|No dog in these 'dogs|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
With the sixth-seeded Minnesota Wild battling the seventh-seeded Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, we can't help but remember the champs who had no chance -- the underdogs for which, somehow, the word "upset" doesn't do justice to their ultimate victories.
Can the Wild or Ducks finish off their improbable runs and lift Lord Stanley? If so, we may need to create space for a new No. 1 on the list of greatest underdog champs ...
1. New York Mets (1969 World Series champs)
2. U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (1980 Olympic Gold)
Said head coach Herb Brooks just before the Games began, "The Russians have to be the odds-on favorites for the gold, and you have to look for the Swedes and the Czechs for the silver and bronze. There are also four other quality hockey teams -- Canada, the U.S., Finland and West Germany -- who could all be considered underdogs. I believe we are a legitimate contender, but we definitely are underdogs."
The Americans began round-robin play by tying Sweden and beating Czechoslovakia, the two top teams in their division. Coming up against the USSR in the medal round, the U.S. was a huge underdog, having lost 10-3 to the same team in an exhibition just before the Games. Then came the "Miracle on Ice" -- a 4-3 win that was such a terrific upset that some still believe it resulted in a U.S. gold. It didn't. The Americans still had to play Finland, and if they lost, the Soviets would take the gold. But the U.S. beat Finland 4-2 and won it all.
3. Buster Douglas (WBC and WBA championships, Feb. 10, 1990)
1) "Tyson Looms as Heavy Favorite"
2) "Tyson Says There's No Way He Can Lose Title to Douglas"
3) "Tyson Loses World Title in a Stunning Upset"
4. N.C. State Wolfpack (1983 NCAA Basketball Champs)
"We'll try to handle their team by playing, shall I say, a slower tempo," said Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano before the game. "If we get the opening tip, we may not take a shot until Tuesday morning."
N.C. State did control the tempo, leading 33-25 at halftime and winning on Lorenzo Charles unbelievable last-second dunk. Final score: 54-52. And, somehow, in just as great an upset, the Wolfpack outdunked Phi Slama Jama.
5. 1968 New York Jets (Super Bowl III champs)
But Joe Namath wasn't betting. He was guaranteeing. (What his "guarantee" meant is still a puzzler, although we suspect it was just a studly way of saying, "I'm confident.")
Meanwhile, Baltimore was taking a low-key, relaxed approach to preparing for the game, perhaps creating the (wrong) impression that they "thought they were a bunch of volunteer firemen at a beach convention," wrote John Steadman in "The Baltimore Colts."
You know the rest. 16-7, Jets.
6. 2001 New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVI)
Long story short: The Pats, led by QB Tom Brady, arrived in New Orleans 14-point underdogs, and came away 20-17 winners on Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard figgie on the last play of the game. It was one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, and the greatest upset since the Jets won Super Bowl III.
7. Jack Fleck (1955 U.S. Open Golf)
8. New Jersey Devils (1995 Stanley Cup)
But New Jersey had a remarkable postseason run, beating three teams that had the home-ice advantage -- the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers. In the process, the Devils won 10 road games.
Still, Detroit was the heavy favorite in the Stanley Cup Finals, overmatching the Devils on an individual level. But the Devils meshed as a team, and had a punishing defense. After they won Game 1 in Detroit, New Jersey's Stephane Richer said, "Before the series, people thought we were going to get beat in four games, (that) this is an easy series for Detroit. If people think like that, we think it's fine. It's been like this before every series, and we've won them all. Hopefully, people will start believing we have a good hockey team."
A few days later, after the Devils swept the Red Wings, there were plenty of believers.
9. Charismatic (1999 Kentucky Derby)
Charismatic, who three months earlier could have been bought at a claiming race for $62,500, won in 2:03 1/5, easily beating the favorites, Excellent Meeting and General Challenge. If you had put down $2 on the horse, you would have gone home with $64.60, the third-largest payout in Derby history.
10. Houston Rockets (1995 NBA champs)
"I defy anyone to say we backed into this one," said Rockets exec. Bob Weinhauer. "Last year, they said Michael wasn't in the playoffs, and Seattle got beat in the first round and all that kind of garbage. This year, we only had to beat the four best teams in the NBA -- and we had to beat them all on their court."