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Game 6 may have a challenger for most devastating playoff loss ever

The Ray Allen Game vs. the Thirteen Seconds Game — Which hurt more?

I have a good friend who grew up in Buffalo, New York. Ricardo has always been a huge fan of the Buffalo Bills, which is why I reached out to him after the Bills’ incredible loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday. Another reason I did so was I had a pretty good idea how Ricardo was feeling — I had been in his shoes eight years earlier. After the Ray Allen Game in the 2013 NBA Finals, I was devastated. In my pre-Pounding the Rock blog, I wrote:

“Took a walk last night, looked at the stars, wondered why we care so much about a bunch of strangers 3,000 miles away playing a game that doesn’t affect our lives in the slightest. Then had trouble sleeping.”

I am sure Ricardo did the same thing Sunday night. When he and I touched base the next day, I wondered whose pain was worse — me after the Ray Allen game or Ricardo after the Thirteen Second game. And when I start wondering about things like that, I write about it.

The most obvious difference between the two losses was that the Spurs’ loss occurred in the NBA Finals, while the Bills’ loss didn’t even happen in a Conference Finals (though it was probably the de facto AFC finals). So on the pain scale, Game Six has that advantage — absent all the strange things that happened that led to Ray Allen’s three-pointer, and Allen making the shot, the Spurs would have been the 2013 NBA champions. The Bills, on the other hand, would have still needed to win two more games.

However, even though the Bills game was not IN the Finals, it was much more final than the Ray Allen Game. The Ray Allen Game was only Game Six, so the Spurs still had another chance to win the 2013 championship in Game Seven — and almost did. For the Bills, their season was completely and irretrievably over when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs drove for the tying field goal in the last thirteen seconds of regulation, won the coin toss for overtime, received the kick-off, and drove the length of the field for a touchdown to end the game, and the Bills’ season. (For those who are unaware, NFL rules dictate that if a touchdown is scored on the opening possession of overtime, that’s the ballgame, and the team that defended first does not get a possession to try and match.) So the Bills win this factor.

The Bills also win the “stunning nature of the loss” factor also. Teams give up tying three-pointers at the ends of games all the time, including after offensive rebounds. Indeed, as in the Ray Allen game, teams occasionally give up two three-pointers in the last 30 seconds. But never before in NFL Playoff history have two teams combined for 25 points in the last two minutes of regulation, with each score either putting the team in the lead or tying the game. I understand that only twice since 2000 has a team received a kick-off with 20 seconds or less left in a game and scored to tie or win a game. The Bills’ win probability after they scored their touchdown with 13 seconds left was apparently 99.7%, about as close to 100% as one could get. Put another way, while the Ray Allen shot was improbable, the Chiefs win after allowing the Bills to go ahead with 13 seconds left was virtually impossible.

We also must take into account the history of the two franchises. Prior to the 2013 Finals, the Spurs were a proud and successful franchise, already wearing four crowns and looking more for the cherry on top for the Big 3 than anything. Compare that to the Bills, who have never won an NFL championship despite four straight trips to the Super Bowl between 1991 and 1994. The only time they came close to winning was the “Wide Right” game in which Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired that would have won the game. The next three years, they lost by 13, 35 and 17 points. So the Bills’ loss this year was simply more misery for Bills fans, without a single season in which they ended the campaign with a championship.

One more thing. The Spurs followed up the devastation of the 2013 Finals with the Beautiful Game 2014 “Redemption Finals”. As I wrote at the time:

“The 2014 Spurs, without preening or pounding their chests, looked genuinely happy, and that was a very good thing. They didn’t need to preen or pound their chests. They could just look up at the scoreboard, laugh, smile, hug and say meaningful things in each other’s ears. And feel at peace.

And because the Spurs felt that way, so did Spurs fans. Including this one. Now when I think of Ray Allen’s three-pointer in Game Six, I immediately think of the 2014 Finals. And smile.”

I hope that someday soon the Bills will finally go all the way. When that happens, my friend Ricardo and his fellow long-suffering Bills fans can look back on the Thirteen Second game and recognize that the painful loss of that game was the beginning, not the end. And smile.