There are moments in sports, and really throughout history, where groups or individuals do something incredible, defy the odds, and beat a formidable opponent. From David taking down Goliath, to the Miracle on Ice, to UMBC beating Virginia, the underdog stories we all know and love constantly surround us.
The biblical story of David and Goliath represents one of the greatest upsets of all time. A young, untrained, shepherd taking down a nine foot tall giant. But what is David thinking as he walks into battle? How does he do the extraordinary?
While we will never know David’s thoughts as he approached the battlefield and his massive opponent stood in front of him, he knew that he couldn’t defeat Goliath by fighting on Goliath’s terms — in hand-to-hand combat where Goliath would use his 26 foot long spear. This calculation is the reason that David chose to attack differently, finding a weakness where it looks like there hadn’t been one before.
Events such as the Miracle on Ice (the 1980 United States Men’s Hockey performance at the Olympics), showed that with effort and meticulous planning, it is possible for a team with seemingly no business winning a game to come out victorious in the end. Only a few weeks prior to when the games began, the US team hosted the Soviet Union hockey team in a matchup at Madison Square Garden. The United States team lost 10-3.
US captain Mike Eruzione said after the game, “Nobody thought we could win that game. Heck, nobody thought we could win a medal.” The victory over the USSR propelled the US team into the Gold Medal Game, where they defeated Finland 4-2.
The biggest upsets in sports may not be able to be reproduced, but they are possible and allow teams such as UMBC basketball, a 16-seed, to upset Virginia — the overall number one seed.
This Friday night will be a unique atmosphere for Northwestern football. The crowd will likely be heavily packed with Ohio State fans. While this game doesn’t represent an existential threat to the program like David fighting the Philistines, it is the biggest stage the Wildcats have played on since they last played the Buckeyes.
While stopping Justin Fields and this Ohio State offense seems unlikely, Northwestern has a history of overperforming in games such as this. In 2017, Northwestern played Saquon Barkley’s Penn State team, and held him to only 75 yards on 16 carries. They employed similar tactics when taking on Jonathan Taylor’s Wisconsin Badgers this season.
This Ohio State team does not appear to have many weaknesses, but neither did Goliath. Northwestern, as a program, has consistently proven through previous strong performances that they deserve the opportunity to take on teams like Ohio State.
There is also a weird sense of excitement in the unknown, and it manifests itself how you want it to. You can view the game optimistically, pessimistically, or however else you prefer, yet the game is unapologetic. As I wrote in last week’s Where are we Wednesday, the most agonizing part of being a sports fan is caring and having your heart ripped out, but there is something incredible in putting yourself out there and believing when nobody else does.
The Wildcats need to come out punching, limiting early success for the Buckeyes, and eat clock on offense. Northwestern needs to offer some relief through rest time to their defense, trying to clamp down on three and out situations. Most importantly, it’s imperative for the Wildcats to dictate the game is being played on their terms. That’s the key to any great underdog performance.
Nobody knows what Friday night will hold for this struggling Northwestern team, yet they hope to follow in the footsteps of many who were immortalized for their performances.