These past few weeks have reminded fans how thrilling upsets in sports can be. It gives them added inspiration in their lives as we become major underdogs in the pursuit of our dreams. With that in mind, my Top 10 this week is the Top 10 greatest upsets in sports history. What makes a great upset? Obviously, when the less the less talented and less prestigious team beats a superior team, the better the upset. Also, for the sake of this list, the more meaningful the game is (i.e. postseason, championship games, etc.), the better the upset. Nobody cares too much about the Golden State Warriors beating the Dallas Mavericks in December, but in a May playoff series? That’s a big upset, but is it big enough to make our list? Honorable Mention: 1960 Pirates beating the Yankees in the World Series...Duke and Christian Laettner beating UNLV in the 1991 Final Four...Golden State Warriors upset Dallas Mavericks in 2007 NBA playoffs...Patriots defeat Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI. In these parts, Utah blowing out Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl would probably make honorable mention, too.
This had to make our list, if for no other reason than the fact that the horse’s name was “Upset.” In fact, this is where the phrase “Upset” actually comes from. You don’t say “VCU pulled a Buster Douglas.” You say “VCU pulled off an upset.” What makes it most impressive, though? Upset was a 100-to-1 shot to win the race that day in 1919, and it was the only loss in the career of one of the Top 2 greatest race horses of all-time.
Never before had a No. 8 seed beaten a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs until this series. This would be impressive just standing by itself, but the Nuggets could have easily folded after losing the first two games of this series to Seattle. Instead, Denver won three straight to win the best-of-five series.
The over-weight heavyweight knocked out the undefeated Tyson on Feb. 10, 1990, in Tokyo. The image of Tyson fumbling for his mouthpiece after getting knocked down in the 10th round is unforgettable. That was the first time Tyson had ever been knocked down in his professional career. Tyson was counted out, and Douglas was the champion of the world.
This wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar during the 2000 Summer Olympics. It was a foregone conclusion that Alexander Karelin was going to win gold in the heavyweight division of Greco-Roman wrestling. That was until Gardner, the big bear (now even bigger) from Afton, Wyo., stepped onto the mat and took down the internationally undefeated Russian to take home the gold. Karelin had been undefeated in 13 years of international competition and had lost only one wrestling match in his entire life — when he was 19 years old in the 1987 Soviet Championships.
Villanova shot 78.6 percent in the game, which led to a 66-64 win over conference rival Georgetown. The eighth-seeded Wildcats made 22-of-28 shots (yes, Jimmer usually shoots it more times than that in a game, but still impressive) and stunned the Hoyas to win the 1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The New York Mets had only been in existence for seven years when the Miracle Mets were born in 1969. The Mets stunned the heavily favored Orioles in the proceeding to win the pennant and the World Series.
The 2007-08 New England Patriots may have been the best team in the history of football. They finished the regular season undefeated and only three teams even got close to beating them. Their average margin of victory in the regular season was 20 points.
There may not be a better or bigger catch in Super Bowl history than the David Tyree reception on third-and-5 when he miraculously pinned the ball to his helmet with one hand as he fell to the ground. That catch, which has its own Wikipedia page, led to the game-winning touchdown. The Giants, who limped into the playoffs with a 10-6 regular season record, did the unthinkable by beating the proverbial giants 17-14 to win Super Bowl XVII.
Hardly anything stirs more excited emotions than the combination of an upset, a buzzer-beater and a national title. The only thing that might arouse more emotion is the scene that followed all of that in 1983 when Jim Valvano running around trying to find someone, anyone, to hug in celebration. Dereck Whittenburg had just heaved a premature desperation 30-footer and Lorenzo Charles caught it as it fell just short of the rim and slammed it home at the buzzer to incite mass hysteria in Albuquerque. The No. 6-seed NC State knocked off Houston to win the 1983 national title.
People forget that this game was the first to ever be called the Super Bowl. It was the third NFL-AFL Championship Game (hence the III), and the AFL was considered inferior to the NFL. The AFL’s New York Jets were huge underdogs against the NFL’s Baltimore Colts. Joe Namath, the Jets' quarterback, guaranteed a victory over the Colts before the game then went out and delivered. The Jets dominated this game, leading 16-0 at one point. Namath won the Super Bowl MVP, throwing for 206 yards on 17-of-28 passing.
Is there really any question here? This game was so much more than a game to America — the nation, not the team. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t the gold medal game. People don’t remember who the U.S. beat in the gold medal game two days after it beat the Soviets, just like few people remember who the Red Sox beat to win the 2004 World Series.
The Americans were so overmatched that it was funny. The Soviets were led by legends while the U.S. was led by college kids. The Soviets beat the U.S. in an exhibition game before the Olympics, 10-3. Viktor Tikhonov, head coach of the U.S.S.R., went on to say that that game “turned out to be a very big problem” for his team because it led the Soviets to grossly underestimate the Americans. In five group-play games before the medal round, the Soviets scored a total of 51 goals, while the U.S. barely slipped into the medal round.
When the Russians and the Americans met in the medal round, it became much more than just a game. On the shoulders of these young college kids, rested the American hopes in the midst of the tense Cold War between the two countries. In dramatic fashion Mike Eruzione, an IHL player for the Toledo Goaldiggers (yes, that’s a real team), scored a goal to put the US ahead, 4-3, with exactly 10 minutes left. For U.S. fans, the following 10 minutes lasted longer than a Red Sox-Yankees postseason game. The Americans held on just long enough to hear Al Michaels ask “Do you believe in miracles?”