Top 15 Sports Cinderella Stories of All Time
Expect the Unexpected
I could have easily turned this into a story of Cinderella teams from the NCAA Tourney. Instead, I added in some other sports with teams that have had some priceless stories that we will never forget.
A “Cinderella” team doesn’t necessarily have to win the championship game; they just have to make it farther than anyone expected them to. Some of these teams have come out to win the big title, but others have simply appeared out-of-nowhere.
These teams have made their marks in history and many of their stories have been made into movies. Sometimes it’s hard to determine how much talent a team really has during regular season play. These teams pushed though to make it to the playoffs of their respective sports and then shock the nation with their outstanding talent.
The most recent Cinderella stories happened within the last year but others date back to the mid-1900’s. You probably noticed that Nate Robinson and the Chicago Bulls are pictured above; don’t worry, I did not consider them one of the Cinderella teams. However, this was somewhat Cinderella playoff for the Bulls considering four of their top players have been injured. If you want to include another Cinderella player of this year’s NBA Playoffs, you could include Norris Cole from the Miami Heat.
In the world of sports, you should always “expect the unexpected” because you never know who will come out on top. So who do you think deserves a top-15 Cinderella story? Take a look and see if you think these teams deserve a spot in the top-15. Enjoy!
15. 2012 Notre Dame Fightin' Irish (NCAAF)
I struggled when trying to decide if I should consider this a Cinderella season for the Fightin' Irish considering they got annihilated in the BCS Championship game by the Alabama Rolling Tide This was the first championship game for the Irish since 1988, and they weren't exactly considered a top-ranked team at the beginning of the season; the Irish had racked up five losses the previous two seasons.
The Irish finished the regular season undefeated, beating powerhouse USC to make it to the BCS Championship. Unfortunately, the Irish lost to the Rolling Tide with a score of 42-13. Six Irish players were drafted into the NFL after their Cinderella season.
14. 2011 St.Louis Cardinals (MLB)
The Cardinals had given up all hope in late August as they trailed the Atlanta Braves by 10.5 games. Somehow, they pulled through to win 23 of their last 33 games and entered the playoffs as the wildcard team. They went on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in round one and the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Championship.
The Cards went on to face the Texas Rangers for the World Series. Texas had a one game lead going into game six. David Freese hit a walk-off homerun in the 11th inning to force the Rangers to game seven. The Cardinals breezed through game seven, beating the Rangers 6-2 and having one of the best comeback seasons in MLB history.
13. 2006 New Orleans Saints (NFL)
In 2005, the New Orleans Saints were displaced from their home field after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The Team ended up with a horrible 3-13 record, having to play their home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge. Luckily, this got the Saints the second pick for the NFL Draft, where the picked up running back Reggie Bush. When the Superdome was completed in 2006, the Saints had their first sold out season in franchise history. Their first game of the season was viewed by over 10 million viewers and is still considered one of the best moments in sports history.
This moment also turned the team around and Drew Brees led the Saints to a 10-6 record and a first-round bye for the playoffs. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles in their first playoff game but fell short to the Chicago Bears for the NFC Championship. Although the Saints didn't make it to the end, the team showed quite the comeback in one short season.
12. 2006 George Mason Patriots (NCAAB)
This is one of the most vivid memories of the NCAA Tournament for me. The Patriots were ranked as an 11 seed entering the tournament but held a decent 23-7 record. Without a struggle, the Patriots beat sixth seed Michigan State, third seed UNC and seventh seed Wichita State. Beating first seed UConn for the second time in school history brought them to the final four. Their season came to an end after losing to Florida, who ultimately won the big title.
11. 2007 Colorado Rockies
The Rockies entered the 2007 season with a record of 76-86 the previous year. They won 21 of 22 games in September to set a franchise record of 90 wins and were luckily granted with the wildcard spot in the playoffs. Next, the Rockies went on to sweep the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks to make it into the 2007 World Series. Unfortunately, the Rockies were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the end. Either way, the team simply came out-of-nowhere in 2007.
10. 2010 Butler Bulldogs (NCAAB)
Butler was a decent team heading into the NCAA tournament but they were lacking on size and didn't exactly have the hardest games during the regular season. The Bulldogs became only the second mid-major team in NCAA history to make it to the final four. They were ranked a five seed heading into the tournament so they had a decent chance at making it far. But nobody expected Butler to make it to the Championship game where they almost beat the Duke Blue Devils.
On the road to the championship game against Duke, Butler defeated twelve seed UTEP, thirteen seed Murray State, first seed Syracuse and second seed Kansas State. The Bulldogs had won 25 straight games heading into the final game so their stamina was high. Butler played the entire game close but Duke hit some free throws with less than ten seconds left to clinch the 61-59 win.
9. 1969 New York Mets (MLB)
The New York Mets were only in their eighth season as a franchise at this point. There wasn't much hope for the team considering they hadn't had a single winning season, and never finished above ninth place. In August, the Chicago Cubs collapsed and the Mets came back into the race after trailing by 10 games. The Mets clinched the division with a record of 100-62 and went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles, a heavily favored team at the time. Ever since then, this team has been known as the "Amazin Mets."
8. 2013 Wichita State Shockers (NCAAB)
These next two Cinderella stories both occurred during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. It's honestly impossible to determine which story is better. Entering the 2012-2013 season, the Shockers had lost their top five leading scorers. Even though the team had snuck into the AP top-25 rankings during the season, they were still a mid-major team which meant they probably wouldn't make it very far.
The Shockers entered the Big Dance as the ninth seed. They beat sixteen seed North Carolina A&T, eight seed Colorado State and twelve seed Oregon to make it to the elite eight. At this point, you would have probably considered the Shockers Cinderella season over since they were to face second seed Duke in the elite eight. They pulled out the impossible and beat Duke with a solid score of 85-63 to send them to the final four. Wichita State played Louisville close the entire game in the final four, but the Shockers ended up losing 72-68.
7. 2013 Florida Gulf Coast University (NCAAB)
If you don't know the reference of "Dunk City," then you're clearly not a college basketball fan. FGCU was a fifteen seed entering the big dance and only got that spot because they won their conference tournament. For the seventh time in history, FGCU beat the second seed (Georgetown) in round one of the big dance. But then, they decided to continue the streak and beat seven seed San Diego State, becoming the first fifteen seed in NCAA history to make it to the sweet sixteen. They ultimately lost to Florida in the sweet sixteen but the Cinderella story of this team also includes the fact that they had some pretty exquisite dunking abilities, racking up 144 over the span of this season.
6. 1983 NC State Wolfpack (NCAAB)
If you haven't seen the video (or pictures) of NC State head coach Jim Valvano running onto the court in complete shock, then you clearly are not a sports fan. The Wolfpack was a sixth seed entering the NCAA Tournament, which meant they were not favored to win by any means. They went on to beat the #1 seed Virginia in the elite eight, and 4th seed Georgia in the final four. NC State then faced Houston in the Championship game, where Lorenzo Charles made a last second shot for the Wolfpack to win the big dance.
5. 1985 Villanova Wildcats (NCAAB)
The 1985 Wildcats still hold the title for being the lowest seed to win the NCAA Tournament. On their way to the big game, the defeated first seed Michigan, second seed Memphisand second seed UNC. They were then on their way to playing Georgetown for the big game. Georgetown was ranked 1st or 2nd the entire regular season, losing only two games which meant the odds of Villanova winning were very slim. The Wildcats barely snuck by and beat Georgetown 66-63 in the Championship game. As an interesting fact, this was actually the last NCAA Basketball game played without a shot clock.
4. 2008 Fresno State Bulldogs (Baseball)
Seeds in the College Baseball World Series is a little different than basketball. The Bulldogs won the WAC tournament, which gave them an automatic bid into the playoffs. Fresno State entered post-season play as a four seed, which is equivalent to a 13-16 seed in basketball. Clearly this means the Bulldogs weren't favored to go very far.
They became the first four seed to ever advance onto the College World Series. Fresno State had never won a Championship for any sport, so these guys had the determination to make school history. The team faced elimination with a loss six times during the tournament but came out strong and won them all. On their road to winning the Championship, the Bulldogs played ten games against top-20 teams. Needless to say, this is probably the biggest Cinderella story for college baseball.
3. 2012 Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
The Kings set NHL history by becoming the first eight seed to win the Stanley Cup. In the middle of the season, head coach Terry Miller was dismissed from the team, which meant they had to hire a new coach fairly quick. Darryl Sutter became the coach in December. The team beat first seed Vancouver, second seed St.Louis and third seed Phoenix before the championship series. Then they faced the New Jersey Devils, won the series in six games, and clinched the Kings first championship win in franchise history.
2. 1954 Milan High School Indians (Basketball)
The top two Cinderella stories are pretty interchangeable, it just depends on your point of view. This team was the inspiration for the popular movie, Hoosiers. Milan had an enrollment of only 161 students at the time, and the state of Indiana had a single-class system for basketball. Clearly they were one of the smallest schools in the state, so the odds of making it to post-season play was virtually impossible. Winning the championship was even more imaginable considering the smallest school to win the tournament in the past was still five times the size of Milan's enrollment. A last-second shot by Bobby Plump led the Indians to a championship win for the small school.
1. 1980 USA Hockey Team
This true story was the inspiration for the movie, Miracle on Ice. The Soviets had won the gold medal in the last four Olympics and were expected to win once again. In the third game against the Soviets, the USA Hockey team was down by one game. Somehow, they pulled out the win to bring the series to a tie and then shocked the world by winning game four, sending the USA to the finals where they beat Finland to bring home the gold.