Sunday, April 02, 2017

Dave Reardon's biggest upset

Listening to the car radio on the way home late Friday (or was it early Saturday?), I heard sports talk radio guys talking about Mississippi State’s win over Connecticut possibly being the greatest sports upset of all-time.

What? They had to be joking, right? If they were just trolling for callers, it worked. Their lines lit up with plenty of dissenting opinions.

The Bulldogs’ 66-64 halting of UConn’s 111-game winning streak in the national semifinals is certainly huge. But all sports? All-time?

Not even close.

I do see it, though, as very significant and perhaps groundbreaking. In women’s basketball the best players and the best programs have been so much better than the have-less-talent competitors and programs. Big upsets are less common than in other sports and the men’s game.

So, when UConn goes down like that, it gives at least some hope that something a little closer to competitive balance can develop. And that would make women’s basketball more interesting to many fans.

After listening to the radio a bit longer, I realized where the radio dudes were coming from. I don’t mean philosophically, I mean geographically. Their broadcast was from Bristol, Conn., less than 50 miles from the UConn campus in Storrs. ESPN has always seemed more excited about UConn than most of the rest of the country.

For the same reason, some of us in Hawaii are a little biased toward Chaminade over Virginia as the gold standard for sports upsets.

Richard Haenisch has even more of an excuse, since he played for the Silverswords in their 77-72 win over the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers, who featured two-time NCAA Division I player of the year Ralph Sampson.

“Considering the 111-game winning streak and the fact UConn beat them by 60 last year and that it’s the Final Four, that makes (Mississippi State’s win) spectacular. But … one Division I school beating another should NEVER be considered as big an upset as an NAIA school with a tiny budget for athletics beating a No. 1 rated NCAA Division I team,” Haenisch said in a text. “EVER!”

That’s why one caller put Appalachian State’s football win at Michigan in 2007 as his pick (and no, he’s not an Ohio State or Michigan State guy).

Here’s what one guy with no dog in the fight thinks about the ’Swords:

“I tweeted right away (after the UConn loss) the biggest upset in all of sports is Chaminade over Virginia and it will never be topped,” said Scott Strasemeier, who is senior associate athletic director in charge of sports information at Navy.

Like we talked about with greatest players of all-time a few weeks ago, this is all tricky, subjective stuff that you can measure in so many different ways.

For example, in 1974, Notre Dame beat UCLA 71-70, in men’s basketball, ending an 88-game winning streak for the Bruins. We never hear that game mentioned as an all-time upset, do we?

Sometimes we’re prisoners of the moment, sometimes we’re victims of foggy memories that remember a smaller world when we knew little and cared even less about the world beyond our favorite team’s stadium.

The largeness of the stage can factor in. So can the impact on the sport … or, like when the United States Olympic team beat the Russians in hockey, an unexpected victory can affect an entire nation.

With all of that in mind and sometimes ignored, here’s one person’s list of biggest sports upsets of all-time. I know yours will be different.

Honorable mentions: Milan (Ind.) High School (enrollment: 161) beats big-school Muncie in Indiana state basketball championship (1954); Giants beat undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl (2008); Miracle Mets take down Orioles in World Series (1969); NC State knocks off Houston in NCAA men’s basketball championship (1983); Boise State beats Oklahoma in Fiesta Bowl (2007); Waimea over perennial power Kailua in state softball championship (1990).

10. Holly Holm crushes previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey in MMA fight (2016)

9. Mississippi State over UConn in women’s basketball (2017)

8. Red Sox win four after losing three to beat Yankees in ALCS, go on to capture their first World Series in 76 years (2004)

7. Jets 16, Colts 7, Super Bowl III, the Joe Namath “guarantee” game helped legitimize the AFL and form the current NFL (1969)

6. Buster Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, knocks out undefeated, undisputed heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson (1990)

5. Villanova over Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in NCAA hoops championship (1985)

4. Chaminade over Virginia (1982)

3. The Miracle on Ice (1980)

2. Bad News Bears over Yankees. Yeah, it’s a fictional movie. But (see No. 1) many of us can relate (1976)

1. Park Forest South Dodgers, the real-life Bad News Bears, beat the Reds, the real-life Yankees, in one of many real-life versions of the movie. Before the season even started we lost our only experienced player when he found a bullet, pounded it with a hammer and nearly lost an eye. But we somehow beat the Reds in the championship game. Remember, sports upsets are subjective (1972)

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