This list could change a little soon, but as of right now here are the 20 greatest sports upsets of all-time.
Tuesday night, the President’s Cup winning, record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning will be trying to stave off a sweep from the No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. That will go down as a major upset, even in the NHL playoffs where such upsets happen more often than in other sports.
Based on a team’s exalted status over another, star power tilted to one side over the other or just simple betting odds and lines, upsets are often clearly defined. Rooting for the underdog, or perhaps even more often against the hated favorite (New York Yankees, Duke men’s basketball, Golden State Warriors, etc.) is a core part of fandom.
If the Lightning go down to a sweep Tuesday night, or when they inevitably go down in the first round, that upset probably instantly goes into the top-10 sports upsets we’ve ever seen.
But as we sit right now, here are the 20 greatest sports upset of all-time.
20. Maryland-Baltimore County over Virginia-2018
Seemingly every year since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams, a No. 16 seed or two tests a No. 1 seed for about a half in the first round. Then order is restored. and the heavily favored top seed imposes its will and moves on. But it was only a matter of time before an epic upset like that happened.
But in 2018 the Retrievers of UMBC not only beat No. 1 seed Virginia, they thoroughly dominated them in the second half. A 21-21 tie at halftime became a 74-54 win for UMBC, as Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers had no answers.
Virginia got redemption this year, as a No. 1 seed again, beating Texas Tech to win the first national title in program history. But they will forever be the first No. 1 seed to loss to a 16, which a lot of the same players that won the national title a year later.
19. Minneapolis Lakers over St. Louis Hawks-1959
The Minneapolis Lakers were the first NBA dynasty, led by star center George Mikan. But by the 1958-59 they had not won a championship since 1954 and that season would the fourth straight with a below .500 record (33-39).
From 1957-1969, the Boston Celtics won the NBA title in all but two seasons. If not for the St. Louis Hawks in 1958, the Celtics would had won 10 consecutive championships. So the Lakers faced an uphill climb in what was then called the division finals, even with a star rookie in Elgin Baylor. But they beat the Hawks 4-2, and went on to play the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
The 1959 NBA Finals launched the Lakers-Celtics rivalry as it would come to be known and ramped back up again in the 1980s. But the Lakers’ had to re-rise with a new star, and pull a big upset.
18. 2004 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball team only gets the bronze
The 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team set an unattainable bar for the squads that followed it, but things reached an incredibly low during the 2004 games in Athens, Greece. A team with LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Stephon Marbury should have been on the fast track to a gold medal.
But losses to Argentina, Puerto Rico and Lithuania instead paved the path to a disappointing bronze medal for the Americans. If 1992 was a move rooted in using NBA players for Team USA to take back dominance in Olympic basketball, 2004 was the sign the rest of the world had used the subsequent 12 years to catch up.
17. Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks-2012
The Kings badly enough in 2011-2012 (13-12-4) they fired coach Terry Murray, and replaced him with Darryl Sutter eight days later. That sparked better things, but the team was still outside of a playoff spot with a month to go in the regular season. A 12-4-3 run over the final 19 games, spurred by defense and Jonathan Quick in goal, secured the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Along the same line as the Lightning this year, the Vancouver Canucks also won the President’s Trophy with the highest point total in the NHL (111). But they could not consistently solve Quick, the proverbial hot goaltender, as the Kings won in five games.
The Kings would go on to beat the No. 2 seed St. Louis Blues in a sweep and the No. 3 seed Phoenix Coyotes in five games and reach the Stanley Cup Final. They beat the New Jersey Devils in six games, to become the first No. 8 seed in American sports to win a championship.