Upset Specials: 7 Stunners Not Involving Joe Namath, Buster Douglas or Cold War-era Olympic Hockey

Getty Images
Getty Images

When the Giants beat the Patriots last night, two things were bound to happen. First, Eli Manning was going to look extremely confused in a "Wow, even I didn't see this coming"¦" kind of way. Then the hyperbole-driven sports media was going to start calling this "the biggest upset in history!!!!!!" (Actually, they'll probably use more exclamation points, but you get the idea.) While Super Bowl XLII may well have been the biggest upset in history, don't forget some of these less obvious choices:

1. The 1993 Grammy for Best Rock Song

Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" provided an anthem for the entire grunge movement and inspired thousands of teenage boys to buy Stratocasters, learn the song's opening chords, then lose interest in the guitar in favor of Pog trading. Seems like a logical pick for the year's top rock song, right? If not "Smells Like Teen Spirit," then Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" won, right?

Nope, both lost to Eric Clapton's unplugged version of "Layla." It makes perfect sense if you ignore the fact that the song was already 23 years old or that the acoustic version obviously lacks both the initial guitar riff and the lengthy piano outro that made the original so hypnotic. Or that Clapton and Pattie Boyd, the song's subject and George Harrison's ex-wife, were long divorced when this version was recorded. It had intelligible lyrics, and apparently that's all that mattered.

2. The 1992 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress 

Marisa Tomei's win for her work in My Cousin Vinny was such an upset that observers assumed she'd received the Oscar in error. It seemed so improbable that Tomei's turn as Joe Pesci's strident fiancée would beat out competition that included Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson that rumors circulated that presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name after imbibing a few too many drinks before the show. Although the Academy publicly stated that such an error could not possibly happen since officials of Price Waterhouse, the firm that counted the votes, waited off-stage in case of just such a mix-up, the rumors persisted. All this sniping kind of makes Tomei's never getting to go out with George Costanza seem like a minor indignity.

3. The 1994 NBA Western Conference Playoffs

The 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics were an incredibly stacked team that featured a young (and still somewhat svelte) Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton entering his prime, Nate McMillan, Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, and a solid supporting cast. They ran out to a league-best 63-19 record to earn the top seed in the Western playoffs.

Their first-round opponents, the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, were a bit less intimidating. Sure, they had a young Dikembe Mutombo (difficult to visualize, I know), but the rest of the roster was filled with guys whose basketball cards you definitely didn't want. (Apologies to Robert Pack, Bryant Stith, and Tom Hammonds.) Yet somehow after dropping the first two contests in the five-game series, the Nuggets reeled off three straight wins to become the NBA's first eight seed to triumph over a one seed. It was such an improbable upset that Shawn Kemp's probably still telling his kids about it.

4. The 2007 Indianapolis Mayoral Race

Although we love Hoosiers, Indiana can apparently foster more than just high school basketball upsets. In this election Republican Greg Ballard managed to depose two-term incumbent mayor Bart Peterson despite being almost comically outspent throughout the campaign. How severe was the spending difference? At the outset of the campaign, Peterson boasted a $2.9 million war chest, while Ballard had $9,560 to his political name, enough to buy a decent used Accord, but a little thin to win a major office. The former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel persisted, though, and despite spotty support from his party, won the election by a 51%-47% margin, ironically enough in the same calendar year that the heavily favored hometown Colts managed to avoid choking in the playoffs for the first time in ages.

5. The 1986 World Snooker Championship

The Giants' win as 12-point underdogs was impressive, but it sounds positively probable compared to Joe Johnson's run to the 1986 World Snooker Championship. At the outset of the tournament, outsider Johnson was something of a heavy underdog; betting on him to win got you 150-1 odds. He managed to walk into Sheffield's Crucible Theater, though, and dominate the competition, including pasting the world's top-ranked player, Steve Davis, 18-12 in the final, a feat that would likely receive much more ink here if a single American knew how to play snooker.

6. The 2003 Cannes Lions Advertising Festival

Director Spike Jonze can make almost anything entertaining. From his breezy music videos like the one for the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" to quirky features like Adaptation, Jonze's work has earned a slew of admirers, including ad men. In 2003, ad firm Crispin Porter's Jonze-directed "Lamp" spot for Ikea beat out Honda's heavily-favored "Cog" spot from Wieden+Kennedy London, which featured a Rube-Goldberg-esque progression of rolling car parts, to win the Grand Prix at the annual Cannes festival known as "the Olympics of advertising." Which ad was really better? See for yourself.

Honda "Cog"

Ikea "Lamp"

7. The 1913 U.S. Open

While an amateur winning one of golf's major championships sounds completely inconceivable in the modern game, it wasn't much more probable in 1913, when former 20-year-old Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open on the Brookline, Massachusetts course where he'd previously worked as a caddy. Aided by 10-year-old caddy Eddie Lowery, Ouimet stunned heavily favored British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to become the first amateur to win the Open. His unlikely feat earned Ouimet a spot in golf's Hall of Fame, and Mark Frost's historical account The Greatest Game Ever Played inspired a movie of the same name starring Shia LeBeouf.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. For a recent mental_floss story, he somehow lumped together Beavis & Butthead and The Puppy Bowl.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.