The UMBC and Virginia game from the NCAA Tournament can’t seem to leave my head. Despite what some think, it was a great upset, but was it one of the greatest upsets in sports history? Debatable. Very debatable. There have been some all-timers, but I’m not entirely convinced it was an all-timer. I knew Virginia was going to be suspect in the tournament, not for a lack of coaching or talent, just their style of play. That said, let’s look at some of the best upsets I can recall.
Oh, and none of these are in any particular order by the way. I hate numbering lists. It makes it too final and not a living thing that can change over time.
The first one that comes to mind is North Carolina State upsetting Houston in the 1983 NCAA Championship game. Houston was on a big time roll coming into that game, winning 26 in a row and only suffered two set backs. North Carolina State was a heavy underdog, but managed to stifle the Cougars to give us the iconic image of the last second put back and Jimmy Valvano running around the court just looking for someone to hug.
The New York Giants beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 46. The Patriots were double digit favorites and steamrolled through most NFL that season, going 18-0 to reach the ultimate game of the season. The Giants were actually one of those teams in the regular season that the Patriots got past, dropping a 38-35 game in week 17.
As the saying goes, it’s hard to beat the same team twice in a season. The Giants were able to come up with a game plan to disrupt what New England wanted to do offensively. Of course, we had the iconic moment in that game of the helmet catch by David Tyree who, honestly, was never really heard of again. After watching an NFL Network Top 10 list, one of the entries was a good one with the actual game winning touchdown catch being the play people forget in that game. Regardless, another great upset.
Stepping into the world of combat sports, I don’t remember which UFC show it was but the one where Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey. Rousey was at her peak of being one of the top draws in fighting and no one really gave Holm too much of a chance. Holm had a better stand up game against Rousey’s submission based style. Well, a straight kick to the jaw worked better than an armbar attempt as Holm had one of the biggest upsets in recent memory in the UFC. Or just one I remember, anyways.
Going back to the realm of football, this is probably a bit of a homer pick but Iowa State when they upended no. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. Of course Cyclone fans thought this would be a program defining win, but as we all know, Iowa State cannot have nice things. Still a comeback triple overtime win against a team you were heavy underdogs against was great, just as this past season’s upset of Oklahoma with a third string quarterback. Say what you will about the Cyclones, but they are good for some great upsets.
You could call the 2004 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons an upset. The Lakers had Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone on their team that season with a host of role players. However, what you cannot account for is good chemistry and team play. Shaq and Kobe were on the verge of an implosion and Malone kept hurting his knee. The Pistons used defense, shut down Shaq and took the title away from the Lakers. Good upset.
Staying with basketball for a moment, I remember the 2013 Florida Gulf Coast team that became the first 15 seed to move on to the Sweet 16. Aptly named Dunk City, the Eagles upset the 2 seed Georgetown by 10 points and then won by the same margin against 7 seed San Diego State in the second round. Beating two teams in such a manner to be the first seed that low to advance is an accomplishment in two straight upsets. They deserve to be on my list.
So that about does it… though I feel like I may be forgetting something. Something important. Like a certain hockey game in the 1980 Olympics. A game between Russia and the USA. Oh, right, the Miracle on Ice. Best upset ever.
There you have it. Some of my favorite upsets in sports history.