5 Greatest Sports Betting Upsets of All Time
Sports betting is a highly volatile business. There is no such thing as a “sure thing”. That point is proven time and again as underdogs have come back from the worst of odds to defeat anticipated heroes. Whether by sheer desire, design or a twist of fate, sports bettors have lost millions of cumulative dollars over the last century to unbelievable upset victories.
Choosing the all-time greatest sports betting upsets is not an easy task. The truth is, there have been so many incredible upsets in sports betting, at least two dozen worthy of top five titles. After intense research, I’ve picked out my top 5 favorite sports betting upsets of all time. I’ve chosen to place them in chronological order.
The earliest upset to make this list is one that any horse racing fan should be well aware of. It happened on August 13, 1919 at the Saratoga race track in New York. Rising star Man O’ War was heavily favored to win the race at 1-to-15, meaning every $15 wagered would only win $1 for a total $16 return. At the opposite end of the spectrum was a horse by the name of ‘Upset’; most fitting as the outcome would reveal. Upset was such an implausible long shot that he was posted at 100-to-1. A winning bet of $1 would return a whopping $101.
Had it not been for an untimely start, Man O’ War would most assuredly have won the race, but they didn’t use starting gates back then. The horses lined up and the riders attempted to keep them ready on the line. Man O’ War, however, was still circling when the starting bell rang and was not even facing the proper direction. Starting out well behind the pack, Man O’ War actually passed the other contenders in quick order, but when it came time to overcome Upset, who had taken an unexpected lead over Golden Broom, he only managed to get half a link behind him before running out of track. Upset had lived up to his name, shocking horse racing sports bettors all across the country.
The next greatest upset in the history of sports betting came at Super Bowl III as the 18 point underdog New York Jets took on the powerhouse Baltimore Colts in the first year of the AFL division. The established Colts were expected to win by a heavy deficit, most giving the Jets no chance in hell to even compete against the brawn of the Colts.
An impetuous young quarterback by the name of Joe Namath disagreed, publically announcing his personal guarantee that the Jets would win the Super Bowl that year. Not only did the team come to play, the Jets defeated the Colts by a score of 16 to 7, a triumph that literally changed the National Football League forever more.
Miracle on Ice
The most prolific upset in the history of the Olympic Games, and what some consider to be the greatest of all time, occurred when the US hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics; further dramatized by taking place in the deepest days of the Cold War.
The Soviets were recognized as the number one hockey team in the world. None were expected to even present a challenge, much less conquer the elite Soviet team. Not only did the US vanquish their foes with a score of 4-3, they went on to trounce over the Finland team in the finals 4-2 to claim the gold.
Grappling with Gold
20 years after the Miracle on Ice, another phenomenal finish would upset sports bettors all over the world as the Olympics headed to Sydney, Australia. Russian wrestling star and three time gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin hadn’t lost an international competition match in 13 years, not even a single point in 6 years, and certainly wasn’t expected to be overthrown by the likes of American wrestler Rulon Gardner. A resounding gasp was heard from sports bettors round the world when the “Russian Bear” was subjugated by Gardner.
Being of immense size and muscular stature, “Alexander the Great” Karelin was so heavily favored over the American – who had never placed better than 5th in any international competition in his career – that chairman of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch was seated in the front row in anticipation of personally awarding Karelin with his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Most astonishing, Karelin could have just as easily won the match if it hadn’t been for a new rule enforced by the committee. According to the rules back then, when the second round begins, the wrestlers are to be clinched. The first to break the clinch would lose a point to their opponent. The referee faulted Karelin for breaking first, thus Rulon Gardner was awarded a single point; the only point scored in the entire match.
February 3, 2008, Super Bowl XLII kicks off, pitting the New England Patriots against the unlikely New York Giants. The Patriots were already being deemed the best football team to ever play the game, and why not? They had previously won three Super Bowl Championships since 2001, and had just completed a perfect 18-0 season, including the playoffs.
What had New York done that year? They came in second in their division, barely making the wild card game that they eventually won (again, unexpectedly) to get a spot in the playoffs. QB Eli Manning had a pass completion percentage of less than 54% since getting the job as starting quarterback. The team fought tooth and nail through three consecutive playoff road games, clawing their way to a victory each time. Impressive? Yes. Expected to have a chance in hell against the Pats? No.
As the game got underway, the Giants were the first to score, kicking a 3 point field goal with 5 minutes left in the first quarter. The first play of the second quarter, the Patriots finished off a drive with a touchdown for 7 points. The score would remain this way until the fourth quarter of the game, the Giants trailing.
About 4 minutes in, a 6-play 80-yard drive lead to a touchdown pass caught by David Tyree. The Giants again held the lead, but only by 3 points. Sports bettors were already astonished that the Giants stayed within sight of the Patriots, but to see them take the lead in the 4th quarter was beyond belief. Thus few were surprised when the Patriots retook possession of the ball and Tom Brady immediately led his team straight down the field, reclaiming the lead with a touchdown to Randy Moss.
The Giants were left with a mere 2:42 on the clock, but much like his famed brother Peyton, Eli Manning was nowhere near ready to quit. He drove the team 83 long yards down the field, finishing it off with a 13 yard pass that found Plaxico Burress waiting in the end zone. With only 35 seconds remaining, the Patriots luck had finally run out. The New York Giants beat all odds, coming back from an 18-0 underdog expectation to win the Super Bowl 17-14.