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Sports Then and Now

2010 Was the Year of the Underdog

Posted on January 03, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

In the year of the underdog, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup title in 46 years.

It began with the Saints winning the Super Bowl. After that, it was one underdog triumph after another.

March was unusually mad, as Butler’s Bulldogs beat several favorites to earn their place in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.

In the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers squeaked into the playoffs at the last possible moment and continued their unlikely run all the way to the finals before losing to Chicago. While the Blackhawks were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, being in such a favored position was a first for that franchise in recent memory.

In Major League Baseball, the Texas Rangers made their franchise’s first appearance including their original identity as the Washington Senators. The Giants made their first appearance since leaving New York and their first in a half-century, eventually winning on the mysterious power of the fearsome beards.

Major League Soccer also crowned a first time champion, the Colorado Rapids. The most likely teams to win the MLS Cup were eliminated early. Meanwhile in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) the expansion Philadelphia Independence made it all the way to the championship game before finally falling short.

Whenever the US makes it into the second round of the World Cup, that’s an underdog coup, and our 2010 team found a way to win the hearts of their country more than any of their predecessors, with their cardiac comebacks and inspired performances.

It was no surprise that golf-god Tiger Woods was off his game in 2010, given the personal chaos he suffered, but who would have expected someone named Louis Oosthuizen to win the British Open?

Michael Vick has led the Eagles to a surprising season.

And coming full-circle, the NFL’s 2010 season highlights are dominated by underdog stories, including the resurrection of Michael Vick, the rebirth of the Kansas City Chiefs, and the historic first of a team with a losing record making the playoffs as division champs (Seattle). The quick resurgence of Seattle’s challenger, St. Louis, almost entirely on the back of a rookie quarterback, adds even more underdog cred. And while his team didn’t fare so well, Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick has to be one of the best individual underdog stories after Michael Vick. The Harvard grad propelled himself, perhaps with the help of a coach who “gets” him, from mediocre back-up to hero starter, making the pundits argue whether or not he has risen to franchise status.

And the underdog karma seems to have been so strong in 2010 it spilled out of sports and into politics. The political upsets and triumphant unknowns at the highest levels of government elections added to a sense of a world that was competitively turned upside down.

One of the best things about sports or organized competition of any sort is that frequently enough, the favorites lose and the darkhorses, sleepers, upstarts and underdogs win in spite of everything.

It is what has made America great for nearly two and a half centuries, what continues to bring immigrants to our nation by any means necessary.

It isn’t as simple as putting forth one’s best effort. There are a lot of factors beyond the control of the individual or the team that often trump desire, confidence, passion, and effort, but on any given day, where there is desire, confidence, passion, and effort, if the stars are otherwise aligned, anyone can achieve anything. We need our sports to remind us of this.

And beyond the matter of belief is perseverance. Few underdog winners have done so on the first or fifth try. Usually there’s a back story of persistence and perseverance, of heartbreaking defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, of coming oh, so close, time after time before finally getting it right.

That is why all children should be encouraged to play a competitive sport at some point in their youth, and should be taken by their parents and mentors to see sports played at the highest levels whenever possible. Individual stars may not be the best of role models, but often the underdogs such as a Michael Vick or a Ryan Fitzpatrick or a Kurt Warner have something to teach our youth by example, and the underdog teams usually have something to teach and inspire in our youth as well as the inner child within us all.

That being said, Kansas City and Seattle are my favorites going into the NFL playoffs, as long as their runs shall last.

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