A brief history of underdogs in sports

Originally Published: January 20, 2012
By Art Garfamudis | Page 2

Joe FlaccoRob Carr/Getty ImagesRavens quarterback Joe Flacco is such an underdog that even teammate Ed Reed derided him publicly.

Editor's note: Art Garfamudis originally wrote for Page 2 in 2008 before he retired to dedicate himself to preparing his safehouse for any number of civilization-threatening crises. The depletion of his potable water, dried food and ammunition has lured him out of retirement to again present his unique perspective on the sports world in a new column, Art for Art's Sake.

Ten questions about underdogs

Sports fans are obsessed with underdogs, it seems. What I want to know is why? What makes them so appealing and what can be done about fixing this? Join me now on a journey of discovery ...

1. Where did the term "underdog" originate?

In pioneer days, people had a lot of dogs. When they trekked west, it was too far for the dogs to walk, but because there were so many dogs, they all couldn't ride in the covered part of the wagons. The alpha dogs got the good seats, so the other dogs had to ride down below over the axles, where they suffered hardships such as snake bites, deep snow and rocks and mud flying up at them. Not all of these "under-the-wagon dogs" would survive the trip. See?

2. What's in it for the favorite?

Nothing. I don't know why anyone would want to be a favorite, really. It's lose-lose all around for them. If they win, it's because they were supposed to. If they lose, then they're a pack of jerks. If I were a favorite, I wouldn't even show up. I'd say, "Being made the favorite is victory enough."

3. At what point does an underdog become a "Cinderella story"?

At the exact moment when a writer runs out of ideas and discovers some wretched overachiever who can be built up into something they weren't meant to be. When that bandwagon starts rolling, get out of the way or you'll have your guts squished by its wheels.

4. Why is "Cinderella story" a stupid term?

It's stupid because Cinderella was hot, so how is it an upset that she got picked by the prince? It would have been a real Cinderella story if one of her ugly stepsisters had gotten tabbed to be the princess. It was an upset that Cinderella got into the ball in the first place, since she wasn't invited. But so-called Cinderella teams are always invited to the tournaments and playoffs they win. You show me a team that illegally crashes a playoff or bracket, and I'll call them a Cinderella team. Otherwise, forget it.

5. What should one do when underdogs play each other?

Hope they cancel the game. Who wants to see that?

6. Is a wild-card team automatically an underdog?

You would think that wild-card teams -- or "nature's backdoor entrants" as I call them -- automatically qualify as underdogs by the very nature of the way they get into the playoffs. As is so often the case, though, you'd be wrong. Some of them are better than the teams that qualified by legitimate means.

7. Do members of "The 1 Percent" root against underdogs?

If they're don't, they should. Everyone should root against underdogs. All underdogs do when they win is upset the status quo and turn reality into something it was never meant to be. Personally, I despise underdogs and always pull for them to go down in flames, because I like things orderly. I crave predictability. It's why I hate gun jams. Surprises are for birthdays and, if you're lucky, funerals.

I also dislike underdogs because they seem so needy. "Oh, look at us; we're supposed to lose, but look how hard we try. Aren't we special? Love us!" Get a broom and sweep up, lowlives.

Getting back to The 1 Percent, the thing about them is they think they are the underdogs. They believe the world's against them, they had to struggle to get where they are, they have it tough because it's so hard to find good help these days, and so on and so forth. They'll really start squawking when the 99 percent has them processed into cat food.

8. Why do underdogs always seem to be "scrappy"? Has there ever been an "elegant and refined" underdog?

No. By being pronounced an underdog, the team/player in question immediately dons the metaphorical blue collar and becomes a lunch-pail team/guy. It's in the boilerplate of all professional sports contracts. Amateurs are left to get their scrap on voluntarily, which they always do.

9. What sort of attitude should an underdog cop?

Your underdog can approach things two ways: Humble or brash. In the humble route, it looks at the floor a lot and accepts that it doesn't belong in the same arena as the favorite. In the brash approach, it puts up a good front about actually being better than the favorite -- or that it's morally superior, even though it clearly sucks on all other levels. I prefer the first tactic. I like my underdogs to accept their lot and slink around like the beaten curs their very name implies.

10. What is the best underdog movie? "Rocky"? "Hoosiers"? "The Rookie"?

For the best movie about overcoming the odds, I'm going with "Gypsy" from 1962, mostly because it's about a stripper.

Artemis Arthur Garfamudis originally studied typing at the Miss DuPrix School of Business on Route 22 in North Plainfield, N.J. He has since taken several refresher typing courses. It is with great pride that he types all his own columns.

Follow Art Garfamudis on Twitter @artgarfamudis ... if you dare.

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