Richard Johnson

According to one dictionary definition, a ‘nearly man’ is ‘a man who fails to achieve the success or status that he might potentially have had’. It may seem ludicrous to suggest that Richard Johnson, who retired in April, 2021 as the second most prolific National Hunt jockey in history, failed to fulfil his potential, but he would certainly have fared better had he not been a direct contemporary of Sir Anthony McCoy. In his first season riding in Britain, 1994/95, McCoy was Champion Conditional Jockey and, thereafter, was perennial Champion Jockey until his retirement in April, 2015, racking up a career total of 4,348 National Hunt winners in Britain and Ireland.

Johnson, for his part, rode just 3,818 National Hunt winners in Britain and Ireland, but was runner-up in the National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship in 16 of the 20 seasons in which McCoy won the jockeys’ title. Following the retirement of his arch rival, Johnson finally received the recognition his talent and determination deserved, becoming Champion Jockey in his own right four seasons running between 2015/16 and 2018/19. In a case of old habits dying hard, he also finished runner-up, again, behind Brian Hughes in his penultimate season, in 2019/20. Without McCoy in opposition, it’s really anyone’s guess how many times Johnson might have been Champion Jockey.

At the Cheltenham Festival, Johnson rode a total of 22 winners, winning the Stayers’ Hurdle on Anzum in 1999, Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles in 2002, Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster in 2003 and Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and Native River in 2018. The one race in which Johnson really was a ‘nearly man’ was the Grand National. He rode in the Aintree showpiece a record 21 times without success, finishing second on What’s Up Boys in 2002 and Balthazar King in 2014, but never better.

 

Frank Bruno

Former World Boxing Council (WBC) Heavyweight Champion Franklin ‘Frank’ Bruno fought his last fight in 1996, but remains one of the most popular British boxers of all time. Calling him a ‘nearly man’ does him an injustice because he made the most of what was, at best, moderate talent. He finished his career with a 40-5 record, including 38 wins by knockout and, at the fourth time of asking, achieved his lifetime ambition of winning a world title.

Bruno fought his first professional fight, at the age of 18, in March, 1982 and, over the next two years, quickly amassed a 21-0 winning streak. That streak came to a dramatic end at the Empire Pool, Wembley when Bruno, who appeared to be well ahead, succumbed to a late flurry from James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith in the tenth and final round and failed to beat the count.

Bruno recovered to win his next seven fights, including a fourth-round knockout of Anders Eklund to become European Heavyweight Champion, before challenging Tim Witherspoon for the World Boxing Association (WBA) Heavyweight title at Wembley Stadium in July, 1986. Bruno lost, by technical knockout, in the eleventh round. He fought for world titles twice more, losing by technical knockout to Mike Tyson in February, 1989 and Lennox Lewis in October, 1993, before finally wresting the WBC title from Oliver McCall, by unanimous decision, back at Wembley in September, 1995.

In March, 1996, Bruno attempted to defend his title against Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas but, in a one-sided contest, took a hiding that ended in defeat, by technical knockout, after just three rounds. With concerns about losing his sight, due to a detached retina, if he continued boxing, Bruno retired shortly afterwards.

Buffalo Bills

Although not officially known as such until Super Bowl III, in January, 1969, the Super Bowl was inaugurated, as the ‘AFL-NFL World Championship Game’ in 1966. Early in their history, the Buffalo Bills won the American Football League (AFL) Championships twice, in 1964 and 1965, but, following the merger of the AFL and the National Football League (NFL) in 1971, did not appear in the Super Bowl until 1990. Nevertheless, they hold the record for the most consecutive Super Bowl appearances – four, between 1990 and 1993 – albeit that they lost on all four occasions and are still yet to win the NFL championship.

On their first attempt, at Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida in January, 1991, the Bills were seven-point favourites against New York Giants, but lost 20-19 after placekicker Scott Norwood missed a field goal attempt in the dying seconds. Super Bowl XXVI, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota, also ended in disappointment for the Bills, with quarterback Jim Kelly sacked four times and throwing four interceptions in a 37-24 defeat by Washington Redskins.

The 1992 season was famous for the wildcard playoff game, which became known as ‘The Comeback’ after the Buffalo Bills recovered from a 35-3 deficit against Houston Oilers at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York to win 41-38 in overtime. The Bills subsequently won their divisional playoff against Pittsburgh Steelers and conference championship against Miami Dolphins to make Super Bowl XXVII, but lost an error-strewn encounter with Dallas Cowboys at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California 57-12. The Bills met the Cowboys again in Super Bowl XXVIII at the Geogia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia in January, 1994, but failed to cope with Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP), running back Emmitt Smith, who scored two touchdowns in a 30-13 victory for the Dallas Cowboys.

Peter Oosterhuis

Peter Oosterhuis was the ‘Colin Montgomerie’ or ‘Lee Westwood’ of his day. He won the Harry Vardon Trophy – awarded to the winner of the ‘Order of Merit’ and, more recently, to the winner of the ‘Race to Dubai’ on the European Tour – four years running between 1971 and 1974, but never won a major championship.

Despite his Dutch surname, Oosterhuis was born in London in 1948. He turned professional in 1968 and initially competed on the European circuit, the forerunner of the European Tour – which was officially created in 1972 – before playing on the PGA Tour from 1975 onwards. Stateside, Oosterhuis won just once, withstanding late challenges from Jack Nicklaus, Andy North and Bruce Lietzke to win the 1981 Canadian Open by a single stroke. Congratulating him on his maiden victory, Nicklaus said, ‘You’ve been very patient, Peter, and now you’ve won one.’

As far as major championships were concerned, Oosterhuis played 44, made 34 cuts and finished in the top ten eight times, but never won one. At Augusta in 1973, he shot 73-70-68 in the first three rounds to lead the Masters Tournament by three strokes after 54 holes, but 74 in the rain-delayed final round to finish tied third behind Tommy Aaron. The following year, he finished runner-up to Gary Player in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, albeit by a respectful four strokes.

Fast forward eight years to the 1982 Open Championship at Royal Troon and Oosterhuis came as close as he ever did to victory in a Major. Tied sixth, four strokes off the lead, after 54 holes, he shot a two-under-par 70 in the final round, which was good enough for tied second, a single stroke behind Tom Watson, who was winning his fourth Open Championship.