When sports commentary blowhards (present company excluded, of course) play the reactionary, “biggest or best ever” card, they’re generally doing so strictly for ratings.  This week when you hear them talk about a little school in Maryland, however, they might just have a point.

My phone was blowing up on Friday night.  I was working and couldn’t respond but knew exactly what all the fuss was about.

A storm was brewing and I’m not referring to the thousands of green beer drinkers and shot takers that would descend upon our humble, little Irish pub the very next day. #StillRecovering

A school you had literally never heard of had just toppled a giant.  It was the first time in history a 16-seed had knocked off a number one.  It hadn’t happened in 135 tries!  The playoff format switched to 64 teams in 1985 which means we’ve had 33 years of close but no cigars.

That was until the University of Maryland Baltimore County (who?) etched their way into history by beating Virginia, a school who about 20% of the nation, including yours truly, had winning the entire thing.

Croshere was just one of my friends who sent me repeated “Did you just see that?!?” texts.  You could tell he sat in shock from his sofa miles away.  The vodka and reality of it all had set in.  A sports fan of the highest order, he proceeded to run through the greatest historic upsets in his head, or at least the ones that had occurred within our lifetime, to try to put UMBC-UVA in its proper perspective.

I’m not sure Baltimore over Virginia beats the greatest boxing upset I can recall.  Much like UMBC, nobody had ever heard of Buster Douglas prior to the night he sent Mike Tyson and his mouthpiece to the canvas but for the sheer magnitude of the defeat, one would think the heavyweight championship of the world would rank a touch higher than a March Madness first round matchup.  While Virginia was a 20-point favorite, oddsmakers didn’t even have a line on the Tyson fight that night.  Of course, all heavyweight boxers not named Marciano eventually lose and just like our good friend J-Dub points out, it was only a matter of time before a 16 beat a 1.  That night in 1990 was not Tyson’s time just like Friday night was not Virginia’s.  But is UMBC’s upset bigger than Buster’s?  I’d say no but that may all depend on how long it takes before we see it happen again.

U.S. Men’s hockey knocking off the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War, is often mentioned as one of the greatest upsets in history, at least from an American-centric standpoint.  I don’t suppose UMBC could topple that one either.

After that, however, I’m drawing a blank as to what other monster upsets rank alongside what we witnessed last weekend.

Other modern historic upsets include the Giants beating the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII but at least there was a money line in that game.  I remember because Croshere and I had money on the Giants.  Although nobody gave the G-Men a shot at winning, it was at least somewhat conceivable that it could happen.  There was also Namath predicting victory over the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III.  The Colts were 17-point favorites.  That’s how far you have to go back to find an upset of that magnitude.

In the opening game of their 2007 football season, the Michigan Wolverines lost at home to Appalachian State.  Michigan Stadium seats over 107,000 people, about five times the annual enrollment of Appalachian State.  The line in that game was Michigan by 27.  That mattered not as Appalachian State won in Ann Arbor much to the shock of everyone.  Like Friday’s UMBC-UVA game, there was no money line to wager on because the point spread was too big.  That App State game ranks among the latest and greatest upsets in modern history.  The game even has its own Wikipedia page!  However, considering it was a regular season game and UMBC-UVA was in the post-season, I’m inclined to give UMBC the nod.

Back in the spectrum of college basketball, we might put Jimmy Valvano and NC State knocking off Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the Phi Slamma Jamma ahead of UMBC-UVA because of context.  After all, it was the championship game of the tournament and not the opening round although if you wanted to make a case of ranking UMBC-UVA ahead of it, I’d certainly listen to your argument.  UVA also lost to Chaminade with Ralph Sampson making them the answer to two March Madness trivia questions they want no part of.  Similarly, Villanova knocking off Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the 1985 final game was a monstrous upset but Villanova was an 8-seed not a 16 and the line in this game most certainly wasn’t 20 points.  But again, it’s all about context.

It was a pretty big deal when Dikembe Mutombo’s Denver Nuggets knocked off the one-seeded Seattle Supersonics back in 1994.  That had also never happened before but it has happened since, like when the pre-Steph Curry Golden State Warriors team knocked off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in 2007.

Either way, I think you get the gist.  You have to go pretty far back to find an outcome as unlikely as Virginia, a team that rolled through the toughest conference in college basketball, getting trounced by the University of Baltimore Maryland County, a team that lost to Albany by over 40.  Ironically, 40 is the difference between what Virginia was favored by and ended up losing by.  Ah, how it all comes full circle.

Friday night’s upset was so rare that I had Virginia winning in almost every bracket I entered and I couldn’t even be pissed.  I’ve learned over the years that being upset at history really makes no sense at all.

UMBC-UVA is why, despite the NCAA and its multiple misgivings, we appreciate March Madness as the best four-day stretch in sports.  Games like that are why we believe in sports in the first place.  It’s also why I almost always bet on underdogs, because on any given day, absolutely anything can happen: a mouthpiece on the canvas, a miracle on the ice and named previously unheard of forever etched in stone.

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14 Replies to “Upset!”

  1. Love when I’m involved
    Pats first Brady win over Rams was actually bigger then Giants over Pats. Doesn’t seem like it, but it was.

  2. Like all of us my bracket is completely busted. The biggest thing for me personally is to watch my wife who is NOT a sports junkie fill out her bracket and then watch every game with me rooting like hell for who she picked. Good times my friend, good times.

  3. Croshere…

    Agree with you on the Pats upset over the Pats upset. I do believe that was also their coming out party, was it not?

    The Cavs (UVA, not Cleveland) went 17-1 in the ACC this year. They beat Duke on the road and UNC both home and away.

    Their only losses were to home to Va Tech (a tournament team) by one and a seven-point loss on rhe road to West Virginia (another tournament team).

    You are correct, sir. This was a big fucking upset.

    I just wonder if it’ll be another 35 years before we see one like it again.

  4. Moose…

    That reminds of a story for another time but I’ll tell it now anyway.

    Ages ago, my old college roommate and I would run a bracket. We’d get the entire neighborhood involved and put up big poster boards sheets on our living room wall.

    This was pre-internet so we’d find whichever newspaper had the best brackets, go to the local copy place and make a ton to distribute for our friends, neighbors and classmates to fill out.

    The year Seton Hall made the final game (1989) #RumealRobinson, the guy who ended up winning our pool that year picked, wait for it, Selton Hall to go to the final game.

    Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

  5. Parity in college basketball, Al.

    Although, I’ll be honest. I’m not so sure it’s that. We still have Villanova, Duke and Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.

    I’m thinking Virginia just had a bad day. A VERY bad day.

  6. This ain’t close to onea the top 5 upsets……not even Namath beating Baltimore in SuperBowl3. I’ts big because it’s magnified in the tourney.

    Chris you’re on to something with the Douglas KO of Iron Mike in Japan. Buster was as high as a 40-1 underdog..That for sure is in the top 5.

  7. You mentioned sportstalk hosts with their nonsense upset alerts. How about the update guys that surprising announce crap like, “Lookie here, the Bills are beating the Patriots 7-0 with 12 minutes left in the first quarter!”

  8. Bets…

    One would think USA hockey and Tyson rank one two depending on where you wanna put ’em.

    I was trying to think of some good baseball upsets but they come in series rather than games. ’69 Mets maybe… and then there’s the ’86 Mets coming back in Game Six and that ball rolling through Buckner’s legs.

  9. Al…

    The only upset worth noting in the women’s tournament would be if UConn loses.

    Otherwise, I’m afraid to say the outcome will be rather anti-climactic.

  10. It was so weird the way it went down…and it was vs. Virginia, a team that lends itself to keeping games close by their style of play regardless of the competition. Definitely not a Top 5 all-time upset in my mind. But, it was fun to see a #16 finally get it done, even though the bracket certainly took a monster hit.

  11. Again, Burnsy, it’s all about context. I know there’s a lot more parity in college basketball with all the one-and-dones but if it takes another thirty years for a one to lose to a 16, we might just look back at UMBC-Virginia and say, damn, how the hell did that happen?

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