||This article may contain original research. (April 2011)|
||This article is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (July 2012)|
In American and Canadian sports, a Cinderella or "Cinderella Story" refers to a team or player who advances much further in a tournament or career than originally anticipated. Cinderellas tend to gain much media and fan attention as they move closer to the championship game at the end of the tournament. The term comes from the fairy tale Cinderella, in which the protagonist is the honored guest at a party to the surprise of everyone. The term has been used at least since 1939, but came into widespread usage in 1950, in reference to City College of New York, the unexpected winners of the NCAA Men's Basketball championship that year. The term was used by Bill Murray in the 1980 hit movie Caddyshack where he pretends as the announcer to his own golf fantasy: "Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion."
Referring somewhat inaccurately to the plot details of the classic Cinderella story, the media will debate whether the given "Cinderella" team or player will "turn into a pumpkin," i.e. fail to win the prize and then return to its former obscurity. In the fairy tale, it was the carriage that turned into a pumpkin at midnight, not Cinderella herself. Another popular term is "strike midnight," when a Cinderella team does finally get beaten.
Prior to the widespread use of "Cinderella" in this way, the more common term for unexpected and dramatic success was "Miracle," as in the "Miracle Braves" of 1914, the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" in 1951, the "Miracle Mets" of 1969, and the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980.
In the United Kingdom, by contrast, a Cinderella team is one which usually underachieves, or is overshadowed by more successful neighbours (for example, Tranmere Rovers and Everton by Liverpool). This refers to the early part of the Cinderella fairy tale, where the heroine is downtrodden. A U.S.-style Cinderella team would be a surprise package or surprise packet, and their success would be termed a fairy-tale run.
Most Cinderellas send one strong message: a team or a player that has not had a good regular season can atone for the struggles with brilliance in a short period of time.
Examples of "Cinderellas"
Many teams are considered "Cinderella teams" when they seemingly overachieve. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Cardinals went all the way to their respective leagues' championships in 2008 only to "turn into a pumpkin" at the end. This list is largely confined to "Cinderella teams" that won championships.
- 1968-69 New York Jets – The AFL Jets, led by quarterback Joe Namath, beat the heavily favored NFL champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Namath had shockingly guaranteed a Jets win before the game.
- 1980-81 Oakland Raiders – The Oakland Raiders became the first Wildcard Playoff Team to win the Super Bowl, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10 in Super Bowl XV
- 1997 Denver Broncos season; Finishing 12-4 during the regular season, the Broncos were a wild card team, as they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers. With people suspecting a blowout, on the Packers' first drive, Brett Favre threw a touchdown to Antonio Freeman. However, on the Broncos' first possession, Terrell Davis, had a migraine headache. In the third quarter, the game is best remembered for The Helicopter run by John Elway inside the red zone. The Broncos ended up winning the game 31-24. It is also best remembered as Elway's first championship.
- 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams– After losing starting quarterback Trent Green in the pre-season, many suspected the Rams' season was over. However, backup quarterback and eventual NFL MVP Kurt Warner led the Rams to a 13-3 record. After defeating the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC playoffs, the Rams captured their first and only Super Bowl by defeating the Tennessee Titans 23-16 at Super Bowl XXXIV.
- 2005-06 Pittsburgh Steelers started out the season 7-2 then dropped to 7-5, won 4-straight regular season games, defeated the AFC North division champion Cincinnati Bengals behind 24 unanswered points after trailing 17-7 to win 31-17. The Steelers continued their march towards the Super Bowl by downing the number 1 seed Indianapolis Colts 21-18 after the Steelers' Jerome Bettis fumbled the goal and Indianapolis missed the ensuing field goal. The Steelers then defeated the Denver Broncos 34-17 to advance to Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Super Bowl XL resulted in the Steelers defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 becoming at the time the lowest seeded team and the first NFL sixth seed ever to win a championship.
- 2006 Chicago Rush – Despite putting together a 7-9 record in the regular season, the Rush managed to make the 2006 AFL playoffs as the fifth seed in the American Conference. The Rush would go on an improbable run, defeating #4 Nashville, #1 (and defending champion) Colorado, and #2 San Jose to reach ArenaBowl XX, where they defeated National Conference champion Orlando to become the first sports team with a losing regular-season record to win a championship since the 1937-38 Chicago Blackhawks.
- 2007 and 2011 New York Giants – The two most recent Super Bowl championships for the Giants came on what would be considered Cinderella runs. In 2007 the Giants won three playoff games on the road, including wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, culminating in a win over the 18-0 New England Patriots. The Giants' last three playoff victories were against teams they had lost to in the regular season (Cowboys twice). They thus became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl. In 2011 New York entered the final two weeks of the regular season needing wins to guarantee a playoff berth. They won both games to finish 9-7, then defeated the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons, the 15-1 Green Bay Packers, and the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers to reach the Super Bowl where they defeated the Patriots, who finished 13-3. As in 2007 the Giants played three of their playoff opponents during the regular season, having defeated the Patriots but losing to the Packers and 49ers, and became the first team to win the Super Bowl after winning less than 10 times during the regular season.
- New York Giants (1954) – The then-New York Giants swept the 111-win Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series in one of the greatest World Series upsets in baseball history. Center fielder Willie Mays made an iconic over-the-shoulder catch in the 8th inning of game 1 to preserve a tie. Dusty Rhodes would later win the game for the Giants with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning that set the stage for a series sweep.
- New York Mets (1969) – The Mets won their first ever World Series title after beating the heavily favored 109-win Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series; previously, the Mets had finished either last or next-to-last in the National League every year.
- Cincinnati Reds (1990) – not seen as a particularly strong team, the Reds were not expected to defeat the Pirates in the NLCS nor were they expected to have any chance against the mighty Oakland Athletics. Critics expected a sweep, which did happen. However it was the Reds sweeping the A's in a stunner to win the championship.
- Minnesota Twins (1991) – One year after finishing dead last in the American League West and tied for the second-worst record in the American League, the Twins won the 1991 World Series by defeating a fellow Cinderella, the Atlanta Braves (see below), in seven games in what was considered among the greatest and most dramatic World Series of all time. The Twins won games six and seven of the series in extra innings, with a walk-off home run and walk-off single respectively.
- Anaheim Angels (2002) – The Angels won the first World championship in their 41-year history. The Halos finished the regular season in second place in the American League West standings to the Oakland Athletics, making the playoffs as the American League wild card qualifier. Nevertheless, they put together a magical postseason run, upsetting the mighty New York Yankees in the ALDS, besting the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS to win the American League pennant, and going the distance against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series to clinch the title.
- Florida Marlins (2003) – The Marlins used a strong second half to win the World Series, after upsets against the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees. The NLCS was especially memorable for the Marlins' rally and another Cubs collapse, as it extended the alleged Curse of the Billy Goat.
- Boston Red Sox (2004)– The 2004 Red Sox ended an 86-year World Series drought by winning eight straight games to come back from a 3-0 ALCS deficit against their rival New York Yankees. While most Cinderella teams come from relative obscurity to win a championship, The 2004 Red Sox won 98 regular season games and where a dominant team throughout the 2004 regular season. They did however beat a NY Yankees team which won 101 games, along with sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals who won a league best 105 regular season games. However, their Cinderella status was established after becoming the first Major League Baseball team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a 7 game series and only the third team in Major American professional sports to achieve such a feat.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2011) – With about a month to go in the regular season, the Cardinals were 10½ games behind the wild-card leader, the Atlanta Braves, but by a combination of a winning streak by the Cardinals and a losing streak by the Braves, the wild-card position was decided in favor of the Cardinals on the last day of the regular season. The Cardinals then won playoff series against the Philadelphia Phillies (who had the best win-loss percentage in baseball) and the Milwaukee Brewers (who were the leaders in the same division with the Cardinals and had the best win-loss percentage at home) to face the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Going into the sixth game of the series, the Cardinals were behind 3 games to 2, and had to win the next two games. In the ninth inning of the sixth game, the Cardinals were behind by two runs, and with two outs and two strikes on David Freese, he hit a triple tying the game, which the Cardinals then won in extra innings. The Cardinals then went on to win the seventh game and the series.
- Boston Celtics (1969) – The Boston Celtics were coming off a championship against Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers and superstar Center Bill Russell was heading into what would be his final year. The aging Celtics had won 10 of the previous 12 NBA Championships, but with offensive powerhouse Wilt Chamberlain joining the already powerful Lakers, it appeared as if the Celtics, who were practically limping into the Finals, would easily take care of the old squad. The Celtics fell into a quick 2-1 deficit but came back to force a Game 7 in Los Angeles, with Bill Russell calmly stating "One thing the Lakers cannot do, is beat us". With the Lakers preparing balloons and confetti for "when, not if, the win", the Celtics took inspiration from their arrogance and went on to win it with a key circus basket by Don Nelson that went about 10 feet into the air after bouncing from the back of the rim before sailing through the net. The win sent Russell and fellow hall of famer Sam Jones to retirement as champions, with Russell winning his 11th championship and Jones his tenth.
- Golden State Warriors (1975) – The 48-34 Warriors swept the powerhouse Washington Bullets, who went 60-22 during the season, in the 1975 NBA Finals.
- Houston Rockets (1995) – The Rockets being 6th seeded team in the 1995 NBA Playoffs managed to become the champions for the second straight year in the 1995 NBA Finals by sweeping Shaquille O'Neal the Orlando Magic, setting playoff records for most games won on the road as well as defeating three 60-win teams en route to defending their championship.
- Detroit Pistons (2004) – The Pistons, who at the time were considered an after-thought in the playoffs as they boasted no superstars, ended up storming into the finals and upsetting the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers led by superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, 4-1.
- Dallas Mavericks (2011) – The Mavericks, led by star Dirk Nowitzki, were the poster children for playoff disappointments, until the 2011 NBA Playoffs in which they swept the two-time defending champion Lakers and going into the finals against the re-tooled Miami Heat featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Mavericks fell to a 2-1 hole early but came back to upset the favored Heat, extending James' wait for his first championship.
- 1986 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – The Tiger-Cats, who finished the season with a 9-8-1 record, made a third consecutive improbable run to the Grey Cup, upsetting the heavily-favored Edmonton Eskimos 39-15.
- 1989 Saskatchewan Roughriders – The Roughriders finished the season with a 9-9 record and made an improbable run to the 77th Grey Cup. The team went into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, but upset the 10-8 Calgary Stampeders 33-26 in the West Division Semi-Final before upsetting the heavily-favored Edmonton Eskimos (who finished the season with a 16-2 record) in the West Division Final, 32-21. This victory set up the Grey Cup game against the 12-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Dave Ridgway's 26-yard field goal in the final minute gave the Riders a 43-40 victory, along with the franchise's first Grey Cup championship since 1966.
- 2000 B.C. Lions – The Lions finished the season with a 8-10 record and were not expected to compete in the West Division, but caught fire late in the season following a coaching change. Led by veteran quarterback Damon Allen, the team marched through the playoffs with upset victories over both Alberta-based teams before returning to Calgary to play in the 88th Grey Cup, where they defeated the Montreal Alouettes 28-26. The Lions became the first team in history to win the Grey Cup after posting a losing record in the regular season.
- 2001 Calgary Stampeders – For the second consecutive season, a team that finished the season with a 8-10 record captured the Grey Cup as the Calgary Stampeders, led by quarterback Marcus Crandell, defeated the heavily-favored Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 89th Grey Cup. The Stamps became the second team in history to have a regular-season losing record to win the Grey Cup.
- Fresno State (2008) – In one of the more improbable Cinderella stories in American sports history, the Bulldogs surmounted a daunting array of obstacles on their way to the NCAA title:
- Fresno State had never won an NCAA championship in any men's sport going into the 2008 tournament.
- The Bulldogs entered the Western Athletic Conference tournament at 33-27; they would likely not have made the NCAA tournament without winning the WAC tournament, which they did.
- They were the #4 seed in their regional. Since only four teams play in each of 16 regionals, this is the equivalent of a team seeded #13 or lower in the NCAA basketball tournament. No #4 seed had ever advanced to the College World Series. By contrast, no #13 or lower seed has ever made the "Elite 8" of the men's basketball tournament, which is arguably equivalent to the eight-team College World Series.
- Six times in the NCAA tournament, including three times in the College World Series, they faced elimination with a loss. They won all six times.
- They won a total of 10 tournament games against six different teams ranked in the top 20. ESPN pointed out that in terms of the NCAA basketball tournament, Fresno State's run would be equivalent to a 13 seed beating a 4 seed in the first round (second round from 2011), a 5 seed in the second round (third round from 2011), a top seed in the Sweet 16, a second seed in the Elite 8, another top seed in the Final Four, and still another 2 seed for the championship.
College/high school basketball
- High school
- Texas Western Miners (1966) – Little-known Texas Western College advanced to the NCAA Championship Game where they defeated perennial powerhouse Kentucky 72-65 to win the school's only men's basketball national title to date. The Miners' championship is best remembered for the fact that the team utilized an all-black starting lineup at a time when many universities (particularly in the south) were resisting integrating their athletic teams, including the all-white Kentucky team that Texas Western defeated in the title game. The team's story was subject of the 2006 film Glory Road.
- North Carolina State University Wolfpack (1983) – The Wolfpack defeated the heavily-favored "Phi Slama Jama" Houston Cougars, led by future hall-of-famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, 54-52 to win the NCAA Men's Tournament on Lorenzo Charles' last second tip-in.
- Villanova Wildcats (1985) – Villanova became the lowest seed (#8) to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Furthermore, the Wildcats missed only one field goal in the entire second half of the championship game against the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas.
- University of Miami Hurricanes (1984) After losing their first game to the Florida Gators 28-3, The Miami Hurricanes, led by Freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar won all remaining regular season games and defeated the #1 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, who were already regarded as one of the greatest college football teams ever in the 1984 Orange Bowl. It was the first of 4 championships Miami would win the next following ten years.
- Georgia Southern Eagles (1985) – In only their fourth year of playing football, Georgia Southern won the NCAA Division I-AA championship.
- Northwestern Wildcats (1995) – After years as one of the perennial laughingstocks of college football, the Wildcats won the Big Ten title.
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2006) – Wake Forest won the Atlantic Coast Conference title after being picked by the media to finish last in their division, and after losing their starting quarterback, starting running back, and starting left offensive tackle to injuries. The team and star linebacker Jon Abbate would become the subject of a 2011 feature film, The 5th Quarter.
- Boise State Broncos (2006) – In only their ninth year Division 1-A play, the Broncos defeated perennial power house Oklahoma Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
- United States men's national ice hockey team (1980) – The American team, consisting entirely of amateur and collegiate players, won the Olympic gold medal. Along the way, they defeated the Soviet Union, considered the best hockey team in the world at the time, by a score of 4-3 in a medal round game, an event known as the Miracle on Ice and widely considered to be the greatest U.S. sports achievement of the 20th century.
- Los Angeles Kings (2012) - The first eight seed of a conference to win the Stanley Cup. The Kings entered the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs despite finishing with 95 Points. In the first round they defeated the first overall seed and Presidents' Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in five games. They proceeded to sweep the second seed St. Louis Blues and eliminate the third seed Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games, going undefeated on the road in all 3 rounds. They started the finals against the New Jersey Devils by winning the first three games of the series. They lost games four and five to the Devils before winning game six in Los Angeles. Their status as a Cinderella team is disputed by observers who feel that the Kings chronically under achieved in the regular season.
- Denmark *(Euro 92) – Denmark won Euro 92 after originally failing to qualify. They qualified for the tournament after Yugoslavia, who had originally won the group, was the subject of United Nations sporting sanctions. They advanced from the group stage after winning their last match against France and then through goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel saving a penalty in the penalty shoot-out from Marco van Basten. They won the tournament by defeating reigning world champions Germany 2-0 in the final.
Examples of Cinderellas that did not win the championship
These Cinderellas made it to the finals in their respective leagues.
- New England Patriots (1985 NFL season) – The New England Patriots made it into the playoffs as the fifth seed in the AFC, but then became the first team in NFL history to defeat three road teams in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl. However, they faced Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears, where they lost 46-10.
- Columbus Destroyers (2007 AFL season) – Columbus entered the Arena Football League Playoffs with a 7-9 record and made Arena Bowl XXII.
- Carolina Panthers (2003 NFL season) – The underdog Carolina Panthers just two seasons removed from a 1-15 season made it to Super Bowl XXXVIII after defeating the Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs but lost in the final seconds on an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
- Arizona Cardinals (2008-09) – A traditionally poor performer since the 1940s, the Cardinals finished the regular season at 9-7 to reach the playoffs. They were underdogs in each of their post-season games against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles, but survived all three to reach Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona had the lead with less than three minutes to play, but the Pittsburgh Steelers drove 78 yards down the field, culminating in a Santonio Holmes touchdown with 35 seconds remaining and a record sixth Super Bowl win for Pittsburgh.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1979-80) – The Buccaneers, with only 7 wins in their previous 3 seasons which included an imperfect season, and a record 26-game losing streak between the 1976 and 1977 seasons which still stands to this day, posted their first winning season, finishing 10-6, first in the NFC Central. The Buccaneers would go on to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1979 NFC Divisional Playoff, before losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship.
- New York Giants (1951 World Series) – Following their "Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" playoff win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants' dream season ended when they lost the World Series to the New York Yankees in six games.
- New York Mets (1973 World Series) – The "Ya gotta believe" Mets made the 1973 World Series with the worst regular series winning percentage of any previous World Series team. They surprised many by not only making the playoffs that year (which took a late season winning push), but by capturing the pennant. They eventually lost to the Oakland A's 4-3. Willie Mays, at the down side of his career, recorded the final out for the Mets.
- Atlanta Braves (1991 World Series) – After six consecutive seasons of finishing no higher than fifth place in the six team National League West and compiling the worst record in Major League Baseball in 1990, the Braves surprisingly won the division title and defeated the favored Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS to advance to the franchise's first World Series since 1958. In what is frequently cited as one of the best World Series of all time the Braves fell to the Minnesota Twins in seven games, losing the final game 1-0 in ten innings. (The home team won all seven games of the World Series) The 1991 season marked the beginning of a phenomenal run of success for the Braves as it would mark the first of fourteen consecutive division titles won by the team, advancing to the World Series five times and winning the title once (1995) during that span.
- Houston Astros (2005 World Series) – The 6th seeded Astros were making their first appearance in the world series after 43 seasons and years of playoff disappointments, and defeated the Atlanta Braves in 4 games in the opening round, and took down the defending NL champion and top-seeded rival St. Louis Cardinals in 6 games, and faced the first-seeded Chicago White Sox in the World Series, who waited twice the amount of seasons the Astros had even existed for a World Series win. Chicago swept the Astros 4-0, with Game 3 becoming the longest game in World Series history at nearly 6 hours in 14 innings.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2008 World Series) – The Rays were the long-time doormats of the American League East, having lost at least 90 games in each of their 10 years of existence. After a 66-96 campaign in 2007, the Rays broke out in 2008, compiling a 97-65 record to clinch the AL East title. They went on to beat the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS and the Boston Red Sox in a seven-game ALCS, but lost the World Series in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies—the city of Philadelphia had a championship after 25 years.
- Phoenix Suns (1976 NBA Finals) – Despite entering the playoffs with only a 42–40 record, the Suns would upset the defending champion Golden State Warriors to enter the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Despite giving the Celtics a triple-overtime thriller in Game 5, the Suns would lose to the eventual champion Celtics 4 games to 2. That season's team was given the nickname of the "Sunderella Suns".
- Houston Rockets (1981 NBA Finals) – Moses Malone and the Rockets barely snuck into the playoffs with a losing record at 40–42, drawing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, defeating them 2-1, winning both games at the Forum in Los Angeles and defeating the division-leading San Antonio Spurs with high-scoring guard George Gervin in seven games. This led to an unlikely Conference Finals matchup against the Kansas City Kings who were also 40–42, breezing past them in five games. The finals appeared to be an easy sweep by superstar Larry Bird and his Boston Celtics, until Malone led the Rockets to a series deadlock at 2–2, before finally succumbing to the Celtics 4–2.
- New York Knicks (1999 NBA Finals) – The Knicks became the only eighth-seeded team to make it to the NBA Finals, before losing to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, 4 games to 1.
- 1981 Ottawa Rough Riders – The Rough Riders, who finished the season with a 5-11 record, made an improbable run to the 69th Grey Cup, but lost to the heavily-favored defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos by a field goal, 26-23.
- 1984 and 1985 Hamilton Tiger-Cats – Hamilton, who finished the season with a 6-9-1 record in 1984 and a 8-8 record in 1985, reached the 72nd and 73rd Grey Cups, but were defeated 47-17 by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1984 and 37-24 by the B.C. Lions in 1985.
- 1997 Saskatchewan Roughriders – Led by quarterback Reggie Slack and former 1989 Grey Cup star Mike Saunders on offense, the 8-10 Riders pulled off stunning victories over the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos to reach the 85th Grey Cup game. However, they fell to the Doug Flutie-helmed Toronto Argonauts 47-23.
- St Bonaventure University (1970) – Bonaventure became the smallest school by enrollment (over 1,000 less students than Jacksonville) to reach the final four of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. Unfortunately, injury to Bob Lanier put him in hospital to watch them lose to Jacksonville.
- Jacksonville University (1970) – Jacksonville became the smallest school by enrollment to reach the final round of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. However, the Dolphins lost to UCLA in the finals.
- Louisiana State University (1986) – LSU's 1986 team is tied for the lowest-seeded team (#11) to ever make the Final Four (with George Mason's 2006 team and Virginia Commonwealth's 2011 team).
- Loyola Marymount University (1990) – After averaging an NCAA record 122 points per game, the Lions lost senior leader, and former scoring and rebounding champion, Hank Gathers, to a heart condition as he died on the court. However, the Lions fought their way to the Elite Eight where they lost to eventual champion UNLV Rebels. Their run included defeating defending national champion Michigan 149-115.
- Gonzaga University (1999) – Gonzaga's 1999 team pulled the program from total obscurity by reaching the Elite Eight. Their run was ended by a narrow 67-62 loss to the UConn Huskies, the ultimate tournament champions.
- George Mason University (2006) – In 2006, the Patriots became the first true "mid-major" team in over a quarter-century to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Tournament before losing to the eventual national champion Florida Gators. They were named the Sports Illustrated Biggest Cinderella Team of the Decade in college basketball
- Butler University (2010 and 2011)– In 2010, despite having a great season in the Horizon League, going 18-0, including winning the conference tournament, and receiving a #5 seed, Butler, a traditional mid-major power for a decade, was not expected to advance past the Sweet Sixteen. However, after victories over #12 seed UTEP and #13 seed Murray State, Butler upset the heavily favored #1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, and the also heavily favored #2 seed Kansas State in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. They followed by defeating Michigan State in their national semifinal game, before falling to #1Duke. After losing several of its star players to graduation and/or the NBA draft, Butler struggled but still managed to win the conference tournament with a 23-9 record and qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Receiving the #8 seed in the Southeast Region, Butler defeated Old Dominion in the first round. They then upset top-seeded Pittsburgh to advance to the regionals, where they defeated #4 seed Wisconsin and #2 seed Florida to become the first #8 seed since both Wisconsin and North Carolina did so in 2000 to advance to the Final Four. After defeating fellow Cinderella Virginia Commonwealth (see below) in the national semifinal Butler again fell short in the national championship game, losing this time to West Region #3 seed Connecticut.
- Virginia Commonwealth University (2011) – Many fans and analysts, including Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, and Billy Packer, were surprised that VCU was given a berth in the NCAA Tournament as a #11 seed over other teams that seemed to be more deserving of an at-large berth. However, VCU silenced all the critics by upsetting five teams from five different power conferences en route to the Final Four: USC in the First round, #6 seed Georgetown in the second round, #3 seed Purdue in the third round, #10 seed Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen, and #1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight. They became the first team to make the Final Four after playing a play-in game, as well as being the third #11 seed to make the Final Four after LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006. However, just like LSU and George Mason, they were defeated in the Final Four, losing to fellow mid-major Butler.
- Florida Gulf Coast University(2013) team – seeded as a 15 seed, FGCU Eagles pulled off incredible upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State, before losing to Florida. The Eagles became the first 15th seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Northwestern Wildcats (1995) – After years as one of the perennial laughingstocks of college football, the Wildcats won the Big Ten title. In the 1996 Rose Bowl, they lost to the USC Trojans, 41-32. It was the first Bowl game for the Wildcats since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
- RIT Tigers (2009–2010) In their fifth season of Division I play, the RIT Tigers won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, receiving their first bid to an NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament. They defeated #1 Denver and #3 University of New Hampshire in the East Regional in Albany, New York to make it to the Frozen Four. They were the only team to make it to the Frozen Four in their first NCAA tournament appearance, as well as the only Atlantic Hockey team to make it to the Frozen Four. They lost to Wisconsin in the Frozen Four semifinals.
- Afghanistan national team, 2008–09 — After starting 2008 in the World Cricket League Division Five, they had a fairy-tale year that saw them win Division Five, Division Four, and Division Three, putting them in the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier, the qualifying tournament for the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Although the Afghans did not qualify for the World Cup, their fifth-place finish secured them official One Day International status for the next four years.
- South Korea (2002 World Cup) – South Korea became the first Asian team to reach the final four of the World Cup. The South Koreans, who were ranked by FIFA at #40 at the time, advanced by upsetting some very high ranked teams (#5 Portugal, #6 Italy, and #8 Spain) before losing to Germany in the semi-final and to Turkey in the third-place playoff to finish fourth overall.
- Gretna F.C. (2006) – Gretna progressed to the final of the Scottish Cup knocking out Preston Athletic, Cove Rangers, St. Johnstone, Clyde F.C., St. Mirren and Dundee F.C.. They were beaten in the final by Heart of Midlothian on penalties. In their run, Gretna became the first club in the Scottish Second Division to reach the Scottish Cup Final.
- Barnsley F.C. (2008)  – Barnsley advanced to the semi-finals of the FA Cup after knocking out Liverpool and Chelsea, two of the top clubs in English football, in the last two rounds. However, they lost the semi-finals to Cardiff City.
- APOEL F.C. 2011–12 UEFA Champions League – APOEL advanced to the Quarter Finals of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League after losing to Real Madrid C.F many people expected them to get eliminated in the group stages.
- Vancouver Canucks (1982 and 1994) – In 1982, despite having a losing record in the regular season at 30-33-17, the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, sweeping the Calgary Flames and then defeating the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, each in five games. However, they were swept by the two-time defending champion New York Islanders in the Finals. In 1994, the Canucks entered the playoffs as the #7 seed in the newly-renamed Western Conference. They upset Calgary in the first round (rallying from a 3-1 series deficit), then upended the fourth-seeded Dallas Stars and the third-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs, each in five games. In the Finals against the New York Rangers (who had won the Presidents' Trophy during the season), they once again rallied after being down 3-1, but the rally was unsuccessful; the Canucks lost Game 7—the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
- Minnesota North Stars (1991 Stanley Cup Finals) – Despite a losing record in the regular season and being the 16th seeded team in the NHL with only 68 points, the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history. They knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues (the top two teams in the NHL during the regular season) in six games each and the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in five games. The team fought hard against the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Mario Lemieux, winning two out of the first three contests before being obliterated 8-0 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series.
- Florida Panthers (1996 Stanley Cup Finals) – The Panthers, in their third NHL season, surprised the hockey world by spending the majority of the season in first place in the Eastern Conference, but a collapse late in the season prevented them from getting home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The team finished the year with a 41–31–10 record, which was good enough to finish 4th in the East, despite a 16-19-6 record on the road. Though the Panthers were predicted to lose their first ever playoff series to the Boston Bruins, the team relied on the goaltending of John Vanbiesbrouck to carry them past the Bruins. The Cats momentum continued as they continued their improbable run by knocking off the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in six games and the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven, holding both Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr to three points in the series, en route to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in four straight, losing in triple overtime on an Uwe Krupp slapshot goal on home ice.
- Carolina Hurricanes (2002 Stanley Cup Finals) – Though the Hurricanes were seeded third as a division winner, having won the Southeast Division, in actuality they had the second-lowest point total (91) for a playoff team not only in the Eastern Conference, but also the whole NHL. However, they defeated the New Jersey Devils, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs all in six games, to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
- Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003 Stanley Cup Finals) – The Mighty Ducks entered the playoffs as the #7 seed and surprised many by sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, who were the #2 seed, in the first round. They followed that series with a six-game series win over the top-seeded Dallas Stars and a four-game sweep over the sixth-ranked Minnesota Wild to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. There, they met the Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils, who beat the Ducks in seven games. Both teams won every home game played, but the Devils had home ice advantage and thus had a strong edge going into Game 7.
- Calgary Flames (2004 Stanley Cup Finals) - The Calgary Flames were 6th seed going into the playoffs and didn't have home ice advantage through the playoffs. However, they beat the top 3-seeded teams winning against the Canucks in 7, the President's Trophy Winners Detroit Red Wings in 6, and the San Jose Sharks in 6.
- Edmonton Oilers (2006 Stanley Cup Finals) – The Oilers entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They upset the Red Wings (who had 124 points, the first time a team had had 120+ points since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings), and the San Jose Sharks each in six, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in five to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, where they faced the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series without the help of their injured starting goalie before finally losing in Game 7.
- Philadelphia Flyers (2010 Stanley Cup Finals) – The Flyers, inconsistent for much of the season and battling injuries that left them at one point starting their 4th choice goaltender (Johan Backlund), qualified for the playoffs in the final game of the season in a shootout against their rival New York Rangers. As the seventh seed, the Flyers upset rivals and Atlantic Division champions, the New Jersey Devils in five games in the first round. In the second round, the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games, in the process becoming only the third team in NHL history to win a series in which they had trailed 3-0 at one point. In the conference final, they needed just five games to beat the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, who had been on something of a Cinderella run themselves; the Canadiens had defeated the top seeded Washington Capitals and defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. In the Finals, the Flyers lost in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 — the Blackhawks had won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
National Rugby League
- In 2004, the North Queensland Cowboys reached the finals for the first time in their 10-year history. Finishing seventh at the end of the regular season, the Cowboys were drawn against the second-placed Bulldogs in the first week of the finals and pulled off a major upset by winning 30–22. They followed this up with a 10–0 defeat of the Brisbane Broncos on their home ground; this marked the first time the Cowboys had defeated the Broncos in their history. However their run would be ended with a close 19–16 defeat to the Sydney Roosters in the preliminary final.
- In 2005, the Wests Tigers, in just their sixth season of existence, won the premiership. They had never previously made the finals in five seasons and had been as low as 12th on the NRL ladder by the middle of the season. However, they were able to find some good form in the second half of the season to eventually finish the regular season 4th on the ladder. In their first ever finals match, the Tigers scored a big 50–6 victory over the previous year's Cinderella story, the North Queensland Cowboys. This was followed up with a 34–6 victory over the Brisbane Broncos in the second week before going on to upset the premiership favourites St. George Illawarra 20–12 in the preliminary final. This advanced the Wests Tigers to their first ever Grand Final, which was dubbed the "Battle of the Cinderellas", as their opponents were the North Queensland Cowboys who fell one game short of the decider in 2004 but went one better in 2005. The Tigers would then win the Grand Final 30–16 and complete their own Cinderella fairytale.
- In 2009, the Parramatta Eels produced a miracle run to reach the Grand Final; after sitting as low as 14th on the ladder by Round 18, a seven-match winning streak late in the season would see the team finish the regular season placed eighth on the ladder, and thus draw the top-placed St. George Illawarra Dragons in the first round of the finals. The Dragons had beaten the Eels 37–0 in the final round of the regular season (this was the match that ended the Eels' seven-match winning streak), but conjured a turnaround in form to upset the minor premiers 25–12. The Titans went on to defeat the Gold Coast Titans and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in subsequent finals matches, to qualify for the Grand Final match, which they would ultimately lose to the Melbourne Storm (who were since stripped of this title for salary cap breaches). Nevertheless, the Eels became the first (and only) team under the McIntyre System to reach the Grand Final from eighth position on the ladder.
- In 2010, the Canberra Raiders produced a miracle run to reach the finals after sitting as low as 14th on the ladder after Round 17. The Raiders would then win eight of their remaining nine regular season matches, including defeating the eventual minor premiers (and premiers), the St. George Illawarra Dragons, in Round 24; the only loss during this period was against the Melbourne Storm in Round 21, and they only entered the top eight for the first time upon defeating the North Queensland Cowboys in the penultimate round. The Raiders would finish the season in seventh place, and thus drew the second-placed Penrith Panthers in the first round of the finals. Against the odds, the Raiders would upset the Panthers by winning 24–22; this subsequently earnt them a home final against the Wests Tigers which would be played in front of a Canberra Stadium record crowd of 26,476. Unfortunately, the Raiders' dream run wound end with a narrow 26–24 defeat, after Jarrod Croker missed a chance to potentially send the match into extra time after he missed a shot at a penalty goal in the dying minutes. Despite this setback, the Raiders' 2010 season was considered a success given their dismal first half of the season.
- The 2006 Australian Open was best known for the run into the final of unseeded Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis. He upset the second seed Andy Roddick in the fourth round, Ivan Ljubičić in the quarter-finals and came from two sets down to defeat David Nalbandian in the semi-finals, before losing to the top seed Roger Federer in the final. Despite the defeat, Baghdatis' run to the championship match earned him worldwide recognition and popularity, and set the precedence for him cracking the Top 10 later that year.
- The 2008 Australian Open was best known for the run into the final of unseeded French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He reached the championship match by defeating four seeded players, including ninth seed Andy Murray in the first round and second seed Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Tsonga eventually lost the championship match to Novak Djokovic.
- Ana Ivanovic entered the 2010 Cincinnati Masters ranked World No. 62 following the worst extended period of on-court results and injury dating back to a first round loss at the 2009 US Open. She had won only twelve matches in the past eleven months and entered this event with a 12–14 W–L record for the season to date. Drawn against recent Stanford titlist Victoria Azarenka in the first round, Ivanovic was given no hope of beating Azarenka, despite having beaten her in Rome earlier that year. She found herself serving to stay in the match at 2–6, 3–5 down and had to defend Azarenka's serve at 4–5 down in the second set before fighting back to record an upset 2–6, 7–6(8–6), 6–2 victory. Ivanovic later went on to reach the semi-finals before being forced to retire in her match against Kim Clijsters after succumbing to a foot injury. Ana Ivanovic's performance at this tournament saw her return to the WTA's Top 40. This was the turning point of her season, as she would finish 2010 ranked World No. 17 and with a 33–20 W–L record for the year.
- Clint Bowyer had no NASCAR wins prior to the 2007 Chase and he was the only Chase contender without a win in 2007. In the first race he dominated the 2007 Sylvania 300 by leading 218 of the 300 laps that day. He was the only non Hendrick driver that had a shot at winning the Chase. Thougout the Chase he was dubbed as a "Cinderella Story". He came up short while Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon finished ahead of Clint.
- ESPN (2009). ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. New York: ESPN Books. p. 28.
- "Soundclip of Bill Murray in Caddyshack". MovieSoundsCentral. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
- See, for instance, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Sports/2013/0322/March-Madness-2013-Is-Harvard-the-next-Cinderella "...hopeful that Cinderella’s magical carriage won’t turn into a pumpkin just yet."
- See, for instance, http://www.wric.com/story/4714251/clock-strikes-midnight-for-cinderella-team-george-mason "Clock Strikes Midnight For Cinderella Team George Mason"
- Brewer, Jerry (October 26, 2003). "Marlins Stun Yankees for Title; Josh Beckett Pitched a Gem as Florida Completed a Fairy-Tale Run". Orlando Sentinel. p. A1.
- Anderson, Dave (January 13, 1969). "Jets Upset Colts by 16-7 for Title in the Super Bowl". New York Times. p. 1.
- "Football's Super Star; Joseph William Namath". New York Times. January 13, 1969. p. 32.
- Shaughnessy, Dan (February 4, 2008). "History derailed: Giants ruin Patriots' quest for perfection with 17-14 stunner". Boston Globe. p. A1.
- Sullivan, Paul (October 22, 2008). "Amazin' turnabout; Rays' rise evokes memories of Mets' gripping run to '69 title". Chicago Tribune. p. 4.
- Greenstein, Teddy (October 26, 2003). "Happy ending to fish tale; Beckett ices Yanks with 5-hit shutout". Chicago Tribune. p. 1.
- Sheinin, Dave (October 26, 2003). "King Fish; Beckett Blanks Yanks, Cinderella Marlins Stun New York in World Series, 4-2". Washington Post. p. E1.
- "Greatest best-of-7 comeback ever". whowins.com. WhoWins. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
- "Fresno State reaches historic postseason heights". ESPN.com. 2008-06-23. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- Associated Press (2008-06-25). "Fresno State shocks Georgia for first CWS championship". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- Fitzpatrick, Jamie. "Miracle on Ice: American Hockey's Defining Moment". About.com. Retrieved 2009-02-09.
- "Kings are a surprise, but no Cinderella". Retrieved 2012-07-14.
- Livingstone, Seth (October 23, 2008). "'Bossman,' DickieV boost Rays' Upton". USA Today. p. C4.
- Cafardo, Nick (October 30, 2008). "A great finish saved face". Boston Globe. p. C2.
- Robbins, Josh (October 30, 2008). "Phils end Rays' magic". Orlando Sentinel. p. D8. "This Cinderella season did not end happily ever after...The Tampa Bay Rays' Cinderella season is over."
- "Suns: 1975-76". http://www.nba.com/suns/history/00521693.html.
- Wise, Mike (June 26, 1999). "Knicks' Magic Ride is Over". New York Times. p. D1. "After a moment of disbelief had passed over the crowd, they began clapping and saluting this implausible Knicks run that began with a miracle in Miami, swept through Atlanta, somehow overcame Indiana and ended with a four games to one loss in the league championship series."
- Roberts, Selena (June 26, 1999). "Spurs Win Title as Knicks ' Dream Ends". New York Times. p. A1. "It was quite a finish to an improbable and enchanting playoff run for the Knicks."
- 1991 International Year Book. Macmillan Educational Company. 1990. p. 447.
- Hiestand, Michael (March 31, 2011). "Billy Packer agrees with ESPN's Bilas on VCU.". USA Today. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
- Albright, David (March 28, 2010). "RIT downs UNH, reaches Frozen Four". Retrieved November 15, 2011.
- Cole, Stephen (2004). The Best of Hockey Night in Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company. p. 107. ISBN 1-55278-408-8.
- Morrison, Scott (2008). Hockey Night in Canada: My Greatest Day. Toronto: Key Porter Books. pp. 106–109. ISBN 978-1-55470-086-8.
- Miles, Gary (June 13, 1994). "Canucks' Improbable Resurgence Has Vancouver in a Frenzy". Philadelphia Inquirer. p. E2. "How improbable is this resurgence by a team few Easterners know anything about?...It comes as no surprise that the Canucks are pretty worked up about the momentum they have gained...These guys have ignored the odds all season. They did it in the first round against Calgary."
- Hunter, Paul (May 26, 1991). "Lemieux sparks Stars' demise". Toronto Star. p. G1. "The clock struck midnight for the Cinderella North Stars last night. And the fairy tale Minnesota had written through the National Hockey League playoffs came to a grim and disappointing conclusion."
- Robinson, Alan (June 5, 2002). "Carolina canes Detroit, forcing fans to stow brooms". Associated Press. "Carolina finished 25 points behind Detroit in the regular season, the largest gap in the Finals since the Rangers' 27-point edge over Vancouver in 1994."
- Marrapese-Burrell, Nancy (June 5, 2002). "Hurricanes do Damage; They Stun Wings by Winning in OT". Boston Globe. p. F1. "The impressive Cinderella team continued its giant-killing ways at Joe Louis Arena last night, beating the Red Wings at the 58-second mark of overtime, 3-2, and capturing Game 1 of this best-of- seven series."
- MacKinnon, John (June 20, 2006). "Just Out Of Reach: Hurricanes hold on to deny Oilers a perfect ending to cinderella season". Edmonton Journal. p. A1.
- Gallagher, Tony (June 10, 2010). "Cinderella ultimately a bridesmaid; Philly can't escape the noose this time". Vancouver Province. p. A60.
- Carchidi, Sam (June 10, 2010). "Sudden Death; Flyers' unforgettable run ends as Hawks win Cup". Philadelphia Inquirer. p. C1.
- Latham backs 'Cinderella-story' Cowboys - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Fearless Cowboys round up the Dogs - League - smh.com.au
- Cowboys shut out Broncos in NRL semi - League - smh.com.au
- Ready Roosters end Cows' dream run - League - www.smh.com.au
- Tigers maul Cowboys 50-6 in NRL - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events
- Tiger cubs savage Broncos - League - Sport - www.smh.com.au
- Dragons dream over as Tigers roll on - League - Sport - www.smh.com.au
- Fairytale for Wests Tigers - League - Sport - theage.com.au
- Wests Tigers win battle of the Cinderellas - League - Sport - theage.com.au
- Eels shock Dragons in finals boilover - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Melbourne Storm beat Parramatta eels in 2009 NRL Grand Final | thetelegraph.com.au
- Raiders stun Dragons to stay alive - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Raiders keep this year's Cinderella story alive - smh.com.au
- Wests Tigers beat Canberra Raiders in NRL semi final
- Who is Marcos Baghdatis?
- Tennis: Baghdatis puts Roddick's hopes on hold | Sport | The Guardian
- Unseeded Baghdatis upsets Nalbandian - Tennis - ESPN
- BBC SPORT | Tennis | Federer fights back to take title
- Unseeded Tsonga blows away Nadal to reach Australian Open final | Mail Online
- Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee - Australian Open 2008 - Tennis - Sport
- Battling Djokovic outlasts Tsonga – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Ivanovic turns back clock in Cincinnati - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Injured Ivanovic relinquishes final spot - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Ivanovic's Cincinnati fairytale hampered by injury, Clijsters into finals | Ana Ivanovic
- Ivanovic completes turnaround with Bali title - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)