Americans love a good underdog story.
The latest example of this is playing out now in the World Cup, where the quest for the gritty, underdog American team to overcome low expectations and long odds has captivated many sports fans across the nation that usually ignore the sport.
This should come as no surprise because we have always been most interested when the challenge is greatest. For example, underdog stories such as the 1983 North Carolina State basketball team or the 1969 Mets are more compelling to U.S. sports fans than learning how the 1927 Yankees or 1972 Dolphins dominated their sport so soundly in those historic seasons. As a country, we celebrate the 1980 U.S. hockey team upset victory over the Soviets much more than we commemorate the 1992 U.S. basketball “Dream Team” that is widely considered to be the best team ever assembled.
Ask any LSU fan to describe their favorite memories and you are more likely to hear about the 1988 “Earthquake Game,” the 1997 football victory over No. 1 ranked Florida or Dale Brown’s run to the 1986 Final Four before any mention of the recent national championship games in football or baseball. The New Orleans Saints 2009 Super Bowl victory was a win for underdogs everywhere thanks to decades of perseverance leading to the franchise finally hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
Pulling for the underdog has run through this nation’s blood from the very beginning. In fact, one of the most powerful nations the world has ever seen began their journey upon declaring its underdog status 238 years ago on July 4, 1776. On this day, the 13 original colonies formally approved a statement known as the Declaration of Independence, making it known to Great Britain that we were no longer part of their empire.
We were the underdogs of all underdogs. Considered at the time to be the strongest in the world, the British military was overwhelmingly more powerful than our rag-tag collection of colonies. On paper, this was a blowout in the making. These early patriots were destined to be more like the 1985 Patriots that were demolished by the heavily favored Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX rather than the 2001 Patriots that rode their underdog status to an upset win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. History tells us the odds makers misjudged this one.
Our Founding Fathers carried the characteristics of most underdogs and refused to back down from the challenge.
First, they were hungrier for victory than their opponent. Our Founding Fathers fought for freedom and a better way of life for their families while the British simply fought to keep a revenue stream afloat and hoped to minimize the cost and effort required in doing so. Our motivation and determination to win no matter the cost played a huge part in our victory.
Second, like most underdogs, the British took our capabilities completely for granted. They had recently defeated the French quite soundly and wrongly assumed these early American patriots would surrender once the presence of British troops and military strength increased in the colonies. Similarly, the well-seasoned 1980 Soviet ice hockey team took for granted they would demolish the collection of college students that made up the U.S. team roster, many of whom were competing internationally for the first time. In both instances, we used the vainness of our opponents to our advantage and never allowed them to overcome that fatal error.
Lastly, our Founding Fathers maximized our home-field advantage. The British made many tactical decisions from the other side of the pond, and their communication lines and supply chains were constantly hampered by the time-consuming travel time between the two continents. Our Founding Fathers knew best how to use the geography and the location of our decision-makers to our advantage and devised battle tactics to maximize that knowledge. Our home-field advantage made a huge difference in the outcome.
Americans love a good underdog because we relate best to them. We have always been at our best in that role, as compared to the complacent, heavily favored juggernaut. Our greatest American heroes have excelled in times of national adversity, and our response to moments like Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 reflect the American spirit and resolve in powerful and memorable ways. These times of heartache and struggle have often brought out the best in us and propelled our country to deliver on its original promise.
Even as the most powerful nation in the world, we still find ourselves as one of the youngest countries and constantly battling the odds against older societies to defend our way of life. We often stand alone in the name of freedom and can find ourselves outnumbered more than we would prefer.
Despite our intimidating military power and global economic prowess, we are strongest when we most closely resemble that underdog rag-tag collection of colonies that fought against the odds 238 years ago. They stood strongly when the world doubted them, and their unwavering commitment to freedom birthed a great nation.
Let’s remember the hard fought lessons our Founding Fathers learned in those early days and start emulating them more often. Let’s try to reflect the hope, dedication and patriotism from that underdog era more than the skepticism, vainness and wastefulness we see often in today’s era of dominance.
The story of our independence tells the story of two nations. One details the surprising loss of a superpower that underestimated its opponent. The other describes the great heights that can be accomplished by a people who refuse to lose and stand for what is right. On July 4, 2014, let’s celebrate the greatness of this country and pledge to emulate those original underdogs more often in all that we do.