We tend to have a soft spot for the underdogs, the teams that shouldn’t even be in the game, but somehow managed to sneak their way in, and you not-so-secretly want them to win. The ultimate David versus Goliath, the Cinderella stories we’ll never forget. These are the games and wins that stick with us throughout the years, and the ones people will never stop talking about. These are the 21 greatest upsets in sports history:
New York Giants beat New England Patriots, 2008
The 19-0 shirts were already printed and ready to go, the Patriots were that close to the perfect season. That is until they met the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and the last minutes of the game will never be forgotten. The Gmen were down 14-10 with 2:39 left when the miracle drive happened. On third down, Manning escaped several defenders before hurling the ball 32 yards down field to David Tyree, who caught the ball using a single hand and his helmet. Plaxico Burress would go on to catch the winning touchdown, and the New York Giants completed one of the greatest upsets and Super Bowl wins in history.
Appalachian State beats Michigan, 2007
Does anyone actually know where Appalachian State is located on a map? Well the school put itself on the map when they surprised fifth-ranked Michigan in 2007. Michigan was hoping to become National Champions that year, with a clear path to the top. That is until Appalachian State arrived in Ann Arbor for the first game of the season. The underdogs from North Carolina stunned Michigan 34-32, becoming the first ever Division I-AA team to beat a ranked Division I-A team.
Denver Nuggets beat Seattle SuperSonics, 1994
In 1994, the Denver Nuggets, led by Dikembe Mutombo, made history. The Nuggets finished the season just over .500, with a 42-40 record, and were set for a matchup against the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the playoffs. It took five games and an overtime in Game 5 to settle this series. Denver eventually won 98-94, becoming the first No. 8 seed to defeat a No.1. Mutombo, who dominated against the SuperSonics, set a record 31 blocks in a five-game series.
Buster Douglas beats Mike Tyson, 1990
Buster Douglas was considered a 42-1 underdog when he came face-to-face with Mike Tyson in February of 1990. Which is why no one was prepared for what happened next. Douglas knocked out Iron Mike in the 10th round of the fight, who, along with the loss, ended up losing the WBA/WBC/IF/lineal heavyweight championship title. On the other hand, Buster Douglas became a household name as man who was capable of doing what once seemed impossible.
Holly Holm beats Ronda Rousey, 2015
Ronda Rousey had become a household name, an unstoppable force in women’s UFC, she’d won each of her last three fights in 24, 16 and 14 seconds. Then came her fight against Holly Holm, a champion boxer who was considered the underdog in the matchup. You can argue that Holm’s second round knockout kick could be felt by anyone watching the fight; a dagger to the neck and an embarrassing loss to a woman who minutes earlier dominated her sport.
Rulon Gardner beat Alexander Karelin, 2000
Alexander Karelin entered the 2000 Olympics on a 13-year win streak – yes 13 years – and had never lost an international wrestling match. On the other side, Rulon Gardner, a 29-year-old farm boy from Wyoming, wasn’t even supposed to medal. Rulon beat his Russian foe 1-0 in overtime of the finals, stunning the world and Karelin himself. His defeat of Goliath is considered one of the top 10, upsets of all time.
Pittsburgh Pirates beat New York Yankees, 1960
It looked as if the mighty New York Yankees would beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series, outscoring them 55-27. But sometimes, numbers lie. The Pirates held on and won the series on a Game 7, ninth inning, one-out homer off of Ralph Terry at Forbes Field. Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth is possibly one of the most famous home runs in the history of the game.
Roberta Vinci beats Serena Williams
Roberta Vinci’s defeat of Serena Williams at the US Open in 2015 is not just an upset because an unseeded player beat the world’s No. 1 ranked tennis star. Roberta Vinci’s defeat of Serena Williams was heartbreaking because it prevented Williams from accomplishing one of the greatest feats in tennis. Serena was attempting to become the first player since Steffi Graf to successfully complete a calendar Grand Slam. That dream evaporated when she lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals.
Golden State beat Mavericks, 2008
Earlier in the list we had the first time a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs during a five-game series. Well, in 2008, the Golden State Warriors one-upped the Denver Nuggets. Golden State became the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series, beating the Dallas Mavericks 111-86 in a series-clinching Game 6. Baron Davis scored 20 points, dished out seven assists, and tallied 11 rebounds.
New York Mets beat Baltimore Orioles, 1969
The Miracle Mets had a shockingly good season in 1969. Having lost more than 100 games just two years prior, the Mets turned things around, winning 100 games and making their way to a World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, in which the Mets were the true underdogs. But they surprised everyone, winning the World Series in five games, and thanks to an incredible call. The Mets were down 3-0 in the game when manager Gil Hodges proved his batter, Cleon Jones, was hit in the foot with the ball. Donn Clendenon then hit a two-run home run, in what would prove to be a series-clinching 5-3 win.
Robin Soderling beats Rafael Nadal, 2009
Rafael Nadal was eyeing a new record in tennis: he was looking to become the first player to win five consecutive French Open titles. But in May, 2009, 24-year-old Robin Soderling had other plans. The 23rd- seeded Swede, who had never won a third-round match at any major tournament, handed Nadal a 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) defeat, crushing his attempt at a new record.
Villanova beats Georgetown, 1985
In 1985, No. 8-seeded Villanova upset Georgetown 66-64, becoming the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA tournament. The game itself has been described as the “perfect game,” perhaps because Nova shot 78.6% for the game. The Wildcats’ Championship run came after a mediocre season, in which they finished with a 18-9 record, and lost to Pittsburgh in the last game of the season. But none of that matter when the Big Dance begins, and Nova found a way to surprise everyone, and most importantly, the Hoyas.
New York Jets beat Baltimore Colts, 1969
Joe Namath made a promise. “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” We being the New York Jets, and they did. The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in the first title game to officially be called the “Super Bowl.” The Jets were the underdogs coming into the game. In fact, the Colts were 18-point favorites. But sometime that’s all you need, to be seen as the underdog who has to overcome it all. Namath and the Jets did, which makes their victory in Super Bowl III even better.
Cincinnati Reds beat Oakland A’s, 1990
Talk of dynasty was in the air, as the Oakland A’s found themselves in the world Series for a third year in a row. A year earlier, the A’s swept the San Francisco Giants to win the title. Little did they know they would endure the same fate as the Giants did in 1989. The Cincinnati Reds destroyed any notion of an Oakland Dynasty by sweeping the A’s and outscoring them 22-8 in four games. It was the Reds’ first Championship since 1976, and they haven’t won one since.
Upset beats Man O’ War, 1919
In this case, the name says it all. Man o’ War lost only one race in his 21 race career. The loss was an upset by a horse fittingly named Upset, whose odds of winning the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga were low. But when you look back at records of the race, it shows that Man o’ War’s defeat can be blamed on a bad start, he was almost the last one out of the gate, and somehow almost won. Looking back, some say that even though Upset won, Man o’ War was the best horse out there.
Duke beats UNLV, 1991
UNLV was riding a 45-game win streak when they met Duke in the 1991 NCAA semi-finals. Just a year earlier, Duke was on the wrong side of history when they lost to UNLV in the most lopsided championship game in the tournament’s history. The final score was 103-73. So you could say that revenge was in the air when the two met again in 1991. This time Duke beat UNLV by two points, 79-77, and went on to beat Kansas for the title.
Greek National Team, 2004
The Greek National team finally found its way back to the European Championships for the first time in 24 years. They weren’t expected to get far, but when expectations are low, you have nothing to prove and sometimes play even better. And they did. First they upset Les Bleus from France 1-0. Then they beat the Czech Republic in the semifinals. On July 4, 2004, Greece beat the Portuguese National Team 1-0 in Lisbon to complete one of greatest upsets in European soccer.
NC state beats Houston, 1983
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler’s 1983 Houston team had made a name for itself as a force on the court, Phi Slamma Jamma. But their dreams of a National title evaporated during the last five seconds of their National Championship game against North Carolina State. With less than five seconds left in a tied game, the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg threw up an airball, but Lorenzo Charles was there for the dunk as the clock wound down to 0. The dunk was good, winning the game. Decades later, the scene on the court, as NC State’s head coach Jim Valvano ran around looking to celebrate with anyone is still one of the most iconic images in NCAA tournament history.
Chaminade beats Virginia, 1982
Chaminade is a small university in Honolulu, Hawaii. Today, they have just under 3,000 students, but back in 1982, they had roughly only 800 students attending the university. Which makes their victory over the top-ranked team in the country, Virginia, even more amazing. On December 23, 1983, Chaminade topped Virginia 77-72 in the Maui Invitational. Granted it wasn’t the NCAA tournament, but Chaminade’s victory over two-time NCAA player of the year Ralph Sampson and the Cavaliers is possibly the most shocking, and greatest, upset in NCAA history.
Leicester City, 2016
The odds were so stacked against Leicester City in 2016 that no one believed it could ever actually happen. A year earlier, the team faced relegation, and then they completed the biggest feat ever in sports. Leicester City overcame the 5,000-1 odds and won the Premier League title. Nothing else in sports can compare to this championship, period. It is the best Cinderella story we have ever seen, and we aren’t likely to see anything else like it in our life time. If we do, we’re a seriously lucky bunch.
US beats USSR, 1980
Do you believe in miracles? The answer should be yes, because on February 22, 1980, the world witnessed one of the greatest miracles of all time. A team of underdog, college hockey players from the United States (this was before NHL players represented the US in the Olympics), made their way to the final game of the Olympics, and came face-to-face with the top team in the world, and America’s political foe, the Soviet Union. Team USA beat the Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid, New York, a victory that is known as the Miracle on Ice, and that celebrated not only a gold medal, but a US triumph over the USSR during the height of the Cold War.