I root for the underdogs.
Whenever I see any sporting event in which I have no vested interest, I pick the underdogs. March Madness, NHL or NBA, you name it. If I’m at a sportsbook, I’ll throw some money on the long shot horse. Just this year, I was unreasonably excited when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers beat the University of Virginia to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Even though I had never even heard of UMBC before, I put them on TV that day.
Because what’s sports if not the ultimate parity test? At the end of the day, it’s two teams comprised of the exact same amount of people on each side, playing on the same field, with the same rules. Anything can happen!
If the odds are terrible, I’m in. And if there is a story behind them? Some sort of feel good narrative about a preconceived “evil” vs “good” team? Even better.
Leicester City, the Iceland National Team, the Philadelphia Eagles this year’s Super Bowl. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t fall, hook, line and sinker for a lovable underdog.
I almost shed a tear when I finished watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Four Falls of Buffalo” about the historic Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s when the franchise became the first team to play, and lose, four consecutive Super Bowls. Bear in mind that I don’t care one single bit about the Buffalo Bills, a team I don’t root for in a city I have never been to, and I wasn’t even alive when these events happened. Nevertheless, the fact that they got to those Super Bowls and kept losing in heartbreaking fashion but kept trying and trying made it an incredibly compelling story to me.
Hell, even when I play FIFA I’ll use a crappy team and try to make them a fictional European behemoth. It makes the game significantly harder and longer. But what’s the point of winning if it’s easy right?
So, as I looked at my favorite team in the whole world celebrate their fourth straight — and brand new record — Coppa Italia win and are a certain lock to win their — another record — seventh straight Scudetto, I couldn’t help but think that whether I like it or not, in this scenario, I root for the bad guys.
Not only the bad guys, but the WORSE kind of bad guys. The guys that if I were a fan of any other team I would despise.
The type of team that not only wins but wins constantly and relentlessly. This season was the stereotypical “bad guys” season, Juventus consistently played under expectations, winning ugly against teams that they should beat handily, usually due to some individual brilliance generated by one of their stars.
Battling an eminently likeable Napoli team that, despite being undermanned and lacking the general talent or depth that a squad like Juventus possessed, kept pushing and winning. Playing a wide open offensive style of football that was recognized both locally and internationally as an entertaining outlier to the traditional Italian football.
All culminating on a seemingly momentum shifting win at Allianz Stadium, beating the all-powerful Juventus at their own house, setting up the storybook ending to a 28-year drought for the team of southern Italy. Not only was that widely considered a potential death blow to the Juventus hegemony, but it felt like one, Juventus looked old, uninterested, out of ideas. Like a team that felt that the end of their reign was about the be over. That didn’t change in the upcoming Derby d’Italia going down 2-1 against 10-man Inter at the San Siro.
And then, like all winning teams since time immemorial, it happened. Inter made a couple of bad subs and in a matter of minutes the big, bad unbeatable Juventus managed to pull a win out of the jaws of defeat. Napoli got annihilated by Fiorentina the next day, the little guys, unable to pull a win when they needed it the most.
The Coppa Italia final was the same story, with different characters, through the first half you saw two evenly matched teams. But one team made mistakes, AC Milan’s young goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was having a great game, flubbed two Juventus opportunities and in a few minutes the game was finished. The bad guys, pouncing on the mistakes of their opponents and winning, again.
We call them “bad guys” because it seems like they don’t deserve their victories, we want to make the argument that they win because of the refs, because of luck, because the other team made mistakes. They win because they have money or because shadow interests want them to win.
But the truth is that they win because every single season, from the owner, to the board, to the manager, coaching staff and players, all of them are on the same page and working towards the same objective. Juventus wins because they are arguably one of the better run teams in the world, because they have a winning culture from the top to bottom and the system works. They are the only team that owns their own stadium, that actively pursues international audiences and seems that every summer make smart, cost conscious player acquisitions that more often than not, work.
Juventus wins because they are better than every team in Italy, both on and off the field. And if you’re a fan of another team, why wouldn’t you hate that?
I will keep rooting for the underdogs whenever I can. You can bet I will root for chaos in this upcoming World Cup — who’s up for an Egypt-Senegal final? — and I will keep putting money on the long shot horse until it pays off.
But when it comes to Juventus? When it comes to the best run team in Italy, to the record setting, historical squad that we are witnessing today. Well, it feels good to be the bad guy once in a while.
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