The Times-Union – Jan 12, 2008 – Michael Dirocco – Appalachian State running back Kevin Richardson and his teammates weren’t in awe of the Michigan football team or its storied history.
“We went out there and looked at them as human beings like we are,” he said.
Defensive tackle Paul Rochester and the rest of the New York Jets embraced their role as huge underdogs to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and played as if they had nothing to lose.
“I’d rather be an underdog than a favorite,” Rochester said. “If we lost, everybody would have said, ‘See, we told you.’ If we won, we’d upset the world.”
Their attitudes are reasons why Appalachian State and the Jets were able to pull off two of the biggest upsets in sports history. Humanizing a heavily-favored and perceived invincible opponent and playing without pressure are the main ingredients for an upset, according to Palm Beach sports psychologist John Murray, and the Jaguars will need to use them if they are to beat the 13?-point favorite New England Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff game tonight in Foxborough, Mass.
“Realize these are not the immortals of Xerxes’ army fighting the Greeks,” Murray said in a telephone interview. “These are human beings that can go down.
“The Patriots have everything to lose, nothing to gain. The Jaguars have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Just like Appalachian State and the Jets, New York was an 19-point underdog to the Colts, who were regarded as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. Three days before the Jan. 12, 1969, game in Miami, Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory.
Despite the audaciousness of that statement, Rochester said it didn’t place any pressure on the players. They weren’t intimidated by the aura surrounding the supposedly superior Colts. The Jets won the game 16-7.
“We weren’t too worried about them,” said Rochester, who lives in Jacksonville. “They kept talking about how the Colts were the greatest team in history in the NFL. Numbers-wise we were as good if not better than they were.”
Richardson said the Mountaineers respected Michigan’s top players, but weren’t intimidated. That showed in their 34-32 upset of the fifth-ranked Wolverines in Ann Arbor, which made them the only FCS (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) school to beat a ranked FBS (formerly Division I) school.
“They have 11 players on the field and at the same time we have 11 players on the field,” Richardson said. “Nobody on their bench or their crowd can help them when the ball is snapped.”
Appalachian State fell behind in the fourth quarter but kicked a field goal with less than two minutes remaining to take a 34-32 lead. Michigan attempted a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal with six seconds to play, but the Mountaineers blocked the kick to secure one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
For the Jaguars to reach next week’s AFC championship game, Murray said they’ll have to mimic the Jets, Mountaineers or any of the other players and teams who have pulled off some of the greatest upsets in sports history. Mentally knock the 16-0 Patriots off their pedestal and play free.
“They’re not gods. They’re just football players,” Murray said. “Tear down that statue. Forget about who you’re playing. Don’t forget your assignments. If the Jaguars play great football they stand a decent chance of winning the game. Focus on playing great football.
“It’s David and Goliath. It’s a fun opportunity. But don’t get intimidated by Goliath. Goliath can go down.”
HERE ARE THE TOP 10
IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS
N.Y. JETS WIN SUPER BOWL III
The Colts were 19-point favorites, but Jets QB Joe Namath stole the show.
U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM
Do you believe in miracles? The 1980 U.S. team beat the Soviets 4-3.
DOUGLAS OVER MIKE TYSON
Iron Mike was a 40-1 favorite, but didnt make it out of the 10th round.
UPSET UPSETS MAN O WAR
100-1 long shot hands legendary horse lone loss of career at Saratoga in 1919.
BOISE STATE OVER OKLAHOMA
After the winning TD, Ian Johnson proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend.
MILAN H.S. OVER MUNCIE CENTRAL
Tiny Indiana school beat state powerhouse and inspired Hoosiers.
APPALACHIAN ST. VS. MICHIGAN
A gimme for the No. 5 Wolverines turned into a stunning 34-32 home defeat.
VILLANOVA OVER GEORGETOWN
1984-85 Wildcats made 79 percent of their shots to stun Hoyas in title game.
CHAMINADE OVER VIRGINIA
Cavs had 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson. Chaminade had 800 students and no gym.
OLYMPIAN RULON GARDENER
Won gold in 2000 by beating Russian foe who hadnt lost a match in 13 years.
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.