Underdog Week! Let’s celebrate those special, crucial, emotional, against-all-odds-stories that we sports fans crave.
However, there are rules to this — or at least I think so.
Welcome to “Karleigh’s Criterion On What Is An Underdog”.
1. If we don’t know you, you’re an underdog
Those fresh faced kids above who pulled off that “Miracle On Ice”? Quick! Name a team member who is not Mike Eruzione or their coach Herb Brooks. To quote Al Michaels, “I’m sure a lot of people in this building didn’t know a blue line from clothes line” . So what! We loved it!
Same thing with that fresh faced kid from some college in Iowa in 1976? We didn’t know who Caitlyn Jenner was, even when she went by another name. Ten events, a Roone Arledge, and a cereal box later, everybody knew.
Nobody thought the Cleveland Browns were any good on opening day of the 1950 NFL season. The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles learned quickly, so did the rest of the league at the end of the season.
Did anybody see Leicester City coming in 2016?
2. Swagger can be good, just don’t underdo it.
Think Joe Namath in Miami. Think Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston. Think Bill Johnson looking downhill in Sarajevo. They told you they were going to win and when laughed at them. They after the event, nobody was laughing.
The exception: The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons in 1987 (Ran their mouths — Stolen by Larry Bird), and 1988 (Ran their mouths — victimized by the “Showtime” Lakers)
3. Underdog: It’s Complicated
Can you really call a 100-game winner an “underdog”? That’s how many games Dawn Ennis’s favorite Miracle Mets won in 1969. However, the same year they became the first expansion team to win a World Series, they lost to the expansion Montreal Expos on opening day, 11-10. Nobody picked the Mets to beat a dominant Baltimore Orioles club in the World Series.
A few months later, Joe Namath ran his mouth and backed it up against an 18-point favorite in the Super Bowl. But were the Baltimore Colts really 18 points better than the New York Jets? The NFL old guard said yes, but the film, Matt Snell and five picks said NO!
On the other side, favorites can get switched in a hurry. When you lose a 132-year winning streak, you become an underdog. Just ask Dennis Conner.
Greg LeMond know about this, too. Trailing by 50 seconds with a time trial left at the ‘89 Tour de France, and he put up the greatest ride by an American since Paul Revere.
4. “No One Cheers For Goliath”
Wilt Chamberlain said it about losing the 1957 NCAA Final to North Carolina, when nobody thought his Kansas Jayhawks could lose.
When you are Goliath, every David has a slingshot, or a helmet that was an extra hand.
Even future would-be Davids and would-be actual Goliaths can be underdogs: Charles Barkley and Karl Malone played for Team USA in the 1983 World University Games. They lost in the semifinal to Canada, led by Bill Wennington. Oh by the way, Wennington flipped the other way. He was a backup center on the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams that beat Malone in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals.
5. You can NEVER be an Underdog IF..
You are a New York Yankee or a St. Louis Cardinal (I hear you cheering, Ken Schultz).
You are a Dallas Cowboy.
Your name is Tom Brady.
You played for Geno Auriemma or Mike Krzyzewski.
You play for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team.
You drive for Roger Penske at Indianapolis.
Exception #1: Chicago Cubs. — You could dominate like the Yankees and still be all-time underdogs.
Exception #2: Joe Montana — He was counted out until he retired.
6. Underdog is often the first step to dynasty
Many of those who fall under rule #5 began as underdogs but ended up being too good too often. For example, Who knew about Pele in the ‘58 World Cup final?
Or UConn’s women on MLK Day in ‘95.
Michael Jordan was an underdog for 7 years.
Before a rainstorm in Monte Carlo in ‘84, most thought Ayrton Senna played soccer.
And consider two great pro football dynasties who fell short at first. Vince Lombardi’s Packers lost in their first NFL championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960. Chuck Noll’s Steelers lost in their first AFC championship game to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins in 1972.
7. The best underdog can be found in your mirror
The fact is underdogs don’t end up winners, even in the movies. Remember, Rocky Balboa lost that first time against Apollo Creed.
Whether it’s the Italian Stallion on the big screen, or real life feel-goods like Eddie The Eagle Edwards or the Jamaican Bobsled Team, many of us relate to them. We know about being counted out, picked last, or told we can’t.
Yet, we sign up for that couch-to-5K, or that marathon, or to sign up to play ball anyway and chose not to be “with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
That’s why I think we love underdogs, because they do something we all relate to on a bigger stage: They don’t listen to anyone who says they can’t win and they shouldn’t try.
That’s the most important rule, according to Karleigh.