General Sports

Top 10 Upsets of the Last 28 Years

The perfect way to start off my 2008 Sportscolumn writing season is to create one of my favorite things in the world: a top ten list. I decided, what with all the upsets in college football this year, that a list of the top ten upsets would suffice nicely this article. But then I thought, “There’s no way I can handle the pressure of narrowing all the upsets in sports history to a top ten list!!”

So I made my own job a little easier by narrowing it down to the ten greatest upsets of the last 28 years. Why? First of all, I’m barely 19 years old so I prefer to make a list out of things I know well and secondly because it sets the stage for the year 1980 to be included in my countdown. Foreshadowing? Hmm…

10. Chaminade over Virginia, 1982 NCAA basketball

Anytime a Division-II school beats a strong Division-I team, in the last 28 years, it has to be included on this list. Especially because Virginia was the number one team in the nation, before running into Chaminade, a small school from Honolulu. The Hawaiian David’s knocked off the Goliath Ralph Sampson and his Virginia teammates in what was supposed to be a throw away game; a no-doubt win for the Cavaliers. The news came into the mainland well past midnight after the game, and many news sources and sports personas thought it was a typo or a different Virginia team. But it soon became clear that the tiny school with the tiny kids, Chaminade, had really beaten the best team in the nation, and therefore thrust themselves into the record books with a 77-72 win.

9. Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees, 2004 ALCS

While not exactly an “upset” in this context, Boston’s four straight wins to come back and beat the Yankees in 2004 was the first and only time that a team in any sport has come from a 3-0 deficit in a best of seven series to win. The Sox, who went on to win their first World Series since 1908 that year, found themselves in a 3-0 hole against the powerful and hated Yankees. But, they rode surprise hero Derek Lowe and the clutch hitting of David Ortiz to a Game 7 showdown in the Bronx. Behind Lowe and a powerful offensive outburst from leadoff man Johnny Damon, the unfazed Red Sox completed the most unlikely comeback in sports history and upset the Yankees 4-3.

8. Duke over UNLV, 1991 Final Four

UNLV were absolutely unstoppable, the 2007 Patriots of the NCAA basketball world in 1991. Coming off a 30-point championship victory against Duke the previous year, the Runnin’ Rebels had returned four key players from 1990 and had yet to lose a game. Duke, led by Christian Laettner weren’t given much of a chance to beat UNLV, who had cruised through the first four rounds of the tournament. A close game the whole way, Laettner put Duke ahead with less than thirty seconds left with two free throws. UNLV’s desperation buzzer-beating attempt was off, and Duke came away with a 79-77 victory on their way to a win over Kansas in the national championship.

7. George Mason, 2006 NCAA tournament

The first true mid-major, and second 11-seed ever to reach the Final Four, the 2006 George Mason basketball team, made the most remarkable, inspiring NCAA tournament run of all time. The Cinderella story of 2006 fought and scratched their way to the Final Four as an 11-seed, defeating the sixth, third, seventh, and first seeds in their region along the way. The Patriots squeaked into the 2006 tournament in the first place, and then proceeded to pull off a pretty shocking first round upset over Michigan St. But first round upsets occur every year, so there still wasn’t much getting made of it. But when George Mason went upset-crazy and beat third-ranked North Carolina, seventh-ranked Wichita St., and number-one UConn, people really took notice. They soon became America’s sweethearts (I know, a manly name for a men’s basketball team right?), and were still beloved and celebrated after their run came to an end against eventual champion Florida.

6. N.C. St. beats Houston, 1983 NCAA national championship

Houston was another college juggernaut, ranked number one in the nation, and all signs pointed to an easy win against ten-loss N.C. St. The Houston team, nicknamed “Phi Slamma Jamma” was led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and their game plan was simple: dunk. N.C. State, led by now legendary coach Jimmy Valvano, had other plans. They slowed down the tempo of the game and were able to stay close. The slowly fought their way back from a halftime deficit, and ended up getting the ball with the game tied for the last shot at the end of regulation. An errant air ball was grabbed by the Wolfpack’s Lorenzo Charles who quickly put in an open dunk as time expired and the upstart N.C. St. upset the unbeatable Houston Cougars 54-52 to win the national championship.

5. Rulon Gardner beats Alexander Karelin, 2000 Summer Olympics

A mini-miracle, American Rulon Gardner came into the gold medal wrestling match against Russia’s Karelin, an overwhelming favorite. Karelin had not conceded a point in 15 years and won three straight gold medals. Anyone in their right mind knew the match was over before it started. But Gardner put on a strong performance, and actually got a point on Karelin midway through the match. Gardner played defense and tried to just stay head to head, chest to chest, hand to hand with the bigger, stronger Karelin the rest of the way, and managed to make it to overtime holding his 1-0 lead. As the end of the match neared, Karelin got increasingly more frustrated as he couldn’t do anything to get a point against the gritty American. With time winding down in overtime, the wrestlers, fans and announcers realized that Gardner might actually do the impossible. With five seconds left in overtime, Karelin stood up and basically conceded the match giving Gardner the greatest upset in the history of Olympic wrestling – and maybe in the Olympics overall.

4. Appalachian St. beats Michigan, NCAA football 2007

Every football powerhouse has at least one throw-away game at the beginning of their season. In 2007, Michigan’s team to step on was two-time defending Division-II champion Appalachian St. So they were the best of Division-II, but realistically the worst of Division-I should beat the best of D-II every time, so this game was going to be a fluke. But, Appalachian St. surprised Michigan with an aggressive, balanced offensive attack and ran up the points on an overrated defense. Michigan hung tough and had a 32-31 lead with just minutes left in the game, but allowed Appalachian St. to take the lead again on a field goal. But the Wolverines drove back down the field quickly and set themselves up for the win with a field goal. The kick went up, and then…backwards! The kick was blocked by Appalachian St., preserving a 34-32 win for the Mountaineers and creating the biggest upset in college football history; one that shocked the nation and then-number 5 Michigan.

3.    Buster Douglas beats Mike Tyson, 1990

Mike Tyson was the biggest thing since sliced bread in 1990, at the peak of his boxing career, and dominating everyone who stepped into the ring against him. The bout with a downtrodden Douglas was put on and barely even made a stir in the media because it was yet another one that was over before it started. Oddsmakers had the bout at 42-1 for Douglas to win, an unbelievable line that made him a huge underdog. But, Douglas kept staggering Tyson in the early rounds, and was putting up a good fight against the world’s best. Then, miraculously, in the tenth round Douglas knocked Tyson to the floor, and when Tyson didn’t get up and respond in the allotted time, the fight was ruled over. Douglas scored the biggest upset in boxing history and had KO’d the great Mike Tyson for the first time Tyson’s career.

2. Villanova beats Georgetown, 1985 NCAA national championship

Georgetown was an overwhelming favorite in the 1985 championship game, led by future number one overall pick Patrick Ewing. But the upstart Villanova wildcats shot 78% from the field, a number still unheard of today, and knocked off the Hoyas 66-64. To make it an even more amazing upset, Villanova was the number eight seed in the tournament and are still the lowest-ranked national champion in NCAA history. Not only did they beat the Ewing-led Hoyas, but they beat the defending national champion, number-one ranked Hoyas to win their first ever NCAA basketball championship.

1. USA hockey beats Russia, 1980 Winter Olympics

The Miracle on Ice is undoubtedly the best upset of all-time. The college-aged Americans were expected to take on the unbeatable Soviet team in a semifinal game in 1980. The Russian team was the epitome of unstoppable, having previously beaten the NHL all-star team 6-0 and the same American hockey team they were facing off against in the semis 10-3. But everything was different on this day. Led by Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, the Americans took a 4-3 lead with about ten minutes left in the game, and then somehow kept the Soviets from scoring. In the midst of the Cold War, this upset shocked not just the nation, but the entire world – shock that was written all over the Soviet players’ faces. The Americans went on to win the gold medal in their next game and they went down in history as the most amazing, biggest Cinderella team in the history of sports.

9 replies on “Top 10 Upsets of the Last 28 Years”

Your years are deceiving you In the greater context of things, you pulled out a couple of good hits with your inclusion of Olympic wrestling and the Tyson loss, but you also let yourself get caught up in the modern age a bit too much to quantify your list in a credible fashion.  

The loss of Michigan to Appalachian State was clearly an upset and sportswriters had a field day declaring it the greatest upset in College Football History because that is what they do to sell their pieces, but I’m not so sure they will be saying that even next year.

The fact that Appalachian State is a three-time (consecutive) champion means they have quality and Michigan never should have approached them as an easy victory, despite the division they play in.

Also, an upset indicates winning a game or series against a common opponent.  If you want to say George Mason’s win over Connecticut is your upset call I can live with that, but don’t label their run in the tournament as an upset.

On a final note; the inclusion of two Olympic events indicates upsets on the world stage, but your article is still ultra American in nature.  You could just have easily included American defeats among your candidates.

I don’t want to belittle your research, but I think an older writer with a keen memory over the period since 1980 would make a more credible listing that covers all sports.  It also bothers me that a google search brought me to this article where your listing is basically a copy of the ESPN Page 2 selections with the last couple of years factored in.

Yes.. Unfortunately I haven’t lived long enough to know enough about more upsets, but I am a big sports fan and these 10 have always been some of my favorites. And I’m not surprised that a lot of them were in that ESPN article because I didn’t really go out of my way to pick upsets that most people wouldn’t. I wish I had more knowledge of upsets so I could’ve gone outside the box a bit, but unfortunately, even with the research, I didn’t find any I thought should displace my top 10. And I’m also hardly aware of any upsets away from home (America) so I’m sorry for that, it’s just how it is.

On another note, the deal with App St. and GM…Yes App St. was a talented D-II team, but they were still D-II and Michigan was a top 5 D-I school. I mean they are Michigan for god’s sake. If App St. had beaten Stanford or University of Idaho or something like that it would be different, but it was Michigan…HUGE upset. Especially in the Big House. And I agree, I shouldn’t have labeled the entire George Mason run as an upset, but other than their win against Wichita St. I would consider all their wins in that tournament bigtime upsets. I should have put a note in there though, that’s my fault.

Face Value I won’t hurt your piece anymore with a negative vote, but understand that your inclusion of the same upsets as the ESPN article might be understandable, but the fact that the order of the pre-2004 events was the same still bothers me.

On the other hand, I guess I have to suck it up regarding the Michigan – App St. result.  I’m still trying to convince myself it was a bad dream.

Flemish I understand where your coming from, I’ve been in that situation before voting for a piece here and that’s fine with me, I would probably do the same thing. Just for the record though, I did not look at that article until you sent me that link, nor did I know that it existed (although I was sure somewhere someone had written an article on the top 10 upsets of all time!). So whether it’s coincidence or maybe just destiny that they be in almost the same exact order I don’t know, but I apologize for any confusion…I just needed to write a simple article to get myself on track for this year. Thanks for the criticism and comments though; I accept and appreciate all that I get.

And cernig! How about the call at the end of the game? I love the guy just screaming “OHHHHHH” as the App St. player is running down the field. Adds to the moment eh?

haha i know right. i mean i know there is structure to broadcasting and journalism all that kinda stuff.. thats why we go to school otherwise everyone would be on tv or the radio or the internet. but that moment, where they just og crazy out of peer joy and excitement for the school that they root for, call games for, and maybe even went to school for.. those are the moments people live and die to see.

I like lists I know it’s past 28 yrs ago, but I like the Jets over the Colts in SB III, especially with the timing of SB week.

To add a few more, I like Golden State beating Dallas last year in the playoffs, the Devils sweeping the Red Wings in the ’95 Cup Finals gets overlooked because Jersey went on to great things (it was shocking at the time). Also, how about BC knocking off defending champ Carolina in the 2nd round in 1994 or Princeton doing it to UCLA in the first round a few years later?

Always great though J

thanks Thank you for all the comments. I really  wanted to include the Golden State/Dallas series, but to me, as a Warriors fan it wasn’t much of an upset honestly. I know it sounds crazy but I, along with most other Warrior fans I know, weren’t that surprised that they won.

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