NHL’s Golden Knights and 13 More Improbable Long-Shot Winners
Vegas reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its debut season ranks among the all-time sports upsets.
Before pucks dropped in the 2018 season of the National Hockey League, some sportsbooks offered odds as long as 500-1 that the Vegas Golden Knights would win the Stanley Cup.
To put that in perspective, those odd are five times worse than what bookmakers are currently offering on the prospect that the Cleveland Browns—who went winless in 2018—will be the 2019 Super Bowl champions.
Now, with Vegas set to begin the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals starting on May 28, the Golden Knights are only four games away from hoisting the most celebrated chalice in sports.
Should the Golden Knights be able to accomplish that feat in this, their inaugural season, it will rank right up there with some of the most surprising upsets in the history of sports. And, even if Vegas doesn’t pull off the upset, they’ve already beaten the odds by making it to the Cup Final.
In honor of what the Knights are poised to do, here’s a look at 13 other historic upsets in sports.
Upset beats Man o’ War in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga in 1919.
Undefeated coming into the race, Man o’ War was an overwhelming favorite to remain that way. It didn’t pan out that way as the aptly-named Upset was able to win the Stakes by half a length. Man o’ War, who had defeated Upset in six previous meetings, never lost another race and went on to stud 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral.
#16 seed UMBC beats #1 seed Virginia on March 16, 2018
With their dominant 74-54 win over the Cavaliers, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers became the first No. 1 seed to beat a No. 16 seed in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament history. UMBC fell in the second round to Kansas State, but their first-round win will forever be remembered anyway.
Boston Red Sox top New York Yankees in 2004 ALCS after 0-3 series hole
Trailing the American League Championship series 2-0, the Red Sox lost at home in Game 3 by a final margin of 19-8. They went on to win the next four games (the first two in extra innings) to become the first team in MLB history to win a series after trailing three games to none. Boston won its next four games too to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Leicester City wins the 2015-16 English Premier League title
To secure the club’s first-ever EPL title, Leicester City went 23-12-3 and notched 81 points to overcome 5,000-1 preseason odds a year after nearly being relegated to the Championship division. The following season, things returned to normal and Leicester City finished 12th in the EPL.
#8 seed Denver Nuggets defeat the #1 seed Seattle Supersonics, 1994 NBA playoffs after 0-2 series hole
In the first two games of this best-of-five series, the No. 1-seed Supersonics cruised to wins. In the following two games, the No. 8-seed Nuggets took care of business at home and then knocked the Sonics out of the playoffs on the road in Seattle in Game 5. It was the first, but not the last, time a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 8 seed in the NBA.
Roberta Vinci ousts Serena Williams at the 2015 US Open
In the semifinals of the tournament, top-seeded Serena Williams had her quest for her first calendar Grand Slam ended 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 by 12-1 underdog Roberta Vinci, who had been ranked No. 43 heading into the tourney.
New York Giants defeat New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008
Entering the game 18-0 on the season and anointed as 12-point favorites, the New England Patriots were manhandled by the New York Giants defense and struggled to score. The 10-6 Giants were able to pull off the shocking 17–14 victory thanks to clutch throws by Eli Manning and David Tyree’s ridiculous “Helmet Catch.”
Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey in UFC 193 in 2015
Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson in 1990
Holding the IBF, WBC and WBA titles, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson was 37-0 when he entered the ring against Buster Douglas. He stayed that way until the 10th round when an uppercut followed by a four-punch combo knocked Tyson down and he was counted out. In his next fight, Douglas failed to defend his titles against challenger Evander Holyfield and retired.
Patriots beat Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002
Before Tom Brady was Tom Brady, he was an unheralded sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan who only got to start because Drew Bledsoe got injured. That changed when Brady put the Patriots in position to win over the St Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf.” New England kicker Adam Vinatieri clinched the 20-17 victory with a 48-yard field goal in the closing minute. It was the first Super Bowl win, but not the last, for a New England franchise that had been one of the league’s worst.
The U.S. shocks the Soviet Union 4–3 in semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympics
Appropriately known as “The Miracle on Ice,” this game saw a team of amateur American players defeat a team of professional Soviet players at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. Winners of the gold medal in five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games, the Soviets were the favorites to win gold. (They had just trounced the U.S team in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden days before the Olympics.) But the USSR had to settle for silver as they lost and the U.S. went on to win the tourney by beating Finland in the next game.
Rulon Gardner bests Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Olympics in 2000
Undefeated and unscored on in international competition for the decade preceding the Olympics, Karelin was expected to easily win his fourth consecutive gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in Sydney. That was not to be as Gardner, an American, defeated the Russian by scoring the lone point of the match in the second period and held on to take the 1-0 win.
North Carolina State beats Houston in NCAA Championship in 1983
A basketball juggernaut that had won 26 straight games and featured future NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, top-seeded Houston was the overwhelming favorite to knock off No. 6 seed N.C. State after the Wolfpack had somehow advanced to the NCAA final after needing to win the ACC tournament to even qualify. None of that mattered when N.C. State forward Lorenzo Charles put in his teammate Dereck Whittenburg’s desperation shot when it fell short of the rim to give NC State the 54-52 upset win.
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