The USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers are in good company when it comes to pulling off a major turnaround.
A year after finishing bottom in their division, the Maulers finished the 2023 regular season in first place and made it to the USFL title game in exciting fashion, beating the Michigan Panthers 31-27 in overtime to win the North Division Championship.
The Maulers are not alone, however. In recent sports history there have been many incredible twists and turns from worst to first.
Here are some of the biggest in recent years.
NFL: 2019 San Francisco 49ers (13-3, first place NFC West; 4-12 record last season)
After several years of rebuilding under head coach Kyle Shanahan, everything fell into place in 2019 with a healthy quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a fierce, powerful defense. A big part of that defense was rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa, who became an instant star after San Francisco picked him with their second overall pick from Ohio State in 2019. The Niners clinched an NFC title and were out for most of the day before the Kansas City Chiefs made a late comeback in Super Bowl LIV.
MLB: 2023 Cincinnati Reds (41-36, 1st place NL Central*; 62-100 record last season)
Sure, the Reds still have a long way to go, but they’ve already surpassed pretty much everyone’s expectations after losing this year 100 games last year. But here are the Reds, reviving their Cincinnati fan base behind the unlikely duo of 21-year-old world champion Elly De La Cruz and 39-year-old franchise icon Joey Votto.
*Record in-game entry on Sunday 25th June.
college football: 2022 TCU (13-2, national runners-up; 5-7 record last season)
TCU had burst into the national spotlight before 2022, but those days seemed to be over after a dismal 2021 that led to the departure of longtime head coach Gary Patterson. That’s where Sonny Dykes came in, whose airstrike creativity and risk-taking mentality led to one of the most amazing and chaotic ascents college football had ever seen, and one of the biggest upsets in college football playoff history culminating when TCU defeated Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinals.
FIFA Men’s World Cup: 2022 Morocco (2-0-1 in group, reached semifinals; 0-2-1 in group at previous tournament)
After Morocco finished last in their group in 2018, few expected the team to cause quite a stir at the 2022 World Cup, especially in a group that also included 2018 runners-up and third-placed Croatia and Belgium respectively . However, Morocco won Group F, eliminating Belgium. Then Morocco defeated Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a men’s World Cup before the side’s magic run against holders France came to an end.
Every goal scored by Morocco at the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022
NBA: 2020-21 Phoenix Suns (51-21, reached NBA Finals; 34-39, 26-39 ahead of NBA bubble)
After 10 years of insignificance, the Suns’ 8-0 run in the 2020 pandemic-induced NBA bubble convinced the team’s front office to go all-in with a trade for star point guard Chris Paul the following offseason. With Paul and Devin Booker in backcourt, Mikal Bridges thrived as a two-way winger and DeAndre Ayton developed his pick-and-roll offense. The Suns racked up 51 victories before defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers and appearing in an NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
Phoenix is still building Booker after the mammoth trades for Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal in recent months.
Men’s College Basketball: 2022-23 Fairleigh Dickinson (21-16, NCAA Tournament Course, Surprise #1 Purdue; 4-22 previous season)
When Tobin Anderson was signed from the ranks of Division II to take over an FDU team that had won just four games the year before, no one anticipated what would happen next. After the Knights’ first-four win over Texas Southern, 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson gave virtually no chance against No. 1 Purdue.
nobody, that is, except Anderson. The rest is history.
Women’s College Basketball: 2021-22 Utah (21-16, second round of NCAA tournament; 5-16 previous season)
Rising from the rubble of a pandemic-stricken 2020-21 season, Utah made an unlikely run-up to the Pac-12 tournament title game before losing to powerhouse Stanford. Still, the Utes received their first NCAA tournament bid in over a decade, defeating Arkansas in the first round before losing to Texas.
The next year, Utah nearly defeated eventual national champions LSU in the Sweet 16.
Get more from the United States Football League Follow your favorites for updates on games, news and more