“The Miracle On Ice”
In 1980, the Cold War was still at its peak, and the Russians were almost unbeatable in Olympic Ice Hockey. Winners of the gold in five out of the previous six Olympics, they arrived at the 1980 edition at Lake Placid New York as overwhelming favorites.
In stark contrast, the US team was unheralded, inexperienced, and made up of a ragtag bunch of college kids. And when they came up against the Soviet team in the semis, the bookies had literally written them off with odds of 1000-1.
Guess what, they beat those odds and beat the Russians 4-3. Team USA went on to win gold with a win over Finland in the finals. But that semifinal is what everyone remembers from that Olympics, and who can blame them?
USMNT & Upsets – The Good Kind
In recent memory, the only upsets the US Men’s soccer team are causing is to their fans, by not qualifying for the World Cups. But there was a time when the USMNT was not expected to stroll into the World Cups.
In 1950, the FIFA World Cup was still in its infancy, much like the USMNT. They were paired together with the formidable English in the group stage. The teams were scheduled to meet in the final group match.
England came to the match in ominous form, winning the others by margins of 4-0 and 10-0. Their team was made up of seasoned professionals playing in the domestic and European leagues.
In contrast, the US team was made up of amateurs and semi-pros. As for recent form, they had chalked up seven consecutive defeats. But once the actual match started, things took an unexpected turn.
The US defense shut out their much-vaunted opponents, with the goalie making some vital saves towards the end. The US nicked a goal in between and held on for dear life, winning a match they seemed to have little chance of doing anything in.
“Iron Mike Gets Busted”
Very few professional boxers have managed to retire with an unblemished record. Floyd Mayweather is, of course, the latest addition to that list, but it is a mighty short one, with names like Rocky Marciano, Joe Calzaghe, and Edwin Valero.
One name that is missing from that list is Mike Tyson. When the boxer was in his prime, many considered him to be a probable candidate to join that elite club. But one man put paid to all those hopes – Buster Douglas.
A virtual unknown, Douglas was 7 years senior and had 4 losses to Tyson’s record of 37-0. 33 of those wins were brutal knockouts. Naturally, Tyson was the overwhelming favorite with odds of 42-1 in his favor,
The match started well enough for Tyson, who knocked down Douglas in the eighth round. But Buster recovered and pressed ahead, landing some lusty blows on the champ. And finally, in the 10th round, he connected with a knockout punch, ending Tyson’s unbeaten run for good.
“Fairytale of the Foxes”
The English Premier League is the richest and most popular league in the world. One of its main attractions is the high level of competition – even minnows can upset the big sharks any day.
However, the list of probable candidates narrows down considerably when it comes to winning consistently picking up the league title over the 38-match season. Unlike the American leagues, there is no salary cap or financial restrictions in England.
The biggest and richest clubs – the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool, have made the top six virtually their own. It is in this context that the 2015 triumph of the lowly Leicester City team comes across as a true modern-day fairy-tale.
Playing a brand of solid, defensive soccer, the Foxes marched on as the big teams faltered. When the finally sealed their grip on the title, they had done the impossible. At the start of the season, the bookies were offering odds of 5000-1 on Leicester winning the league!
“The Flight of the Cardinals”
The MLB has also seen its fair share if improbable escapes and championship wins against overwhelming odds. In 2011, it was the turn of the St Louis Cardinals to pull off the unthinkable in the National League.
With just 15 games to go, the Cardinals were languishing well behind the Atlanta Braves, and not even for the top spot either. They were seemingly out of contention for the Wildcard slots. Despite having a 4.5 games lead, the Braves had a horror end to their season, collapsing just as the Cardinals peaked.
With a dream run of 11-4 in the final 15, the Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs, and the rest is history. They then went on to beat the Phillies in the Division Series, followed by a win against the Brewers in the Championship series, qualifying for the World Series in the process.
Their opponent in the 2011 World Series was the Texas Rangers, whom they defeated across seven games to claim total victory. And the odds they overcame since that nadir with 15 games left to go? It was a barely noticeable 999-1!
Sport is filled with moments like these when all the stats and figures matter naught. Passion, grit, skill, and pure luck all combine to create sheer magic that drives some to despair and others to ecstasy. If you ever encounter a bet that seems like a sure thing, don’t get too cocky. Or you might end up feeling like the folks who bet against these teams and individuals in the list above!