Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Hope For Us All

Q: Exactly thirty years ago, a bunch of little known players from the United States scored a stunning upset over the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Why do we find these kinds of success stories so compelling and what can we learn from them? What are your favorite David vs. Goliath upsets?

In the earliest days of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama, still a relatively obscure one-term senator, was clearly David to Hillary Clinton's Goliath. Obama's triumph in the Iowa caucuses in January 2008 was a slingshot heard 'round the world. Emerging as the ultimate winner in the bitter contest for the Democratic nomination, Obama became the indisputable champion of underdogs everywhere.

Winning the Democratic nomination was, in many ways, a more difficult and uncertain feat for Obama than winning the presidency. In a relatively short period of time, this politician from Chicago had to overcome barriers of obscurity, race, his unusual family story and exotic name, and, most certainly, the powerful Clinton machine. His success was no fluke, however; he won the support of another powerful political machine --- the Kennedys and their "establishment" Democratic friends --- and he was able to capitalize on his newness as a harbinger of much-needed political change.

Much as we Americans love the David vs. Goliath fable, we quickly turn on the underdog who becomes the uberdog. Within months of his inauguration as 44th president of the United States, Obama, aided by a Democratic-controlled Congress, was morphing into Goliath. Republicans took up the Davidian slingshot and found an expert marksman in Scott Brown, whose election in Massachusetts to the "Kennedy Senate seat" is another remarkable tale of reversed political fortune.

While politics is the ultimate American sport, our penchant to cheer for the underdog gets regular booster shots in the realm of athletics. Les bontemps are still rolling in New Orleans for the incredible victory of the Saints at the Super Bowl. We cheered wildly for U.S. figure skating hero Evan Lysacek, who unexpectedly took the gold medal out of the greedy (and so ungracious) hands of Russia's Evgeni Plushenko.

We can't wait for March Madness to begin because some hitherto-unknown men's basketball team almost always captures our imagination for several weeks as George Mason's team did a few years ago.

Sometimes we cheer for the underdog because the Alpha Dog really bugs us. Most casual golf fans had never heard of Rocco Mediate before the 2008 U.S. Open. But we wound up loving this scrappy underdog, who forced Tiger Woods into a sudden death playoff. Woods won the tournament, but Mediate won our hearts.

What fuels our love affair with the underdog? The potential winner in all of us leaps for joy when the unexpected contestant seizes the day. If he could do it, so can I! David's success against Goliath is a power surge for the potential for success that lies within each one of us.

By Patricia McGuire  |  February 21, 2010; 5:07 PM ET  | Category:  underdog miracles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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