Sports are loved across the world thanks to the thrilling moments. Players hoist titles after countless hours of dedication to their craft, while others’ dreams are crushed after shocking upsets and losses.
The unpredictable nature of sports leaves us on the edge of our seats. Ten of the biggest upsets in the history of sports left us shocked with our jaws dropped wide open, with a nod to Rich Strike winning the 2022 Kentucky Derby at odds of better than 80-1.
1. Villanova Shocks Georgetown in the 1985 March Madness Title Game
The 1984-85 Georgetown Hoyas displayed dominance all season as defending champs and No. 1 ranking through much of the next season.
Heading into the national championship, Georgetown was 35-2. The Hoyas’ opponent — the Villanova Wildcats — were on a Cinderella run as a No. 8 seed. Villanova was one of the biggest underdogs of all-time in a college basketball national championship.
The Wildcats were blistering-hot throughout the entire game, shooting over 75% from the field. Nova’s elite efficiency during the 1985 national championship is referred to as the “perfect game”. Georgetown’s star power fell short; Villanova won its first national title, 66-64.
2. Appalachian State Stuns Michigan in the Big House
In 2007, Michigan was a 33-point favorite against Appalachian State. This was known as a “get right” game for the Wolverines in the nonconference schedule before Big Ten play.
Surely, No. 5 Michigan wouldn’t fall to unknown Appalachian State with the rowdy Big House behind it. As the game progressed, it looked like the Mountaineers had a shot.
Appalachian State kicked a field goal with about 30 seconds remaining, securing the lead 34-32. The Wolverines marched down the field and were in range for a game-winning field goal. The kick was blocked, leaving the home crowd speechless.
The Mountaineers shocked the world in one of college football’s all-time upsets.
3. The No. 8 Seed Denver Nuggets Rally in the 1994 NBA Playoffs
In professional sports, big upsets are rare. Typically the high-seeded squads advance far into the postseason.
Four times an 8 seed has beaten a 1 seed in the NBA Playoffs. In the 1994 NBA Playoffs, the Denver Nuggets became the first 8 seed to pull off the feat.
Denver pulled off the upset in a dramatic fashion. Led by Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets were down 2-0 against the No. 1 seed Seattle SuperSonics. At the time, this was a five-game series. The Nuggets mounted a furious comeback, winning three straight.
Denver thumped the Sonics in Game 3, winning 110-93. The Nuggets scrapped by in overtime in Game 4 (94-85). In the final game, the series delivered a memorable closer.
Seattle’s Kendall Gill made a last-second layup to force overtime. Denver fought the Sonics off with a 98-94 win thanks to Mutombo’s dominant defense and Robert Pack’s 23 points. The 1994 Nuggets set the standard for upsets in the NBA.
4. Star-Studded Oakland Athletics Fall to Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 World Series
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1988 World Series pennant is widely considered the biggest World Series upset in MLB history.
The Oakland Athletics had a historical season led by the unanimous AL MVP Jose Canseco. At 104-58, they had the third-best record in the American League in 30 years. Los Angeles was picked for fourth place in the NL West, but won the division and advanced to the World Series.
Even with the Dodgers’ great season, the Athletics were heavy favorites in the 1988 World Series. Los Angeles’ road to a pennant only became more difficult as players fell to injuries. The NL MVP, Kirk Gibson, had leg injuries, they lost their RBI leader and top left-handed pitcher in Game 3, and their starting catcher in Game 4.
Despite all of the obstacles, Los Angeles found a way. In the first game, the injured Gibson came in to pinch-hit and delivered with a walk-off homer to right field. The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead after their 5-4 victory.
They would depend on pitching the rest of the way. The right-handed starter Orel Hershiser secured Games 2 and 5, allowing only two combined runs in his two starts. Oakland only won Game 3 in a low-scoring affair, 2-1. Los Angeles secured the pennant after a dominating 5-2 victory in game five.
The A’s experienced another monumental upset in the 1990 World Series, falling to the Cincinnati Reds.
5. New York Giants Spoil Patriots’ Perfect Season
The 2007 New England Patriots were the first team to complete a perfect 16-0 regular season in the NFL. The Pats continued to roll, reaching Super Bowl XLII.
The New York Giants were a massive underdog with New England favored by 12 points. The Patriots were never held under 20 points throughout the season and were under 30 points only four times. New York’s defense had one heck of a game holding the Pats to only 14 points.
The upset was capped off by David Tyree’s unbelievable helmet catch on the game-winning drive.
With 35 seconds on the clock, Plaxico Burress reeled in a 13-yard touchdown reception. The Giants’ defense held once more on New England’s last chance. New York shocked the world with a 17-14 victory.
6. At 18, Emma Raducanu Defies the Odds at the 2021 US Open
With 400-1 odds headed into the tournament, the British phenom dominated her competition. She did not lose one set throughout the entire US Open. Even in the final, Raducanu did not slip beating Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in straight sets.
After winning the 2021 US Open, the tennis world would know the name Raducanu. She now ranks 12th in women’s singles.
7. The 1980 Winter Olympics ‘Miracle on Ice’
The Soviet Union was the heavy favorite to take home gold for men’s ice hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics, which were held in Lake Placid, New York. They were four-time defending gold medal winners with a stacked team filled with the world’s elite hockey athletes. The Soviets hadn’t lost an Olympic game since 1968.
Meanwhile, the host team (United States) was mostly made up of college players. The Americans needed a miracle to take home gold after losing to the Soviets 10-3 in an exhibition game. Little did they know, that was just what the Americans would get…
With about seven minutes to play in the medal round, the United States took a 4-3 lead over the Soviets. The Americans stunned the world with perhaps the greatest upset in Olympic history after holding on for the win.
The Miracle on Ice has only grown in legend. This upset held more value with the Cold War occurring during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Americans still cherish the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team after they went on to defeat Finland for gold.
8. UMBC Does the Impossible
March Madness has delivered countless upsets through the years, but we were always told a No. 16 seed will never beat a No. 1 seed.
In 2018, the UMBC Retrievers did the impossible by toppling the No. 1 seed Virginia in the first round. The Cavaliers were one of the title favorites in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Virginia touted one of the country’s elite defenses while the Retriever offense was below average.
That all went out the window in the second half. UMBC dominated Virginia, outscoring the Cavaliers 53-33 in the second half. The Retrievers’ 74-54 win is still hard to fathom. Will we ever see a one-seed fall in the first round again?
9. Leicester City Wins the 2016 Premier League
Leicester City was given 5000-to-1 odds to win the English Premier League in 2016. They had no shot in a league featuring the big six: Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham.
No team outside the big six had even finished in the top four since Everton in the 2004-05 season. Somehow, someway, Leicester City did what history said was impossible.
The stars aligned for Leicester. They came up big in the clutch moments and powerhouses folded in critical games. For example, Tottenham was up 2-0 on Chelsea with a chance to win the league. However, Tottenham folded ending with a 2-2 draw, giving Leicester the Premier League title.
Leicester City winning the Premier League with 5000/1 odds shows anything is possible.
10. Buster Douglas topples the giant, Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson was a mountain that could not be brought down. He was 37-0 with 33 wins coming by knockout. Buster Douglas, Tyson’s opponent for a February 11, 1990 fight, was a 37-1 underdog.
Tyson was mean and nasty with an overwhelming intimidation factor. His vicious right uppercut punished fighters left and right. As usual, most expected a Tyson knockout to come sooner or later. Tyson had never even hit the ground in a match, there was no way he would lose.
Tyson vs. Douglas reached the 10th round, most fighters couldn’t last that long against Iron Mike. After taking an onslaught of punches from Douglas, Tyson fell and could not get back up.
Douglas pulled off boxing’s biggest upset of all time. Tyson vs. Douglas is now known as the “Upset of the Century”.
The beauty of sports is the unexpected can happen in any sport at any time. There is no condition that makes anything impossible in sports.
Who knows when the next shocking moment happens? The next big upset could happen tomorrow.