When the Underdogs Have Their Day

There are plenty of folks who believe a World Series that is not between the Yankees and the Dodgers isn't a World Series at all. Their point is well taken.

After all, there were those dramatic Series involving the titans in 1941, '47, '49, '52, '53, '55, and '56, all before the Dodgers left Brooklyn some four decades ago for a sabbatical in L.A. that has lasted a bit longer than most of us anticipated. The epic Yankee-Dodger matchups continued in 1963, '77, and, '78 with some of the games being played in the temporary Dodger Stadium in southern California.

Surely the prodigal Dodgers will be returning home from L.A. soon. We'll keep the light on.

All this means we fans routinely are left with ugly duckling Series. This year's between the Yankees and San Diego (located in California, west of El Cajon and north of Imperial Beach) certainly qualifies. This Series without glamour could only have been made uglier if the teams had been Tampa Bay and Arizona.

In this alleged World Series, the only reason anybody cared is that all of us united behind the underdog Padres. Of course San Diego (located near Lemon Grove) never was considered to have a serious chance, so the 4-0 Yankee sweep didn't stun or shock. Major underdogs never have a serious chance, which is why we call them underdogs. Is everybody keeping up?

Americans love underdogs. It's because it's much easier for us to identify with the underdogs than top dogs because that's where most of us fit in life. We fail and we dust ourselves off and we try again. We fail and lie in the weeds for a spell and then try again. We are underdogs from dawn to dusk and then some. We understand what it's like to have a slim chance of success.

Underdogs are us.

But, occasionally, underdogs give us hope that we, too, will have our moment in the sun. We certainly deserve it. No wonder the successes of the dogs are burned in our hearts and engraved in our hopes.

Jack Fleck, a nobody golfer, upset blazingly brilliant Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 US Open.

In 1969, Joe Namath guaranteed that his 18-point underdog Jets would beat proud and talented Baltimore in the Super Bowl. They did, 16-7. In the same year, the Amazin' Mets hammered huge favorite Baltimore in the World Series. The city of Baltimore moped a lot in 1969.

In 1980, the nowheresville US hockey team upset the top-heavy favorite Soviets for Olympic gold. In 1985, nondescript Villanova whipped proud and strutting Georgetown for the NCAA basketball title.

In 1990, boxer Buster Douglas, a 42-1 dog, beat Mike Tyson. In the same year in World Cup soccer, defending champ Argentina sashayed into the tournament, only to lose its opening match to a team from somewhere called Cameroon.

Earlier this week, Heisman trophy winner Doug Flutie, long ago judged too small to play quarterback in the NFL, passed and ran Buffalo to a stunning last-second upset of the previously undefeated Jacksonville Jaguars. Flutie is the ultimate underdog. Mostly he has labored in the oblivion of Canada since his starring career at Boston College in the early '80s.

It was nine years ago that Flutie made his most recent NFL start. It would take a mighty frozen soul not to pull for the 2 ft., 6 in. Flutie. Marveled star Bills defensive end Bruce Smith of Flutie, "His heart's a lot bigger than his size." That's as good an explanation as any as to how an underdog can rise up to whup the top dog.

Yet, underdogs know their place. In Flutie's case, he got to play only because Bills starting QB Rob Johnson is injured. But whenever Johnson is healthy, Flutie will be unceremoniously replaced and positioned on the sideline to be seen but not heard.

Underdogs never get respect. It's because we always think their monumental achievement is a fluke. The reason we think that is that it's true. If the Jets had played the Colts 10 times in 1969, how many times do you think the Jets would have won? One sounds about right. What if they played 100 times? One sounds about right.

When we root for the dog, such as San Diego (located north and west of Dulzura), we know we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. That's fine. As underdogs ourselves, we understand disappointment. We can cope.

* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address: looneyd@csps.com

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