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Sox's resurrection in perspective
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10/21/2004 8:57 PM ET
Sox's resurrection in perspective
Unprecedented comeback among history's greatest
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Why not us? The Boston Red Sox rose from unparalleled depths to reach the World Series. (Amy Sancetta/AP)
The Boston Red Sox have just completed the greatest comeback in modern sports history, and now they are going to the World Series for the first time since 1986. That was the year Haley's Comet was last visible to us earthlings, and it's as good a place as any to start a list of the greatest comebacks this world has seen.

Haley's Comet had last been seen in 1910, four years before Babe Ruth joined the Red Sox. The comet is visible roughly every three-quarters of a century during its elliptical orbit, and its next great comeback is projected for 2061.

Here, in the spirit of these Major League playoffs and Boston's unprecedented recovery from an 0-3 deficit to the rival New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, is an unscientific list of 15 other great comebacks in history:

Mankind. In the 14th century, 25 million Europeans died from the Black Plague. Not a bad comeback.

George Foreman. How many comebacks can one person have? He was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1973-74 before losing his title to Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle." Foreman recaptured his title at the age of 45 with a 1994 KO of WBA/IBF champ Michael Moorer, becoming the oldest man to win the heavyweight crown. Now Foreman is synonymous with grilling.

Apple. A personal-computer pioneer, Apple made a comeback after founder Steve Jobs returned to the company. The iMac and the iPod have become popular fixtures in the tech world.

Seabiscuit. Nearly everyone saw the movie and/or read the book, so this 1940 newsreel told it all: "Eyes of the turf world are on Santa Anita and the comeback of the great Seabiscuit. Twice, he's lost the $100,000 handicap by a nose. Now, if those valuable pins can stand the gaff today, he'll try again." Declared lame in 1939, Seabiscuit, the horse nobody had wanted, won.

Trees. Nothing says "comeback" quite like a tree, at least the deciduous kind. They lose their leaves in the fall. They are barren in the winter. And then they come back with blossoms every spring, like clockwork. Trees are the greatest comeback story ever told.

Buffalo Bills. On Jan. 3, 1993, the Bills trailed the Houston Oilers, 35-3. Buffalo scored four touchdowns in under seven minutes in the third quarter, and rallied for a 41-38 victory completed by Doug Christie's 32-yard field goal in overtime. That greatest comeback in NFL history sent the Bills into the second round of the playoffs.

Japan and Germany. Devastated by World War II, they rallied to become world economic powers within a generation. Japan, in particular, began focusing on "quality" in its businesses thanks to the post-war arrival of Dr. Edwards Demming from the U.S., and in the 1980s, Ford Motor Co. was among those U.S. corporations that decided to emulate their approach. Today, the Demming Award is a prized distinction among Japanese businesses and presented on TV amid much fanfare.

Lasse Viren. A 23-year-old policeman from Finland, he qualified for the 10,000 meters at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Viren stumbled and fell just before the halfway mark, and a former gold medalist from Tunisia named Mohamed Gammoudi tripped over him and gave up two laps later. Viren calmly got back up and chased his way through the field, not only overtaking the longtime leader, Britan's David Bedford, but also winning the gold medal with a world record of 27 minutes, 38.4 seconds.

John Travolta. He was Vinnie Barbarino from 1975-79 in TV's "Welcome Back Kotter," and then he was a megastar in the movies "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease." Then he was pretty much gone. Then, much later, he came back and is a megastar again.

New York Islanders. It was ironic that the greater New York area fell on the losing end of the greatest comeback in sports history this week, because one of its own had been the last major pro sports team to come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit. That was in 1975, when Al Arbour's NHL team rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a second-round best-of-seven series. In digging this one up, no one has seemed to notice that the Islanders proceeded to lose the first three games of their next series against Philadelphia and come back to force a Game 7 -- only to lose that one.

Elvis. No, we're not talking about all the purported sightings in recent years. We're talking about his '68 Comeback Special on TV. After all that time, no longer were his fans lonesome tonight.

Lance Armstrong. In October of 1996, tests revealed that advanced testicular cancer that had spread to the world-class cyclist's lungs and his brain. He proceeded to overcome that obstacle as if it were merely a mountain incline, and in 2004 he won his sixth Tour de France bike race.

Harry Truman. The polls had him losing the 1948 presidential election to Thomas Dewey by a large margin, and the Chicago Tribune even printed the infamous front-page headline the next morning: "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN." Of course, Truman came back for the victory.

Donald Trump. In 1988, he reportedly was several billion dollars in debt. Now he is a brand machine, star of TV's hit reality show "The Apprentice."

Napoleon. Exiled to Elba in 1814, the former French emperor made a comeback in 1815. Alas, he was defeated in Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena.

If the Red Sox should lose the World Series now that they have qualified, there might be some similarities to Waterloo. The Curse of the Bambino would go on. But no matter what happens now, the greatest sports comeback is in the history books and was even more fun to watch than a comet finally making its return.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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