It was a good year for choking. The greatest choker of them all, Greg Norman even sealed the year by upping his record for turning 54 hole leads in the majors to 72 hole losses to six. Because he’s 53 we can’t give him the trophy*, and it was pretty amazing that he even got into position, but to close out with a 77 on the final day of the British Open shows that Norman can still choke with the best of them.
Anther great choke came from the Melbourne Storm, who won the NRL’s minor premiership then shambled through the playoffs, losing to an inspired Warriors side and then getting pantsed 40-0 by Manly in the final. In the US, it was hard to go past the Patriots passing up a chance at joining the ’72 Dolphins in the history books as they parlayed an 18-0 season into a Superbowl loss against wild cards the Giants. The only thing that saved them was the manner of their defeat, beaten by a moment of genius.
But for New Zealand sports fans there was only one truly great choke this year, and the title couldn’t have gone to a nicer team…
The Kiwis come-from-behind demolition of the Kangaroos in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup final was a moment all who saw will hold forever. The Kangaroos had monstered New Zealand 30-6 in their opening encounter, looking entirely untroubled in doing so, and no one was predicting anything else for the final of what had been a fairly shambolic tournament to that point.
The early running went to script, with Benji Marshall tooling a try before Lockyer and Williams scored for the Roos. Even with Smith and Ropati hitting back for the Kiwis, and holding the Australians to a slender 16-12 halftime lead it felt like we’d dignified the occasion rather than set ourselves up for a comeback. But the second half was masterful, the Kiwis hard, creative and calm while the Kangaroos, who clearly had only thought about one side’s gameplan (their own), disintegrated before our eyes.
Before long Billy Slater was throwing ridiculous passes, Monaghan was hammering Hohaia without the ball and the game was gone. The Kiwis responded with an impromptu chorus of Slice of Heaven (sublime), Ricky Stuart by calling the ref a “f***ing cheat” (predictable) and the match committee by giving the vanquished captain Darren Lockyer Man of the Match (ridiculous). That’s international rugby league though: a bit of a shambles, but that somehow males you love it all the more.
The Kangaroos are undeniably DeadBall’s chokers of the year for 2008.
*Not an actual trophy. We can’t afford one, and even if we could, we’re not sure Norman would fly all this way to accept it. He’d be tempted, obviously, but he’d probably need to shoot an equally humiliating Holden commercial instead (“Now who said winnging isn’t everything?”).