We as Americans love a good underdog story, it is seemingly in our blood to root for the little guy to take down the heavy favorite every chance we can. It is why we watch events such as March Madness, and why sports continue to captivate our nation.
Of course no upset will ever compare to that which our soldiers were able to achieve in the Revolutionary War, when they first achieved the freedom we celebrate today. Although we had little to no military expertise, and below average weapons, militias sprung up throughout the thirteen colonies. Not even able to afford uniforms, let alone other supplies, the Americans stood their ground and despite many making the ultimate sacrifice for our cause, eventually won the freedom we celebrate so proudly today.
In honor of this glorious Independence Day, let us look back and pay homage to some of the greatest underdogs to ever score an upset in the sporting world.
#10 United States Defeats England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup
We Americans have never been particularly interested in the world’s most popular sport. Nor have we been very good at it either. The 1950 World Cup was not supposed to be an exception to that rule given that the United States was a 500-1 underdog to defeat the very England we won our freedom from.
#9 Appalachian State beats Michigan in the Big House (2007)
Every year many of the power house teams in division 1 collegiate football begin their season with a series of what essentially are warm up games. Their opponents are just happy to come along for a little national exposure, but stand little to no chance of actually competing in the game.
Michigan entered the 2007 ranked number 5 in the nation, and were expected to contend for not only a Big 10 title, but perhaps a national title as well. That all changed quickly after they couldn’t even defeat tiny old Appalacian State. Coming into the game as a 27 point favorite and having one of the sports greatest home field advantages behind it wasn’t enough, as players looked as if they didn’t expect to have to earn the victory.
Appalachian State would win the game 34-32 in what could very well be the biggest upset in the history of college football.
#8 Rulon Gardner defeats Alexander Kerelin at 2000 Olympics
Considered to be the greatest wrestler in the world, Alexander Kerelin was supposed to walk through the competition at the 2000 Olympics. He entered the games on a 13 year win streak, absolutely a breathtaking accomplishment. He had never before lost a bout when competing at the international level.
Rulon Gardner was just a little known wrestler from Wyoming. He wasn’t supposed to belong at the elite level of the Olympics. He ignored all who doubted him though and went on to score the upset of a lifetime and leave with the gold medal around his neck.
Kerelin was in the far superior physical shape, a Goliath of the ring. Looking like an underdog, and in far worse physical condition, Gardner controlled his opponent and handed him his first ever international loss.
#7 Buster Douglass defeats Mike Tyson in 1990
Mike Tyson was dominating the boxing scene. His power and intensity were far too vicious a combination for anyone to handle. Buster Douglass wasn’t a top level challenger, and fans expected to see Tyson destroy him with ease.
Douglass came into the fight unafraid, and was able to achieve the unthinkable. His knockout of Mike Tyson shook the world at its sporting core. Tyson had not previously shown himself to be human while inside the ring, he was a knockout machine. To see him knocked out, barely able to even put his mouthpiece back into his mouth after being knocked to the mat, is one of the most iconic underdog images in the history of sports.
#6 Jack Fleck beats Ben Hogan at 1955 U.S. Open
Ben Hogan entered the 1955 U.S. Open Championship hoping to leave with his fifth title at the tournament. He also was attempting to win his tenth major tournament, something he would never wind up doing.
Jack Fleck was a no-name golfer who only won three career tournaments.
Fleck trailed the leader after round one by a huge nine stroke margin. The comeback he put on during the next three rounds to even force a playoff was one of the greatest comebacks in sports.
He wouldn’t make this list if his comeback only gave him a tie at the end of regulation.
The playoff between the two golfers lasted a grueling 18 holes before Fleck was able to take down the title.
#5 New York Mets defeat Baltimore Orioles in 1969 World Series
Heading into the 1969 season, the New York Mets had not even experienced a winning season. The expansion team was supposed to fall by the wayside despite their impressive year that saw them qualify for the World Series. The Baltimore Orioles had some of the best pitching in baseball, and were beginning to think dynasty.
After losing game 1, the Mets didn’t roll over, rather they rallied back to capture the title with a 4-1 series victory.
The ‘Miracle Mets’ as they were called were not supposed to belong in the World Series, yet they believed in themselves and achieved an upset that is made all the more impressive because it was a series victory.
It is one thing to score an upset in a single game, yet the Mets had to do it four times in order to win the World Series.
#4 New York Giants defeat New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLII
The New England Patriots were undefeated heading into Super Bowl XLII, and the Giants were lucky to even be in the playoffs.
Described by Giants co-owner John Mara as “the greatest victory in the history of this franchise, without question.” The Giants defied all odds with their game winning drive.
The signature play of the game will always be ‘the catch’ by David Tyree. One of the most talked about plays in the history of the NFL was key to the continuation of the game winning drive. Eli Manning faced pressure, avoided a sack and rolled to his right, heaving the ball down field. David Tyree leaped and was only able to pin the ball with one hand to his helmet as he hit the ground. The play was reviewed seemingly forever before officials determined he did in fact have possession.
A 12 point underdog heading into the game, the Giants were able to leave town with a 17-14 Super Bowl victory.
#3 Villanova beats Georgetown to win 1985 NCAA title
The Georgetown Hoyas were the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament in 1985, as well as the defending champions. Villanova was a number 8 seed who originated the path that Butler would take to make the national title game just a few years ago.
Villanova was under-talented to the point where that “Nova was so inferior to Georgetown that they should have been run out of the building by the Hoyas” according to Xavier Gonzalez. However the Wildcats came into the building on fire, and the Hoyas were never able to put it out.
Shooting better than 75 percent from the field for the entire game, including a video game stat line of 90 percent shooting in the second half, Villanova was able to edge out a victory.
The fact that Georgetown only lost by two was a testament to the talent level they possessed that year. Who else would be able to keep the game close while giving up 75 percent from the field?
#2 New York Jets defeat Baltimore Colts at Super Bowl III
Joe Namath must have made a deal with the devil prior to taking the field for Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts. Perhaps it was just a gut feeling, but Namath did the unthinkable and guaranteed a victory despite being a two touchdown underdog.
In the game that established the now cliche ‘any given Sunday’ belief in the football world, the Jets were able to win the Super Bowl with a 16-7 victory over the Colts.
The Colts entered the game with an intimidating 15-1 record, yet failed to intimidate the young Namath.
The Jets offense was able to steadily produce throughout the game thanks in large part to game MVP Joe Namath. The quarterback was able to complete 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards in the game.
Defense was also a major factor as the Jets intercepted the Colts three times in the first half alone.
#1 ‘Miracle on Ice’
The United States Hockey team scored the greatest upset in the history of sports when they came through as huge underdogs against the USSR at the 1980 Olympics.
The Soviets featured a roster of star caliber players who were experienced playing at the highest levels hockey had to offer. The Americans on the other hand were made up of mostly collegiate players and other nobodies in the hockey world.
Representing so much more than just a sporting victory, the underdogs pulling off the upset represented a victory for democracy over communism at a time when that issue caused much tension throughout the world.
All of America was able to share in the celebration of their team’s victory, much as we all honor our freedom on this glorious Independence Day today.
This game provided all Americans, regardless of whether or not they were hockey fans, with an opportunity to celebrate their nation. The upset was unthinkable heading into the game, making it all the more special when they tasted the sweet taste of victory after the final buzzer sounded in Lake Placid.
The beauty of sports is that anyone can win. As Americans we love nothing more than to honor the underdog as we root for upsets any chance we can. It is what makes sports so interesting to us. There is perhaps not a more fitting day than Independence Day to honor the underdog, after all our great nation was once the ultimate underdog before winning our freedom from the British so many years ago.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express