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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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June 16, 2008 - 12:42pm
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