In sports, as in life, we love the underdog. Every day we battle the odds, and now more than ever, we feel the deck is stacked for those richer and more powerful than us. When we sit glued to the TV and watch an athlete or team defy the odds, and it gives us hope than we too, can prevail through our difficult circumstances.
The smaller guy who works harder, the less talented team that never gives up, or the guy who started in the mailroom and climbed his way to the top. These are the exceptions, not the rule to be sure, but the possibility and example keep us all trying. Maybe we too can prevail.
A few of my own personal favorites from a lifetime of sports watching:
1. The 2004 Boston Red Sox (with apologies to my many New York friends).
Down 0-3 in a seven game series, the Sox go on to sweep four straight games from the mighty Bronx Bombers and sail on to their first World Series victory in eighty six years.
The take down of the Yankees was particularly sweet for Bo-Sox fans, as the pin-stripers had up to that point shit-beaten us with mind-numbing regularity.
As the New York Daily News put it: The Choke’s On Us! Or if you don’t like that: Hell Freezes Over!
2. The United States Olympic 1980 hockey victory.
In sheer magnitude and improbability, the Americans’ win over the Russians in hockey rates high on my list. A rag-tag bunch of college kids defeated a well-seasoned bunch of trained-year-around professionals.
Truly “a miracle on ice,” with an absolutely masterful coaching job by the late Herb Brooks. I remember two things vividly as I watched the end: The Russian team leaning on their sticks looking on in bemused disbelief as an exultant mob of US players topple to the ice.
A bit later, goaltender Jim Craig, unshaven and exhausted, swaddled in an American flag and the camera found him just as he mouthed in thick Boston-ese: “Where’s my fathah.?”
3. Buster Douglas’s 1990 knock out of Mike Tyson.
Some Vegas odds-makers had Tyson over Douglas by 40-1! “Oh my God,” we all screamed post-fight, “ If only I put ten, a hundred, a thousand on Douglas!”
Tyson was 37-O heading into this fight and nobody but nobody gave Douglas a whiff of a prayer. Tyson at this point was a ridiculously muscled feral animal inside the ring and out.
Douglas comes out aggressively and jabs, double jabs and slips as an increasingly frustrated Tyson throws bombs. Douglas is clearly not cowed like so many Tyson opponents previous.
But then in the ninth round, Tyson catches Douglas coming in with a viscous right uppercut and down goes Douglas! We all start thinking, “Well, it was nice while it lasted. Reality wrecks a great story.”
Douglas struggles to his feet and mercifully the bell ends the round. Which is good for Buster because he looks mighty wobbly.
In the tenth Douglas comes out jabbing again, one of Tyson’s eyes swells and closes, Douglas staggers him with hook and then drops him! The ref counts him out as a disoriented Tyson paws to find his mouthpiece!
Every once in a while David can topple Goliath.
The underdog has inspired me forward in my own battles, with a bellicose and drunken father, (where IS my fathah!) with my own addiction and struggles with PTSD, depression and anxiety. The underdog has sustained me and kept me going forward.
As a Dad, the best advice I give my kids is to persevere. No matter how defeated, betrayed or broken-hearted you feel, get up and get back in the game. One foot in front of the other. You lose ONLY when you quit.
I love the underdog and so does America. When boxing, running or just trying to get ahead, I channel him, he inspires me, and most of the time, by his example, I progress.
Maybe we are all underdogs when you think about it. Each of us swimming against the muscular and inevitable tide of our own mortality. Hoping and praying for just a couple wins along the way.
Photo Credit : AP
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