Triumph of the Underdog (Part 2)

May 27, 2019 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

The Top 5 Sports Upsets

This week we pick up where we left off to finish our list of the top 10 upsets in the wide world of sports as we celebrate the inspired performances of challengers.

It’s the triumph of the underdog that excites the senses and energizes the imagination. When underdogs pull off the upset, they make hope look like destiny and the world cheers. Here are our top five favorites.

#5 — “History”

From the time the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament went to a 64-team bracket in 1985, the question in every opening round was “could a 16-seed beat a 1-seed” and the answer, of course, was no. Every March, announcers worked hard to make the 16 vs.1 matchups sound competitive and, over the years, there were a few close calls. But for 32 years, Cinderella was nowhere to be seen in round one of March Madness. But you knew she wouldn’t wait forever.

In 2018, 16-seed UMBC found themselves matched up with UVA, the top overall seed in the tournament. That meant of the 64 teams in the bracket, the University of Maryland- Baltimore County was 64th and Virginia was first. The teams literally couldn’t have been further apart, and the game was a blowout. But not in the way that anyone outside the Retrievers locker room had expected.

From the opening tip, UMBC took it to UVA and, by the middle of the second half, the game was over. There was no buzzer beater. No miracle from half court. UMBC drummed Virginia 74-54 and even though they lost a heartbreaker to Kansas State in the Round of 32, they will forever be remembered as the first 16-seed to ever take down a 1 in the NCAA Men’s Tournament.

#4 — “Upset at The Big House”

At the beginning of every college football season, big schools like to ease into their schedule with teams that aren’t any kind of threat. Often, smaller schools that are just thrilled to play in a big venue where they get half the gate.

In 2007, Michigan opened the season at No. 5 in the polls and figured Appalachian State would be a nice way to ease into their season. Nobody told Appy State the game was supposed to be a layup.

For four quarters, Appalachian State hung around trading leads with Michigan until finally, with :06 left, Michigan lined up for a chip shot field goal to win. Appalachian State blocked it and secured one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football.

#3 — “The Knockout”

When Buster Douglas stepped into the ring with Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson on February 11, 1990, the question wasn’t whether he could win. It was how fast would Tyson knock him out. Tyson was undefeated, had never been knocked down and Douglas was a 42-1 underdog with a mixed past and a so-so record. His mother had just passed away, the bout was in Tokyo and nobody expected it to last long.

But it did. Douglas took the best Tyson had and despite being knocked down in the eighth round, Douglas stunned the world by knocking Tyson out in the tenth. To this day, many consider it the greatest upset in the history of sports.

#2 — “Tiger Roars Again”

In golf, every generation has had a player who transcends the game. Bobby Jones. Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. And then, there’s Tiger. A golf prodigy since the age of 2, Tiger Woods exploded onto the golf scene at 16 winning three straight U.S. Jr. Amateur titles followed by three U.S. Amateur titles and the NCAA National Championship.

When Tiger turned pro at 20 in 1996, he ignited the PGA and the golf world like a house on fire. From 1996 to 2013, Tiger won 79 tournaments including 14 majors. He made north of $769 million in prize money and endorsements, and personally elevated the game of golf so dramatically that developers started building golf courses coast to coast to keep up with the demand of people picking up the game for the first time.

But then, the house of Tiger started to crumble. In 2010, thanks to numerous alleged affairs, his marriage ended. Injuries led to multiple back surgeries and then an addiction to painkillers, followed by a DUI arrest and rehab. Inconceivably, Tiger dropped out of the Top 1,000 rankings. He was done. But he was also Tiger.

In 2017, he slowly began to put his game back together and by 2018 showed signs of being competitive. Tiger shocked everyone by winning the 2018 PGA Tour Championship, but most wrote it off to a great week. It was just one tournament.

The following April, when Tiger stepped up to the first tee at Augusta National, he wasn’t anyone’s favorite to win the 2019 Masters. That’s what made his Sunday come-from-behind charge on the back nine to win his fifth green jacket and his 15th major all the more incredible.

The following April, when Tiger stepped up to the first tee at Augusta National, he wasn’t anyone’s favorite to win the 2019 Masters. Sure, he’d won it four times before, but the field was too talented, and Tiger wasn’t the Tiger of old. That’s what made his Sunday come-from-behind charge on the back nine to win his fifth green jacket and his 15th major all the more incredible. Sportscasters and news outlets called Tiger winning another major the greatest comeback in sports history. Whether or not he ever wins another tournament, they just might be right.

#1 — “Miracle on Ice”

The U.S. Men’s hockey team beating the Russians at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics is routinely considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history, made forever immortal by Al Michaels’ iconic call, “Do you believe in miracles?” The Russians had dominated the U.S. for decades, but as Herb Brooks reminded his team before taking the ice, “If we played them 10 times, they might win nine. But not tonight.” The U.S. beat the Soviets in the first game of the medal round 3-2 and then secured the Gold Medal beating Finland 4-2 in their final game.

So there you have it.

That’s the second half of our top 10 sports upsets. (Check out #6-10 here.) We offer it as a humble tribute to the special spirit of challenger brands. We are a nation of challengers with underdog stories all around us. We can’t escape them. But then again, why would we want to?

MIKE SULLIVAN is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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