by Rob Joyce
The Barclays Premier League has been in existence since 1992, and in that time only five clubs have managed a title: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Blackburn. In comes Leicester City, a team with 5000-1 odds at the beginning of the season, who was in the English third division as recently as 2009 and was promoted to the Premier League just two years ago. Pulling off the seemingly impossible, the Foxes clinched the league championship on Monday. It’s being called the greatest underdog story in sports, and for good reason, as it tops our list of the unlikeliest champions ever.
1) Leicester City, 2015-16:
A lot of comparisons to American sports have been made to put the Foxes’ title into context. Some say it would be like an Ole Miss-level college football team winning the Super Bowl, or a Triple-A baseball team going to the majors and winning the World Series. Regardless, a bet on Leicester City at the start of the year placed the same odds as finding Elvis alive or seeing Bigfoot, and they went out and won anyways. Truly remarkable.
2) USA Hockey, 1980 Olympics:
This team pulled off what is generally considered the greatest upset in team sports history, with their win over the Soviets, then a subsequent gold medal clincher against Finland. As unlikely as the medal run by Herb Brooks’ squad was, it gets bumped down to No. 2, as they had a two-week tournament. Leicester did this over a 38-game season.
3) New England Patriots, 2001:
The Pats began the year 0-2, lost starter Drew Bledsoe in that Week 2 loss to the Jets, and were 5-5 heading into Thanksgiving. Then a young quarterback named Tom Brady found his groove, and the rest is history. With a sixth-round compensatory selection, New England won their final nine games, including a playoff overtime win against Oakland and a shocking upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Adam Vinatieri’s field goal. Of course 15 years later a Brady-Belichick Super Bowl is ho-hum. At the time, though, it was absolutely stunning.
4) NC State Wolfpack, 1983:
NC State probably wouldn’t have even made the NCAA Tournament had they not won the ACC Tournament. They were 17-10 in the regular season, and won an improbable number of close games down the stretch. Starting with the ACC Tournament opening round, six of their final nine games were decided by three points or less, while one other went to overtime. Lorenzo Charles’ championship-winning putback dunk against top-seeded Houston was the icing on the championship cake for the most unlikely of Cinderella stories.
5) Nottingham Forest, 1977-78:
They finished third in the English Second Division in 1977, earning them a promotion to the First Division. Far more likely to face relegation at the end of the season than compete for a title, they allowed 24 goals over the span of 42 matches and pulled of a Leicester-sized upset by winning a championship. They nearly repeated history the next year, finishing second.
6) New York Giants, 2007:
The Giants stumbled a bit into the postseason, going 4-4 in the second half of the season. Alas, in the playoffs everything clicked, leading to a Super Bowl matchup against the 18-0 Patriots, a team that beat the Giants 38-35 in Week 17. The pass rush battered Tom Brady for four quarters, David Tyree made the helmet catch, and Plaxico Burress’ touchdown in the final seconds secured one of the greatest upsets ever, and made for one of the most unlikely Super Bowl champs ever.