Underdogs: 9 Major Sports Upsets from 1969-2013
It's hard not to love a good underdog story. We all like cheering for the home team, but it's even more fun to cheer for a crazy upset or an unexpected hero to overcome impossible odds. Upsets happen all the time — in war, the office, and film — but sports, with their shadings of violence and combat, is one of the most popular and thrilling arenas to watch an underdog take down Goliath.
And the best part? Upsets are usually totally bonkers. There are sandlot plays and messy brilliance and the intense high of improbable victory. While there are many examples of singular underdogs, we picked upsets where victory was earned not on the back of a hero but through team work. Some of the selections prove that even against a team of superstars, cooperation, collaboration, and elbow grease can overcome.
Take a look at our picks below (in no particular order). These aren't necessarily the most shocking stories, but they are nine examples of a sum being greater than the whole.
9 Team-Based Sports Upsets
2007 Fiesta Bowl — Boisie State Beats Oklahoma
Oklahoma was the heavy favorite to beat Boisie State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. College football is, however, a little unpredictable. Boisie State had an undefeated season to reach the game and seemed strong out of the gates. Then things got a little weird. Oklahoma stayed competitive, scoring 25 unanswered points to take the lead 35-28 with just one minute left. Boise then called a series of trick plays to not only tie the game on a lateral, but then win it in overtime with a two-point-conversion Statue of Liberty play (above) to win 43-42. The icing on the cake? After the game, Ian Johnson, who ran in the game-winning conversion, proposed to Boise's head cheerleader on national television.
2002 Oakland As — Sabermetrics and "Moneyball"
What the heck is sabermetrics? Well, it's the strategy that helped a down-and-out baseball team win 20 straight games and finish the season at the top of American League West. Before the 2002 season, the A's had several of their star players leave for big-city contracts. Rather than hire more franchise players, the team adopted a data-based approach called "sabermetrics" meant to maximize the performance of the team as a whole rather than rely on star power (it's way more complicated than that, but that's the gist). The season was popularized in the 2011 film Moneyball, and sabermetrics have since become a league-wide norm.
1969 World Series — New York "Miracle" Mets
The Mets weren't doing so great in 1969. For the last seven years, the team hadn't finished better than ninth place, and hopes weren't high for a solid season. The team would, however, not only enjoy a winning season, but go on to beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Strong late-season pitching, better-than-average offence, and solid performance in the field all contributed to this mini-miracle.
2013 World Cup Gold — US Men's Foil Team
America is not known for its long and prestigious history in fencing (leave that to Central Europe). Foil, a more formal and controlled style of fencing, has long been the domain of Italian fencers. Well, not anymore. In 2013, the U.S. Men beat out their competitors to win the country's first ever World Cup Gold in foil. While fencing is an individual sport, the victory was a team effort, with all four athletes pulling in victories. America has had standout performances before but the combined effort not only gave the US bragging rights, but also sent a signal for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
2004 NBA Finals — Pistons Beat Lakers
The LA Lakers were looking to be the next Chicago Bulls with a run of three straight championships from 2000 to 2002. This year promised to be different. The offensive-minded Lakers had super stars like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. The Detroit Pistons were the total flip side, focusing on tight play-making and solid defence. The Pistons managed to grind out the victory, holding the Lakers to franchise-low scoring and taking the championship in five games.
1980 Winter Olympics — The Miracle on Ice
A team-based underdog story wouldn't be complete without the Miracle on Ice. In 1980, the Soviet Union was a hockey mega-power, dominating opponents and wracking up wins. The Soviets were heavy favorites to win, having won the previous four hockey gold medals. The U.S., on the other hand, was made up of mostly college-level players save for one returning veteran. Through sheer grit, the Americans managed to advance to the medal rounds, beating the Russians 4—3 and beating Finland 4—2 to clinch gold.
2004 Summer Olympics — Argentina Wins Olympic Basketball Gold
Here's some egg in America's face. In 2004, America was the team to beat. The U.S. had already earned basketball gold 12 times since 1936, and while America had lost in the past, the arrival of the Dream Team in 1992 with pros like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson had cemented the country's dominance for years to come. Well, 2004 was different. The U.S. team, loaded with talent, was overwhelmed by concerted team play from Argentina in the semi-finals. Argentina had few NBA players save for Manu Ginobili, himself known for team play and sharp passing. The loss meant that, at best, the U.S. could win bronze (which they did).
1993 Stanley Cup — Montreal Canadiens Win
The Montreal Canadiens might be hockey royalty, but they hadn't won a title in years. The 1992-93 season looked like more of the same, but the scrappy team managed to battle its way into the finals with gritty team play and some outstanding saves from goaltender Patrick Roy. While Roy is given much credit for his inspired post-season performance, his teammates contributed top scoring performances with four players getting more than 30 goals in the regular season.
2004 World Series — the Red Sox Finally Cowboy Up
The Boston Red Sox had gone a long (long) time since winning the World Series. The "curse" had hung over the team since 1918, but this year, things were due for a change. The Red Sox had stocked its roster with solid players known as much for their talent as their quirkiness. In 2003, the team coined the phrase "Cowboy Up," meant to help them buckle down. It would be in 2004, however, with the new nickname, "the Idiots," that Boston would finally shake their ghosts. The team was strong throughout, even defeating the rival New York Yankees in a stirring come-from-behind series that avenged their defeat in 2003.
What are your favorite underdog moments? Let us know in the comments, or find the author on Twitter at @zsniderman.
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