What makes us root for the underdog? Where does that nature of rooting for the ‘little guy’ come from? When will the clichés end?
Being a Red Sox fan as a young child, I can tell you. I remember Aaron Boone and I remember the heart-break in the 2003 ALCS from Yankee Stadium. I remember being a seven-year old who pleaded with Grady Little through the television set to pull Pedro. Then – to quote “The Princess Bride” – the inconceivable happened and the 2004 re-vamped Red Sox mounted a comeback after going down three games to none. With the aid of heroes like second base thief Dave Roberts, from cut-to-clutch Derek Lowe and the lovable father of Red Sox Nation, Big Papi, the Sox “shocked the world” and took the next four games from the Bronx Bombers in extra innings to advance to the World Series.
That right there is the basic concept of an improbable comeback by a rag-tag bunch of misfits that band together to form a team that defeats a powerhouse organization. Tales like those inspired two things: one, nearly all of Hollywood’s sports movies; and two, the term, a “Cinderella Story.”
Cinderella has visited every sport, creating the tale that begins something like, “We were down by two goals with a minute left, so we pulled our goalie…” and usually become immortalized in video clips, plaques, descriptions and memories. Stories of teams who didn’t think they had a David’s chance against a giant will be perpetually memorialized. Mike Eruizone and the 1980 US Olympic hockey team defeating the Soviets in a symbolic contest, Mookie Wilson and the 1986 Mets, Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” and Frank Reich leading the depleted Buffalo Bills to a victory after being down in the 1992 AFC Wild Card game 35-3 in the third quarter over the Warren Mood-led Houston Oilers.
But the reason that names like Mike Eurizone and Doug Flutie are so well known is that one game – that one contest where their years of work manifested into a great moment of incredible shock and that one instance where all those who said the little team that couldn’t…suddenly could.
There is a specific time when Cinderella loves to appear, and that is March. March, filled with college basketball Madness, and seems to create many stories of lowly, begotten teams rising up in order to defeat a mighty and arrogant opponent.
As inspirational and tear-inducing as those parables are, that is simply not usually the way that things occur. Most of the time, the team that’s supposed to win, does. For example, (4-seeded) Syracuse’s 47-point slaughtering of Montana (13) went unnoticed in the NCAA world because, well, the Citrus was ranked higher and it was an expected victory.
It’s those irregularities, those unexpected joys, that make Cinderella stories so much better.
Even stories such as the Lehigh Mountain Hawks and the Norfolk State Spartans are quickly forgotten. For a refresher, Lehigh and Norfolk were two 15-seeded teams during the 2012 NCAA Tournament who upset two 2-seeds – and college basketball perennial powerhouses – Duke and Missouri, respectively.
However, after the Round of 64, Lehigh and Norfolk lived down to their number 15-seed billings and exited humbly and quietly. Florida routed the Spartans 84-50, including an unbearable 25-0 run during the first half, in which Norfolk simply looked as if they did not belong – it was Michael Jordan one-on-one with little Kevin from down the block. The Mountain Hawks exited in a similar fashion, a 70-58 loss to Kenny Frease and Xavier in which the Musketeers used its bigger men to dominate Lehigh inside.
Cinderella had forgotten her slipper in the round of 64, but returned to pick it up before Prince Charming had a chance to see it – the magic was gone, and so were Lehigh and Norfolk State.
In fact, before this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info, teams seeded 15th were 0-6 all-time in the round of 32. Not only were the 0-6, but on average they lost by 15.0 points per game. So not only did they end their season early, they ended it poorly.
This 2013 NCAA Tournament, however, has proved that college sports are incredibly unpredictable. Upsets left no ESPN bracket (and there were over 9 million) perfect on the first day.
This year, Cinderella has ridden again through the NCAA in her pumpkin carriage.
Florida Gulf Coast University: the most cursed name in everyone’s brackets currently and the holder of the title “Cinderella Story.” The small, upstart college based out of Fort Meyers, FL astonished everyone with their upset of (2) Georgetown. Georgetown was a team that many selected as a Final Four contender. However, once America was defibrillated from the shock, they discovered it was real. Contrary to many who dismissed the FGCU Eagles as a one-and-down, similar to the Spartans and Mountain Hawks.
Then, they did it again. It was improbable, but it happened. Florida Gulf Coast triumphed over (7) San Diego State 81-71 on Sunday night. The Eagles, who gained full Division I membership in only 2011, became the first ever 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16. With their rap anthem and chants of DUNK CITY (#DunkCity trended nationally on Twitter), the Eagles are the hottest story in sports. They entered the 2013 NCAA tourney with 2000-to-1 odds of winning it all and have already taken two of the necessary steps to get there.
But there is a catch. As fun and as inspiring it is to have Florida Gulf Coast do so well, expectations should be tempered. The lowest seed to ever win an NCAA tournament was the 1985 Villanova squad, who was 8th, since seeding started in the 1979 NCAA tourney. There have only ever even been two double-digit seeds in the Final Four (2006 George Mason and 1986 LSU).
Florida Gulf Coast may write the history about double-digit seeds, but right now, history is against them.
So while Cinderella may leave her glass slipper for a round or two, she always returns to retrieve it before the night is over – and with the night coming to a close, so does the tournament for double-digit seeds.