Top 10 Unlikely Sports Champions
With Leicester City FC winning the Premier League title, let's celebrate by looking back at some of the most unlikely sports champions.
Sports is one of the most popular subjects being talked about not just in Boston but around the world. In the modern era of sports, history is constantly being rewritten. The Golden State Warriors earned the best record in a season of basketball, the Kansas City Royals had the best bullpen in Major League Baseball history lead them to glory, and Juventus FC in Italy is on the verge of winning its fifth straight Serie A title. But the most exciting stories in sports are those of underdogs. In England, Leicester City FC won their first title in its 132 year history…just eight years after being in the third division. It is definitely the most surprising championship in Premier League history and perhaps even across all sports. There are tons more unlikely champions in the world of sports. Here is my list of the ten most unlikely championship teams throughout the five major sports.
10. Houston Rockets – 1995 NBA Champions
After winning the NBA Title a year earlier, the Houston Rockets finished the 1994-95 NBA Regular Season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Pushed to the brink of elimination twice, the Rockets were able to claim upset victories over the top three seeds in the West. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston completed its second consecutive title-winning campaign by beating the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals.
For a more in depth look back at the Rockets magical run, read Space City Scoop's analysis of the season.
9. Yale Bulldogs Hockey – 2013 National Champions
Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament as the final at-large bid, Yale knocked off Minnesota, in overtime, and North Dakota, in the final ten minutes, to reach the Frozen Four for the first time since 1952. As an Ivy League team without athletic scholarships, just being in the Frozen Four was a huge accomplishment. However, the Bulldogs stunned UMass-Lowell in overtime before defeating archrival and top-ranked Quinnipiac in the National Final for the school's first hockey championship.
Read the National Championship Game Recap from College Hockey Inc. here.
Check out an article from the Yale Daily News reminiscing about the 2013 Championship Team.
8. Hellas Verona - 1985 Serie A Champions
In a year when Italian powerhouse Juventus won the European Cup, Hellas Verona stunned Italy and the world by capturing its first league title in history. Although controversial due to randomized referee selection issued for league matches that season, many doubted Verona would be able to contend in such a powerful league. But after winning fifteen matches and losing only twice, Verona sat four points ahead of second place Torino at the top of the standings on the final day of the season, clinching its first Serie A Championship.
Check out The Guardian's look back at the miracle season of 1985 here
...and the Irish Times comparison to Leicester City here.
Some people even think Hellas Verona's title is the same as Leicester's feat.
7. Los Angeles Kings - 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
Despite going through three different head coaches during the season, the Los Angeles Kings still managed to make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Kings defeated the top three teams in the Western Conference in order, including a first round win over the President's Trophy winners – Vancouver Canucks. In the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings knocked off the New Jersey Devils to claim the franchise's first Stanley Cup. It was also the first time in NHL history an eighth seeded team won the Stanley Cup.
Read ESPN's reaction to the Kings victory here.
6. North Carolina State Wolfpack Basektball - 1983 National Champions
Earning the sixth seed in the West Regional, NC State needed overtime to escape the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After a blowout and couple of close victories, the Wolfpack was in the Final Four. After a victory in the national semifinals, NC State took on Houston for the title in a thrilling contest, and won the tournament with a buzzer-beating layup.
The NC State Wolfpack are recently in the news as they will get to meet with the President of the United States to celebrate their cinderella championship. Read the details of how and why here.
5. FC Kaiserslautern - 1998 Bundesliga Champions
At the end of the 1997 season, Kaiserslautern were promoted to the Bundesliga, the top division of German soccer. Highly expected to finish in the bottom half of the standings, Kaiserslautern lost only four games during the season to claim its second German title ever. It was the first time a team won the Bundesliga title in the same year it was promoted to the top flight.
Although Leicester's championship is pretty unlikely, some soccer experts say that FC Kaiserslautern's title was even more improbable. See what SKY SPORTS has to say here.
"It was a mix of stars who remained grounded, nobody played the superstar. The result was an unbelievable shock for football in Germany." - Martin Wagner - Kaiserslautern Midfielder
4. Liverpool FC - 2005 UEFA Champions League Winners
Liverpool didn't have a player score more than 13 goals all season, finished fifth in the English Premier League, and were having a pretty difficult season. However, Liverpool were the ones raising the European Cup Trophy at the end of the 2005 season. After narrowly qualifying for the competition and barely making it into the knockout round, Liverpool cruised into the finals against AC Milan in Istanbul. Going into halftime trailing 3-0, the Reds miraculously tied the game to force extra time and a subsequent penalty shootout. Liverpool held their nerve and completed one of the greatest comebacks in soccer history to claim the European Cup.
Liverpool, despite being heavy underdogs, were the one's that remained level-headed throughout the Champions League knockout stage. Even in a final that went to penalty kicks, the goalie, Jerzy Dudek, revealed how he remained poised during the most tense of moments. Read on here.
3. New England Patriots - Super Bowl XXXVI Champions, 2001
The Patriots entered 2001 looking to avenge a 5-11 season the year earlier. After dropping the first two games of the season and losing the starting quarterback for the season due to injury, the Patriots were able to band together and earn the second seed in the AFC at a record of 11-5. In the AFC Divsional Round, the Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13, overcoming a ten-point deficit in the final fifteen minutes through a driving snowstorm. After beating the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers to earn a spot in the Super Bowl, the Patriots played the St. Louis Rams for the Championship. New England defeated the "Greatest Show on Turf" with an incredible last-minute drive and game-winning field goal.
"After he kicked one through the snow, I knew he could kick one through the confetti.'’ - Antowain Smith - Patriots Running-Back on Kicker Adam Vinatieri
2. Minnesota Twins - 1991 World Series Champions
Two different World Series Champions round-out the the list.
In 1990, the Minnesota Twins finished with a record of 74-88, good enough for last place in the American League West. The following season, Minnesota topped the West with a 95-67 record, and became the first team in Major League history to win a League Championship a year after finishing in last place. The Twins magical playoff run continued in one of the greatest World Series ever played. Seven thrilling games, all won by the home team, saw Minnesota win the championship with a walk-off single in the eleventh inning of game seven.
Twins fans have been making comparisons to the 1991 team since then, with the latest one comparing the current Twins' rough April to that of the '91 team. Read on here.
13 years later, it was Boston who topped the Twins' feat. The last time the Red Sox had won a World Series was 1918…86 years earlier. After a tough regular season that saw Boston sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the Red Sox swept Anaheim and became the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a series by beating the New York Yankees 4-3. A sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series clinched the World Series for the Red Sox.
It was certainly a special moment in Red Sox history, and very coincidental as well.