Japan’s postal savings institution has fostered a high savings rate, reducing the cost of capital and allowing debt to be financed internally. They have also developed a highly efficient workforce through their rigorous education system. Ultimately, from 1950-1980, Japan’s economy grew at a remarkable rate of ten percent annually.
By 1948 the German people had been living under price controls for twelve years and rationing for nine. Hitler had imposed price controls for his own economic gain; the result was severe food shortages and high inflation. The end of the war meant the end of these policies, thus unleashing industrial productivity. In just the first six months, industrial production had increased by fifty percent.
The split of Germany into the Communist East and the Democratic West in 1961 concentrated economic growth solely in the West, where it stalled from decreases in the labor force that accompanied the split. The reunification of Germany in 1990 brought about another comeback as there were now plentiful laborers for their various industries. At the core of Germany’s successful comeback is its highly efficient industrial sector. Germany’s economy now excels above all other European countries.
4. Buffalo Bills 1993 Playoff Game
The Buffalo Bills played the Houston Oilers in an NFL playoff game in 1993. In that game the Bills recovered from a 32-point deficit to win the game in OT. The Bills comeback was the greatest postseason comeback in NFL history. The Oilers had beaten the Bills 28-3 the week before which cost them a first round bye in the playoffs. In the first half of the game the Oilers continued their domination over the Bills. QB Warren Moon went 19-for-22 for 220 passing yards and 4 TD’s to put the Oilers up 28-3 at halftime. Just a 1:41 into the second half Bills QB Frank Reich threw an interception that was returned for a TD, putting the Oilers up 35-3. On top of their 32 point deficit, the Bills lost their star RB Thurman Thomas to a hip injury.
The Oilers kicked off and used a squib kick that was very poor and it gave the Bills excellent field position. The Bills drove the short field and scored their first TD. In what may have been the turning point of the game the Bills then tried an onside kick and were successful in recovering the ball. Just four plays later Reich hit Don Beebe with a 38-yard TD pass. The Bills then forced the Oilers to punt for the first time in the game, which resulted in just a 25 yard punt. The Bills scored again on a TD pass from Reich to Andre Reed and all of the sudden the score was 35-24. In ten minutes of the third quarter the Bills had scored 21 points and the Oilers had only run 3 plays for 3 yards. The Bills then intercepted Moon and scored on a fourth-down attempt with another TD pass to Reed. In the fourth quarter the Bills scored another TD on a pass to Reed and now the Bills were actually ahead of the Oilers 38-35.
Moon led the Oilers on a 63-yard drive which resulted in a field goal, tied the score, and sent the game into overtime. The Oilers won the coin toss and could have won the game without the Bills ever even getting the ball but Moon threw an interception. Reich led the Bills down the field where they kicked a 32 yard field goal to win the game. In just one half of football (and a little overtime) the Bills erased a 32 point setback and produced the greatest comeback professional football has ever seen and they did it in the playoffs.
3. 2004 Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox are one of the most famous professional sports franchises in America. Their popularity has created the Red Sox Nation where people from all over the world, not just New England, follow them fanatically. Their fan base has grown even greater since they pulled off the greatest baseball playoff comeback in history.
The Sox had a very successful beginning to their franchise including winning the very first World Series. They went on to win four more world championships by 1918 and the future looked very bright for years to come. However, after 1918, they did not win another World Series for 86 years. It was called the “Curse of the Bambino” since, after they traded away Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees, they never won another world championship. They played in four World Series and never won, even with some of the greatest baseball players ever like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
In 2004 they played their rival the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. They had lost to them in the same series the previous year. The Red Sox began the series by losing the first two games and then in Game Three they lost 19-8 at home which was the worst playoff loss in Red Sox history. They were now down 3-0 and no team in Major League Baseball history had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series.
Game Four went into extra innings and was won by the Red Sox on a walk off homer by David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Game Five also went into extra innings and was won when Ortiz hit an RBI single. The Sox now had to go back to unfriendly Yankee stadium for Game Six, having barely escaped in the last two games and knowing they still would lose the series if they lost one more game. Game Six was won by the Red Sox thanks in large part to the pitching of Kurt Schilling who had stitches in his ankle but still managed to defeat the Yankees. In Game Seven, for the first time the Yankees were in danger of losing the series and incredibly they did lose the game and the series. The Boston Red Sox had overcome the greatest deficit in baseball history against their most hated rival to have a comeback like no other in playoff baseball.
However, the comeback was not yet complete since they still had to win the World Series in order to have a world championship. They played the St. Louis Cardinals, who had won more world championships than any club except the Yankees. The Red Sox came into the series on a four game winning streak and amazingly won four straight to sweep the Cardinals and win their first world championship in eighty six years. The greatest baseball comeback was now complete.
2. Abraham Lincoln
Many (myself included) consider Lincoln to be the greatest President in the history of the United States. He led the country through its greatest moral and military crisis. He essentially saved the country from destruction and directed it toward restoration.
He grew up in meager circumstances being born in a log cabin. His mother died when he was just nine years old and for his education he was essentially self -taught. He tried his hand at business and he failed at it not just once but twice. During that time he also ran for his first elected office and he lost. His first true love died, probably of typhoid fever, and he also had what most today would call a nervous breakdown.
When he ran for U.S. Congress, though he was elected to four terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, he lost. He also ran twice for the U.S. Senate and lost both times as well as losing the election in 1856 as the Vice-Presidential candidate. Previous to his run for the Presidency he had only won one national election in his entire political career. Lincoln experienced an incredible number of setbacks in both his personal and professional life.
Yet, he would make one of the greatest comebacks in history. In 1860 Lincoln was elected the sixteenth President of the United States. This marked the beginning of his remarkable comeback. His Presidency began with the secession of the southern states and the beginning of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. Lincoln had the immense challenge of directing the war effort, handling his normal presidential responsibilities and dealing with the criticism of anti-war Democrats. He showed deft political skill and leadership acumen in dealing with all of his challenges.
He had many great accomplishments that solidify his place in American history and reveal the greatness of his comeback. His Gettysburg Address is the most quoted speech in American history. The Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves and stands as one of the greatest acts of moral leadership in history. His reelection in 1864 confirmed that his continued leadership was vital to the country. His approach and attitude toward the defeated Southern states helped reunite the nation. Without Lincoln, the United States would look very different today. What he accomplished considering his many setbacks mark his comeback as one of the greatest of all time.
1. Jesus Christ’s Resurrection
Jesus was the most important person who ever lived. His life, death and resurrection literally changed the course of human history. He experienced the ultimate setback and he had the ultimate comeback.
Jesus began his life miraculously having been born of a virgin. His birth was conceived by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary. He was literally both God and man. Jesus was unique and special, which was recognized by the religious scholars of his day while he was still young. Jesus launched his public ministry when He was thirty years old. He overcame the temptation of the Devil in the desert, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and gathered together a team of twelve disciples. He traveled throughout his region doing good, healing the sick and teaching God’s message. He preformed many miracles and created quite a stir amongst many religious leaders.
Jesus predicted that the Kingdom of God would come but it would not be an earthly kingdom or a political revolution. Rather Jesus would become the leader of each individual’s life and establish His teachings as the way to live life. Many chose to become Jesus’ followers and He had great popularity with the general public. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life. However, He was viewed with suspicion and disdain by the religious leaders of his day.
Those religious leaders convinced one of Jesus’ disciples to betray Him. Jesus was arrested and brought before the Roman authorities for punishment. Pilate, the Roman governor, did not think Jesus was guilty of anything but gave them a choice and they demanded that Jesus be the one to be given a death sentence.
Jesus was guilty of no crime and had done incredible good yet he was crucified. Crucifixion was the most painful and horrendous death a person could be sentenced to in the ancient world. The hands and feet were nailed to intersecting wooden beams and then the cross was lifted up and placed in the ground. In order for Jesus to breathe He would have to lift Himself up tearing His flesh in the process. Every moment on the cross He was in excruciating pain. Jesus also had a crown of thorns placed on His head and His side was pierced with a sword. The entire time He was on the cross He was mocked, ridiculed and spat upon.
Finally, Jesus died. There can be no greater setback than to be cruelly and mercilessly killed. Jesus was buried in a cave. Jesus died on a Friday and some women went to the cave on Sunday morning and found the stone in the front of the tomb had been rolled away. Jesus was not dead, but had risen from the grave! The greatest comeback in history had taken place, a dead person had come back to life – death had been beaten. He then appeared to His disciples and explained to them what had happened. He died as a sinless person for all the sins of humanity. His resurrection proved His victory over sin and death.
Anyone who confesses their sins to Jesus will be forgiven and granted eternal life. Thus, because of Jesus’ comeback any person can have their greatest personal comeback. The setback of mistakes, failures and sins can be forgiven. The comeback of inner peace, purpose and meaning in life is now available. We can live our lives in a personal relationship with God experiencing His plan for our lives and we can spend eternity in heaven with Him after this life is over. Thanks to Jesus, life’s greatest comeback is available to you any time you choose.
Rick McDaniel is the founder/senior pastor of Richmond Community Church in Richmond, VA. The church is known for its contemporary style and innovative services. It has a worldwide reach through its Internet Campus (www.highimpactchurch.tv.) Rick’s messages are featured in video form on LightSource and in audio form on One Place as well as on audible and amazon. Rick has three earned degrees including an advanced degree from Duke University. He has traveled and spoken on five continents and has authored three previous books.
If you doubt the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection consider some evidence. In ancient courts a women could not be a witness, only the testimony of a man was accepted. Yet, the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection were women. If it were just a fanciful story why use women as witnesses? The resurrection cannot be a myth because it does not fit the characteristics of a myth. Myths were developed over time the story of Jesus’ resurrection was written within twenty years and known orally many years before that. Also, Christians never venerated the site of Jesus’ death rather they focused on the tomb where he rose. And there were some five hundred witnesses to Jesus after his resurrection. How can that many people all have the story wrong?
This list is an excerpt from the book, Comeback: Overcoming The Setbacks In Your Life.