I don’t post about sports very often, but hey… humour me. While most people couldn’t have cared less about this year’s Stanley Cup final, I found myself watching with great interest because (a) I happen to be a New Jersey Devils fan and (b) I love to root for the underdog. The underdog upset is one of the most compelling stories in sports, and for good reason — it taps into age old myths that are ingrained in our culture. I became a fan of the Devils back in 1988 when they had their first great playoff run as a relatively new expansion team performing above expectations. Ironically, throughout the late ’90s and the early 2000s they went on to win three Stanley Cups, at which point they stopped being underdogs and became one of the most hated teams in hockey. Their “boring” defensive style of play slowed down the game and supposedly lowered the skill level throughout the league. Personally, I always appreciated that they were able to persevere through discipline and teamwork without relying on a single offensive superstar, but maybe I was merely justifying it to myself.
Recently they had gone through a rebuilding phase and I don’t think anyone expected much from them this year (I know I didn’t). Somehow they rose to the occasion anyway and they went through three superior teams to make it to the finals. Considering that they were significant underdogs once again (ranked 6th out of 8 in their conference), it was proof that anything can and does happen in the playoffs. It’s more about grit and heart than having the best team on paper. Ironically, the only series where they weren’t considered underdogs was in the Stanley Cup final, where they were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings, this year’s true underdog / cinderella story. In any other situation, I probably would have been cheering for the Kings. At any rate, I’ll never understand why people cheer for teams like the New York Yankees and Manchester United. Sure, everyone likes to be on the winning side… but when you’re almost always guaranteed to win, where’s the fun in that?