Underdog (term)

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An "underdog" is a person or group in a competition, usually in sports and creative works, who is popularly expected to lose.[1] The party, team, or individual expected to win is called the favorite or top dog. In the case where an underdog wins, the outcome is an upset. An "underdog bet" is a bet on the outsider in which odds are high.[2]

The first recorded uses of the term occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century;[3][4] its first meaning was "the beaten dog in a fight".[5]

Victories by underdogs[edit]


American politics[edit]


  • In 1921 in American college football, Centre College defeated Harvard, the defending national champions, 6–0. The Associated Press called it the greatest sports upset in the first-half of the 20th century.[6]
  • In 1935, boxer James J. Braddock ("Cinderella Man") defeated heavyweight champion Max Baer as the 10-to-1 underdog in a major upset.
  • On July 16, 1950, during the 1950 FIFA World Cup final in Brazil, Uruguay defeated the highest ranked team in the world and seemingly certain winners, Brazil, 2-1 to win the tournament in one of the greatest upsets ever in Brazilian football history. Another upset in the tournament was the USA victory over the highly ranked England, 1-0.
  • In the 1954 FIFA World Cup, Germany defeated Hungary 3-2 from 2-0 down to win the final. The amazing upset is called the Miracle of Bern. Hungary's Golden Team had dominated the sport for several years in the 1950s, including beating the Germans 8-3 in the first round of the tournament. The final was their only defeat between May 1950 and February 1956.
  • In 1963 lowly Newport RFC beat the All Blacks – the only defeat of their 36 match tour.
  • In the 1964 Ali versus Liston and 1974 Rumble in the Jungle fights, boxer Muhammad Ali was expected to lose against Sonny Liston and George Foreman respectively, who were both hard-punching heavyweight champions, with Foreman being undefeated before the bout. Ali defeated them in major upsets. In 1975, underdog Chuck Wepner almost went the distance with Ali, which was later the main inspiration for the fictional character of Rocky Balboa in the films Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979).
  • In the 1969 World Series the New York Mets won in five games over the Baltimore Orioles. The Mets had never finished higher than ninth place (next to last) nor won more than 73 games in a season since entering the National League in 1962. This earned them the nickname "The Miracle Mets."
  • In Super Bowl III, the New York Jets, led by quarterback Joe Namath, defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts (led by Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas) by a score of 16-7. Namath had publicly guaranteed the win despite being distant longshots.
  • Super Bowl IV was also a significant upset; the Kansas City Chiefs were considered underdogs against the Minnesota Vikings, but thanks to the Vikings grossly underestimating their opponent, the Chiefs took advantage and won, proving that Super Bowl III was not a fluke and providing the American Football League much-needed legitimacy as it merged with the National Football League the following offseason.
  • In 1980, the United States hockey team, consisting of amateurs and college players, defeated the Olympic hockey superpower, the Soviet Union. The home-country press dubbed the upset the "Miracle on Ice".
  • In 1978, Irish provincial rugby union team, Munster, defeated the touring New Zealand All Blacks by 12 points to nil. The game was later turned into a stage play, Alone it Stands.
  • In 1985, 8th-seeded Villanova defeated top-seeded and defending champion Georgetown in the championship game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
  • In 1992, driver/owner Alan Kulwicki was just 30 points behind points leader Davey Allison entering the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the last race of the 1992 season. Kulwicki rallied back into contention after a crash at Dover and was 278 points behind Bill Elliott with six races to go and most likely out of the title race. With problems among the top contenders in the ladder part of the season, his Ford "Underbird" (named it because he felt like the underdog) was back in the hunt after a string of great runs, and at the finale, Kulwicki led one more lap than Elliott (103-102) to clinch the title and win it by 10 points. He was the last driver-owner to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, until on November 20, 2011, Tony Stewart won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship over Carl Edwards in similar circumstances to Kulwicki. Stewart won through a tiebreaker as points were matched, Stewart won on number of wins, Stewart's 5 to Edwards' 1. Stewart won the championship for his own team Stewart-Haas Racing making him the first driver-owner to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since Kulwicki.
  • In the 1996 Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka defeated top ranked Australia in the final in front of the sell out Lahore Crowd. Sri Lanka's game style over the course of the series revolutionized One Day International Cricket, and was characterized by highly aggressive batting in the first fifteen overs of the innings in order to take advantage of the fielding restrictions imposed during this period. This strategy has since become a hallmark of One Day International cricket. Sri Lanka is the only ICC Trophy winning team to have gone on to win the Cricket World Cup.
  • Boxer James "Buster" Douglas, given odds of 42-to-1 by one Las Vegas sports book, handed the previously-undefeated Mike Tyson his first ever professional defeat in Tokyo, Japan on February 11, 1990. This was the largest upset in the history of boxing.
  • In 2001, the hugely favored Iowa State University basketball team, a 2 seed lost to the Hampton University basketball team, a 15 seed, in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. It was only the fourth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, that a 15 seed won a game, and it is still the only time since Coppin State University beat South Carolina in the 1997 tournament.
  • In 2001, Goran Ivanišević won the men's singles title at Wimbledon as a wild card. He is the first and only man to have done so.
  • In the 2002 Winter Olympics the Australian short track speed skater Steven Bradbury, well off the pace of the medal favorites, won the 1,000 m event after all of his opponents were involved in a last corner pile-up.
  • In the Euro 2004 football competition, Greece, which some sports books gave 150-1 odds to win at the start of the tournament, defeated the hosts Portugal in their opening match, also the defending champions France, then favourites Czech Republic in the semi-finals, and Portugal again in the final, to win the trophy in probably the most unexpected victory in football history.
  • In Super Bowl XLII the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14. The Patriots had gone the season undefeated and were predicted to win by 12 points.
  • In 2004 ALCS the Boston Red Sox were down 3–0 to the New York Yankees and then the Red Sox went on to beat the Yankees four games in a row to win the AL pennant 4–3. The Red Sox would go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series champions since 1918.
  • In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays went from last to first in the AL East and into the 2008 World Series. Their underdog run ended there when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies four games to one.
  • The Afghanistan national cricket team began 2008 in the World Cricket League Division Five, the fifth tier of One Day International cricket. In May of that year, they won Division Five, starting a fairy-tale year that saw them also win Divisions Four and Three, putting them in the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier. Although the Afghans' fifth-place finish in that event left them out of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, it gave them the consolation prize of official ODI status for the next four years, effectively placing them in the second tier of the sport.
  • In 2014, the St. Andrews Men's Hockey Club, having finished third in the second league of Scottish Hockey, played national champions Kelburne Hockey Club 1st XI in the second round of the Scottish Cup. With a far less experienced team, they secured a remarkable victory, winning in sudden-death on penalty flicks.[7]

Song contests[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keinan, Anat; Avery, Jill; Paharia, Neeru. "Capitalizing on the Underdog Effect". Harvard Business Review (November 2010). Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
    "Everyone loves a scrappy underdog", as the article observes
  2. ^ Sports betting glossary, http://www.sportytrader.co.uk/betting-glossary.htm
  3. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underdog. Webster online says first use 1859.
  4. ^ The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, Third Edition, 1983. First use 1887.
  5. ^ The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, Third Edition, 1983
  6. ^ "Centre College Remembers Day When It Was King of the Gridiron". [dead link]
  7. ^ [1]

External links[edit]

  • "Top dog". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 2013-09-19.