Bear with me on this, even as you may not follow the “other” football. Or give a spit about that futbol.
Leicester City is a soccer club in the English Premier League, the former an organization much more familiar with — and heretofore worried about — relegations than championships. In fact, headed into the 2016 season, Lester City was given 5,000-1 odds to win the EPL championship; those are the same odds the British books gave Kim Kardashian to be in the White House as President by 2020.
In 2015, they narrowly averted relegation. And then The Perfect Storm of 2016 happened, with the Foxes needing to win just three of their remaining five matches to become EPL champions for the first time in the club’s not-so-storied 132-year history. In fact, Leicester City would become the first EPL team ever to win a title the year after finishing outside the top four in England’s top league.
For all intents and purposes, it’s the ultimate Cinderella story in any sport ever — but, given the fact that the EPL airs on the NBC Sports Network, it got us thinking about underdogs in our own beloved sport, college football. Normally, the sport CFT focuses on doesn’t lend itself to season-long Cinderella stories, although you could make an argument for the likes of the 1984 BYU Cougars (national champions from a non-Power Five conference) or the 2006 Boise State Broncos (stunning blue-blood Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl).
Still, the Cougars were on or around the national stage in the seventies and on into the eighties. The Broncos, meanwhile, have been the Little Football Program That Could for most of the 21st century, so the undefeated run capped off by knocking down the Sooners was hardly a fairy tale, let alone the likes of what’s currently going on in the EPL. For one game in 2007, though, Appalachian State was 2016 Leicester City.
Yes, App. State was in the midst of a three-year run as FCS champions. That didn’t stop the oddsmakers from making ASU 33(ish)-point underdogs for their game against No. 5 Michigan in the Big House that September afternoon — especially as said oddsmakers were armed with the knowledge that no FCS had ever beaten an FBS team ranked in the Top 25.
Playing for 60 minutes and using less than 30 players — UM had 85 scholarship players at its disposal — playing in the Big House against both the iconic Maize & Blue and their 100,000-plus fans, the five-touchdown underdog from Boone, NC (pop. 17,000), did the seemingly impossible: they knocked off the winningest program in football history. A field goal gave the Mountaineers, who held a two-touchdown lead in the first half, a 34-32 lead with under 30 seconds left; the block of the Wolverines’ game-winning field-goal attempt as time expired gave the FCS program the most stunning upset in the history of the sport.
It may not be Leicester City’s sustained, season-long excellence at the highest level of their respective sport, but, for three hours one Ann Arbor afternoon, Appalachian State was every bit the Cinderella their underdog cousins from across the pond have been this season.
(You can watch Leicester City’s improbable run to what would be an even more improbable championship continue this Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET as they take on West Ham United on NBC Sports Network. You can also click HERE for NBCSports.com’s coverage of all things soccer.)