National Underdog Day is celebrated every third Friday of December. This year falls on December 16, 2022, just nine days before Christmas. Surprisingly, Underdog Day has been observed since 1976.
Peter Moeller created Underdog Day as part of Bill Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events. Bill published the Calendar annually with his brother Harrison so that people could have a single reference for various holidays and observations throughout the year. Moeller, the inventor of Underdog Day, was Bill’s father-in-law.
Where did the term “Underdog” come from?
If you thought “underdog” is a unique term, that’s because it is. The origin of the word underdog came from shipbuilders back in the day. These shipbuilders sawed planks of wood when building ships. The planks are sometimes called “dogs.”
An underdog is a shipbuilder sawing off wood planks from beneath, while an overdog sawed-off planks from above. As you can imagine, the shipbuilder beneath, the underdog, could get all dirty and overspread with sawdust. And yet, the overdogs get all the credit for the hard work.
The first recorded use of the term “underdog” goes back to the 19th century. Its initial meaning is “beaten dog in a fight.” Betting on the underdog in sports means betting on the team or individual with a significantly lower chance of winning. In a broader sense, the “underdogs” are the unsung heroes of every sector who are still fighting but seemingly couldn’t get over the top.
The Underdog in Pop Culture
Betting on the underdog is not an intelligent money-making move. There is a reason why people often make a big deal out of an underdog success story; that’s because underdogs rarely win. And because everyone loves an underdog story, they often find their way into pop culture, especially in movies and TV shows.
Who can forget The Karate Kid or Forrest Gump to unlikely talent show winners like Susan Boyle, Kevin Skinner, and Paul Potts? The famous underdog character Rocky Balboa has gotten so big that Stallone is still playing the role well into his 60s!
Undoubtedly, most of us could identify with the underdog characters making it easy to root for them. Maybe it’s because all of us have been there at one point, no matter the social status. We have spent too much time collecting sawdust in the pit that we always dreamed of coming from this ugly mess with hands raised, victorious.
How to Celebrate National Underdog Day
Underdogs invoke human emotion and inspire us. They remind us that there is always light at the end of the tunnel if we work hard enough to get close enough to the exit. With that being said, here are some National Underdog Day celebration ideas to get you started:
A.) Binge-watch on underdog movies, especially the classics. There won’t be any shortage of underdog movies, ranging from the classics to modern films. The classics include The Karate Kid and Rocky movies. You may also consider relatively new underdog films: The Blind Side, Miracle, The Replacements, Dodgeball, and Creed.
B.) Dress up as your favorite underdog. From Kung Fu Panda to Rocky Balboa, you could make your favorite underdog character come to life.
C.) Swap underdog stories with friends and family. We have all been there. Even Michael Jordan, Elon Musk, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Bill Gates have been doubted and laughed at. There is no better way of sharing your own underdog story than this day.
D.) Spread the word. Underdog Day is an unofficial observance, so someone out there may not know about it. Who knows? You may get inspiration from others’ underdog stories.
E.) If you know a real-life underdog, remind them that they’re fantastic. We all know someone who’s knocked down but not knocked out. Be it a friend who’s a single parent or a neighbor who just came all the way back from being homeless. Cheer them on! Remind them to keep persevering!
5 Best Underdog Basketball Movies
Here are our favorite basketball underdog movies.
If there’s a basketball movie that embodies the underdog story, it’s the Hoosiers. The film focuses on how a team persevered against all odds to the championship. In the Finals, their mettle was once again tested as they faced a squad that was much more talented than they are.
2.) Coach Carter
Arguably the best basketball movie of all time, Coach Carter will tug at your heartstrings. It details a high school coach who instilled the importance of discipline and education in his students. Underdogs rarely win in real life, but it feels good knowing that they have won one, thanks to Coach Carter.
3.) The Sixth Man
Although I would describe The Sixth Man as “silly,” it’s just plain enjoyable. It tells the story of a college basketball team who lost their star to a heart attack. The star came back as a ghost and helped the team get to the NCAA championship game. Judging from the crazy plot alone, it’s total chaos, but one that leaves you with a warm heart after watching.
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4.) The Glory Road
The Glory Road is probably the most socially relevant underdog basketball movie. It tells the true story of Don Haskins, who played an all-black lineup in the 1966 NCAA championship game. Haskins’ Texas Western eventually prevailed, breaching a deeply ingrained social and political wall.
Rebound is the true story of Earl Manigault. If you haven’t heard of the name, Manigault is probably the biggest ‘What If” story in basketball.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar swore he had not seen anyone better than Earl. The problem is, while Manigault loves basketball, he loves drugs more. But then again, after his downfall due to drug addiction, Earl Manigault rose to become a pillar of his NYC community. A real underdog story, indeed.
3 Biggest Playoff Upsets in NBA History
An “upset” is a sports term that means the underdog has gotten the better of the favorites. While that is a rare occurrence, especially in the NBA, it’s heartwarming to relive the times when the underdogs successfully complete an upset.
1.) Denver Nuggets vs. Seattle Supersonics, 1994 1st Round
There were more upsets in the NBA playoffs before because every 1st round series was only a best-of-five. The most unforgettable one would be the matchup between the 8-seed Nuggets and the 1st-seed SuperSonics. The “WE BELIEVE” Warriors also pulled off a similar feat, but I think this was better.
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2.) Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1981 West Quarterfinals
If it’s a short series, even a Kareem and Magic Johnson team is vulnerable.
3.) Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2004 NBA Finals
Upsets also happen in a seven-game series, although I thought Karl Malone’s injury was a big blow to the Lakers. But then again, the Pistons’ strategy of playing Shaquille O’Neal one-on-one was executed to perfection. That is why after five games, Detroit convincingly beat LA, ultimately leading to the Kobe-Shaq breakup.
Famous Underdog Quotes
Here are some quotes for you to review in preparation for National Underdog Day.
Yeah, Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. I think Rocky’s got a good chance.
Adrian, Rocky movie (1976)
When you’re an underdog, you’re forced to try things you would never otherwise have attempted.
Rooting for the Yankees is like betting on the house at Vegas.
There’s no need to fear; Underdog is here!
Voiced by Wally Cox
Topcats often begin as underdogs.
Victory is a thousand times sweeter when you’re the underdog.
The lunatic fringe wags the underdog.
Beware of barking at underdogs; don’t fight with people who have nothing to lose.
By Jan Rey
Jan is a sucker for all things basketball and still yells, “Kobe!” every time he tosses a crumpled paper into a trash can.
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