The 25 Biggest Sports Upsets of the Past Decade

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2014

The 25 Biggest Sports Upsets of the Past Decade

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Although no gambling men like upsets, the majority of sports fans can't get enough of them.

    There's nearly nothing better in sports than seeing a team or individual who is given nearly zero chance of winning turn the tables on everyone by shocking a nearly foregone conclusion—at least on paper.

    And with the NCAA tournament just a few weeks away, I'm giving an appetizer as to what might be in store as our brackets get busted with these, the biggest upsets in sports of the past decade.

2004 Boston Red Sox (MLB)

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    Why It Qualifies

    When a team comes from three games down in a best-of-seven series, it deserves to be labeled an upset.

    That's why I just couldn't help but put the Boston Red Sox 2004 ALCS comeback against the hated New York Yankees on this list somewhere.

    The first time to ever happen in MLB history, the Red Sox never gave in, going on the most important four-game winning steak all season long.

     

    End Result

    Not only did this series intensify the Boston-New York rivalry, but 86 years of pain ended for Red Sox fans just a week or so later, as Boston went on to collect its first World Series title since 1918 by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals.

2004 Glen Johnson (Boxing)

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    Why It Qualifies

    When another boxer stepped into the ring against a name like Roy Jones Jr., it usually meant he was going down.

    Glen Johnson didn't want that to happen, though, as he knocked out Jones in the ninth round of a 2004 bout that was looked at as just a tune-up for Jones on his way toward a rematch with Antonio Tarver for a championship belt.

     

    End Result

    Johnson's upset was so big that it actually received recognition as the "Upset of the Year" by Ring magazine.

2009 Netherlands Baseball (World Baseball Classic)

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    Why It Qualifies

    With plenty of MLB superstars born in the Dominican Republic—and few calling the Netherlands their native country—there shouldn't have been much doubt who would win this game in the World Baseball Classic five years ago.

    Too bad the Netherlands didn't pay attention to critics, beating the DR in the prelims and the qualifiers to eliminate them in the first round.

     

    End Result

    Like others you'll see on this list, the Netherlands didn't quite have the staying power, getting ousted in the second round themselves.

2004 Greece Soccer Team (Men's Soccer)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Greek people might have some really good food—and a decent soccer team—but few imagined them winning Euro 2004.

    Going off at 150-1 odds, Greece was able to stun host nation Portugal in the final to cap a run that was certainly served with plenty of pita and tzatziki, I'm sure.

     

    End Result

    As great as the European title was, Greece wasn't able to parlay it into anything bigger, failing to even qualify for the World Cup in Germany just a few years later.

2005 Bucknell Men's Basketball (NCAA Tournament)

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    Why It Qualifies

    When fans see a team like the Kansas Jayhawks matched up against a No. 14-seeded team like the Bucknell Bisons in the NCAA tourney, it usually takes them about two seconds to write "Kansas" onto the next line.

    Ah, but Bucknell had other ideas, as the Bison showed they weren't intimidated by the Jayhawks, winning 64-63, which also earned them the ESPY Award for the "Best Upset."

     

    End Result

    The high that Bucknell felt from the win quickly evaporated, as they were sent packing following their next game against Wisconsin, losing 71-62 to end their season.

2011 Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

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    Why It Qualifies

    There weren't too many people who gave the 7-9 NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks much of a chance against the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in this playoff matchup from 2011—even if it was at home.

    But thanks to an earth-shattering run by Hawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Seattle made sure there would be another team lifting the Lombardi Trophy, winning 41-36.

     

    End Result

    The Seahawks were unable to carry the momentum on the road with them, losing to the Chicago Bears the following week.

2010 James Madison Football (NCAA Football)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Aren't teams like Virginia Tech supposed to beat FCS teams when they come into their stadium early in the season?

    One would think so, but it wasn't what happened back in 2010, as the James Madison Dukes beat the No. 13-ranked Hokies, 21-16, to remind everyone that games aren't won on paper, but head-to-head on the gridiron.

     

    End Result

    James Madison went on to win their next game to get off to a 3-0 start, but lost five of their next eight to finish the season at 6-5 overall.

    For the Hokies, after starting 0-2, they were able to win their remaining regular season and conference title game to reach the Orange Bowl—where they were exposed (again) by the Stanford Cardinal, losing 40-12.

2010 Stanford Women's Basketball (NCAA Basketball)

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    Why It Qualifies

    I know that most people might not consider a No. 9-ranked team in the nation beating the top team in the country an upset, but when one considers the stakes, it becomes a little more clear.

    Riding a record 90-game win streak that hadn't seen them lose in over two years, UConn was caught off guard by a Stanford Cardinal team by getting beat 71-59 in 2010.

     

    End Result

    Both teams did reach the Final Four in Indianapolis later that season, yet neither won their national semifinal game, with the Huskies losing to Notre Dame and the Cardinal to eventual champion Texas A&M.

2004 Detroit Pistons (NBA)

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    Why It Qualifies

    For anyone who watched the 2004 NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and L.A. Lakers, they saw a complete team effort to beat the mighty Purple and Gold.

    With future Hall of Fame players Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, along with Phil Jackson at the helm, it was believed L.A. would run away with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    After Detroit stole Game 1 in L.A., though, the series was set for them to win it all, which they did by getting all three games back home to win the title and shock the world.

     

    End Result

    The Pistons remained intact the following year, making another run at the Finals, only to lose in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.

    For the Lakers, they found themselves in rebuild mode, trading away Shaq, waving goodbye to Jackson and struggling to a 34-48 season that included two head coaches.

2006 George Mason Men's Basketball (NCAA Basketball)

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    Why It Qualifies

    As you'll see in a few other upsets I've listed here, George Mason's improbable run to the Final Four in the 2006 NCAA tournament might not have been just one shocking upset, or even led to a national title, but it was a four-game stretch of mind-blowing results.

    With each win, fans found themselves doubting the Patriots, only for the small school from Fairfax, Va., to continue winning.

    To reach the Final Four, George Mason beat a No. 6 seed (Michigan State), a No. 3 seed (North Carolina), a No. 7 seed (Wichita State) and the No. 1 seed (Connecticut).

     

    End Result

    The team's run may have ended with a 15-point loss to the eventual champions—the Florida Gators—but ask anyone who watched that tourney and they'll most likely remember GMU's as giving them March madness.

2008 Japanese Softball Team (Olympics)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Softball might not be an Olympic sport any longer, but before the IOC pulled it from the Summer Games, it went out with a bang.

    That's because the Japanese softball team upset the United States in the gold-medal game, winning 3-1 and ending the U.S.' 22-game win streak in Olympic play that stretched back all the way to 2000.

     

    End Result

    As mentioned, the U.S. unfortunately didn't get a chance at redemption, and the Japanese team didn't get to prove it wasn't just a fluke by defending their gold medal at the 2012 Games.

    But hey, cheers to the memories!

2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Why It Qualifies

    It may not have been a one-game upset like a few others on this list, but because the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers' run ended by lifting the Lombardi Trophy, it deserves to be mentioned as a big upset.

    Following a season in which they earned the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Steelers preceded their title run by winning three straight road games against the top-three seeded teams, ultimately becoming the first No. 6 seed to ever win the Super Bowl.

     

    End Result

    In short, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis won a ring in his final game, doing so in his hometown of Detroit.

    They were unable to duplicate the magic the following year, however, going just 8-8 and missing out on the playoffs.

2009 United States Soccer (Men's Soccer)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Go ahead and say what you want to about this upset coming in a secondary tournament like the 2009 Confederations Cup, but what the United States men's team did in beating Spain is nothing short of spectacular.

    Given that the U.S. had lost two of its three group games—surrendering four goals to two—the fact they even got to the knockout round was lucky enough.

    But to then see the red, white and blue beat a Spanish side that had not lost in 35 straight matches was mind-boggling.

     

    End Result

    It didn't go as well for the U.S. in the Finals of the tournament, as they lost to Brazil 3-2.

    As for Spain, well, I'd say they rebounded quite nicely, as they went on to win the World Cup Finals a year later in the same country—South Africa—in which they lost to the Yanks.

2007 Golden State Warriors (NBA)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Sure, anytime a No. 8 seed beats a No. 1, that's going to be considered shocking. But what makes the Golden State Warriors' upset of the Dallas Mavericks even more impressive is that it wasn't just one game, but over an entire series.

    As a bit of redemption for Golden State—and former Dallas—head coach Don Nelson, his Warriors beat league MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the 67-win Mavs in six games.

     

    End Result

    As talented as the Warriors looked in their first-round series against Dallas, they failed to impress in the next round against the Utah Jazz, losing in five games.

2007 Stanford Cardinal Football (NCAA Football)

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    Why It Qualifies

    The script might currently be flipped with the Stanford Cardinal being more successful than their Pac-12 opponents, the USC Trojans. But just a few years ago, the Cardinal were looking for a signature win to define the program.

    Coming in as a whopping 40-point underdog to play SC, Stanford scored a touchdown with under a minute to play and completely shocked the Trojans in the Coliseum by winning 24-23, overcoming the biggest point spread ever in college football history.

     

    End Result

    The bad thing about this win for the Cardinal is that it didn't hold much impact on the season that year, but it did show what then-first-year coach Jim Harbaugh was trying to build, which he did in his time in Palo Alto.

2008 Fresno State Baseball (NCAA Baseball)

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    Why It Qualifies

    The 2008 Fresno State baseball team may have just been the definition of a Cinderella.

    Qualifying for the NCAA tournament only because they won their conference tourney, the Bulldogs went just 33-27 before finding themselves celebrating as national champions of the college baseball world.

     

    End Result

    Even after capturing the school's first national championship, the team struggled in 2009, finishing third in the WAC and just 32-30 overall.

2007 Appalachian State Football (NCAA Football)

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    Why It Qualifies

    It might be easy to find some deficiencies in the 2007 Michigan Wolverines football team now, seeing that they finished with a 9-4 record, but when they took the field against FCS team Appalachian State in the Big House, the then-No. 5 ranked Wolverines were a national title competitor.

    That all changed when the Mountaineers blocked a last-ditch field-goal attempt to stun the winningest college football program in history.

     

    End Result 

    As I mentioned for Michigan, their season was topsy-turvy, struggling with injuries and inconsistency to play in the Capital One Bowl, where they lost to the Florida Gators.

    As for the Mountaineers, they would go on to win their third straight FCS national championship.

2007 Matt Serra (UFC)

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Why It Qualifies

    As someone who admits to not watching UFC, even I know the name Georges St-Pierre, although I don't know much about him.

    Still, when researching some of the biggest upsets to ever happen in the Octagon, this one seemed to stand out more than others, mainly because Matt Serra wasn't even supposed to be there in the first place.

    Typically, fighters are meant to earn their spot to win the UFC Welterweight belt. But after winning a reality TV show to get a shot at St-Pierre, the scrappy Serra proved he was no joke and actually won the bout.

     

    End Result

    The two met in a rematch a year later, with St-Pierre coming out on top.

2009 Juan Martin Del Potro (Men's Tennis)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Holding the record for the most Grand Slam titles in history, there were few people who ever believed that world No. 1 Roger Federer would falter against the No. 6-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 U.S. Open final.

    People aren't right all the time, though.

    Although it took five sets, del Potro earned himself his first Grand Slam title to stun tennis fans.

     

    End Result

    For both men involved in this match, it hasn't gone too great.

    In del Potro's case, he has yet to find the same magic he displayed during this run, reaching the semifinals in a major twice, but not yet getting to the championship round.

    For Federer, this loss has suddenly set a trend, with him losing more in Slam finals than winning in them.

2007 New York Giants (NFL)

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    Why It Qualifies

    What was all that talk about the 2007 New England Patriots becoming the best team ever, going 19-0 and winning the Super Bowl?

    Yeah, the New York Giants had other thoughts.

    After coming into the playoffs as the NFC's No. 5 seed and winning three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, the G-Men made use of their time while there, making history in grand fashion by ending the Pats' chance at history and winning the Super Bowl.

     

    End Result

    As if getting beat by Eli Manning and the Giants once wasn't enough, New York had New England's number again just a few years later, winning another title over a Patriots team that was favored—shouldn't we all have learned?

2006 Boise State Football (NCAA Football)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Let's hear it for the little guys!

    Although Boise State had proven to be a formidable program over the past decade leading up to this game, there were few sports fans who believed they could knock off the Oklahoma Sooners to win the Fiesta Bowl.

    They did, though.

    Using trick plays and an uptempo pace, the Broncos were able to shock OU in what turned out to be not only one of the most exciting college games ever, but one with a shocking ending as well.

     

    End Result

    It propelled Boise State into the national spotlight, instantly solidifying their program as one that could not only compete, but could also actually beat the big boys.

    They have since played in and won their only other BCS game since.

2009 Y.E. Yang (PGA)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Anytime people don't see Tiger Woods win a major title, they get a bit shocked. But when it happens after he leads going into the final round, that's even more unbelievable.

    That's why the 2009 PGA Championship was so crazy, because Woods blew a three-stroke lead while wearing his usual red shirt for the first time ever in a major tourney, and it came at the hands of the 110th-ranked player in the world, Y.E. Yang.

     

    End Result

    What makes this upset even bigger is that Yang has won just two total tournaments as a PGA professional. So while it was big for him to knock off Tiger then, looking back now, it's nearly unfathomable because his career hasn't done much since.

2012 Lehigh and 2013 Florida Gulf Coast Men's Basketball (NCAA Basketball)

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    Why It Qualifies 

    While there haven't been any No. 16-seeded teams to beat a top seed in the men's NCAA tournament, there have been a few instances of the next biggest upset—a No. 15 stunning a No. 2—and wouldn't you know it, it happened in back-to-back years?

    Lehigh beat basketball blue-blood Duke in 2012, and Florida Gulf Coast busted everyone's bracket by beating royalty as well, knocking off Georgetown.

     

    End Result

    Although Lehigh was excited to beat the Blue Devils and hope they were wearing Cinderella's glass slipper, they failed to win their next game, losing to Xavier, 70-58.

    In FGCU's case, though, they were able to at least stick around until the following weekend, becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen by beating San Diego State.

2012 Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

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    Why It Qualifies

    While there were a few other teams that entered the NHL playoffs as No. 8 seeds and upset No. 1s, the L.A. Kings were the first to do so and finish their run by hoisting the Stanley Cup.

    It wasn't that the Kings just beat the top-seeded, Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, it's that they pulverized them, winning the series decidedly, 4-1.

     

    End Result

    As I mentioned, this team may have been a team of destiny—even if they did enter the postseason with 95 regular-season points—as they stormed through the rest of the playoff bracket, losing only three more games during the rest of their run.

2009 Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby)

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    Why It Qualifies

    Anything that goes off at 50-1 odds and actually wins should be considered a gargantuan upset.

    I know, horse racing isn't nearly as popular as these other sports are, but think about that for a second—50-1.

    Besides, I went to University of Kentucky, so I had friends who made quite a bit of cash when this colt won.

     

    End Result

    After taking the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, Mine That Bird may have become a media darling, but he wasn't as lucky in winning the following races, finishing second at Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.