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2016: The year of the underdog

  • 2016: The year of the underdog

    LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

What a year it's been for sports fanatics around the world. If any year is to be known for upsets, this will be the one that goes down as the year for all these teams who were given no chance of winning their respective titles. 

Whether you're a fan of the team or not, you can't go past a great underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Here are this year's collection of the greatest sporting upsets that the world had the unique privilege of witnessing. 

Leicester City - 2015/16 Premier League Champions

It was around Christmas time of 2015 that I'd really started to take notice. As I sat with family for a Christmas lunch, we were saying they had hung around the top a lot longer than the usual early season pace setters. Hell, I remember them getting promoted 2 years ago and I thought to myself, good on them. 

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It happened in May at Stamford Bridge, London. Chelsea were playing host to Tottenham, who were mathematically still in with a chance for the Premier League title. By the end of the game Spurs could only muster up a 2-2 draw, officially handing the title to the ultimate Premier League underdog since Blackburn Rovers. If you want to see the moment the players found out at Jamie Vardy's house, check it out here.

The Foxes had a blinder of a second season, losing only 3 games in their premiership run. They sat inside the top 3 from round 11 onwards, and undefeated for 2 long stretches during the season. Their trophy ceremony came at the venue of the previous champions Chelsea, which just so happened to be Ranieri's former employer. 

Expectations were shattered, records were broken, amazing goals scored, some truly iconic wins and arguably one of the best underdog stories of all time. As they say, the rest is history. Leicester secured their first ever premier league title and captured headlines and hearts from around the world. 

Read my Leicester City recap here

Cleveland Cavaliers - 2015/16 NBA World Champions

The Cavaliers have never been the underdog in the sense like Leicester City. With LeBron James leading the team, the Cavs have usually been touted as an odds on favourite every season, only to end up failing at a final hurdle. This past NBA Finals Series, they were undoubtedly handed the biggest hurdle in the history of the NBA when they fell 3 games to 1 to the Golden State Warriors.

Most of the world had counted out the Cavs and thought the Warriors would go back to back on a record breaking 73-9 season, LeBron would lose a 3rd consecutive NBA Finals and seemingly be destined to continue a title-less reign with Cleveland.
The turning point for this series came in game 5. LeBron and Kyrie Irving scored 41 points each for the Cavs, while Warrior's big men Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut would miss the game due to a suspension and a series ending knee injury respectively. 

Despite some team high numbers from the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it takes more than 2 players to win. Unfortunately the Warriors could not capture their championship form of the previous season, and Cleveland pulled off the unthinkable. The first NBA team ever to come back from 3 games to 1 to win 4 games to 3 and capture a championship, it's a feat that we may not see again in our lifetimes, or ever.

Once the final buzzer went in Oakland, it was immediately apparent how much it meant to LeBron, who hit the deck and put his head to the floor, who cried with joy as he hugged his teammate Kevin Love. 

When LeBron chased his dream of becoming an NBA player, it wasn't to win any championship with whoever signed him first. No. The number 1 pick of 2003 for the Cleveland Cavaliers was there for one purpose, and it was to win a championship for his team, his city and his people. 

Western Bulldogs - 2016 AFL Premiers

The Bulldogs has to be my favourite upset of the year. So much excitement surrounded this club, it was hard to say Sydney would win, purely based on belief.

In the two seasons prior, they had lost their captain Ryan Griffen, as well as long serving pair Shaun Higgens and Adam Cooney. Considering this young list has more or less stayed the same since Brendan McCartney's failed stint as coach, the young Dogs have come a very long way and still have time on their side. 

Nobody gave these guys a shot. From the first week of finals, no one gave them a chance. Not even me. Here was my train of thought every week the Bulldogs progressed.

West Coast away? Forget it. 
Reigning premiers Hawthorn at the MCG? No chance.
GWS Giants away? Maybe, just maybe..?
Sydney Swans at the Grand Final ??????

I was there to witness it firsthand to see the Doggies proved me utterly wrong, and I couldn't have been happier. The atmosphere, the noise, the game, the goals. It was my first ever live Grand Final, so I soaked up every little detail of that day, not knowing when I'd get to go see one again, if ever. 

It's the biggest fairy tale ending to a season the AFL will ever see. The young dogs went from 7th place, against the odds all season long, and they still won it all. The belief in the air was thick at the MCG that day, I was lucky enough to experience the spectacle with my dad. 

The Doggies showed us the meaning of hard work and self belief, and it paid off. A first Grand Final appearance since 1961, and their first premiership since 1954. It's the stuff of dreams, and all week you couldn't tell the fans that their boys weren't going to win. Everyone has a newfound respect for the Bulldogs, and here's hoping they can continue their success during this premiership window. 

Read my AFL Grand Final experience here

Cronulla Sharks - 2016 NRL Premiers

Ah, yet another fairy tale for a long suffering Australian club. After the Western Bulldogs had their moment of glory, Cronulla Sharks fans hoped that their boys would do the same the very next day. Cronulla were yet to win an NRL premiership in their 49 year history, and it didn't seem like it was going to change coming up against a 4 time premiership Melbourne Storm, who would be contesting their 7th Grand Final. 

I sat and watched the last 30 minutes or so with dad, who is not a rugby fan by any means. But even he saw the significance of the final, and he understands what it means to be a long suffering fan. 

The game itself was gripping, right down to the final minutes. In the 77th minute, the score was 14-12 in Cronulla's favour, yet it was still anyone's game. Storm's Will Chambers had the ball on the sideline, pulls off an incredible grubber kick to himself, and he tried to run with the ball only to be flattened by three Sharks' players who were desperate for a win. If Chambers was able to look up and pass to his open teammate Cooper Cronk, he'd have run in for an easy try and Melbourne might've won. 

That wasn't the case, and with every minute the Sharks supporters, players and staff knew for certain that the Grand Final was won. The crowd grew louder, the players played their hearts out right down to the final tackle. 

Long term skipper Paul Gallen could finally say he'd won a trophy with his only NRL club. In his post match interview, he was in breathless disbelief. The look on his face told it all, his life's work and career led to this point, and for the 35 year old it was a moment to savour like no other. 

Tears and hugs were shared between teammates, fans most definitely lost their voices. Celebrations continued well into the night and the following morning, and delivered an incredible weekend of fairy tales for NRL and AFL fans. 

Chicacgo Cubs - 2016 World Series Champions

Last but not least in this spectacular year of upsets around the world. The Chicago Cubs were engaged in a record breaking World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Much like the Cavaliers, these teams were involved in a series that went to 7 games, but this time it was the Cleveland side who gave up a big lead. 

Whichever team won was going to break a very, very long dry streak for either city. Cleveland and Chicago would be making their first appearances in a World Series since 1945 and 1997 respectively. The Cubs hadn't experienced World Series success in 108 years, while the Indians haven't won since 1948.

Let's sum it up, it was a really, REALLY big deal for both these cities. Whatever the end result was going to be, we knew we were in for a very tense and emotionally charged World Series. 

What we didn't know was how it was going to unfold. The Series went to 7 games, after Cleveland raced out to a 3-1 lead. The intensity didn't stop there, this was going right down to the wire. Of all the games in the entire series, it took an extra inning in game 7 to decide a winner. Chicago won by a hairline 8-7 score in the 10th inning, sending the world into a frenzy. 

The Back to the Future references haven't stopped, but they will always ring true. While the Cubs couldn't win in 2015 like the movies had predicted, I'm pretty sure we'd all love to have gone back in time and put some money on the Cubbies. 

If you'd asked any baseball enthusiast that the Cubs would win the World Series from 3-1 down in the 10th inning of the final game, they'd look at you like an absolute madman and tell you that they've got the curse of the Billy Goat. But as they say, the rest is history. 

To sum it all up

These teams showed us that you should never count yourself out, no matter what. In sports, work, life, whatever it may be. Some of these guys have worked tirelessly their whole lives for one moment. These guys had their backs to the wall and they all came out on top of the world. 

If you work hard and believe, you can be on top of the world too.

I hope everyone has had a very Merry Christmas, and I wish you all a prosperous and Happy New Year.

Relive their championship winning moments here:
-Leicester City crowned Premier League champions
-Cleveland Cavaliers tense finish at Golden State 
-Western Bulldogs final quarter at the MCG
-Cronulla Sharks winning the NRL Grand Final
-Chicago Cubs final out in game 7

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