In sports, and in life, there is comfort in the expected. But, there is ecstasy in the unexpected.
What do you expect? Correct me if I’m wrong, but, you probably expect the Patriots to take care of business in the AFC East, winning their eighth- consecutive division title. You probably expect Brad Stevens to show a better version of the Boston Celtics in 2016, than he did in 2015. And that’s fine. Those are good expectations. I like those expectations. But, there is ecstasy in the unexpected, and here’s why:
The baseball race for the postseason is speeding towards a penultimate finish. Last night, the Red Sox welcomed a surging Yankees club to a raucous, sell-out crowd at Fenway. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, trailing 5-2, not many in attendance expected a walk-off rally to commence. In fact, some people got out their phones to look at what level they parked on in the parking structure.
Then, Big Papi happened. Again. On a night where he passed Mickey Mantle on the all-time home-runs list, Papi was once again instrumental in the final inning, keeping things going on a single to right-center field. His brilliance paved the way for Hanley Ramirez’ dramatic three-run, walk-off home run, which sent the fans of the home team into a delirious state of bliss. How’s that for clutch? And how’s that for unexpected?
The Red Sox season is in its latter stages, but college football is just getting started. We have eleven weeks remaining in the regular season. Plus a playoff. Plus, about six-trillion different postseason bowl games. Last year was one of the most thrilling seasons of college football ever. From botched snaps and punt returns, to Georgia Tech and game-winning field goals, collegiate football was all about the unexpected. A trend that seems to be continuing in 2016.
Despite the fact that Spinal Tap’s manager, Ian Faith, claims that, “Boston isn’t much of a college town.”, it is. In fact, the New England-area is home to some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. Schools like Harvard, Boston College, and Northeastern, carry some serious clout. As it turns out, they would be considered underdogs, compared to some of the behemoths of college athletics, like say, Oklahoma State.
Last week, Oklahoma State did not play any of the aforementioned Greater-Boston-Area schools, they played a football game versus the Central Michigan Chippewas, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. And lost. Even though the OSU Cowboys were favored to win by 17.5 points, even though the game was played in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and even though the ending of the game was highly controversial, they still lost. Or should I say, the Chippewas won.
In case you don’t know, and you most likely do not, let me tell you a little bit about Central Michigan University: Antonio Brown and Jeff Daniels went there for undergrad, the student enrollment is roughly 27,000, and there is an on-campus Starbuck’s. Oh yeah, and they pulled off what will go down as one of the biggest upsets of the year a week or so ago.
Trailing 27-24 in the fourth quarter, with no time left on the clock, CMU was rewarded one last, untimed down, for a chance to win the game, due to an intentional grounding penalty by Oklahoma State. Though it was later determined that the Chippewas, per the NCAA rule book, should not have been awarded possession of the football in this scenario, Cooper Rush’s team capitalized with a touchdown on the final play by way of a Hail Mary lateral. A jubilant dogpile ensued, a bunch of tweets were sent, and an unknown school became a known school, in the blink of an eye.
The sports world needs moments like this. Kids growing up playing catch with their brother at the park need to believe that anything is possible. A great upset can transcend sports, capturing the attention of local, national, and world news. People can get behind an underdog more easily than they can a favorite because underdogs are almost always more relatable. This is because nothing is ever given to them, they have to go out and take it. Then sit back and watch confetti fall from the sky.
In college basketball, March Madness is most beloved for its upsets. Learning about a small school is like reading the “fun facts” on the bottom of an iced tea bottle. Sure, you’re sad if you come up on the losing end, but a top-echelon program or organization, has a much better opportunity for future success, whereas the underdog might only get one shot at the big time.
If I still haven’t convinced you that upsets are awesome, try and remember how you felt when the Red Sox stunned the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. If you came up with an adjective to describe how you felt, what would it be? Perhaps it would be, “ecstatic.” There is ecstasy in the unexpected.