Over-the-Hump Club: Ovi and stars who had to wait

Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

Fourteen years, 13 seasons, 1,003 career games and 109 career playoff games later, Alex Ovechkin has finally taken the Washington Capitals to the NHL's Eastern Conference finals.

Ovechkin, who was drafted by the Caps way back in 2004, is just the latest sports figure to overcome a proverbial hump. Here, we take a look at other athletes and coaches across all sports from the past 32 years (Ovechkin's lifetime) who overcame a hurdle in their sport, whether it was a championship or another obstacle.


Michael Jordan beats the Pistons in the playoffs

It's difficult now to fathom that Jordan failed to reach the NBA Finals until his seventh year in the league, with the Detroit Pistons sending Jordan's Bulls home in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 postseason. A changing of the NBA guard finally occurred in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, as 28-year-old Jordan & Co. swept the aging, ailing Pistons en route to the NBA title.

LeBron James wins his first NBA title

Though he was slightly younger (27) than Jordan when he won his first title, it took James nine seasons to reach the pinnacle, with the Heat taking down the Thunder in five games in 2012. James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game en route to Finals MVP honors.


Peyton Manning beats the Patriots in the AFC Championship

Before he became a pop-culture sensation, Manning was the elite QB who just couldn't win the big one. He didn't do it in college, and -- thanks in large part to Tom Brady and the Patriots -- the 1998 No. 1 draft pick wasn't getting it done in the pros. That changed in 2006, when Manning propelled the Colts past the Patriots, who had bounced them in the playoffs in two of the previous three seasons, in the AFC title game. The Colts went on to beat the Bears in the Super Bowl with Manning, who finished as a five-time league MVP, leading the way.

Steve Young wins his first Super Bowl

Steve Young had a fairly large shadow cast over him. After serving as Joe Montana's backup for San Francisco's 1988 and 1989 Super Bowl-winning teams, the 33-year-old Young took advantage when he got his turn in the spotlight, throwing a record six touchdown passes in a Super Bowl XXIX blowout of the Chargers on Jan. 29, 1995, to give the 49ers their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

John Elway wins first Super Bowl at age 37

On Jan. 25, 1998, John Elway won his first Super Bowl in four attempts on the game's biggest stage. It wasn't a vintage Elway performance (123 passing yards, 1 INT), but he handed the ball off to the right guy, Terrell Davis (30-157-3), and managed to upset Brett Favre and the Packers. It was the first of two Super Bowl titles to conclude Elway's Hall of Fame career.


Pedro Martinez beats Yankees en route to World Series

Martinez was on the 1999 and 2003 teams that lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. Just before the 2004 playoffs, he famously said of the Bronx Bombers, "They beat me. They're that good right now. They're that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy." Weeks later, Martinez pitched three times in the No. 1 series comeback in MLB playoff history, when Boston erased a 3-0 series deficit to beat New York en route to the team's first World Series title since 1918.


Ray Bourque wins the Stanley Cup in his 22nd season

While Bourque spent two decades racking up records in Boston, his Stanley Cup chase finally ended as a member of the Avalanche. Bourque, who owns the NHL record for points by a defenseman, helped lead Colorado past New Jersey in the 2001 Stanley Cup final, with Game 7 being the last contest of Bourque's career. Talk about going out on top.

College Basketball

Coach K wins first title after losing in first four Final Fours

Though he had led Duke to four Final Fours (including two runner-up finishes), Mike Krzyzewski was beginning to endure whispers about his ability to "win the big one" before finally cutting down the nets after the 1990-91 season. Things have gone OK for Coach K since then. He has four more national titles with the Blue Devils and is the winningest coach in Division I basketball history.

Roy Williams wins title in 16th NCAA trip

Williams made four Final Four appearances in 15 seasons as the head coach at Kansas (1989-2003) but could not get the Jayhawks that national championship hardware. His fortunes changed in 2005, when his second team at North Carolina raised the banner. Williams' Heels have since added titles in 2009 and 2017.

College Football

Tom Osborne wins national title in 22nd season at Nebraska

Nebraska was recognized as a national power under Osborne, finishing in the Top 25 in each of his first 21 seasons. Then, a college football dynasty was created. Osborne led the Huskers past Miami in the Orange Bowl in the 1994 season to claim his first national title -- the first of three in a four-year span before he retired in 1997.

Bobby Bowden wins national title after six straight top-five finishes

After finishing in the top five in the rankings for six straight years, Bowden finally got over the hump in the 1993 season (his 18th with Florida State) with a win over Osborne and Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for his first national championship. After five more top-five finishes, Bowden added his second title in the 1999 season.


Sergio Garcia wins The Masters in his 19th appearance

Sergio Garcia has spent much of his career ranked in the top 10 in the world. He also spent years being considered the "best player without a major." The Spaniard, who has over 30 career wins worldwide (10 on PGA Tour), shed that label in 2017 in his 74th appearance in a major, winning the Masters in a playoff versus Justin Rose.

Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women's Open Championship in her 11th year on tour

Wie was making headlines with her driver long before she could legally drive a car. In 2003, at age 13, Wie became the youngest competitor to make an LPGA cut. She even took on the men a year later, qualifying for the PGA Tour's Sony Open and missing the cut by one stroke. Since then, Wie, now 28, has recorded five LPGA wins, including the 2014 U.S. Women's Open -- her only major.

Phil Mickelson wins first Masters

Is it his time? After 17 career top-10s in the majors -- including second- or third-place finishes in eight -- and three straight third-place showings at Augusta, Phil Mickelson finally made the leap at the 2004 Masters. Lefty rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole for the green jacket and his first major win. Mickelson won the PGA in 2005, the Masters again in 2006 and 2010 and The Open Championship in 2013. Now if he could just win that pesky U.S. Open (10 top-10s, six runner-ups).


Andy Murray wins a Grand Slam for the first time

Andy Murray is a two-time Olympic champion and reached the top of the world rankings in 2016. But the most memorable moment of his career likely came in 2012, when he defeated Novak Djokovic to win the US Open and become the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles crown in 76 years.

Andre Agassi wins Wimbledon

The flashy threads. The flowing blond locks. The attitude. Yes, image was indeed everything for teen tennis sensation Andre Agassi in the late '80s. He then proved there was substance to his style, winning the Wimbledon crown in 1992 -- his first Grand Slam in 15 attempts and the first of his eight career Grand Slam titles. In his career, Agassi won 61 tournaments and rose to No. 1 in the world in 1995.


Dale Earnhardt wins the Daytona 500

Dale Earnhardt had won everything on the race track -- except the Daytona 500. That all changed in 1998, when, after several heartbreaking finishes, he finally rolled his No. 3 car into victory lane on his 20th try. One of the most popular figures in the sport, "The Intimidator" won 76 Winston Cup races and seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships.