There’s something romantic about the underdog winning, isn’t it? There have been some big surprises in the history of sport over the years, there have been unexpected winners and rather understated teams have thrown out promising favorites.
It was Leicester City’s turn last year. In February 2015, the Foxes were in 20th place shortly before relegation from the Premier League. After a year it looked very different. Leicester City managed to fight back, and after an incredible season, the team is now at the top of the league. Could you have imagined Leicester winning the 2015/16 Premier League last year? The chances were almost zero. If the team succeeds in claiming the title, it is comparable to a player who clears up very large in the casino – once in a lifetime.
To take a look at more underdogs, let’s step into our sports time machine and take a look back at some of the biggest surprises ever.
THE HOME OF FOOTBALL LOSES AGAINST THE HOME OF FOOTBALL – June 29, 1950
England – USA 1950 odds 500: 1
Although the USA is now also “football fever” – thanks to the great talents of Major League Soccer and the performance of the national team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil – this has not always been the case.
As early as 1950, the United States was known for its love of baseball and boxing. Football was also becoming popular. But football had never really prevailed, so the USA sent semi-professionals to an international and highly prestigious tournament. The team consisted of teachers, postmen and even a hearse driver. The team only managed one training session shortly before leaving for Brazil. So the preparation was anything but ideal.
After losing their opening game 3-1 against Spain in Curitiba, the United States’ task didn’t get any easier – next they had to play against the mighty Three Lions, England. After 23 wins in 30 games, England was considered the “king of football” in the post-war period and employed some of the world’s best football talents. Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen played for Walter Winterbottom’s team, who could even afford to leave the legendary Stanley Matthews on the bench after returning after an injury.
Before the tournament, England was the favorite with betting odds of 3: 1. Only a brave gambler would have bet on the United States, the bookmakers traded it 500-1 for a win against England. Nobody believed that they would win the title!
The chances were so slim that Bill Jeffrey, the US team coach, also felt that his players were ‘sheep waiting to be slaughtered’. Who could have blamed him if it were against the best team in the world at the time?
As you can imagine, only one team was really present at the start of the game – England. The team launched one wave of attack against the American defense after another, but Scotsman Jeffrey had organized his team well and it held up.
But in the 37th minute the game changed.
The American midfielder Walter Bahr got the ball 27 meters from the goal and wanted to test England goalkeeper Bert Williams. The task seemed easy for the goalkeeper, but then came Joe Gaetjens. The semi-professional and washer rushed to the ball, caught his head, and directed the ball into Williams’ goal.
USA 1-0 England. A result that nobody could have imagined .
But England still had 57 minutes to equalize and score more goals to get the United States back to its original place, as the British team was still the favorite. As the history books show, things turned out quite differently.
The goalkeeping parade of US goalkeeper Frank Borghi stopped Finney and his team’s attacks. And the underdogs even had a chance to score another goal in the last few minutes. This was prevented by Alf Ramsey on the goal line.
The final whistle sounded and the unbelievable had happened: Billy Jeffrey’s team of part-time footballers had beaten the great post-war England in its royal discipline.
BRADYS PATRIOTS STRIKED BY THE GIANTS – February 3, 2008
New England Patriots v New York Giants odds 20: 1
Eight years ago, one of the best organized and best performing teams ever played in the NFL – the New England Patriots. The Pats, led by lead player Tom Brady, were at the top in a perfectly running season. The team was undefeated and held a record 19-0. Brady himself had received the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and the Pats wanted to immortalize their name in the history books as the most successful team in the NFL by winning the Super Bowl XLII and finishing unbeaten for an entire season. This had previously only been achieved by the Miami Dolphins in 1972. But the New York Giants had other plans.
In true underdog style, the Giants had unexpectedly reached the final and fought decisively through the NFC division and the play-offs. After a difficult start to the season, Eli Manning had helped the Giants improve this season by dictating team tactics and letting the team play from the quarterback so his teammates could respond to his throws and win games. He played outstanding during the play-offs and fought his way through to the Super Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona with the Giants. Manning was good – but he wasn’t Brady.
February 3, 2008 was a crucial day for the Patriots – have they won their fifth Vince Lombardi trophy since 2001? All the pressure was on them, not the New York Giants.
The game went as expected in the first three quarters, until the Patriots took control of it and completely dominated it. Despite the Giants’ strong defense, it was just two minutes before the end of the game 14:10 for New England. Brady and Co knew that if they could hold out for 120 seconds, they would get a new legendary status. Nobody could have predicted what would happen.
The Giants were pushed back into their half of the game and time was running out. Eli Manning then conjured up a series of moves that one can only dream of. Just like the smart blackjack player in the casino, he kept his cards down, but his tactics worked perfectly. Starting from the quarterback, Manning pushed the Giants forward, using all of his skills and tactical skills to break through the Pats’ defenses. There were still 35 seconds left and Manning received the ball from the Ruckman and threw a uniquely good pass over 12 meters through the air, exactly in the hands of New York’s Plaxico Burress, who landed the ball for a touchdown. The Giants were 14 points behind in the last quarter and were now 17:14.
The Giants’ determination was clear. There were 20 seconds left and Jay Alford broke through the pats blocker and threw Tom Brady on his back as he tried to get a pass with a winning tackle.
The Giants were able to keep the score in the last seconds and won the game. Manning won the MVP (Most Valuable Player) title for a Brady-like performance, and viewers couldn’t believe what they had experienced. The Giants had defeated the unprecedented Pats.
IN THE LAST SECOND, JAPAN CONQUERED THE STRONG SPRINGBOKS – September 19, 2015
Japan v USA odds 33: 1
Even if you are not familiar with rugby, you know one thing for sure – South Africa is a much better team than Japan.
The two-time World Cup winners entered the tournament in 2015 as one of the contenders for the title. In the finals, many were looking forward to the Springboks’ encounters with the teams in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia.
The South Africans were also in a very affordable group alongside the United States, Scotland, Samoa and Japan. They wanted to be group winners and teach the teams a lesson while taking Pool B apart.
In the opening pool match, South Africa played against Japan at Brighton Community Stadium – 4th in the world rankings against 14th. That should be an easy win for the Springboks. However, what they didn’t expect was to play in a game that became one of the greatest surprises in rugby history.
After a highly competitive first half, the springboks were able to take a deep breath in the second half thanks to the efforts of Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss. The Japanese were not beaten yet and made it 29:29. 10 minutes were left to play. Despite their brave efforts, the Japanese were almost beaten after Handre Pollard kicked a penalty and gave South Africa the lead with 32:29 7 minutes before the end.
Nobody wrote Japan off, especially with highly regarded coach Eddie Jones at the top. They gave their all, attacked the South African back line again and again and kept the ball in play when the Klaxon sounded after 80 minutes. The game continues until the ball is ‘dead’ in the Rugby Union. After 84 minutes, the Springboks’ defenses were exhausted and Karne Hesketh was able to break through and score a goal. Japan, the losing team that had not won a World Cup game since 1991, had defeated mighty South Africa.
The Springboks have probably investigated how such a result came about, but for Japan it was the biggest surprise in rugby history.
Our journey into the past has proven that the underdog always has a chance. Can the impossible dream come true, will Leicester City win the Premier League in May, against all odds? Supporting the Foxes at the beginning of the season would have been comparable to betting on a single roulette number in the casino – a difficult task. With just a handful of games remaining, this could really be the biggest surprise ever.