Buster Douglas. Juan Martín Del Potro. Y.E. Yang. Rulon Gardner. Leon Spinks. James Braddock. Texas Western. Milan High School.
Although you may never have heard of any of these names, they all have something in common. At one time, each name was an underdog who was given virtually no chance of winning against a higher ranked, better known, more powerful and favored opponent. Each one, however, defeated their opponent to make history as one of the biggest upsets ever recorded.
The list goes on, and it will continue to grow as future sports powerhouses fall to never-heard-of nobodies who become somebodies overnight.
It’s what makes for some of the best and most powerful movies to hit the big screen, whether fictitious or historical retellings: “Glory Road,” “Remember the Titans,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Rocky,” even “Sandlot,” a favorite childhood movie for many Millennials. All these movies tell the incredible story of a person or team who overcame tremendous odds to win it all on the big stage.
Why are these stories and tales always met with such excitement and enthusiasm? Why do we love seeing these people and listening to them retell the moment? What makes us eagerly anticipate the next “great moment?”
If you’re like me, it’s the fact that it just doesn’t happen very often, and you may just be able to witness history while watching it unfold, whether in person or, more likely, on TV.
In addition to the privilege of being able to witness such a rare moment is the sense of achievement it instills within us. When we see everyday people accomplish great things, such as upsetting a highly favored opponent, it gives us hope that we too can succeed against great odds.
Who doesn’t get a sense of joy when seeing a little-known team from the middle of nowhere defeat a better trained, better known, and probably better skilled team that is expected to win? I sure do. These are the stories which we remember for years to come.
I’m a brother who is four years younger, 7 inches shorter and generally less skilled than my older brother; maybe that’s why the “underdog” mindset is instilled within me.
Growing accustomed to losing from sports to board games and everything in between, losing was something I became quite familiar with growing up. But it made winning—at anything—all the sweeter. Winning over and over was never something I had to worry about. Not to say I ever lost my competitive spirit, but after a while, losing almost becomes routine. So when winning was in sight, I found extra motivation for a last push that just might propel myself to victory.
That is why I love the story of the underdog. Sometimes it makes the viewer feel good inside. Sometimes it arouses a sense of patriotism or appreciation of the “little guy.” Sometimes it just makes us believe that we ourselves can succeed, even when the odds seem to be stacked against us.