America loves the underdog, right?
Ever since the colonies upset the heavily favored British at Lexington and Concord, the little guy has held a special place in the old U S of A. Steve Jobs starting Apple in his parents’ garage? A Cinderella story. Jay-Z goes from the housing projects to billionaire hip-hop mogul? Only in America. The Miracle on Ice kids beating the Russians and then winning the gold medal? You didn’t have to be a sports fan to feel the utter joy from sea to shining sea.
But sports fans in particular eat up the underdog. People with Duke diplomas on their walls were the only ones rooting for the Blue Devils against Butler in the 2010 national championship game. When the Giants beat the 18-0 Patriots, 44 states rejoiced. Hickory High over South Bend Central? Pure magic.
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So why is it that your average college football fan is not pulling for Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff against No. 1 Alabama? Sure, Cincinnati has its vocal defenders, but the fact that the Bearcats have even needed defenders is peculiar. There was plenty of backlash when Cincinnati worked its way up the polls, then stayed inside the coveted top four. It seemed the majority of college football fans did not want an imposter crossing the sea and challenging the ruling class. The college football Game of Thrones is not for the commoners.
The modern day originator of the college Cinderella story was George Mason, which beat Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn on the way to the 2006 Final Four. It was fun, it was shocking, and everyone was hoping that team, that barely got into the NCAA Tournament, would somehow complete the miracle and run the table. There was no protectionism around the Final Four like it was some sacred fiefdom only the bluebloods could inhabit.
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And yet that is the feeling around the College Football Playoff. Sure, college football fans love it when Appalachian State knocks off Michigan, or Boise State stuns Oklahoma. But the national championship? THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP? No, no. We like it when the superpowers take on the superpowers, and we don’t have room for any non-superpowers. We don’t even want any non-superpowers in the room. Sure, those cutesy upsets during the season, when a Colorado State beats an Arkansas, or a Florida International beats a Miami or a fill-in-the-blank beats Texas, those are cool. We like ‘em.
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And I’m sure there were plenty of folks who wanted Cincinnati to stick it to Notre Dame in October, and celebrated when it happened. But when the Bearcats started to move toward the playoff, fans seemed to turn, hoping UC stayed out of the CFP.
Wherever you come down on the Group of 5 debate, the fact is we really do have a David vs. Goliath matchup on Friday, and in American sports, that usually means the majority of the public is pulling for David. Alabama has the money, the Hall of Fame coach, the national championship trophies, the endless NFL prospects. Cincinnati plays in the small stadium, has never made a College Football Playoff or national championship game and doesn’t have the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.
But the Bearcats are talented, they’ve answered every challenge to date and they will put their collective chest out against the SEC bully. They may not win. They may not even be competitive on Friday.
But it’s OK to root for them.