A WEEKEND FOR UNDERDOGS

Sports fans savior an underdog story, where the person or team with little chance pulls off a huge upset or where an athlete ascends from meager beginnings to achieve mightily. Upset the colt administers Man o’ War his only defeat, the USA Hockey team wins the 1980 Olympics, brash Cassius Clay stops supposedly unbeatable Sonny Liston to win boxing’s World Heavyweight Championship, and many more such examples live on.

Two longshot outcomes occurred this past weekend, one in collegiate football and the other in the premier global turf event in horse racing.

The Cincinnati Bearcats football team, known historically as a pedestrian mid-level competitor, went to South Bend, Indiana, and took down the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a famed blueblood program for over a century.  Although Cincinnati had an undefeated record entering the game and was slightly favored, taking on the similarly unbeaten Fighting Irish in their tradition-laden home stadium filled with rabid supporters was a tall order.  But the “underdog wins” aspect of the game pertains to the life story of Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats’ quarterback, who skillfully led his team to victory in a hostile environment.

Ridder is the personification of overcoming adversity, who has vastly surpassed what experts once thought of his athletic ability and potential. The 6’ 4” Ridder was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to a 15-year-old mother. Ridder aspired to play football and indeed he did, first at Holy Family School and then at St. Xavier High School.  However, coming out of high school, he had only two college scholarship offers, from Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati, where he blossomed into the NFL-caliber quarterback he is today. In fact, Ridder passed up the chance to enter the NFL draft in order to finish his college career.

Another “longshot prevails” story occurred in Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp outside Paris, when 80-1 Torquator Tasso from Germany won the race.  What The Guardian reported cogently sums up the feat: “There was a stunned silence in the crowd, apart from the ripping up of betting tickets.”

One of the allures of sports is the possibility, however remote, that a monumental upset will occur or that an unheralded athlete will excel beyond all expectations.  Certainly, horse racing is replete with such narratives: Dark Star edging the great Native Dancer in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, John Henry rising from the claiming ranks to become one of the leading racehorses of all time, Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby and many more.

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