The clock was ticking down; Slowly, inexorably, yet ticking all the same. As a spectator, you could feel the animal pull of the success that was soon to be bestowed on them, the sporting immortality they were soon to achieve. A look at his watch, and the referee finally blew the whistle! That was it, they were champions!
Thus it was that Leicester City romped to the Barclays Premier League title, with their close rivals for the trophy, Tottenham Hotspur, managing to somehow draw, after squandering a 2 goal lead against a less-than-overwhelming Chelsea side.
As 5000-1 outsiders for the title, Leicester City all but shattered the wall of elitism of the top clubs in the Premier League - a chasm that separated them from the rest of the.. Shall we say.. “mortal” teams. Leicester had invaded that sacrosanct space, and made it theirs. A spot in history books is sure to follow!
That spot is by no means a fluke; You don’t win the most competitive league in the world, whose outcome is decided over 38 intensely fought games, simply by chance. Claudio Ranieri’s side worked hard, grafted for each other, and stayed calm and positive when they were being sniggered at as punching high above their weight. They took the pedestals from underneath the Gods of English Football, and established their own identity, the Identity Of The Underdogs.
With the Premier League finally returning last weekend, focus will yet again shift to the monumental Triumph Of The Underdogs last season experienced. The romance associated with David trumping Goliath will yet again be in the air, and the magic of last season will dazzle and enthrall!
Just before you plonk yourselves in front of your seats with cola and popcorn for company, though, cheering yourself hoarse for your favorite Premier League club, we have a little something in the form of appetizers for you. In this article, we celebrate the Underdog Spirit, by bringing you tales of passion, commitment and seemingly miraculous but completely deserved triumphs of those who were deemed Underdogs by the majority.
Appetites will be whetted. Hearts will throb. Inspiration will be meted out by tons!
Francis Ouimet (US Open 1913) In the early 1900’s, golf was a sport dominated by the Europeans, especially by the British. It was also considered to be a sport for the wealthy. Enter Francis Oiumet, a 20-year-old from a working class immigrant family. He had taught himself to play golf using balls he found on a course where he worked as a caddie. In 1913, with a 10-year-old caddie, the 20-year-old amateur beat the world’s two best professionals — England’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray — in an 18-hole playoff to win the US Open. Many believe that the attention he received in the media made golf a mainstream sport in the US. A biographical movie named “The Greatest Game Ever Played” with Shia LeBeouf starring as Oiumet was released in 2005. Prick up your ears, movie buffs! This is an absorbing movie and worth a watch for non-golf fans too!
Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston (1964)
Sonny Liston was the most feared fighters of the early sixties. His brutal knockouts had instilled fear in all the other boxers, except one. Cassius Clay was a decade younger than the heavyweight champ Liston and was given no chance to win a fight between the two but he walked around boasting how he would destroy Liston. Before the fight, he warned that he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He started the fight very strong and used speed and footwork to his advantage against the slower Liston. After six rounds of dominance, the underdog Clay forced Liston to concede defeat and thereby won by technical knockout. He had just pulled off a huge upset and he went on to announce to the world, “I am the greatest!” Later known as Mohammad Ali, he went on to rule the sport of boxing for a long time. He was often called the “People’s Champ” and was the first fighter to capture the heavyweight title three times.
Boris Becker (Wimbledon 1985) Nicknamed 'Boom Boom', a 17-year-old teenager won over the hearts of all tennis fans in the summer of 1985. Boris Becker entered his first Wimbledon an unseeded player with no expectations. But he tore through the draw and inexplicably delivered one upset after another and reached the final. He used big serves and strong backhands to his advantage, but it was mainly his all court game and overly-aggressive style which enabled him to win the final 6–3, 6–7, 7–6, 6–4 against the in-form Kevin Curren. He became the first German ever to win the title, and the first unseeded player. He is now a happily retired six time Grand Slam champion with a successful coaching career, but Boris Becker will always be remembered as the youngest male champion in the history of the All England Club.
South African rugby team (Rugby World Cup 1995) This remarkable story of the South African team winning the Rugby World Cup of 1995 did not only affect the sport for years to come, but it also united an entire nation which had been torn apart by apartheid. At the time, rugby had traditionally been known to be a white man’s sport in South Africa, earning no support from the black population because black players were excluded from the team. But the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, took the opportunity to heal the wounds of apartheid by interacting with the team, motivating them and even attending the final in a Springboks jersey (the “white man’s” jersey). South Africa reached the final against all odds and pulled off a major upset when they beat tournament favourites New Zealand in extra-time. Watch the award winning movie “Invictus” which beautifully shows this inspiring true story.
Liverpool FC (UEFA Champions League 2005)
The six minutes that shook the world! Liverpool pulled off one of the most stunning escapes in the final of the UEFA Champions League against the favourites AC Milan in 2005. Losing 0-3 at half time against the Europe’s strongest side, almost everyone wrote them off and looked forward to an embarrassing defeat. But their fans believed and they lit up one of the most intimidating atmospheres inside the stadium during the break. The players could hear them sing the famous club anthem “You’ll never walk alone” from the dressing rooms and they came back to the pitch inspired, led by the determination of their captain Steven Gerrard and with the cunning tactics of the manager Rafa Benitez in their heads. They scored in the 54th, 56th and 59th minute to overcome this seemingly unassailable lead and tied the game at 3-3, and then went on to win the penalty shootout to complete what is today heralded as “The Miracle of Istanbul.” It has gone down as one of the best ever comebacks of any sport. You can look up video highlights of this match online and are guaranteed to get goosebumps!
Dipa Karmakar (Rio Olympics 2016)
And as we are celebrating the Underdog Spirit, how can we fail to take a look at the Rio Olympics, where we were done proud by a girl who overcame all odds to obtain the golden ticket to Rio? Dipa Karmakar, who was initially flat-footed, had to first grate to bring curves to her feet, as flat feet would have affected the spring she needed for artistic gymnastics.
It was a fairytale run for her at the Rio Olympics. Unfazed from all the fierce competition she has had to face from highly talented and accomplished gymnasts in Rio, she managed to reach the individual vault finals. An unruffled and proud Dipa gave it her all in the finals, missing the bronze medal by a whisker. She may not have won a medal, but she surely won a billion hearts!
Here’s wishing best luck to all the Indians at the Rio Olympics. May the Underdog spirit carry you to your goals and destinies!
Underdog stories have lingered on from time immemorial to be told and retold, for the very purpose of providing inspiration. It is people like Muhammad Ali and teams like Leicester who recreate that magic and fantasy for us, and make us believe in our own selves even in the direst of circumstances. That, most of all, is the true essence of sportsman spirit, which all of us can learn.
That’s all for now. Stay happy! Stay inspired!