An upset occurs in a competition, frequently in electoral politics or sports, when the party popularly expected to win (the favourite), is defeated by an underdog who the majority expects to lose, defying the conventional wisdom. The underdog then becomes a giant-killer.
Examples of major upsets in politics
- 1948 - Unpopular Democratic United States President Harry Truman defeated the highly favored Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, which resulted in a famous newspaper headline: "Dewey Defeats Truman".
- 1972 - New York attorney Elizabeth Holtzman defeated 50-year incumbent congressman Emanuel Celler, who was also the Judiciary Committee chairman in the Democratic primary.
- 1989- Ernesto Ruffo Appel is elected Governor of Baja California defeating the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate becoming the first state governor not belonging to the PRI since 1929.
- 1990 - Paul Wellstone, an underfunded professor, defeated popular Senator Rudy Boschwitz in the United States Senate race. In Texas, Ann Richards defeated Clayton Williams in the race for Texas governor.
- 1994 - Texas Republican George W. Bush defeated highly favored and popular Democratic incumbent Ann Richards in the race for Texas governor.
- 2000- Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (Mexico) is elected President of Mexico in the 2000 presidential election defeating the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Francisco Labastida. It was the first time that the PRI lost a presidential election.
- 2006 - Dave Loebsack, a Democrat and a political science professor at Cornell College, defeated 30-year incumbent Iowa congressman Jim Leach.
- 2006 - Nancy Boyda, a Democrat, analytical chemist and field inspector, defeated Kansas Congressman Jim Ryun, who had held the seat for five terms.
- 2006 - Carol Shea-Porter, a social worker, defeated two-term imcumbent Jeb Bradley.
- 2006 - Jim Webb, a Democrat who had served as Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, upset incumbent Republican senator and former Governor of Virginia George Allen, after Allen had made a series of mistakes, starting with the Macaca Controversy during the 2006 Midterm Elections in Virginia.
- 2006 - Dawn Marie Sass, a parole officer and store clerk at Boston Store, defeated incumbent Wisconsin Treasurer Jack Voight. She had run for the office twice previously, in 1998 and 2002. In her 2006 campaign, Sass won in a narrow upset (8,648 votes, or 0.42%), with little party support. She had spent almost $4000 on the race, most of it coming from her own pocket.
- 2007 - Greg Ballard defeated incumbent Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson, despite being outspent by a huge margin.
Examples of major upsets in sports
- 1969 - Super Bowl III - In arguably the biggest Super Bowl upset to date, the New York Jets, 18 1/2 point underdogs and champions of the lightly-regarded American Football League, shocked the National Football League's Baltimore Colts 16-7.
- 1981 - Super Bowl XV - The Oakland Raiders became the first wild card team to win a Super Bowl, trouncing the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.
- 1985 - College football - Oregon State beat Washington 21-20. What is most notable is that the Huskies were 37-point favorites, and this game was considered the largest reversal ever in spread betting until 2007 (see below).
- 1986 - _New_England_Patriots_31.2C_Miami_Dolphins_14 - The wild card New England Patriots, who had lost 18 straight games in Miami, won their first-ever AFC title by shocking the defending AFC Champion Miami Dolphins 31-14 at the Orange Bowl.
- 1995 - _San_Diego_Chargers_17.2C_Pittsburgh_Steelers_13 - The San Diego Chargers clinched their first AFC Championship by stunning the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers 17-13 at Three Rivers Stadium. The Chargers spotted the Steelers a 13-3 advantage before battling back.
- 1998 - Super Bowl XXXII - The Denver Broncos shocked the heavily-favored defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, 31-24, on a 1-yard touchdown run by game MVP Terrell Davis with 1:45 to play. The win was the first by an AFC team in 14 years and the first for Denver in five Super Bowl appearances.
- 1999 - _Atlanta_Falcons_30.2C_Minnesota_Vikings_27_.28OT.29 - The Atlanta Falcons clinched their first NFC Championship by rallying to shock the 16-1 Minnesota Vikings 30-27 in overtime at the Metrodome. The Falcons trailed 27-20 late in the 4th quarter, and rallied to tie the game and force overtime after Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed a potential Championship-clinching field goal attempt.
- 2002 - Super Bowl XXXVI - The New England Patriots, 14-point underdogs, shocked the St. Louis Rams to win 20-17 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired.
- 2003 - College football - Fiesta Bowl - The Ohio State Buckeyes, 11 1/2 point underdogs to the defending National Champion Miami Hurricanes, pulled off a 31-24 double-overtime thriller.
- 2006 - 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff - The sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers shocked the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts 21-18, becoming the first sixth seed ever to advance to a conference championship game. The Steelers would set further precedent, going on to win the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XL. In clinching the AFC Championship, the Steelers had beaten the AFC's top three seeds (Indianapolis, Denver, and Cincinnati).
- 2006 - The unranked UCLA Bruins defeated the #2 ranked USC Trojans, knocking USC out of the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona and ending UCLA's seven year losing streak to the Trojans.
- 2007 - College football
- In the opening week of the 2007 season, Appalachian State beat #5-ranked Michigan 34-32 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is the first time a Division I FCS (formerly known as I-AA) team beats a Division I FBS Associated Press ranked team.
- Later in that season, USC was upset by Stanford 24-23 in Los Angeles. USC was ranked #1 in the Coaches Poll and #2 in the AP Poll and was a 40 point favorite to win the game. Stanford's backup quarterback, Tavita Pritchard, started the game and Stanford converted on two 4th downs in the final drive, scoring the tying touchdown and subsequent go-ahead PAT to go up by one point with 49 seconds left. A Stanford interception sealed the victory. The Cardinal's win was the greatest point spread ever overcome in college football history, surpassing the aforementioned 1985 Oregon State-Washington game.
- On December 1, the Pitt Panthers toppled the 28 1/2 point-favored West Virginia Mountaineers 13-9 at Morgantown, West Virginia. The shocking defeat cost West Virginia a berth in the BCS Championship Game (They would settle for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl). The loss to Pitt would mark the final game of head football coach Rich Rodriguez's seven year tenure at West Virginia University, as he resigned later on in the month to take the same job at the University of Michigan.
- 2008 - Super Bowl XLII - The wild card New York Giants shocked the world when they defeated the 18-0 New England Patriots 17-14 with a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, denying New England's bid for the NFL's first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The 2007 Giants were the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl and just the second one to win a conference title, after the 1975 Dallas Cowboys.
- 1906 - Major League Baseball - World Series - Despite winning a major league record 116 games, the Chicago Cubs lost in six games to the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the "hitless wonders") in the World Series.
- 1954 - Major League Baseball - World Series - Facing the 111 win Cleveland Indians, the New York Giants swept them in the World Series, with the help of Willie Mays' famous behind the back catch in Game 1 at the Polo Grounds.
- 1969 - Major League Baseball - World Series - The New York Mets, an expansion team that never previously finished higher than ninth place, reached the World Series and upset the favored Baltimore Orioles in five games.
- 1988 - Major League Baseball - NLCS - The Los Angeles Dodgers won the pennant in seven games over a New York Mets team that had beaten them ten of eleven times during the regular season.
- 1988 - Major League Baseball - World Series - The Dodgers, fresh off their upset of the Mets, pulled off an even bigger surprise...a five game domination of the powerful Oakland Athletics.
- 1990 - Major League Baseball - World Series - The Cincinnati Reds, fresh off their first pennant since 1976, took out the defending world champion Oakland Athletics in four straight.
- 2006 - Major League Baseball - NLCS - The St. Louis Cardinals, champions of the N.L. Central Division despite a record of only 83-78, won in seven games over the New York Mets, a strong team that was tied for the best record in baseball.
- 2008 - NCAA - World Series - Fresno State University (a #4-regional seed and the 89th-ranked team in the nation) became the lowest seeded team ever to win a College World Series title, as they defeated the University of Georgia 2 games to 1 in the championship series.
- 1954 - Tiny Milan High School in Milan, Indiana, enrollment then 161, beat Muncie Central High School, enrollment then over 1,600, in the Indiana High School State Basketball Championships by a score of 32-30. The 1986 movie classic Hoosiers is loosely based on the story of the Milan team.
- 1966 - NCAA Championship - Facing the top-ranked University of Kentucky in the championship game, Texas Western's coach, Don Haskins, made history by starting five African American players for the first time in a championship game against Kentucky’s all-white squad, coached by Adolph Rupp. The Miners took the lead midway in the first half and never relinquished it — though Kentucky closed to within a point early in the second half. The Miners won 72-65, winning the tournament and finishing the year with a 28-1 record.
- 1972 Summer Olympics Basketball - The Soviet team, in a highly controversial finish, defeated the USA team 51-50 in the gold medal game after 2 extra seconds were added to the gameclock, giving the Soviet team enough time to score the winning basket. This marked the first time in Olympic Basketball history that the USA team failed to earn the gold medal, and was their first loss in 62 games. The USA team boycotted the medal ceremony and their silver medals remain unclaimed and unwanted to this day, in a vault in Switzerland.
- 1982 - 800 student Chaminade University upset the number one team in the country, the Virginia Cavaliers, 77-72, in what is considered the biggest upset in college basketball history.
- 1983 - 1983 NCAA Men's Tournament - The North Carolina State Wolfpack, a No. 6 seed, defeated the Houston Cougars in the title game, 54-52. The top-ranked Cougars, nicknamed Phi Slama Jama and featuring Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, carried a 26-game winning streak into the title game. NC State, on the other contrary, had to upset North Carolina and Virginia in the ACC Tournament in order to make the postseason. From there, the Wolfpack would make the Final Four by beating Pepperdine, UNLV and Virginia after those opponents missed free throws down the stretch.
- 1985 NCAA Men's Tournament - Villanova, a No. 8 seed, upset Georgetown, the defending champion and consensus No. 1 team in America, to win the championship. Villanova had lost two close games to the Hoyas that season, but, in the title game, Villanova would make 22 of 27 shots (78.6%) from the field, to pull off the 66-64 upset.
- 1991 NCAA Tournament - The Richmond Spiders became the first #15 seed ever to upset a #2 seed when they defeated the Syracuse Orangemen, 73-69.
- 1991 NCAA Tournament - The Duke Blue Devils upset the unbeaten defending champion UNLV 79-77, in the Final Four. UNLV had humiliated Duke the year before in the 1990 title game 103-73, which was the largest victory margin in an NCAA championship game.
- 1993 NCAA Tournament - The #15-seeded Santa Clara Broncos, led by Steve Nash, upset the #2-seeded Arizona Wildcats 64-61.
- 1994 - The eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets (42-40) stunned the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics (63-19) in the first round of the 1994 NBA Western Conference Playoffs, falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-five series, and then winning the next three games to become the first eighth-seeded team in NBA history to ever defeat a top-seed.
- 1997 - College basketball - NCAA Tournament - #15-seeded Coppin State upset #2-seeded South Carolina 78-65.
- 1998 — In the West Regional of the NCAA Women's Tournament, Harvard became the first (and, as of 2008, the only) #16 seed in either the men's or women's Division I tournament to defeat a #1 seed, stunning Stanford 71-67 on the Cardinal's home court.
- 1999 - The eighth-seeded New York Knicks (27-23) defeated the #1 seed Miami Heat in the first round of the 1999 NBA playoffs, and advanced all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs
- 2001 NCAA Tournament - The Hampton Pirates, a 15th seed, shock the 2nd seeded Iowa State Cyclones and pull off a great NCAA Tournament upset.
- 2004 NBA Finals - The Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1. This is one of the biggest upsets in basketball history, because the Lakers had won 3 of the last 4 NBA Finals, and had a starting lineup featuring four future Hall of Famers (Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone).
- 2004 Olympic Basketball - Puerto Rico defeated the USA in the first game of the Olympics by 17 points in a game that was dominated from the beginning from the Puerto Rican national team. Several weeks before, the USA won a friendly match prior to the Olympics by over 40 points.
- 2006 NCAA Tournament — The George Mason Patriots upset four teams consecutively in the Washington, D.C. Regional to make it to the Final Four. The 11th-seeded Patriots beat #6 seed Michigan State, a participant in the previous year's Final Four; defending national champions and #3 seed North Carolina; #7 seed Wichita State; and top seed UConn before finally losing to eventual champions #3 Florida in the Final Four. The Patriots were given 400-1 odds to win the NCAA Tournament and were within two games of doing so.
- 2007 - Basketball In the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Golden State Warriors, who barely got into the playoffs on the last game of the regular season and entering the playoffs as the #8 seed, knocked off the Dallas Mavericks, who entered the playoffs as the #1 seed in the Western Conference with an NBA-best 67 wins during the regular season. The Warriors won in 6 games. This was the first ever #8 seed to defeat the #1 seed since the NBA started using a best-of-7 format in its first round.
- 1983 - In the 1983 Cricket World Cup, newcomers Zimbabwe shocked Australia in England in their first ever ODI game, winning by 13 runs, the upset amongst the greatest-ever upsets in cricket. Duncan Fletcher, the Zimbabwe captain, was man of the match.
- 1983 - Later in the 1983 World Cup, underdogs India shocked favourites and two-time defending champions West Indies in England, winning by 43 runs; the upset was deemed as the greatest upset in cricketing history, and is cited as a reason why so many Indians love cricket.
- 2003 - In the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the minnow team Kenya defeated one of the top teams in the world, Sri Lanka, and, with that victory, advanced to the Semi-Finals of the tournament, becoming the first non-Test-playing nation to advance to a semi-final. Kenya beat Sri Lanka by 53 runs. This was one of the greatest cricketing upsets because of the comprehensive way in which Kenya won, with bowler Collins Obuya taking record figures 5-24 and Kennedy Obuya scoring a patient 80. The victory put Kenya on the cricketing map.
- 2004 - Bangladesh beat Australia at Cardiff. Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladeshi captain, scored his first international century to put Bangladesh in a good position and, from there, they beat Australia.
- 2007 - Cricket World Cup 2007: Ireland beat top seed and world number 4 Pakistan, to advance to the Super 8 stage. This match was considered as one of the greatest sporting upsets ever, and the Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer was found dead after the match.
- 1924 - At the Olympic games in Paris, Sweden defeated Belgium, a higher ranked team, 8-1. This is still ranked as the biggest international soccer upset ever, according to Elo ratings
- 1950 - In the World Cup, the United States shocked England in a match considered one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history.
- 1950 - In the same competition, Uruguay registered an upset of Brazil in the World Cup final, with the latter nation needing only a draw to win the World Cup; this game is known as the Maracanazo (or Maracanaço).
- 1954 - In the World Cup final, underdogs West Germany came back from two goals down to defeat the heavily favoured Hungary team (who had remained unbeaten in their past 32 games, and had previously defeated the Germans 8-3 in the group stage), 3-2, in a game now known as The Miracle of Bern.
- 1966 - North Korea upset Italy 1-0 in the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
- 1982 - In the World Cup, newcomers Algeria registered the second victory in the tournament by an African side, when they defeated two-time world champions West Germany 2-1.
- 1988 - 1988 FA Cup Final, argueably the greatest upset in the history of the FA cup, with unfancied Wimbledon defeating league champions Liverpool 1-0 thanks to a Lawrie Sanchez header.
- 1990 - In the World Cup, Cameroon defeated the holding champions Argentina in the opening match 1-0, and became the first African team to reach the quarter-finals. They then lost to England 2-3 due to an extra-time penalty kick.
- 1992 - In Euro 92, Denmark, a last-minute replacement for the Yugoslavia team banned due to sanctions resulting from the Yugoslav wars, won the title.
- 1992 - In the FA Cup third round, defending champions Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Wrexham, who had finished bottom of the league the previous season.
- 2000 - In the 1999-2000 French Cup semi final, Calais RUFC, a team playing in the fourth division of the French football league (CFA), knocked out reigning French champions Girondins Bordeaux 3-1, after extra time. Calais later put in an admirable performance in the final, unluckily losing 2-1 to Nantes.
- 2001 - In the Copa America 2001, the last minute replacement team, Honduras, defeated Brazil 2-0, in the quarter-finals.
- 2002 - In the World Cup opening match, Senegal defeated defending champions France 1-0. The French subsequently left the competition in the first round, winless and scoreless.
- 2004 - Greece, a 150-1 long shot according to some bookmakers, won Euro 2004 by defeating hosts Portugal, twice, as well as giants France and the Czech Republic.
- 1980 - In the Miracle on Ice, the United States beat the Soviet Union in the semi-finals at the 1980 Olympics, considered one of the greatest upsets in American sports history.
- 1996 - In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche (47-25-10) beat the Detroit Red Wings (62-13-7) in the Western Conference Finals, The Red Wings won 62 games that season and were heavily favored to win the series. The Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup in a four game sweep of the Florida Panthers.
- 2000 - In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the #8 seed San Jose Sharks (35-30-10-7) stunned the #1 seed St. Louis Blues (51-19-11-1) in the Western Conference quarter-finals. The Blues won a franchise record 51 games that season, which clinched the President's Trophy and were heavily favored to win the series.
- 2006 - In the semi-finals of the women's tournament at the Winter Olympics, Sweden defeated the USA 3-2 in a shootout. This marked the first time that either the USA, or eventual gold medalist Canada, lost in an international women's hockey competition to any third nation.
- 2006 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs - The 8th seeded Edmonton Oilers shocked the #1 seeded Detroit Red Wings, the #5 San Jose Sharks, and the #6 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim en route to a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup finals to the Carolina Hurricanes.
- 1975 - In the open section of the World Open chess tournament, expert Alan Trefler (Elo rating 2075, 125 points below the lowest master rating), and ranked 115th in the tournament, scores 8-1 to tie for first with International Grandmaster Pal Benko, rated 2504, ahead of Grandmasters Nicholas Rossolimo and Walter Browne.
- 1978 - Rugby union — Munster beat the All Blacks 12-0. Munster are the only Irish side ever to have beaten New Zealand, including the Irish national side. More than 100,000 people claim to have been there on the day it happened, despite Limerick's ground holding only around 12,000 at that time. The game is immortalized by the stage play Alone it Stands, and the book Stand Up.
- 1986 - Snooker - Joe Johnson, who began that year's World Snooker Championship as a 150-1 underdog, reached the final and defeated World number 1 Steve Davis 18 frames to 12, to win the title.
- 1990 - Boxing - James "Buster" Douglas knocked out then-undefeated Mike Tyson in 10 rounds.
- 2000 - Olympic wrestling - American Rulon Gardner defeated Russian Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Prior to the match, Karelin was undefeated in 13 years without having given up a single point in six years, and had previously defeated Gardner in 1997.
- 2004 - Tennis - Unseeded Gaston Gaudio recovered from two sets down to defeat #3 seed Guillermo Coria in the final of the French Open, saving two match points in the process.
- 2005 - Formula 1 - Fernando Alonso and his team Mild Seven Renault unexpectedly defeated seven time champion Michael Schumacher and his glamour team Scuderia Ferrari, for both drivers and constructor's championship, while Ferrari struggled all year with a poor car and crippling tyre rule changes.
- 2007 - Mixed martial arts - UFC - At UFC 69: Shootout, Matt Serra defeated heavily favored Georges St. Pierre via TKO at 3:25 in the 1st round.
- 2007 - ICC World Twenty20 Zimababwe beat Champions Australia in their first match ever in the World Twenty20. Brendan Taylor mastered the upset with a patient half century.
- 2008 - In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Japan defeated the United States in the final of women's softball, who were seemed unbeatable. It was their first loss since 2000.
Other major upsets
Although upsets usually occur in both politics and sports, there was one particular upset that caused an outcry on a monumental scale. On December 15, 2007, in the finale of the British television series
, The X Factor (UK series 4)
, Scottish singer Leon Jackson
won the series, with the heavily favoured Welsh tenor
, Rhydian Roberts
as runner-up. The result shocked, angered, saddened, outraged, and disgusted many fans of both Rhydian and the show in general. Even X Factor creator, Simon Cowell
, was outraged by the result. One interesting aspect was while Leon had the most votes in the series, he had the least betting odds before the finale. Because of that, the outcome was so controversial the it has been dubbed as "The biggest shock in reality show
history". It caused inconceivable despair for the Rhydian fanbase.
There have been rumours that the finale was set up for Leon to win due to the phone lines being deliberately engaged for Rhydian, but that obviously wasn't the case. Coincidentelly, the phone lines became faulty and voting for the contestants was difficult. ITV denied that the show was fixed, and said that Leon won fair and square, beating Rhydian's 10% of the vote. However, even if the phone lines were perfectly normal, Leon would still have won, because he was ahead of Rhydian for several weeks. After Leon's single was released, Welsh radio stations refused to play it, as they assumed the show was fixed.
Although there have been similar upsets in shows like American Idol, when Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken in series 2, and when David Cook beat David Archuleta in series 7, the runner-ups were expected to win because they were more popular, while Studdard and Cook won because they had the more acclaimed voices. This result, on the other hand, defied all of that. Not only did many people think that Rhydian was the best contestant in the series, but they also thought that he was one of the most valuable contestants, if not the most valuable, in all the four seasons, making it a historic event if he had won.
As of October, the result continues to haunt Rhydian fans.
In 2005, CRASH was chosen over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the Oscars, after most experts believed Brokeback Mountain would win.
In FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman Willie and Briget built a simple ramp that they nailed to a ladder in witch they called the "Bowlinator". With the Bowlinator Willie and Briget went on to defy all odds and logic by upsetting The 8 ton bowling champion Throbot. They were awarded 15 points for it.
In 2002, George Thompson, a lexicographic researcher, used the full-text online search capabilities of the New York Times
databases to trace the usage of the verb to upset
and the noun upset
. The latter was seen in usage as early as 1877.
The actual origin of the term is unknown.
Man o' War and Upset
Previously, the common belief was that the term "upset" derived from a horse of the same name. In the 1919 Sanford Stakes
at Saratoga Race Course
, 7-2 longshot Upset handed favorite Man o' War
, one of the greatest racehorses in history, the only loss of the stallion's career.