It is only early November, but 2016 will go down as the year of the underdog in sports. Here are some of the moments where underdogs became champions.
Villanova men’s basketball: Marcus Paige of the North Carolina Tar Heels hit one of the biggest three pointers in college basketball history. The heavily favored Tar Heels trailed Villanova 74-71 with just seconds remaining in the national championship game. After securing a wayward pass, Paige had to double-clutch in the air before hitting the three that tied the game at 74 with only 4.7 seconds remaining. This by itself made the game an all-time classic, but what happened next moved it to the top of the list of the best championship games in college basketball history. Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled up the court and shoveled the ball back to Kris Jenkins with one second remaining. Jenkins drilled a buzzer beating three-pointer to secure a 77 to 74 win for the underdog Wildcats.
Leicester City: The longest of long shots found a way to overcome the odds, 5,000 to 1 to be exact, to win the English Premier League for the first time in their history. They beat the prominent teams such as Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United in the most unlikely underdog story in the history of soccer, and maybe in all of sports. Of the 20 teams in the EPL, Leicester City’s payroll fell in the bottom five.
Cleveland Cavaliers: A team with no championships and a city mired in long championship droughts finally had the title curse lifted. Lebron James and Kyrie Irving led a resilient Cleveland team back from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Warriors were the defending champions and had just put together the best regular season in NBA history with a record of 73-9.
Coastal Carolina baseball: The 2016 College World Series was littered with powerhouse programs such as Florida, Miami, and Arizona. The Chanticleers, making their first appearance in the College World Series, battled back from the brink of elimination once against NC State in the regional final, twice against TCU in the national semifinals, and twice against Arizona in the championship series. They were ranked No. 11 nationally heading into the postseason, but being a small school from the Big South Conference set them up for a dream run.
Chicago Cubs: It had been 108 years since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series title. The ugly streak looked like it might linger for another year after the Cleveland Indians jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the World Series. The Cubs battled back in games 5 and 6 to force a dramatic game 7. After the Cubs blew a three run lead in the eighth inning, the Indians had the momentum. The game went to extra innings, but a rain delay helped calm the nerves of the Cubs. They scored two runs in the top of the tenth and went on to win the game 8-7. Many are already calling it the greatest baseball game ever played.
By Ben Billman
Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.