A brief history of underdogs
There is no George Mason this year. For the first time since 1995, in fact, there are no double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
But it's still the time of year we think of underdogs, whether it's the NCAA Tournament or the Chicago Cubs gearing up for another This Is The Wait 'Til Next Year year.
So in honor of this mind-set, Page 2 presents a brief, very unofficial history of underdogs.
THE FIRST UNDERDOG?
It is often reported that in the first World Series in 1903, the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates were heavy favorites over the American League champion Boston Americans. After all, the AL was the upstart league, just three years old, while the NL had been around since 1876. Plus, the National League was essentially a bunch of arrogant jerks, believing their league to be superior -- a trait it pretty much maintained for the next 100 years. The Sporting News reported that "there is scarcely a Pittsburg [sic] player who will not have money on the result." (Pete Rose was obviously born 60 years too late.)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
We hear that Pete Rose is a big fan of underdogs especially on the money line.
Anyway, the Pirates were a little banged up entering the series, Bill Dinneen and Cy Young combined for five wins, and the Americans won five games to three. But we can't really call them the first underdog.
SOME OF HISTORY'S UNDERDOGS
David vs. Goliath
The Christians vs. the Romans
Hannibal vs. the Romans
Europe vs. the Black Plague
Robert the Bruce and the Scots vs. Edward II and the English
Romeo vs. the Capulets
The American revolutionary forces vs. the British army
Harry Truman vs. Thomas Dewey
Converse vs. Nike
Apple vs. Microsoft
WERE THEY REALLY UNDERDOGS?
James J. Braddock: The Cinderella Man, popularized in recent years by the movie starring Russell Crowe and a Jeremy Schaap biography, defeated Max Baer for the heavyweight crown in 1935. In the movie, Baer was depicted as a mean, brutish, cocky killer. While Baer had killed a man in the ring, the depiction was overstated. Braddock, however, was a journeyman fighter (26 career defeats) and his 10-1 underdog status was warranted. Verdict: Yes.
Joe Namath and the '68 Jets were prototypical underdogs who ultimately made history.
It's easy to see why the Colts were 18-point favorites in Super Bowl III: at 11-3, the Jets had the third-best record in the AFL while the 13-1 Colts had steamrolled the NFL, outscoring their opponents 402-144. Though he was only 25 when he won the Super Bowl, Joe Namath played in just one more playoff game in his career. Verdict: Yes.
The Miracle Mets had finished in ninth place in 1968, so the 1969 pennant was a surprise, and they were heavy underdogs in the World Series against a powerful Orioles team that had won 109 games. On the other hand, the Mets did win 100 games and featured Cy Young winner Tom Seaver and 17-game winner Jerry Koosman. The Mets weren't really as good as your typical 100-win team, however: Their runs scored/runs allowed totals suggest a 92-win team and they were ninth in the NL in runs scored. And the O's truly were an all-time great team. Verdict: Yes.
1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team
We all know the background: the Soviets were the best team in the world (they had gone 5-3-1 in exhibition games against NHL teams and routed an NHL all-star team 6-0), the U.S. team was a bunch of college kids and had lost 10-3 to the Soviets in a final Olympic tuneup.
What is often forgotten though, is that many of the U.S. players went on to excellent NHL careers. Mark Johnson totaled more than 500 points. Ken Morrow won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Mike Ramsey played 19 seasons. Neal Broten scored 289 goals and had a 100-point season. Mark Pavelich had several good years with the Rangers. Dave Christian scored 340 goals. Verdict: Yes. Miracle? Indeed. (OK, even if the Soviet coach screwed up by yanking the great Vladislav Tretiak after the first period.)
Al Bello/Getty Images
Smarty Jones was a great story, but he was the Kentucky Derby favorite -- not an underdog.
Ah, the horse who captured our hearts in 2004 like a seventh-grade crush. His story was straight from the imagination of J.K. Rowling: his owners had a small breeding operation, his original trainer was murdered, he fractured his skull while training as a 2-year-old, his first race was at a small track outside Philadelphia, and his jockey was an unknown who had never run in the Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, Smarty did enter the Derby unbeaten in six races. Verdict: No. While he may have been the horse from the "wrong side of the tracks" Smarty was favored to win the Derby.
The 11-5 Steelers became the only No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl, after beating the Bengals, Colts and Broncos on the road in the AFC playoffs and beating 13-3 Seattle in the Super Bowl. Verdict: No. While their three road victories were unprecedented, two of the Steelers' five losses came when Ben Roethlisberger was injured, and they were actually favored over Seattle.
Muhammad Ali is one Page 2's favorite underdogs.
• Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral
• Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees
• Milan High vs. Muncie Central
• Ali vs. Liston
• Ali vs. Foreman
• Female athletes vs. East German female athletes, 1970s-80s
• North Carolina State vs. Houston
• Villanova vs. Georgetown
• Yankees managers vs. George Steinbrenner
• Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson
• World basketball vs. U.S. basketball, 1992
• Rulon Gardner vs. Alexander Karelin
• Bob Knight vs. his temper
• National League pitchers vs. Barry Bonds, 2001-04
• Everyone vs. Tiger Woods
• Deer vs. man
• Matt Millen vs. running an NFL team
• U.S. basketball vs. world basketball, 2004-
• Pacman Jones vs. the law
YOUR SON DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A FIRST-ROUND QB
Several great quarterbacks were underdogs early in their careers:
Johnny Unitas: Ninth-round pick by the Steelers out of Louisville, he was released and played a year of semipro football before signing with the Colts.
Bart Starr: A 17th-round pick by the Packers in 1956. The first pick of the draft was Colorado State QB Gary Glick, who was converted to safety by the Steelers (now you know why the Steelers had just four winning seasons from 1950 to 1971).
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Nice job, NFL scouts. Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon went undrafted.
Joe Montana: The last pick of the third round in '79, three quarterbacks were selected ahead of him: Jack Thompson, Phil Simms, Steve Fuller.
Dave Krieg: Eleventh on the all-time passing yards list, Krieg was undrafted out of now-defunct Milton College.
Tom Brady: Sixth-rounder in 2000, selected after Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and somebody named Spergon Wynn. Really, we didn't make that up. Go ahead, Google it.
TWO GREAT UNDERDOGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT BECAUSE IT'S SOCCER
Next to the World Cup, the European Championship, held every four years, is soccer's biggest tournament. Obviously, traditional powerhouses like Italy, Germany, England and France are the usual favorites.
But recent tournaments have seen two mammoth underdogs shockingly win the whole thing. In 1992, Denmark -- which was in the tournament only as a replacement for war-torn Yugoslavia -- stunned Germany 2-0 in the final. It would kind of be like if the 2004-05 Indiana Pacers had been kicked out of the playoffs because Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest got into a gunfight in the locker room, so the NBA put the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs instead and they won the whole thing.
In Euro 2004, Greece was 100-to-1 to win it all. In the knockout stage, it beat England, the Czech Republic and host Portugal, all by 1-0 scores, to win the title. This would be akin to a predictable, overwritten romantic comedy about a Greek woman trying to find love grossing over $240 million at the box office.
THE FINAL WORD: THE ULTIMATE OVERDOGS
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox, 2005-present
Montreal Canadiens (back in the day, of course)
Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt
Duke men's basketball
North Carolina women's soccer
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