The Greatest Sports Underdog Stories

Everybody loves a good underdog story, especially ourselves.  Some of the below moments have been made immortal by TV, others forgotten about but all are great.

Leicester City – Premier League

sports underdog stories

The Premier League is an annual event where some of the richest teams in the world battle it out for that all important title.

Rewind back to the 2015/16 season where Leicester City started the year as 5000/1 favourites.  In the previous season they just made it through Premier League relegation and posed no threat whatsoever to the big boys.  They had never won the title in their 132 year history but that was all about to unexpectedly change.  64 year old Italian coach Claudio Ranieri somehow transformed his team into champions while spending a fraction of what the big clubs were spending.  In what is one of the greatest modern sports underdog stories, Leicester City they won the Premier League title in 96!  They were such underdogs, that Gary Lineker vowed to present his show in his underwear if they were to win the Premier League – and he did.

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James Braddock – The Cinderella Man

greatest sports underdog

What an amazing true underdog story..

In 1929, Braddock lost a heavyweight championship title bout badly fracturing his right hand. He then went on to lose 20 of his next 33 fights and had to take a job as a dockworker to make money.   He then got a fight against rising talent John Griffin, in which he was expected to be mere fodder, but Braddock surprised everyone with a knockout. Two further victories gave him another title shot against Max Baer. Again he was given little chance of victory as a heavily weighted underdog.  In 1935 Braddock defied all critics and pulled off boxing’s greatest upset, taking the world heavyweight championship from Max Baer.

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His amazing story was made legend by Hollywood in 2008  with Russell Crowe starring in the 2008 biopic Cinderella Man.

Greece 20o4 World Cup

Greece has never been considered a world beater when it comes to football.  And in the 2004 World Cup, after losing their first two qualifying matches, there was no reason to suspect otherwise.   But their luck changed and they went on to win six games in a row making it to the group stage.  They proceeded to beat out France in the quarterfinals. Next up, Greece took on the Czech Republic and came out with a close win. Against all odds, they beat Portugal 1-0 in the finals and making football history in the process.

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Japan beat South Africa at the RWC 2015

Ask any rugby fan what their fondest memories are from the last 10 years and we bet the 2014 Rugby World Cup pool B game between South Africa and Japan will be mentioned.  South Africa were overwhelming favourites world champions in both 1995 and 2007.  Japan had not won a World Cup game since 1991, so this was expected to be business as usual.

But then Japan stunned two-time champions South Africa to cause arguably the biggest upset in rugby union history.  The final score Japan 34 – South Africa 32 would see a new giant emerge in world rugby and earn Japan millions of new fans around the world.

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John Daly USPGA – 1991

greatest sports underdog

Going into the 1991 USPGA Championship, John Daly was not only unknown, but he was not supposed to even play.  However his luck changed when Nick Price withdrew at the last minute to be at the birth of his first child.  As fate would have it eight players on the alternates list could not get to the tournament, but ninth on the reserve list got in his car and drove through the night arriving at Crooked Stick, Indianapolis on the Thursday ready to play.  And so began the story of John Daly.  He had never seen or played the course, but Price’s caddie Jeff Medlin was still on there and having done all the reconnaissance, agreed to work that week for Daly.  With his long blonde hair and ‘grip it and rip it’ mentality, Daly became an instant crowd favourite and this support spurred him on to defy odds of 1000-1 to win the major!

Boris Becker Wimbledon 1985

greatest sports underdog

In the build-up to the 1985 Wimbledon Championships, a 17-year-old German face focused his preparations on the pre Wimbledon, Queens Club grass.  Have only turned professional the year before, this new serve and volley powerhouse – Boris Becker launched himself on to the tennis circuit by winning the Wimbledon warm up tournament.

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Three weeks later he became Wimbledon’s first-ever unseeded champion beating Kevin Curran in 4 sets.  He would go on to win another 5 grand slam titles.

USA V’s England World Cup 1950

The story goes that, upon receiving word that the USA had beaten England 1-0 in the first round of the 1950 tournament, several English newspapers simply assumed there had been some sort of typographical error, and instead published the result as 10-0 or 10-1 to the English.

The American team for the 1950 World Cup  was a misfit of semi-pros who played together only once before the tournament and had lost their first game 3-1 to Spain.  But in their second game the USA provided one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history by beating the massive favourites 1-0.

This game later got the Hollywood treatment in a film called The Miracle Match.

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Men’s US Hockey Team Winter Olympics 1980

sports underdog stories

The 1980 men’s USA Olympic hockey team created a great sporting underdog story known as  “The Miracle on Ice”

The USA team made up of amateurs and college stars had a good start to the Winter Olympics, playing some good hockey but they were given little chance against the The Soviets who on the other hand were made up of players with a rich history playing together.  The four-time defending gold medalists were always the team to beat.  That of course led to the famous Al Michael’s line “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

The USA created that miracle by beating the Soviets 4–3 and then winning gold the gold medal by beating Finland 4-2 in the final.

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Eddie The Eagle Winter Olympics 1998

sports underdog stories

When Michael “Eddie” Edwards did not make the cut as a downhill skier for Great Britain, he changed tack and took up ski jumping.  In a great story of grit and determination, he did it the hard way – with big falls ( once on the 60m he fell on his face breaking his teeth, my jaw and collarbone)  and little support.  Eddie was living in a mental hospital in Finland when he was told that he had qualified for the 1988 Games.  He became the first competitor since 1928 to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping, finishing last in the 70 m and 90 m events.

But his lack of success made him a sensation around the world.  He subsequently became a media celebrity appearing on talk shows around the world.  The press nicknamed him “Mr. Magoo”.

In 2016 global stardom revisited Eddie when the film Eddie the Eagle was released.

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Got another great sports underdog stories that deserves a mention?  Send it to us –

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