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Upset Specials: 7 Stunners Not Involving Joe Namath, Buster Douglas or Cold War-era Olympic Hockey

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Getty Images

Earlier today, Rocco Mediate was unable to cement his place in upset history, falling to Tiger Woods in a sudden-death playoff. So Rocco doesn't make this list of stunning upsets that Ethan Trex wrote back in February after Super Bowl XLII.

After the Giants beat the Patriots, two things were bound to happen. First, Eli Manning was going to look extremely confused in a "Wow, even I didn't see this coming"¦" kind of way. Then the hyperbole-driven sports media was going to start calling this "the biggest upset in history!!!!!!" (Actually, they'll probably use more exclamation points, but you get the idea.) While Super Bowl XLII may well have been the biggest upset in history, don't forget some of these less obvious choices:

1. The 1993 Grammy for Best Rock Song

Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" provided an anthem for the entire grunge movement and inspired thousands of teenage boys to buy Stratocasters, learn the song's opening chords, then lose interest in the guitar in favor of Pog trading. Seems like a logical pick for the year's top rock song, right? If not "Smells Like Teen Spirit," then Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" won, right?

Nope, both lost to Eric Clapton's unplugged version of "Layla." It makes perfect sense if you ignore the fact that the song was already 23 years old or that the acoustic version obviously lacks both the initial guitar riff and the lengthy piano outro that made the original so hypnotic. Or that Clapton and Pattie Boyd, the song's subject and George Harrison's ex-wife, were long divorced when this version was recorded. It had intelligible lyrics, and apparently that's all that mattered.

2. The 1992 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress 

Marisa Tomei's win for her work in My Cousin Vinny was such an upset that observers assumed she'd received the Oscar in error. It seemed so improbable that Tomei's turn as Joe Pesci's strident fiancée would beat out competition that included Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson that rumors circulated that presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name after imbibing a few too many drinks before the show. Although the Academy publicly stated that such an error could not possibly happen since officials of Price Waterhouse, the firm that counted the votes, waited off-stage in case of just such a mix-up, the rumors persisted. All this sniping kind of makes Tomei's never getting to go out with George Costanza seem like a minor indignity.

3. The 1994 NBA Western Conference Playoffs

The 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics were an incredibly stacked team that featured a young (and still somewhat svelte) Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton entering his prime, Nate McMillan, Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, and a solid supporting cast. They ran out to a league-best 63-19 record to earn the top seed in the Western playoffs.

Their first-round opponents, the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, were a bit less intimidating. Sure, they had a young Dikembe Mutombo (difficult to visualize, I know), but the rest of the roster was filled with guys whose basketball cards you definitely didn't want. (Apologies to Robert Pack, Bryant Stith, and Tom Hammonds.) Yet somehow after dropping the first two contests in the five-game series, the Nuggets reeled off three straight wins to become the NBA's first eight seed to triumph over a one seed. It was such an improbable upset that Shawn Kemp's probably still telling his kids about it.

4. The 2007 Indianapolis Mayoral Race

Although we love Hoosiers, Indiana can apparently foster more than just high school basketball upsets. In this election Republican Greg Ballard managed to depose two-term incumbent mayor Bart Peterson despite being almost comically outspent throughout the campaign. How severe was the spending difference? At the outset of the campaign, Peterson boasted a $2.9 million war chest, while Ballard had $9,560 to his political name, enough to buy a decent used Accord, but a little thin to win a major office. The former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel persisted, though, and despite spotty support from his party, won the election by a 51%-47% margin, ironically enough in the same calendar year that the heavily favored hometown Colts managed to avoid choking in the playoffs for the first time in ages.

5. The 1986 World Snooker Championship

The Giants' win as 12-point underdogs was impressive, but it sounds positively probable compared to Joe Johnson's run to the 1986 World Snooker Championship. At the outset of the tournament, outsider Johnson was something of a heavy underdog; betting on him to win got you 150-1 odds. He managed to walk into Sheffield's Crucible Theater, though, and dominate the competition, including pasting the world's top-ranked player, Steve Davis, 18-12 in the final, a feat that would likely receive much more ink here if a single American knew how to play snooker.

6. The 2003 Cannes Lions Advertising Festival

Director Spike Jonze can make almost anything entertaining. From his breezy music videos like the one for the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" to quirky features like Adaptation, Jonze's work has earned a slew of admirers, including ad men. In 2003, ad firm Crispin Porter's Jonze-directed "Lamp" spot for Ikea beat out Honda's heavily-favored "Cog" spot from Wieden+Kennedy London, which featured a Rube-Goldberg-esque progression of rolling car parts, to win the Grand Prix at the annual Cannes festival known as "the Olympics of advertising." Which ad was really better? See for yourself.

Honda "Cog"

Ikea "Lamp"

7. The 1913 U.S. Open

While an amateur winning one of golf's major championships sounds completely inconceivable in the modern game, it wasn't much more probable in 1913, when former 20-year-old Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open on the Brookline, Massachusetts course where he'd previously worked as a caddy. Aided by 10-year-old caddy Eddie Lowery, Ouimet stunned heavily favored British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to become the first amateur to win the Open. His unlikely feat earned Ouimet a spot in golf's Hall of Fame, and Mark Frost's historical account The Greatest Game Ever Played inspired a movie of the same name starring Shia LeBeouf.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. For a recent mental_floss story, he somehow lumped together Beavis & Butthead and The Puppy Bowl.

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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