Nothing in sport is more enthralling, intriguing, or wholesome than an underdog defeating the odds and triumphing in the face of adversity on the grandest stage of all. These underdogs, whether they are a single person or a team, are the ones who shape the world of sports one at a time. Let’s take a look at some of history’s most inspiring underdog stories.
1. Erik Weihenmayer Summits Everest
Erik Weinhenmayer was born with retinoschisis, a disorder that affects the retina. He was blind by the age of thirteen. With no sight, He climbed the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall, up the Lhoste Face, past secret crevasses on the Western Cwm, up the avalanche-prone North Col, and along the precipitous Northeast Ridge.
2. Jack Fleck Wins 1955 US Open
Fleck was pitted against four-time US Open champion Ben Hogan, despite the fact that Fleck was a relatively obscure municipal course operator from Iowa. On the final hole, Fleck was down by a stroke and needed a birdie to trigger a playoff. Even NBC assumed the match was done and halted coverage, stating Hogan had won his sixth championship.
3. Mark Edmondson wins the Australian Open – 1976
Mark Edmondson was a late entry into the tournament, just qualifying in the first place due to other players’ withdrawals. The powerful serving 21-year-old slowly advanced to the semifinals, where he met eight-time Grand Slam champion and world number two Ken Rosewall. Edmondson, who had never advanced past the second round of a major before, won in four sets to seal his spot in the Australian Open final.
4. 1966 Texas Western Men’s Basketball Team
Don Haskins not only became the first underdog to win the NCAA Tournament in 1966, but he was the one to make history. The first coach in history to start an all-African-American squad was Haskins. It was unprecedented, and it made people nervous about their possibilities. Haskins Miners defeated the Kentucky Wildcats for the national championship, cementing their position in history. However, the team was not bad, they went 28-1 during the season—they were up defying the odds, as well as the beliefs of many fans.
5. 1994-95 New Jersey Devils
The 1994-95 New Jersey Devils were not precisely the eighth seed, but their Stanley Cup victory over the powerful Detroit Red Wings who also won the Presidents’ Trophy was a real underdog victory. Despite having a nearly losing record, the squad was able to earn a fifth-seed in the playoffs. Not only did the Devils defeat the Red Wings, but they swept them 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history.
6. Abebe Bikila Wins 1960 Olympic Marathon, Breaking World Record
Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, a member of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard, stunned the world when he ran the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot for a new world record of 2:15:16. The inaugural Olympic marathon, held in Rome, did not begin or end in a stadium.
7. Sri Lanka win the Cricket World Cup, 1996
Sri Lanka was predominantly a semi-professional team prior to the 1996 Cricket World Cup. They faced the daunting prospect of facing hosts India once more in front of a 100,000-strong hostile audience at Eden Gardens. India was left chasing 251, and when talisman Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed for 65 and the India batters began to fall, the home crowd erupted in riots. Sri Lanka was awarded the match after India was defeated India by a score of 120 to 8.
8. George Foreman Beats Michael Moorer
Foreman was 45 at the time, and he was far slower and less flexible than Moorer, who was still in his prime. There was no way Foreman could have won that battle against a 27-year-old defending champion statistically, scientifically, or logically. But that wall of impossibility was smashed by a brilliantly placed punch.
9. Muhammad Ali defeats Sonny Liston in 1964
When Muhammad Ali faced Sonny Liston for the first time in 1964, he was a 7-1 underdog. Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time. Ali, on the other hand, was the plucky 22-year-old underdog, viewed as swift and nimble but too light for Liston’s overwhelming strength. Despite having trouble seeing in the fourth round, Ali hung in there and won on a technical knockout, capturing his first world title.
10. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan defeated South Africa
Japan had competed in the Rugby World Cup seven times before 2015 but had never progressed past the pool stages. With this statistic in mind, they took against a South African team that had won two World Cup crowns, more than Japan had won World Cup matches (one). The Brave Blossoms played with appealing energy and bravery despite the odds being stacked against them, securing a remarkable 34-32 victory and the greatest upset in rugby history.
11. John Daly Wins the US PGA Championship, 1991
Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship out of nowhere. The blond bomber from Arkansas mesmerized and stunned the golf world by winning the PGA Championship on Aug. 11, 1991.
12. Greece wins the Euro 2004
When Greece traveled to Portugal for the 2004 European Championships, they had never won a game in a major event. They snatched the tournament’s first significant upset in their first group game, defeating the heavily favored hosts 2-1.
13. Tom Brady and the 2001 New England Patriots
Tom Brady wins the Super Bowl for the first time in the 2001 NFL Playoffs. Despite the fact that the game was played in a snowstorm, Brady’s Patriots beat the Raiders 16-13.
14. USA Beat the USSR, 1980 Winter Olympics
When the USA faced the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics ice hockey final medal round, it was described as a David versus Goliath battle, with the Soviet Union as unquestionable favorites, having won gold in four consecutive Winter Olympics. Amateurs and college athletes made up the USA team. Despite all odds, the USA won gold, while the USSR had to settle for silver.
15. Wimbledon Beat Liverpool to Lift the FA Cup, 1988
Wimbledon was still playing in the fifth tier of English football when Liverpool won consecutive top-flight titles under Bob Paisley in 1977. Wimbledon defeated Liverpool 1-0 at Wembley in the 1988 FA Cup final, completing one of the greatest FA Cup shocks in history.
The concept of an underdog is possibly the largest oxymoron there can be. Despite this, these nobodies have managed to become somebody.