People live and die by their sports teams.
Regionally, people obsess differently; the Northeast loves their baseball and hockey teams; the midwest and south are all about that football; and then the west coast is all about those outdoor sports.
So people follow what their families follow and sink their lives into these teams. When there's an upset, it's taken personally.
Here were some of the answers.
I won't say it's the greatest upset in sports history, but since Steve Bradbury is mentioned and this is basically pulling a Bradbury at the time... Cliff Young.
Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event.
In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this ultra marathon. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.
All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours.
Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.
When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.
All's Fair In Football And War
1950 World Cup Final.
Brazil, at home, with a record 200k supporters in the stands only needed a tie to win it all in their home country that spent lots of time and money to host it. They were clear favorites by winning all their games and scoring a record setting 40+ goals. They had already planned celebrations, songs, and parades and were ready for it.
But on the other side was Uruguay. Uruguay with the tiny population but people with an immense heart for the game. Uruguay came from behind 0-1 to win it 2-1 in the greatest upset of all time. So much so, that they didn't even have the trophy with Uruguay's name ready to present. Even after the fact it seemed surreal to Uruguay. The captain, Obdulio Varela, spent the afternoon in a state of shock in a bar in Rio consoling the Brazilians.
From this point forward history changed for Brazil. The players were shunned by the entire population, especially the goalkeeper. The Maracaná Stadium was painted sky blue honoring the promise when the stadium was constructed that the winner of the tournament's colors would adorn the new stadium, and it's still there today. The iconic Brazilian yellow jerseys that you see today were not always like that. Up until 1950 they were white, but so much shame was brought upon this team in 1950 that a competition was done after 1950 to redesign a new jersey for the team. That's what you see today, not the pre-1950 white jersey, but rather the post-traumatic-design of the greatest upset in sports history.
The Cosmos Worked For Him
What about Steven Bradbury lucking his way into the gold medal in the 1000m speed skating event at the 2002 Winter Olympics? Dude came third in the quarter finals with the top 2 going to the semis, but the second place guy got disqualified so he made it. Then in the semis he was in dead last but all his opponents fell over allowing him to take the lead and finish first, advancing to the finals.
Then in that race he had the exact same situation as the semis, with all his opponents falling over and allowing him to cross the line in first place. Apparently that was his plan all along since he didn't think he stood a chance of winning, but the guy was probably still amazed that it actually worked. Talk about an underdog story.
The Underdog Movie We All Need To See
Soccer: Denmark winning the European Cup in 1992.
Denmark was not even qualified and got in because Yugoslavia ceased to exist.
Then Denmark came to Sweden in the last minute (ish) and went through the tournament and finished up beating both of the massive favourites in the final two matches.
Holland in the semi-finals and Germany in the final.
Golf: Francis Ouimet, US Open 1913.
There are movies about this guy, a normal caddie who qualified at a very young age and beat the two titans of the era from Britain and won on his home turf.
He Was So Close
This "nobody" golfer named Jean van de Velde makes it to the 1999 Open Championship, a very prestigious golf tournament where the best golfers compete. Jean plays the best golf of his life that weekend and is winning by 3 strokes on the 72nd of 72 holes for the tournament.
He could have pulled out his wedge and played safe for a guaranteed win but instead pulls out his driver and shanks the shot, followed by additional high-risk shots that failed miserably.
If you're not a golfer, that's like having the chance to win a million dollars by simply walking to and giving someone a high five but you instead choose to try and do it while sprinting and doing a back-flip...
He barely makes his 6th shot, goes into overtime and loses the round.
Leicester We Forget
Leicester City winning the Premier League a few years ago. They were given 5000 to 1 odds, and only escaped relegation the previous year by nothing short of a miracle. The thing that makes this the greatest upset is it happened over the course of an entire season (38 games) rather than just one game or a series.
We are unlikely to see anything in sports even close to as profound as their title win again.
Its also easy to forget that had Leicester not won the title that year, It likely would have been Tottenham, who haven't won the title since 1962. An absolutely insane year in the premier league.
The Third Year
Since everyone's said Miracle on Ice, I'm gonna throw Super Bowl III into consideration.
If the Jets don't win that game, the Super Bowl might not exist. The first two Super Bowls were blowouts, and the talent gap between the AFL and NFL was so large that the NFL threatened to call off the merger.
The Jets were underdogs by close to 3 touchdowns against an NFL team that was considered unstoppable in the Baltimore Colts. Across their last 16 games, they were 15-1, and were coming off of a 34-0 victory in the NFL Championship.
Nobody gave the Jets of the "Mickey Mouse League" a shot.
A Horse By Any Other Name
Living in upstate NY, I'd have to go with the original "Upset". Man 'o War, one of the greatest racehorses that lived, won 20 out of 21 races. His one loss was at Saratoga in 1919 to a horse named Upset.
Allegedly, up to that point the word "upset" had no connotations with sports. It meant you were angry, or riled up (as in upset stomach). After that race, whenever a long shot or underdog beat out the favorite, it was just like that horse that beat Man 'o War. I'm not sure if that is entirely true, but I like the story so I'm sticking with it.
The End Of The Curse
2004 ALCS, the Red Sox losing the first three games and facing elimination, then winning four in a row to beat the Yankees 4-3. I believe they were the first team to ever pull this off. I'm from Boston, but I was away at college at the time, and was watching with a group of other Red Sox fans/sympathizers. I was all set to go "Well, wait 'til next season", as Red Sox fans had for 86 years, and endure the mockery of the Yankees fans on my dorm floor, and then out of nowhere we won Game 4, in extra innings, mind you. I remember seeing a guy on the screen at Fenway, after the victory, chanting "Three more times! Three more times!" and envying his optimism because, while it was nice not to be swept, the Sox couldn't possibly pull that off.
And then they won Game 5. And then Game 6. And then took such a huge f*cking lead in Game 7 that I thought it was either a foregone conclusion or another cruel trick the universe was about to play on us (f*ck you, Aaron Boone).
But they did it. I struggle to recall any time in my life when I felt that level of building excitement, that impossible hope, that realization that something historic (in a good way) was happening. The World Series and ultimate victory against the Cardinals, ending the Curse after 86 years, felt more like an afterthought compared to that.
Taking Down The KingGiphy
Rulon Gardner defeating Alessandro Karelin in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Greco Roman Wrestling.
Karelin went 13 years without losing a match, at the highest level. He won world level titles from 1988-1999. He had never even given up a point in the 6 years leading up to the loss to Gardner.
Gardner had never finished higher than 5th and had lost 5-0 to Karelin before. People were surprised he even made the finals.
Gardner won 1-0 and made history.
What do you think is the biggest upset in sports history?
We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."
This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.