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An upset occurs in a competition, frequently in electoral politics or sports, when the party popularly expected to win (the "favorite"), either loses to or draws/ties a game with an underdog whom the majority expects to lose, defying the conventional wisdom. It is often used in reference to beating the betting odds in sports, or beating the opinion polls in electoral politics.
The meaning of the word has sometimes been erroneously attributed to the surprising defeat of the horse Man o' War by the horse Upset (the loss was the only one in Man o' War's career); the term pre-dates that 1919 race by at least several decades. In its sports coverage immediately following Upset's victory, the Washington Post wrote, "One might make all sorts of puns about it being an upset."
In 2002, George Thompson, a lexicographic researcher, used the full-text online search capabilities of The New York Times databases to trace the usage of the verb to upset and the noun upset. The latter was seen in usage as early as 1877. Thompson's research debunked one popular theory of the term's origin, namely that it was first used after the Thoroughbred racehorse Upset became the only horse to defeat Man o' War in 1919.
The meaning of the word "upset" has long included "an overthrowing or overturn of ideas, plans, etc." (see OED definition 6b), from which the sports definition almost surely derived. "Upset" also once referred to "a curved part of a bridle-bit, fitting over the tongue of the horse", (now the port of a curb bit) and though the modern sports meaning of "upset" was first used far more for horse races than for any other competition, there is no evidence of a connection. The name of the horse "Upset" came from the "trouble" or "distress" meaning of word (as shown by the parallelism of the name of Upset's stablemate, Regret).
List of upsets
Below is a selection of major upsets from a variety of popular sports around the world. It is not meant to be comprehensive, merely representative.
- Association football
- The most recent examples of a "giant-killing" non-league team (Levels 5 to 10) beating a Level 1 opponent in the English FA Cup are National League side Lincoln City's away victory over Premier League side Burnley in the 2016–17 FA Cup and Conference Premier side Luton Town's away victory over the Premier League's Norwich City in the 2012–13 Fourth Round Proper. This was the first defeat of a top flight team by non-league opposition since 1989, when Sutton United claimed a 2–1 victory at home over Coventry City, who had won the FA Cup two seasons earlier and finished that season seventh in the First Division.
- A major upset in Spanish football was the so called Alcorconazo, when in the first leg of a 2009–10 Copa del Rey AD Alcorcón won over Real Madrid 4–0.. Real Madrid is one of the largest clubs in Spanish football and the world while Alcorcón team played in the third-tier Segunda División B. Because Real Madrid won the second leg only 1–0, Alcorcón advanced victorious to the next round. The half-time substitution of Guti when the score was 3–0 and when he was booked before was another topic in the Spanish press because of words exchanged between the player and his coach, Manuel Pellegrini.
- The 1906 World Series looked to be one of the most lopsided matchups in World Series history, as the National League powerhouse Chicago Cubs, with a record of 116–36 represented the best winning percentage in modern Major League Baseball history. They faced off against their cross-town rivals, the Chicago White Sox, who finished with the American League pennant having a record of 93–58. The White Sox were dubbed the "hitless wonders" as their .230 team batting average was not only the worst batting average by a team to win their league pennant, it was the worst overall batting average in all of Major League Baseball that season. Buoyed by a pitching staff that held the Cubs to below 0.200 batting average for the series, the White Sox showed an uncharacteristic surge of batting prowess in games 5 and 6 with 16 runs on 26 hits over the two games to claim the World Series crown four games to two in what has been called the biggest upset in MLB history.
- The Virginia Cavaliers entered the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament with the #1 overall seed, as well as the #1 seed in the South Region, posting a record of 31-2, including both an ACC regular season title and ACC Tournament title. Their opponent, #16 seed UMBC, entered the tournament with a 24-10 record and an America East Tournament title. Before this match, no #1 seed had ever fallen to a #16 seed since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. UMBC beat Virginia, 74-54, in what has been called the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. As of 2021, this is the only time a #16 seed has beaten a #1 seed in the Division I men's college basketball tournament.
- "Upset" Archived 2012-06-24 at the Wayback Machine at Wordorigins.org. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- , 18 February 2017
- BBC Sport, 26 January 2013
- Johnson, Michael (7 January 2021). "What's the biggest FA Cup third-round giant killing?". Coral. Archived from the original on 8 January 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
- Alcorconazo, El País.com (in Spanish), October 27, 2009
- Pellegrini y Guti discutieron en el descanso y el jugador mandó al técnico a tomar por el c*** MARCA.com (in Spanish), October 28, 2009
- Kelly, Matt (25 April 2020). "These are the biggest upsets in baseball history". MLB.com. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
- Wolken, Dan. "UMBC stuns Virginia to make NCAA tournament history as first No. 16 seed beat No. 1 seed". usatoday.com. Retrieved 11 June 2021.