The 2023 Arizona Cardinals are arguably the NFL’s biggest underdogs this season. With so many bargain free agents signed to small deals, quite a few rookies, and a QB1 likely to begin the year on the PUP, the Cards will be that team some will project to finish 0-17.
But that’s okay, because there are plenty of examples of massive underdogs in sports who have vastly overachieved despite the long odds. And if you need to see a few of them, check out the four teams listed below and their accolades.
4 underdogs the 2023 Arizona Cardinals can look up to
1 - 1980 USA Men’s Hockey Team
Everyone remembers the 1980 Miracle on Ice Team, even if they, like me, weren’t even born during their improbable run to the gold. The US team was young and inexperienced, were spotty in exhibition play, and they suffered a crushing 10-3 defeat at the hands of the experienced Soviet Union team in their final exhibition match.
However, the US stunned everyone in group play, finishing with four wins, zero losses, and one draw. Of course, the US eventually found itself facing the Soviets in the round robin stage, and after falling behind by one goal after two periods, the Americans stormed back and won the game 4-3.
Contrary to what some believe, the US did not win the gold medal following this contest. However, they snagged the medal following their win over Finland, another come-from-behind affair that saw them scoring a trio of goals in the third.
2 - AK Racing
Alan Kulwicki was a throwback in so many ways, as he was an owner-driver during an era when the big name teams dominated NASCAR. Kulwicki’s race team comprised just a few full time employees in the garage area and cast-offs for his pit crew.
As an independent driver, he won just five races throughout his career, and the odds of him winning a championship were stacked against him. That changed in 1992, however, when he pulled off an upset in the Fall Atlanta Race to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
Unfortunately, Kulwicki’s team, nicknamed the Underbirds, a play on his Ford Thunderbird, never got to defend his title. He died in a plane crash on April 1st, 1993 while en route to the Bristol Motor Speedway.
3 - 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars
The 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars looked and played like an expansion team, finishing the season 4-12. After a 3-5 start that season, the Jags went 1-7 the rest of the way, winning in Week 17 at home against the lame duck Cleveland Browns, who were heading for Baltimore in 1996.
No one had high hopes for the Jags entering the 1996 season, and they didn’t disappoint their critics, starting the season at 3-6. However, Jacksonville finished 6-1 the rest of the way and snuck into the 1996 playoffs. They narrowly defeated the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos, setting up an unprecedented run to the AFC Championship, where they lost to the New England Patriots.
4 - 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights
And finally, we got our most recent example in the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas was an expansion team that season, and like the Arizona Cardinals in 2023, they were a team full of cast-offs. However, Vegas stunned the NHL universe with a 109-point season, good enough to win the Pacific Division.
In the playoffs, the Knights swept the Los Angeles Kings, before defeating the San Jose Sharks four games to two, and the Winnipeg Jets in five games. While Vegas lost to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, it was nonetheless a remarkable run.
As you can see, just because teams are counted out early, it doesn’t mean they have no hope heading into a season. And this is a common denominator that you can see throughout the world of sports, whether it’s one of the above examples, or one that I failed to mention in this article.
(Information provided by teamusa.usahockey, racing-reference, pro-football-reference, and hockey-reference)