Most Surprising Underdog Victories in Sports History
The little guy, the dark horse, the team or individual given no chance but who manages to defy the odds. There are few narratives as gripping as the tale of the underdog in sports.
Many have been immortalized in films, with the likes of "Rocky," "Remember the Titans," "Rudy," "Seabiscuit," and "Miracle." And the list goes on.
These stories have their origins in the real world, where underdogs have time and time again showcased moments that border on the magical. But what defines an underdog?
Understanding the Underdog
Sports betting offers a helpful lens to understand underdogs. In essence, sports betting is the act of placing a wager on the outcome of a game or sporting event.
Bookmakers, such as those found on betbonuscode.jp, set odds based on the perceived likelihood of a team, or individual, winning. The underdog receives "longer odds" due to their perceived lesser chance.
In sports and betting alike, the underdog is the participant who is viewed as less likely to succeed compared to their opponent. Many things can make a team or person an underdog: past performance, roster strength, injuries, and many other factors.
As these teams go on to pull out amazing victories, they embody hope, resilience, and the unexpected — reminding everyone that sometimes, the spirit can conquer statistics.
Appalachian State vs. Michigan — College Football, 2007
Michigan's Wolverines were ranked fifth and were 33-point favorites. They had history, funding, and talent. Appalachian State, on the other hand, was from the Football Championship Subdivision, essentially the second tier.
Appalachian State took an early lead, showcasing their intent. Michigan clawed back, but a blocked field goal in the final seconds sealed a 34-32 victory for Appalachian, sending shockwaves through college football.
New York Giants vs. New England Patriots — NFL, 2008
The New England Patriots were on the cusp of perfection, looking to be the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to end a season undefeated. The Giants had scraped into the playoffs as a wild-card team.
The Giants' defense was imperious, pressuring Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game. The game is remembered for the "Helmet Catch" by David Tyree, and the Giants secured a 17-14 win.
Japan Women’s World Cup Team — FIFA Women's World Cup, 2011
The United States was favored, having a robust football infrastructure and having previously won two World Cup titles. Japan had never beaten the U.S. in 25 attempts and had faced devastation earlier in the year with the 2011 Thoku earthquake and tsunami.
Japan exhibited a tactical masterclass, drawing the game 2-2 in extra time. They held their nerve in the penalty shootout, securing a 3-1 win to claim their first World Cup title.
Leicester City — English Premier League, 2015-2016
Leicester began the 2014-2015 season at the bottom, narrowly avoiding relegation. They started the 2015-2016 season with Claudio Ranieri, a manager recently fired by Greece, and odds of 5000-1 to win the title. Their squad was a mix of overlooked talents and journeymen players.
The Foxes, as they're lovingly known, combined a rock-solid defense with a fast-paced counter-attack. Players like Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kanté became household names. Their team spirit, combined with slipups from traditional powerhouses, allowed them to clinch the title with two games to spare.
UMBC vs. Virginia — NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, 2018
Virginia was the top seed, ending the regular season as the No. 1 team in the polls. They were favorites to win the title. UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), a No. 16 seed, was not even expected to advance past the first round.
UMBC played fearlessly, using a fast-paced style to dismantle Virginia's defense. The game ended 74-54 in favor of UMBC, marking a historic upset in NCAA history.
Roberta Vinci vs. Serena Williams — U.S. Open Tennis Championships, 2015
Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, was on course for a calendar Grand Slam, after winning the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon that year. Vinci, known for her unique slice-heavy game, hadn't beaten Serena in their previous four encounters.
However, in the semifinal of the 2015 U.S. Open, Vinci played the match of her life. She consistently disrupted Serena's rhythm with her varied play, ultimately winning in three sets and ending Williams' Grand Slam dream.
Rulon Gardner vs. Aleksandr Karelin — Olympic Wrestling, 2000
Aleksandr Karelin, known as the "Russian Bear," had not just been undefeated for 13 years in international competitions. He had not even conceded a point in six years. Gardner was a Wyoming-born dairy farmer, comparatively unknown on the global stage.
Gardner displayed extraordinary resilience, winning 1-0 in overtime. His victory ended Karelin's 13-year undefeated streak and earned Gardner a gold medal.
Why Is the Underdog Story So Compelling?
It's not just in sports. In fiction, business, and even awards shows, people love to root for the underdog. But why? The topic has been heavily researched, with studies indicating that what it really boils down to is a fundamental love for fairness and equity.
Humans are drawn to narratives of struggle, resilience, and overcoming adversity. When the underdog prevails, it reinforces our belief in possibilities beyond what is expected.
Underdog stories captivate fans because they break norms, challenge establishments, and showcase the triumph of heart over odds. From movies to stadiums, the real-life triumphs remind us that in sports, as in life, anything is possible.
This article is a partnership with Bazoom Group.