Growing up a Boston sports fan, I spent nine summers with everyone around me knowing the Red Sox would never win a game, let alone the World Series — that they could never beat the Curse of the Bambino set in 1920 by trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. But there was always hope that by some stroke of luck they would reverse the curse, which they did by winning the World Series in 2004. Being a Boston fan means that I also cheered on the Patriots in the most recent Super Bowl, but I understand why the rest of the country was rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles. Watching the same people or team win over and over again is boring. What’s the point of watching a sports game if there is no excitement, no competition?
Everyone loves an underdog. In movies, it’s every “just friend” at the beginning of every rom-com ever. In politics, it’s Bernie Sanders. In sports, its most recently Loyola University Chicago and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in March Madness. After an underdog team wins, there is a sense — even for just a moment — that all is right with the world. That the bigger, richer team won’t always win; the little guy still has a chance and maybe that means that can happen in real life, that maybe people with fewer resources and experience can be successful. I don’t need to tell you to root for the underdog because odds are you already are.
According to a study from Bowling Green State University in 1991, 81 percent of people will root for the underdog no matter what. Most people get behind the underdog specifically because they likely will not win. And that’s exactly the point. Rooting for the underdog during a championship is an easy choice that can unite sports fans behind a single team no matter their regular season affiliation.
When it comes to athletics on an international level, the underdog is historically associated with Americans, from the U.S. men’s ice hockey team winning gold over Soviets in 1980 —deemed the “miracle on ice”— to the men’s curling team at the recent 2018 Winter Olympics. The U.S. men’s curling team were known as the “reject team” before they began dominating in PyeongChang and went on to beat Sweden for the gold. Team Shuster could not look further from Olympic athletes — with their red hats, facial hair and “dad bods”— let alone gold medalists, yet they surpassed the suave Swedes.
When a big name team continues to win, there is little chance that by watching and cheering them on, a fan has any impact. Watch or don’t watch, they will still win. But with underdogs, it’s different. Sports fans are notoriously superstitious (i.e. lucky socks) — as if every fan watching somehow ensures that their team has a shot at victory and by doing so, they are apart of the win.
An underdog victory is a victory for every underdog.