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Monday, May 12, 2003
Updated: June 2, 11:33 AM ET
No dog in these 'dogs

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

With the sixth-seeded Minnesota Wild battling the seventh-seeded Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, we can't help but remember the champs who had no chance -- the underdogs for which, somehow, the word "upset" doesn't do justice to their ultimate victories.

Can the Wild or Ducks finish off their improbable runs and lift Lord Stanley? If so, we may need to create space for a new No. 1 on the list of greatest underdog champs ...

Tommie Agee
Tommie Agee made two spectacular catches in the '69 Series as the Mets shocked the Orioles.

1. New York Mets (1969 World Series champs)
Back in the days before you could buy an expansion team and then immediately stock it with blue chippers, the Mets did the impossible. Through their first seven seasons, the lovables never finished higher than ninth place, and before the start of the 1969 season, oddsmakers put them at 100-1 to win the World Series. Before they beat the Braves and heavily favored Orioles to win it all, Dick Young of the New York Post wrote that The Miracle was a done deal. "In the most momentous accident since Columbus set out for India, the Amazin' Mets last night clinched the National League East. The rest will be easy." Few others made that postseason prediction, even though the Mets had won 100 regular-season games.

2. U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (1980 Olympic Gold)
The Americans, seeded seventh in the 12-team field at Lake Placid, had plenty of experience as a team -- they'd played 63 exhibition games before the 1980 Olympics. Still, this was nothing compared to the heavily favored Soviets, who played together every day for years and were perhaps the best team in the world -- including the NHL.

Said head coach Herb Brooks just before the Games began, "The Russians have to be the odds-on favorites for the gold, and you have to look for the Swedes and the Czechs for the silver and bronze. There are also four other quality hockey teams -- Canada, the U.S., Finland and West Germany -- who could all be considered underdogs. I believe we are a legitimate contender, but we definitely are underdogs."

The Americans began round-robin play by tying Sweden and beating Czechoslovakia, the two top teams in their division. Coming up against the USSR in the medal round, the U.S. was a huge underdog, having lost 10-3 to the same team in an exhibition just before the Games. Then came the "Miracle on Ice" -- a 4-3 win that was such a terrific upset that some still believe it resulted in a U.S. gold. It didn't. The Americans still had to play Finland, and if they lost, the Soviets would take the gold. But the U.S. beat Finland 4-2 and won it all.

3. Buster Douglas (WBC and WBA championships, Feb. 10, 1990)
Three headlines:

1) "Tyson Looms as Heavy Favorite"

2) "Tyson Says There's No Way He Can Lose Title to Douglas"

3) "Tyson Loses World Title in a Stunning Upset"

Lorenzo Charles
Lorenzo Charles' last-second slam gave N.C. State its remarkable win.

4. N.C. State Wolfpack (1983 NCAA Basketball Champs)
The Pack lost 10 regular-season games, got to the tourney after winning the ACC Championship, then barely got past both Pepperdine and Virginia to make it to the Final Four. Thanks to Georgia's dismal shooting, N.C. State won in the semis, 67-60, and then faced Houston. The Cougars had won 26 straight games, and awed viewers by scoring 58 second-half points to trounce Louisville in their semifinal matchup.

"We'll try to handle their team by playing, shall I say, a slower tempo," said Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano before the game. "If we get the opening tip, we may not take a shot until Tuesday morning."

N.C. State did control the tempo, leading 33-25 at halftime and winning on Lorenzo Charles unbelievable last-second dunk. Final score: 54-52. And, somehow, in just as great an upset, the Wolfpack outdunked Phi Slama Jama.

5. 1968 New York Jets (Super Bowl III champs)
The Jets had lost three regular-season games. The Colts had lost only one. The Jets played in the weaker "upstart" AFL. The Colts played in the obviously superior NFL. You could take the Jets to win, and the guy on the other side of your bet would also hand over between 18 and 23 points.

But Joe Namath wasn't betting. He was guaranteeing. (What his "guarantee" meant is still a puzzler, although we suspect it was just a studly way of saying, "I'm confident.")

Meanwhile, Baltimore was taking a low-key, relaxed approach to preparing for the game, perhaps creating the (wrong) impression that they "thought they were a bunch of volunteer firemen at a beach convention," wrote John Steadman in "The Baltimore Colts."

You know the rest. 16-7, Jets.

6. 2001 New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVI)
The Pats, 5-11 in 2000, began the 2001 season 50-1 longshots to win it all. Kurt Warner's Rams, on the other hand, seemed on their way to building a great football dynasty, dominating opponents with an explosive offense on their way to a 14-2 record. The Pats' regular-season mark was a just-good-enough 11-5.

Long story short: The Pats, led by QB Tom Brady, arrived in New Orleans 14-point underdogs, and came away 20-17 winners on Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard figgie on the last play of the game. It was one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, and the greatest upset since the Jets won Super Bowl III.

7. Jack Fleck (1955 U.S. Open Golf)
Ben Hogan was already in the locker room at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, sipping scotch and water and savoring what he was sure was his fifth U.S. Open win. As he answered questions from reporters and accepted congratulations from fellow golfers, Jack Fleck, an unknown, birdied 18 with a tough 7-foot putt, to tie. The next day, in an 18-hole playoff, Fleck outshot Hogan by three strokes to take the title.

8. New Jersey Devils (1995 Stanley Cup)
The talented Red Wings had the best regular-season record in the strike-shortened 1994-95 season -- 33-11-4. They eased through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a 12-2 mark. On the other hand, the Devils were only 22-18-8 in the regular season.

But New Jersey had a remarkable postseason run, beating three teams that had the home-ice advantage -- the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers. In the process, the Devils won 10 road games.

Still, Detroit was the heavy favorite in the Stanley Cup Finals, overmatching the Devils on an individual level. But the Devils meshed as a team, and had a punishing defense. After they won Game 1 in Detroit, New Jersey's Stephane Richer said, "Before the series, people thought we were going to get beat in four games, (that) this is an easy series for Detroit. If people think like that, we think it's fine. It's been like this before every series, and we've won them all. Hopefully, people will start believing we have a good hockey team."

A few days later, after the Devils swept the Red Wings, there were plenty of believers.

9. Charismatic (1999 Kentucky Derby)
In 1999's Run for the Roses, Charismatic, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, didn't seem to have much of a chance. His pop, Summer Squall, was the runnerup in the 1992 Kentucky Derby, but despite his excellent lineage, Charismatic went off at 30-1 odds. He started from the 16 post, putting him at a disadvantage straight away. And his jockey, Chris Antley, had almost retired the year before, when he struggled with weight problems.

Charismatic, who three months earlier could have been bought at a claiming race for $62,500, won in 2:03 1/5, easily beating the favorites, Excellent Meeting and General Challenge. If you had put down $2 on the horse, you would have gone home with $64.60, the third-largest payout in Derby history.

10. Houston Rockets (1995 NBA champs)
Strange to think of the defending champs as great underdogs, but the fact is, nobody expected Houston to repeat in 1995. The Rockets went only 47-35 during the regular season and were the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But they beat Utah (60-22), Phoenix (59-23) and San Antonio (62-20) in successive series to make it to the finals against Orlando. Then Hakeem Olajuwon & Co. got out the brooms and swept Shaq's Magic.

"I defy anyone to say we backed into this one," said Rockets exec. Bob Weinhauer. "Last year, they said Michael wasn't in the playoffs, and Seattle got beat in the first round and all that kind of garbage. This year, we only had to beat the four best teams in the NBA -- and we had to beat them all on their court."