The year of the underdog continues

Sports commentary - October 12

It all started last January when the New England Patriots stole the Super Bowl trophy from the “unstoppable” St. Louis Rams.

On the heels of an improbable football

national-title push by the Oregon Ducks and an inconceivable come-from-behind World

Series win by the Arizona Diamondbacks in late 2001, the stage was set for a year of underdog fever.

This was the year we would see the New Jersey Nets (the New Jersey Nets!) reach the NBA Finals, and the Maryland Terrapins win the NCAA basketball tournament. It was the year that the low-budget Oakland A’s — sans Jason Giambi — would win the American League West, and the lower-budget Minnesota Twins win the A.L. Central.

The Montreal Expos actually approached respectability this year and finished ahead of the $100-million New York Mets. The perennially disappointing San Francisco Giants took out the World Series shoo-in Atlanta Braves and are poised to knock off the Cards. The Anaheim Angels (the Anaheim Angels!) beat the mighty Yankees in the first round and erupted against the Twins in Game 5 to earn their first-ever World Series appearance.

Even our hometown Hood River Valley Eagles have surprised a few people this season by starting the season 5-1 with a 55 points-per-game scoring average. Underdogs or not, they still weren’t picked to finish higher than fourth in the Intermountain Conference. With all due respect, that fits my definition of a “dog.”

The only teams that have gotten in the way of a perfect underdog record this year have been the Miami Hurricanes, who won the college football national title; the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup; and the hated L.A. Lakers, who won their third-straight NBA title.

But, while some of the favorites lived up to expectations in 2002, many of them cracked under the pressure — which is almost as fun as watching underdogs win.

The Rams imploded in the Super Bowl. Duke fell over in the NCAA tournament. The defending-champion Diamondbacks bowed down to the St. Louis Cardinals in three quick games. The pompous and unruly Yankees lost unceremoniously for the second straight year (can I get an Amen?).

At this point, few people outside St. Louis, San Francisco, Anaheim or Minnesota care who wins the World Series. We’re just happy that it won’t be the Bombers. Even The Boss’ pocketbook wasn’t deep enough to overcome the stars that have aligned for the underdogs this year.

That’s why I’m going to predict two things right here and now. Although the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals are both slated for 2003, I’m going to say that the Cinderella luck of 2002 will continue, and we will see four different teams battle for the NFL and NBA championships.

The Rams, with their 0-5 start, have already opened up the NFC spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots, while still a formidable team, have showed cracks in the armor and will be fighting for their playoff lives come December.

The Nets simply can’t repeat their Cinderella 2001-02 season, while MJ and the Wizards are much improved, so I’m betting against the Nets to repeat out of the East. And then there’s the Lakers. The stinkin’ Lakers.

I would give my left pinkie toe to see those spoiled, ungrateful buffoons go home empty-handed. Come on Sacramento! Let’s make the circle complete.

Nothing can beat the fall of the Yankees, but a close second would be the demise of the Lakers. Now, if the Ducks or Cougs could just figure out a way to fit into the glass slipper and dethrone Miami, my underdog sports trilogy would become a reality.

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