It is well-chronicled that Americans root passionately for the underdog. During every baseball season, a wellspring of hatred for George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees gathers steam among fans of rival clubs as they watch the well-bankrolled team go to the top of the standings. This is usually followed (at least in recent years) by euphoria when the Yankees fail to win the World Series. Les Krantz takes America’s love of the underdog and parlays it into a highly readable coffee table book that every sports fan should cherish.
Krantz and his contributing editors ranked the fifty top sporting upsets (a significant majority of which are American–centered events) of all time. In crisp prose complemented by both photos and paintings, Krantz recounts these upsets and for some, also provides an update of the people involved. While Krantz’s ranking is likely to be argued with regarding what is included as well as what is excluded, the gamut is wide and covers events in American soil as well as those abroad.
The Soviet hockey team that came to the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, was considered to be one of the finest of all time, a juggernaut that had embarrassed an elite group of professional hockey players in an exhibition tour of the U.S. and Canada. The David in this David and Goliath battle was the U.S. team – a collection of college players, most of whom had no professional prospects. In a monumental upset (number one in Krantz’s list), the U.S. defeated the Soviets 4-3 in the semi-final and went on to win the gold medal.
Adolph Rupp had built a college basketball dynasty at the University of Kentucky and was the game’s leading coach at that time. He had also consciously eschewed recruiting blacks in his team. Kentucky met Texas Western University in the championship game of the 1966 NCAA tournament. Texas Western was not so much an underdog – it was ranked number three to Kentucky’s number one – as it was a then-strange team of five black players. In a 72-65 upset, Texas Western changed the face of the game forever. College coaches, including Rupp, recruited blacks in large numbers after that and ushered in the modern game.
In Krantz’s recount of these pivotal moments in sports, the reader can feel the tension as the event marches to its surprising conclusion. The photographs and pictures augment this feeling. In a one-two punch, the book comes with a DVD that contains actual footage from many of these events narrated by the estimable Jim Lampley. This book belongs in every sports fan’s shelf as well as on the shelf of motivational speakers and those involved in the coaching profession.