Does America Still Love an Underdog?

Quote of the Day:

If there’s one cultural quality we have, it’s that we always see ourselves as an underdog.” –Bill Gates

When better to pose the question above? TB’s been thinking of a new feature, “Underdog of the Week.” Today is the first installment. You may think the choice is obvious, but I have cautioned you, gentle reader, over and again not to pigeonhole me.

Then again, you can half-pigeonhole me on this one. The inaugural Underdog of the Week in the TBU is a shared honor–to the football teams at Jacksonville State University for their incredible upset victory over Ole Miss and to Boise State University for, not only defeating Virginia Tech Monday evening, but for their consistent excellence in the face of the institutional bias of the NCAA and its power conferences.

And really, it was the Boise State victory that convinced me to start the new feature. It was also the impetus for posing the question, “does America still love an underdog.” My sense of the issue is that we, collectively, do not. Oh, we say we do, but our actions belie our words.

Trolling several sports message boards last night, the prevailing attitude seemed to be that people were “tired of the media’s obsession with Boise” and that they didn’t deserve to be in the national title hunt or BCS bowl hunt because they “don’t play anybody.” It’s total bs of course, a worn out talking point. Boise plays who they can play. They are in a low level conference to be sure but they play the best non-conference foes they can find, usually on the road. And they would play more. The power schools are loathe to schedule Boise, certainly not on a home and home basis. So they beat the teams on their schedule, they are grudgingly invited to play in a major bowl and they go home with the trophy as often as not. Truth is, to many, they are no underdog. I doubt they see themselves as such. But because of the insanity of college football’s power conference monopoly on the system for choosing champions, they are an outsider to the elites, and remain an underdog in the system, if not on the field. And that’s the way America wants it, based on the actions of the elites at the NCAA and the internet rantings of the proletariat.

“But wait,” you may be saying. “All I heard from Saturday to Monday was how Ole Miss got upset by little old Jacksonville State.” This is so, but was the focus on JSU’s heroic and unlikely triumph? Not from where I sat it wasn’t. It was about Ole Miss’ abject failure. Analysis focused on “what this means for Ole Miss”, “how embarrassing was this for the SEC”, and “how did the Rebels LET this happen.” Very little credit was given to the underdog.

In the Revolutionary War, the USA was Jacksonville State, even a little bit of Boise. We were not in the club of Euro-nations that dictated world trade and boundaries, like Boise isn’t in the BCS. We had never fought any war at all, much less defeated another nation and we had an all walk-on army vs the Redcoat regulars. Hell the Brits even paid ringers from Germany to come fight. A scenario analogous to that which faced JSU to be sure. We started out as underdogs and for a couple of centuries we fought as one, supported others, in geopolitics and sports and beyond.

But somewhere along the way America became the biggest badasses on the planet. We have gradually become the bully, sometimes in a righteous cause, true, but a bully nonetheless. We once cheered the rags to riches stories of Horatio Alger, but now we watch breathlessly on TMZ for the latest shenanigans of an heiress. We once broke up the monopolistic corporations to favor fair competition for mom and pop shops; now we respond to a financial crisis instigated by the biggest banks in the country by consolidating even more power among fewer banks. We once celebrated Chaminade’s legendary achievement in beating a heavily favored Virginia basketball team led by Ralph Sampson and now we can only laugh at the giant for falling, ignoring the slingshot wielder entirely. We don’t care about Jacksonville State and we are annoyed by Boise’s uppity impudence.

Collectively, that is. For TB loves an underdog, and I will look far and wide to bring you the ‘dog of the week from now on so we can celebrate their achievements together. And if Ole Miss can knock off mighty Boise State next year in their opening game, they just might find themselves an unlikely place of honor, right here in the TBU.

About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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14 Responses to Does America Still Love an Underdog?

  1. irvine redd says:

    I watched the first half of the game last night at my ladyfriend’s parents house. She went to Tech, and so did her sister, and they both had their best friend’s there. I was the lone, I just hope it is a good game voice. Clearly, I don’t care if Tech wins or loses, and I was probably the only one in the room that thought they would have to play the best game they could to beat Boise St. I was pretty happy for those kids from Boise, because no matter what they do or who they beat, they will always be doubted. It’s a problem that the big boys like Alabama, Florida, and Ohio St. never have to deal with. No matter what happens to Ohio State from year to year, they always get ranked highly, despite consistently getting it handed to them in a bowl game every year, last year being a rare exception. Boise State seems to always show up in the big games. I loved the Statue of Liberty play against Oklahoma. That was a level of testicular fortitude that only Sean Payton would approach. So kudos to the boys in blue.

    And now the embarrassing part. The part about my alma mater deciding their 21 point lead was enough, and that they didn’t need to play anymore. I’m not mad about the loss. I’m mad that it happened that way. Had it been a close game throughout, I would probably feel much differently. But coughing up a 21 point lead is just insane. And embarrassing. But good for those kids from JSU. That’s probably going to be the highlight of their year, so I hope they enjoy it. The Rebels on the other hand should be put in stocks on The Square.

    • travellinbaen says:

      Irv, I cannot tell a lie. There is a healthy degree of schadenfreude involved in my view of the Rebel debacle. But as you know from my tweet, I well recall what its like to be in that position, being a State fan. So I have a dose of compassion for my Reb friends who are not among the cadre that I think of while wallerin’ in the schadenfreude.

      And I still think OM will have a decent year and probably take back the golden egg, so I’m not about to rub it in.

    • Mac says:

      Nice word.

  2. Jessie Lou says:

    I’ve been loving my word of the day and using each new word in a sentence – “schadenfreude” is appealing to me greatly. Again, I digress…..
    Yes, I love the underdog and maybe that is why the JSU loss does not bother me too much. I was more ashamed of USM loosing to South Carolina to tell the truth. I’m not sure who the underdog is there. My high school alma mater seems to stay the underdog which may be why I continue to have season tickets 8 years after IR has graduated from there. That and I love high school and college football. NFL not so much.

    Has anyone here every thought of themselves as the underdog?

  3. irvine redd says:

    I’ve always felt like an underdog.

    Or in the words of Dubya, misunderestimated.

  4. Madd Dawg says:

    C’mon TB, and sorry to be a naysayer, but (with a few notable exceptions) most of those small conference “powerhouses” get absolutely smoked when they play the big-time programs in bowls.
    They have one or two big games to get up for each year with a bunch of creampuffs otherwise where they can rest their starters and get their backups some work. It is much easier to play that schedule than to have 6-7 tough games each season and having to get up for all of them. One bad week and you are done, and the injuries rack up in those tough games.

    Also, of course America still loves an underdawg. just look at March Madness.

    America the bully? P-leze. I just threw up in my mouth just a litte. Do you America-haters really think that the world would have been a better place over the last 50 years if America had not been there to promote freedom, protect the high seas and keep the peace? America has been the only superpower in the history of the world who has actually freed people rather than dominate, subjugate and exploit them.

    And now you are criticizing TARP? You were all for it a couple of years ago when I said that all of those high-risk banks and fully-leveraged investment companies should be allowed to go bankrupt. You said that it was necessary to save the economy. That was BS. Have you changed your tune now?

  5. Travellinbaen says:

    Wow. Md that comment really enlightens me on how you come to your particular world view. You have read my post in a way that entirely misses the point.

    1. The post is about Boise, not other small conference schools. Do you deny Boise has made a legit case to be “allowed” to compete for titles?

    2. I don’t hate America any more than you do, in fact probably like it a little more at this particular time.

    3. A bailout was a necessary evil that the GOP was forced to lead. However bush and Obama implemented it poorly. In just one of those ways, was the consolidation of power in even fewer banks than before. It was a continuation of big biz consolidation that Americans have clearly and stupidly shown they favor-the powerful interests over the underdog, for many years.

  6. face says:

    MD, the only non-BCS team that has lost a BCS bowl game to a team from a BCS conference was Hawaii. So, its hard to believe “most of those small conference “powerhouses” get absolutely smoked when they play the big-time programs in bowls.” How about some facts to back up that statement. And if Boise St. has such an easy road to the BCS title game, why don’t some of these BCS teams drop out of their conferences and join CUSA or the SunBelt and go undefeated every year? They have that choice, while Boise doesn’t have the option to join the SEC. I’m sure CUSA would love to add Ole Miss or State.

  7. tkh says:

    The Boise backlash is as much a backlash of the ever growing distaste for ESPN or at least mine is. VT will end up with at least 3 losses probably 4.

    I hope Boise St does run the table and does make it to the BCS championship game. It will be their first time playing a BCS bowl game where their opponent wasn’t expecting to be playing in a bigger game one game previously.

    • Travellinbaen says:

      Good point. I had to stop watching sports center long ago it was so bad, which may be why I’m not feeling the backlash personally.

  8. ZEEK says:

    I must admit I go back and forth on the Boise St. situation. I do believe that Boise is a program that has definitely outgrown its conference. I think they and Utah should join the Pac-10. of course I don’t think that will happen, cuz most of those schools probably don’t want to play them. They have started snatching up all the best players from Cali that didn’t get an offer from USC or Cal or UCLA. Have become a legit team; however, i agree with MD that it’s much easier to go undefeated or one loss when your toughest games are non conference games against VT and Ore St. If they played in SEC, Big 12 or 10, would they get the chance to play for title? Highly doubtful. Not saying they can’t get pumped and play outstanding for a big game, but can they do it week in week out?
    I have always loved an underdog, because I have always been one. As long as BSU doesn’t play an SEC team, i’ll pull for them.But, if they get to title game this year and play Bama or Fla. or Texas, or OSU, I’m not betting on them, cuz I don’t think they can hang. Not a hater, just a realist.

  9. Jessie Lou says:

    I deplore the blue field and that is all I have to say about Boise State.

  10. face says:

    If people would wise up and come up with a legit playoff system just like every other division of college football, Boise would have to win three games against “good” competition to get to the championship game. Most people don’t agree that Boise should get a shot at the championship game under the current system., but it makes no sense that a Div. 1A team starts the season with no chance to win the Div. 1A title no matter what they accomplish.

  11. Madd Dawg says:

    I agree with that Face. The situation will always be flawed until we have a playoff system.

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