Underdog : noun
a competitor thought to have little chance in a fight or contest
alternate definition: the team or competitor that nearly everyone is pulling for
Origin of “Underdog”
According to Anoosh Chakelian from a 2011 article in The Telegraph,
“the origin of the term ‘underdog’ can be discovered in the murky depths of ship-building history. Planks of wood labeled ‘dogs’ would be placed over a pit, and one happy ship-builder would saw from above, while the other would have to stand in the pit, sawing from below, becoming covered in sawdust, but doing an equal amount of the work. Weeping. The man above was the ‘overdog’, and the man below, the ‘underdog’. Why the planks were called ‘dogs’, we’ll never know.”
Other articles I found seemed to think that the term comes from dogfighting when the presumed winner was called the “top dog” and the presumed loser, therefore, would be the “under dog.”
Honestly, I like the first story better and though I haven’t spent hours researching which one is based more in historical fact, for some reason it’s the ship-building story that rings more true for me. Maybe that’s just because that origin of the term fits better with my understanding of what a true underdog is.
Rooting for the Underdog
Think about the last time you were watching a sporting event in which you didn’t really have a preference on who won. Remove from consideration any game where your alma mater or favorite team was playing because you’re obviously biased toward them. On the flip side, remove any game in which your ex-boyfriend’s favorite team was playing because, in that situation, you most definitely want that team to lose. After all, what Alex did to you is completely unacceptable and he deserves for his team to lose every time they take the field so he can feel just one ounce of the pain you feel every time you hear his name.
So those situations aside, when was the last time you were watching an event where there was an obvious underdog and you did not pull for them? When was the last time you saw a team that had historically been underwhelming, scraped and clawed to achieve a place in alongside a historical powerhouse, overcame adversity to be in that game in the first place and were the odds-on-underdogs… and you cheered for the favorite to win?
Some of you obviously fall into that camp. Some of you are heartless scum that only ever want to cheer for the team that gives you the best shot of saying that your team won. The rest of us aren’t like you. We’re decent human beings. We don’t kick puppies or push old ladies down while they’re trying to cross the street. We definitely always pull for the underdog.
Okay, before I even get started talking about this, can we just all agree that a Chanticleer is one of the coolest mascots of all time? There’s nothing better than out-of-the-ordinary team names and The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers takes the cake. Do you know what a chanticleer is? It’s a rooster.
So what’s more fun than rooting for the underdog? Yep, you guessed it: Rooting for an underdog with an amazing mascot. As we all remember, we had the opportunity to cheer for and underdog with an amazing mascot just this past summer in the 2016 College World Series as the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers took on the Arizona Wildcats.
Now, nothing against the U of A, of course. They’re a client of ours and I have mad respect for the university, their athletic program, and the people who work there. However, in this particular competition for disinterested third-party fans, Arizona had no chance. Arizona may be a lot of things but an underdog, they are not. Let’s just look at some things that take them out of the running for underdog consideration:
• Power 5 School
• Historically very good in baseball
• 4 pevious baseball national championships
• National recognition as a top athletic program
• They’re the “Wildcats”
Now, I’m not sure how many schools out there call themselves the Wildcats, but out of 347 D1 programs out there, I’m pretty sure that about 342 of them are the Wildcats. That’s not scientific so don’t quote me on that, but it’s close. And while there’s nothing wrong with being the Wildcats, when it comes down to choosing who we’re cheering for in the CWS and it’s between the Power 5, historically-dominant Wildcats and the underdog, Cinderella-team Chanticleers, sports fans flock to the roosters.
That’s exactly what the majority of the nation did. I’m not a huge college baseball aficionado. I’ve been known to skip a CWS or two in my time, especially if the teams playing in it are not in my circle of favorites, but the entire country was watching the Chanticleers rise through the rankings. We watched them win time after time and as fans of the underdog, we found ourselves invested in a team that we not only had no affiliation with, we couldn’t even tell you what town Coastal Carolina University was in.
It’s Conway, South Carolina, btw.
So when our newly beloved Chanticleers won it all, we were ecstatic. We celebrated. We were elated. We were all things that begin with an e and/or rhyme with celebrated.
And then we asked ourselves why in the world we were so happy that the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won the College World Series.
Related to the Underdogs
So? Why were we so happy when the Chanticleers won? As luck would have it, I was interviewing Matt Hogue, Director of Athletics at Coastal Carolina University for the book I’m writing and I was able to ask him why he thought the story of the underdog was so compelling. Here’s what he had to say:
“I think what it is, is that the majority of us can identify with it. There’s only a small, select percentage that are going to be the best, especially in the sports world, and they’re probably going to be the best for a while. People love to watch Hoosiers. They love to watch Rudy. And I think it’s that moment where those of us that knew that maybe we weren’t good enough to play in college or aren’t much more than weekend softball players… I think the common man can identify with the odds and challenges that are overcome to get to that level.”
I agree with Matt. We pull for the underdog because all of us feel that on some level, we are the underdogs. At some point in life, we’ve all been the guy standing in the pit, sawing from below and getting covered in sawdust. Very few of us can claim that we were never on a team that was the underdog. Maybe we weren’t very good and we weren’t expected to win. I think a lot of us can think of a time when we overcame that to achieve something great. So we’re always pulling for others to do the same.
I don’t think it just applies to sports either. I was the underdog when I left my job at Oklahoma Athletics to start my own company. I had to overcome great odds to be successful. I had to sacrifice a lot and work my tail off. I was a Chanticleer. I didn’t have a history behind me. I wasn’t a member of a powerful group of companies that could help me. I had never won the industry’s most coveted award. I was going up against the big agencies that had a lot of financial backing and had a history of having worked with top clients. It was Zac vs. the Wildcats.
I think we can all recall many times when we were the underdogs. And because we’ve been there –– because many times we probably lost that fight and walked away from it covered in sawdust –– anytime we see another underdog we identify with them. We relate to them. So when they have success, even if we never attended school there or even knew where that team was located before we sat down to watch that game, we feel like we have success. When they win, we win.
The world is a Wildcat. And at some point, we’re all Chanticleers.