Why Sports Love Upsets

When it comes down to it, people love to see David defeat Goliath. There is a certain aspect of excitement that comes with the underdog knocking off the unbeatable. People like to see things that aren’t supposed to be done happen. Especially when it comes to sporting events, people become thrilled when the favored team gets taken down. A specific example would include the NCAA college basketball tournament, one of the most popular sporting events in the country that feeds off of the excitement of potential upsets. In recent times, teams such as George Mason, VCU, and Butler have taken the country by storm and made headlines with their runs.

The 2010 Butler team shocked the country by making it to the final four

The 2010 Butler team shocked the country by making it to the final four

In 2006, George Mason was a relatively unknown team that just barely slid into the tournament as a number eleven seed. One their way to a historic run to the final four, George Mason defeated national heavyweights, and strong favorites, such as Michigan State and Connecticut. VCU and Butler have similar stories. VCU was one of the last four teams to be selected to play in the tournament, receiving an eleven seed and having to play a game set before the actual round of 64 began so that they could get into the official tournament. They made big statements as they kept on winning all the way up until the final four, and like George Mason, people really rallied behind them. Finally, Butler was a small school from Indianapolis that had a solid season, and then took the tournament by storm and reaching the final four that that year just happened to be being hosted in their own backyard in Indianapolis. Following the trend, people became excited and rooted for the underdog with a story.

One of the fan favorites, VCU rode their momentum all the way to the Final Four in 2001.

One of the fan favorites, VCU rode their momentum all the way to the Final Four in 2011

What can be seen in these examples is that people like to root for things that excite their emotions. It is no fun to cheer for the team that is expected to win it all. It is too easy and people like to be shocked. That is one of the beautiful things about sports in general: it is a live situation where the outcome is not already predetermined. As Giamatti writes of in his piece Take Time For Paradise, people enjoy spectator sports because they allow them to have small moments of utopia. In the instances of people rooting for the underdogs, watching something amazing or incredible is what gives people the feelings that they are searching for. Giamatti even writes of how seeing things that you before did not think were truly possible in sports are part of the reason that they are so exciting and utopian for people. This correlates greatly to upsets. People are amazed when they see a heavy underdog roll through supposedly better opponents, and seeing that kind of thing brings to people the small moments of utopia that Giamatti speaks of.

So, in conclusion, upsets bring about a form of excitement in people that brings about the utopian feelings. There are many examples of underdogs in sports taking down superior teams, and this is just one of the many things that makes sports great and continues to draw people towards being great fans of sports in general.

2 thoughts on “Why Sports Love Upsets

  1. I’m curious as to whether or not this was posted before Michigan lost to NJIT, one of the biggest upsets in recent years. If it was posted after, does that mean you were actually rooting for NJIT to beat Michigan? I think that everyone has a team that they root for no matter what. When it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament, people root for their own team, and they choose to root for other teams that would be favorable matchups for their team. I think that only once their team loses, or if they don’t make it at all, people will begin to root for the underdog. Other than their own fans, I doubt many people were rooting for VCU to make a run until their team was out. And I can certainly say that no one with teams left in the tourney were rooting for VCU.


  2. This is a good topic to be related to the Giamatti text and something I definitely hadn’t thought of when reading that. Everyone definitely does love to see underdogs do well and that’s one of the greatest things about sports, anyone has a chance to do well and win games. Another reason I believe people appreciate underdogs is because of how it embodies America. We identify with underdogs in a way because when our country was formed that’s what we were.


Comments are closed.