Friday, April 16, 2010

Long Live the Underdog

There's something about a team everyone says doesn't have a chance that makes you hope they prove the experts wrong. I think there's something about it that makes a team believe in itself, too. If everyone says they don't have a chance, the guys on a team tend to pull together and say, "What the hell, it's us against the world."

Those are the teams you can love. They're the teams you can root for in the playoffs, even if you hate them in the regular season. I don't love the Nashville Predators ordinarily, but watching them stand up to the mighty 'Hawks last night was fun. Watching the eighth-seed Avs take the lead on the powerful Sharks for the second game in a row was impressive.

I'm sure part of it stems from the feeling that it's somewhat unfair for the strong teams to be so strong in the first place. Most of them...the 'Hawks, Caps and Pens, for example...are strong because they sucked for years and claimed franchise players in the draft. Others, like the Sharks, are so doomed in the playoffs it's like a train wreck; we can't turn away from their continued failure. And others, like the Wings, we just get sick of. We liked them once, but now we're tired of their success and we want to see them finished.

For us poor Habs fans, rooting for the underdog generally stems from our love of fairy tales, and the situation with our own team. That's what we get these days. Our team isn't the powerhouse it was years ago. Now, it just barely scrapes into the playoffs and it's almost always the underdog. So we have sympathy for the others in our class. We support the working team and shun the elite. It's no different from trade unions versus bosses. We want heroes. Tough, underdog goalies and failed big-money superstars make our day. We want teams who tell OUR story and make us relevant.

Most of all, if one underdog can win, so can another. It gives us hope to root for them. That's why we look back at '71 and ask, "Hey, if that team could do it, why can't this one?" Why can't it, indeed. The stories of underdogs prove anything, and everything, is possible. Those stories are what keep us coming back, and they're what make us believe.

There's nothing on paper that says the Canadiens, or the Senators or Flyers or Predators or Avalanche should win their playoff series. But off paper, on the ice, there's heart and luck and skill and grit that says they might. That's why we love underdogs. They give us a chance to believe and hope in a way that cheering for a favourite, with the automatically assumed sense of entitlement, doesn't give us. We appreciate the miracle wins. We love the hero goalies and the clutch goal scorers more than those who expect those things.

So far this playoff season, it's the year of the underdog and I love it. Who let the dogs out? Parity, hope and good luck let them out and I hope they run free for a long while yet.


Anonymous said...

Dollars drive parity. Detroit and New Jersey showed that a couple good players, surrounded by a team, can win it all. People confuse system with team. Two different things. A team plays together, using it's strengths and protecting it's weakness'. A team doesn't quit, plays every period, minute and game, and will take 4 out of seven games.

Habitually a team emerges from the playoffs to take the cup.


Raphaël P. said...

If you read french their's this nice piece by François Gagnon about Pleks in the "La Presse" newspaper. Really interesting stuff.

Here's the link

J.T. said...

@Raphael: Thanks for the link. It's a really nice read. Good to hear guys like Gomez and Gill comment about how tough Pleks is to play against.

Anonymous said...

J.T., you speak French? How attractive...

J.T. said...

@anon: I don't speak French well, unfortunately. I used to be better, but haven't practiced in a long time. I can read it pretty well, though. Sorry to burst your bubble. :)

MC said...

Everyone loves an underdog...unless your team is the favorite.

The best part of being the underdog is that all the pressure is now on the Caps, while the Habs should have new-found confidence. I can't wait for the puck to drop. Even if they lose, they get the split coming home. Or they could put them down 2-0, that would be okay too.

pierre said...

The nice bit on Plek in La Presse of today is signed by Francois Gagnon, its that same guy who framed the Plek's pre-series interviews in a way that made it sound more provocative than it actually was..... Gagnon was heavilly criticised by the public afterward (very commun) even by a few colleages (much less commun) and his status as an important reporter went down for it...... now, as an underdog with his arrogance down a notch or two I would say that the quality of his work has already risen up a notch or two from what it previously was....... the thing about being an underdog is that there is no illusion to distract you from the essential of what need to be done at any given time..... no room for errors brings a state of urgency in which individual focus is so sharpened that teams can really get to play at their very collective best...... and once they do good thing happen...... underdog.... a way of life.