It was the underdog story that went far beyond sports and that made headlines in countries located all around the world. Leicester City, 5000-to-1 odds to win the Premier League and thought to be relegation candidates back in the summer of 2015, completed the impossible mission and won the England top-flight title for the 2015-16 campaign. Little Leicester are the champions of England, and they know that they will host at least a few Champions League matches come next spring. “Foxes never quit,” goes the saying, and Leicester proved that to be true time and time again en route to becoming everybody’s favorite underdogs.
Leicester may, depending on where you get your odds and stats, be mathematically the biggest underdogs to win something of merit in the history of professional sports. They are not alone, however, as it pertains to pulling off a surprising achievement. What has been called the biggest upset in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship occurred in August 2015. The 2016 Masters was the home of a shocking collapse that led to an underdog winning the title. As interesting as those events were to behold, none hold a candle to Leicester rising to and then remaining at the top of the Premier League table through May and the end of the season. We may never see another Leicester, so enjoy this one while you can.
10. New York Giants
Think back to February 2008 and to the mindsets of people who were not rooting for the New York Giants to defeat the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLII. Big Blue was thought to be nothing more than the final hurdle in the way of the Patriots finishing 19-0 and becoming known as the greatest National Football League team in history. The Giants were not to be just footnotes in history on that famous Sunday evening, though, as New York held the high-powered New England offense to just 14 points. New York quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver David Tyree hooked up for one of the greatest plays to ever occur at a Super Bowl, and the Giants defeated the Patriots for the first time on a Super Bowl Sunday.
9. Japan Rugby
It wasn’t just believed that South Africa would take care of Japan during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the match wasn’t supposed to be all that close. Japan turned the sport on itself, however, when the country pulled off what Robert Kitson of The Guardian referred to as “the biggest shock in rugby history, bar none, the kind of result that creates ripples beyond mere sport.” South Africa did well to rally back from that disappointing result and finish third in the competition, but that squad will also be remembered for being on the losing side of rugby’s biggest stunner.
8. US Hockey
Do you believe in miracles? With those five words, sports fans throughout the United States began celebrating what will likely always be the greatest hockey victory in the history of the country. The Americans were supposed to be demolished by the USSR during the 1980 Winter Olympics, but the team of amateurs and college players stunned what some, before the Olympics, believed to be the best hockey team ever assembled. Documentaries and movies have been made about this accomplishment, and “The Miracle on Ice” is something that continues to be brought up during every hockey tournament that occurs at an Olympics.
7. Goran Ivanisevic
Goran Ivanisevic was not, per the world rankings, good enough to qualify for the 2001 Wimbledon tournament, and thus he needed a wildcard entry in order to play at tennis’ hallowed ground. Ivanisevic notched win after win during the competition, and he completed the upset bid when he defeated Patrick Rafter in the Wimbledon Final. Ivanisevic is, as of May 2016, the lowest-seeded player to ever win Wimbledon, and he was the first player in history to win Wimbledon as a wildcard. It was the only time Ivanisevic would ever win that tournament.
6. N.C. State
Those of you who have watched March Madness games over the years have probably seen the video highlights of N.C. State shocking Houston and winning the 1983 NCAA Tournament via a last-second bucket. The memory of the Wolfpack becoming one of the greatest underdogs in the history of college basketball has lived on, in part, because of the visions of N.C. State head coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking for somebody to celebrate with after the game. Jimmy V became a beloved figure among sports fans after his coaching days, and ESPN honors his legacy and all that he did to advance cancer research on multiple occasions each year.
5. Danny Willett
Absolutely zero casual sports fans tuned into the final day of the 2016 Masters to see if Danny Willett would catch Jordan Spieth. Spieth was seemingly headed to a second-consecutive victory at Augusta, while Willett was +2000 odds to finish atop the leaderboard heading into the morning of April the 10th. Spieth fell apart while playing the back nine, and Willett took advantage and played bogey-free golf en route to leapfrogging Spieth on the scoreboard and winning the Masters. You may think that Spieth lost it more than Willett won it, but that doesn’t change that Willett won the green jacket in 2016.
4. New York Jets
You probably are familiar with this underdog tale. The Baltimore Colts were 18-point favorites to take care of the New York Jets at Super Bowl III, but New York quarterback Joe Namath was not impressed. Namath guaranteed that the Jets would win, and the Jets responded by holding Baltimore to just seven points and winning the game 16-7. The second New York football team to be among the biggest underdogs to win a title, the Super Bowl III Jets remain, to this day, the greatest team in the history of that franchise. Gang Green fans have been waiting nearly 50 years for the team to make a return to the Super Bowl. One day…
3. Buster Douglas
Buster Douglas was a 42-1 underdog heading into his fight with Mike Tyson back in 1990. No reasonable person believed at the time that we would remember this match 26 years after it happened. Douglas stunned the world by hanging with Tyson, answering the ten-count after he had been knocked down in round eight, and then knocking “the baddest man on the planet” down and out in Round 10. That would prove to be the biggest victory in Douglas’ career, and it remains, to date, arguably the greatest underdog story in the history of professional heavyweight boxing.
2. Holly Holm
Admit it, those of you who are not diehard Ultimate Fighting Championship fans – you had never even heard of Holly Holm until she stepped into the cage to fight Ronda Rousey in November 2015. Holm, a massive underdog anywhere that was taking bets on the fight, busted Rousey open in the first round with repeated shots to the face. The underdog then left no doubt when she crushed Rousey with a kick that floored the “Rowdy” champion, and Holm put the matter to bed with several hammerfists that forced the referee to stop the fight. Holm’s run atop the UFC women’s bantamweight division did not last for long, though, as she lost to Miesha Tate in March 2016.
1. Leicester City
You could live to be 1000 years old and never again see anything like what Leicester City pulled off during the 2015-16 Premier League season. Afterthoughts in numerous season previews, Leicester shockingly rose to the top of the Premier League table during the first half of the campaign. While everybody was waiting for reality to set in and for Leicester to drop back toward at least midtable status, Leicester continued earning positive results and keeping Tottenham Hotspur in second place. Spurs crumbled under the pressure that came with playing meaningful spring games, and Leicester ultimately hoisted the Premier League trophy in front of a home crowd. From 5000-to-1 odds to win the league to champions: Leicester are the greatest underdogs in the history of sports.