U is for Underdog

“And for almost every little guy who wins, there’s a big guy who loses, and that makes us happy too.”


There’s a small private university in Indianapolis, IN called Butler. “In 2010, Butler was runner-up to Duke, after advancing all the way to the National Championship after defeating Michigan State in the Final Four. With a total enrollment of only 4,500 students, Butler is the smallest school to play for a national championship since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. In 2011, the Bulldogs advanced to a second consecutive Championship appearance after defeating Virginia Commonwealth University. In the 2011 title game, Butler lost to the University of Connecticut.”

Almost everyone who wasn’t otherwise interested rooted for Butler, because it was the underdog, while Duke and Connecticut were larger, well-established programs that had won the championship in the past.

Why do we root for the underdog? Maybe it’s “because we want to help compensate for undeserved inequality. If one contestant is outmatched for reasons that aren’t his fault, that’s unfair, and our sense of justice reaches out to fix it.

“We might also root for underdogs just because we enjoy drama:

“An alternative, or additional, motivation for supporting underdogs might derive less from abstract moral concerns about fairness and more from self-interested, rational calculations of one’s own emotions. Because underdog success is by definition unexpected, this may increase the excitement of rooting for an underdog.

“And for almost every little guy who wins, there’s a big guy who loses, and that makes us happy too:

“Rather than being strongly supportive of underdogs, might people instead root against dominant entities (this would be consistent with the sentiment, ‘my favorite team is whoever is playing the Yankees’)?”

Those who are viewed as disadvantaged arouse people’s sense of fairness and justice — important principles to most people. Moreover, as this article states: “We all can relate, because at some point we all feel small and powerless.”

Among the definitions of the word underdog include:
1.One that is expected to lose a contest or struggle, as in sports or politics.
2.One that is at a disadvantage.

One of my favorite cartoons as a child was Underdog. He was a clear parody of Superman, a “mild-mannered” dog known as Shoe Shine Boy, who became the crine fighter when villains such as Simon Bar Sinister plotted some evil scheme. His would-be love is sweet Polly Purebred, an alliterative name like Lois Lane or Lana Lang.

The introduction even evoked the Man of Steel:
A crowd of people…would say, “Look in the sky!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s a bird!” After this, an old woman wearing glasses would exclaim, “It’s a frog!” Another onlooker would respond, “A frog?!?” To this, Underdog replied with these words:
“Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog, It’s just little old me…” (at this point, Underdog would crash into something, then finish) “Underdog.”

There was a none-too-well-reviewed live-action Underdog movie that I did not bother to see.

ABC Wednesday – Round 8

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

29 thoughts on “U is for Underdog”

  1. Great post. I think we root for the underdog because of our own insecurities. We are all less competent than others in something and it is both reassuring and uplifting to see others deemed less competent succeeding, raising the bar, rising above expectations and taking the prize! Here’s to all of us!!!!

    PS I liked Underdog too! (the cartoon I too never saw the movie)

  2. Great post for the day, Roger, as always! And as always, you give me something to think about. I suspect we all have had at least a little experience at being the “underdog” at some time in our lives. Hopefully, it enables us to see them with understanding and compassion. Have a great week!

    Sylvia
    ABC Team

  3. Wonderful, Roger. FIrst time I deliberately rooted for an underdog, I was a teenager, and I bet for Cassius Clay against Sonny Liston. Was I good or was I good? LOL
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. I guess I’d feel more noble about championing the underdog if I didn’t usually happen to be one. Insightful post!

  5. Undeniably provocative post. I have a tendency to root for the underdog, as well – and probably, as others have aptly stated, because I tend to be one. 🙂

  6. Hmmm. I think we root for underdogs in sports but in other areas of life we seem to worship the superdogs – the ones with power and money. Just saying. 🙂

  7. Never seen Underdog, but a hound with superpowers, perfect.
    We have the FA Cup here which is open to all league football (soccer) teams. the premier ones only entering in the third round, upsets are the name of the game, that is why it is often referred to as “the magic of the FA cup”. You can guarantee the TV will give wall to wall coverage to an underdog reaching the later rounds. Maybe it is our sense of fair play that we like to see the the smaller under-financed teams win against the billionaire owned large ones.

  8. being a fulham fan (english football team not one of the big teams like chelsea or man utd)….im always for the underdog…..the small teams that try to take on the big teams get the most respect in my eyes…..they may get beat but atleast they give it their best shot….

    http://www.anthonyox10.blogspot.com/

  9. Very interesting thoughts Roger!
    In Sweden it is very common to “vote fo”r the underdog and often uncritically. Sometimes I find media to make stories about underdogs and to give more publicity than it is worth.
    In the same time it can be very creative with a underdog perspective 🙂
    It is all about perspectives 😉
    Have a great day!

  10. We do all like to cheer on the underdog, don’t we? I thought it was just a British thing – obviously not.
    I’ve never seen Underdog, the cartoon – I certainly would have followed it:-)

  11. I don’t know what you think of it, if my favorite team is not playing, then I always support the underdog.

  12. Maybe we who root for the underdog are just soft-hearted. As a teacher I always felt bad for the kid in school who was left out or ridiculed. It’s rather the same feeling I have for puppies — and of course cats — not so much because it’s unfair but because they can’t defend themselves. I would have to agree with Sylvia about compassion and understanding. Such feelings don’t have to have a logical reason, they can be just a part of who we are.

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