Underdog Sports: The Top Five Underdog Pro Athletes
Continuing the tradition and focus of the website Underdog Sports, we are announcing the top five underdogs in U.S. professional sports.
The criteria we are using is similar to that used to rank venues and teams.
1. The degree to which obstacles and disadvantages were overcome to achieve greatness.
2. The degree to which one's team is also an underdog.
3. Other aspects of the personal story that enhance underdog status.
4. The degree to which the individual was under-rated or unknown prior to legendary achievement.
No. 5: Herb Brooks, Coach of Underdogs
He felt a strong sense of unfinished business a player for US national and Olympic teams, having never won a medal. It gave him a chip on his shoulder, despite success as a college coach.
He went from working at an insurance agency and playing amateur hockey to coaching the University of Minnesota, first as an assistant, then as Head Coach, beginning in 1972.
He began to establish his underdog coaching credentials by winning the NCAA Division I Championship in his second year, 1974. But what really gives him "Doggie" cred is that he was the first to win this title with a team exclusively made up of U.S. born talent.
And then, six years later, though his methods were questioned by players and even his assistants, Brooks pulled the ultimate underdog-rabbit out of the hat by coaching the U.S. Olympic team, a team of amateurs, to a Gold Medal against the Soviet team of professionals—what could be considered the greatest upset in the history of sport.
There is no doubt that Brooks is the only coach that could have achieved this. There may be a few coaches who have personal stories that are more impressive from an underdog perspective, but the combination of Brooks' story of unfulfilled Olympic dreams, his insurance-agent day job, and his achievements at University of Minnesota and ultimately the Miralce on Ice make him the greatest Underdog Coach.
Note: Yes, this is a list of professional athletes, so how does Brooks qualify? He finished his career coaching in the NHL even though his greatest underdog achievements were in the amateur ranks. Of course even in college and The Olympics he was a professional coach, and in the Olympics he coached his team against a professional team. Finally, had it not been for his success in the amateur realm, he never would have become a coach in professional hockey. Thus, he qualifies, especially since it's my list and I make and interpret the rules.
No. 4: Francis Ouimet, The Caddy who Beat The Daddys
You may have seen the movie. In 1913 this 20-year-old American caddy changed the image of golf in this country with his totally unexpected victory over English superstars Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in the U.S. Open that year.
No. 3: Randy Smith, Braves/Clippers
He attended a Division III school. Basketball was this third sport, after Track and Soccer. He was drafted by the Buffalo Braves as a publicity stunt, in the seventh round, 104th overall, not expected to make the team.
Not only did he make the roster, he was a starter within a year and was MVP of the 1978 NBA All Star game, coming off the bench in the second half, scoring 29 points in 27 minutes.
He set the iron man record, playing in 906 consecutive games until he was waived by the Clippers—a record that stood for another 14 years before being broken by A.C. Green.
No. 2: (Three-way Tie) Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird & Rachael Alexandra
How is it that the darkest of dark horses wins the Derby (Mine That Bird, 50-1 odds, made a last to first run from 30 lengths back), the first filly to win a Triple Crown jewel since 1924 (Rachael Alexandra) takes the Preakness, and both have the same jockey?
Is Borel just lucky to have drawn the two biggest underdogs in horse racing history in two consecutive marquis events, or is it Borel who has made these ponies what they are?
We're saying it is the ponies AND the jockey. We give the benefit of the doubt to all three in a three-way tie for this honor.
But Borel is a story with or without these horses. An eighth grade dropout from St. Martin's Parish in rural Louisiana, Borel who was unable to read or write just eight years ago and still has trouble with words and awkwardly handles a pen, has ridden to the top of his field with his uncanny ability to read a thoroughbred and write the most unlikely racing schemes.
So who says dogs can't be horses?
No. 1: Kurt Warner, Rams & Cardinals
Most of us know the story: bagging groceries one year and leading the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl, the next. That alone would earn Warner the top spot, but for him to do it again, after it appeared his ship had sailed, and with a team as unlikely as the Cardinals, gets him a double crown.