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There’s always a miracle waiting to happen

If you watch enough athletic events, just as I do, there’s always an opportunity to witness an upset.

While underdogs are capable of pulling off a miraculous victory, they are not as commonplace as one would think.

NC State’s 1983 NCAA men’s basketball championship always comes to mind. Perhaps that’s due to my loyalty as a Wolfpack fan, but even that fact didn’t allow me to think for one second they were capable of making their famous “Cinderella” run to the national title that particular year.

The thoughts of playing in the NCAA Tournament was far-fetched, even to me. The ‘Pack limped to a 17-10 regular season finish and was nearly ousted in the first round of the ACC Tournament before rallying past Wake Forest, 71-70. That win gave us a slim glimmer of hope, but even I didn’t dare think we could get past mighty ‘Carolina, the regular season champs, in the semifinals. However, Coach V and the ‘Pack had other plans and knocked off the ‘Heels, 91-84 in overtime.

That put us one win away from earning an automatic berth in the national tournament. Standing in the way was the University of Virginia, led by three-time ACC and National Player of the Year Ralph Sampson. But “David” toppled “Goliath” by a score of 81-78.

‘Pack fans like myself were on top of the world, but that nearly came crashing down when we trailed Pepperdine by six points in the waning moments of overtime of our first round NCAA tournament game. But once again, the Cardiac Pack – with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel – somehow lived to play another day, winning 69-67 in double OT.

We went on to beat, in order, UNLV, Utah, and Virginia (again) to reach the Final Four. There we defeated Georgia in the semifinals to set up what has become one of the most iconic moments in all of sports – an improbable 54-52 win over mighty Houston in the championship game.

I watched all those games from my home in Garner. After beating Houston, I celebrated all night and saw the sunrise over Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh.

Even today, when the chips are down in my life, I think back to Dereck Whittenburg tossing up a 30-foot shot, one that fell inches short, but into the hands of Lorenzo Charles who dunked home the game-winning shot….all set to the words of the late, great Wally Ausley (the voice of NC State athletics)….“Cinderella has done it, the glass slipper fits; State has won the National Championship.”

I took that trip down memory lane to set the table for what was another huge upset in the world of sports this past Saturday.

In case you missed it, Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper tossed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Damond Philyaw-Johnson as time expired, giving the upstart Gamecocks a 20-17 upset on the road at Florida State.

Yea, yea, yea….I know this isn’t the same Florida State football program of old…the ones coached by the now late Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher. But in Power 5 football, the Florida States of the world don’t lose at home to the Jacksonville States of the world.

Florida State – who one week earlier staged a huge rally in the fourth quarter before falling to perennial national powerhouse Notre Dame, 41-38 – was a 26.5 point favorite to beat Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks came into the contest also sporting an 0-1 record after dropping their season opener, 31-0, against the UAB.

Saturday’s stunner in Tallahassee rivals another huge upset that comes to mind. In the opening game of the 2007 college football season, Appalachian State went into “The Big House” and stunned heavily favored Michigan, 34-32…blocking a potential game-winning field goal at the end of the game to preserve the win by the underdog Mountaineers.

So…what’s your pick for the greatest upset in the wide world of sports?

Could it be a bunch of college students who comprised the U.S. National Hockey Team that sent shockwaves throughout the world by beating the Soviet Union, 4-3, to win the Gold Medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics?

How ‘bout exactly 10 years later at the Tokyo Dome where Buster Douglas, a 42-to-1 underdog, won the World Heavyweight Boxing title with a knockout of the immortal Mike Tyson?

Or is it Super Bowl III (1969) where Joe Namath backed up his promise of an upset as the New York Jets stunned the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7.

And for you tennis fans….look no further than the 2021 US Open where 18-year-old Emma Raducanu overcame 400-to-1 odds to capture the Women’s Singles Championship. Ranked 150th in the world coming into the event, Raducanu became the first qualifier in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam final, eventually winning it without dropping a set the entire tournament.

Perhaps you can find Emma’s success spelled out as part of her surname – ucan!!

Hopefully there are more upsets like Emma’s, J-State, and maybe even for my beloved Wolfpack somewhere in the very near future.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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