For the Love of the Underdog


I have always been a fan of the underdog. Nothing appeals to me more than the little guy taking on the world, regardless of the odds against him. When I stop to think about it, I trace its roots to the impact the film ROCKY had on me growing up. The film and its sequels were favorites in our house. On New Year’s Eve, we had ROCKY marathons while we ate snacks and played games, we had the ROCKY III soundtrack on vinyl, and we bequeathed the name “Rocky” on our family dog. I received the VHS ROCKY boxed set for Christmas the year I had my wisdom teeth removed and watched all of them all with icepacks tied to my face. And I’m probably the only person out there who argues about why ROCKY V is a great movie.

When ROCKY BALBOA came out in 2006, I was at the theater on opening day, tears streaming down my face as the yellow letters “ROCKY BALBOA” started to scroll across the screen with horns blaring the opening notes from “Gonna Fly Now.” Strange, yes, but I’m telling you the character of Rocky struck a chord with me that goes far and deep.

The obsession has never left me over the years and I’m still moved to this day whenever I watch the films, though the first is still my favorite. Even when it won Best Picture in 1976, the film itself was considered an underdog. It was low-budget and simplistic with an original script by the unknown, unemployed and struggling Sylvester Stallone. It ended up with ten nominations and three wins – Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing.

Rocky teaches us that it isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about going the distance no matter what it takes, and that has translated into my daily life. The Husband will roll his eyes when I insist on doing things that there is no way we will “win” and I lecture him on the importance of going the distance, because that’s what truly matters. And sometimes, there is a win at the end. Though, fans of ROCKY know that he did not beat Apollo Creed in the first film, that is a common misconception with non-fans.

My favorite sports team stole my heart in 2003 with their underdog status. For years I have watched them go toe to toe with the toughest teams in the league, at times it has been very hard to watch. But I still supported them as long as they showed up ready to play. They have had some truly moving wins over the years but this will probably always be my favorite:

andrew brunette

Andrew Brunette scores the winning goal against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7, 2003
“The Wild began its journey into the playoff unknown nearly two weeks ago with modest goals and a wide-eyed eagerness to soak up every drop of the experience… Who knew it would ultimately reach so much higher?” Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune Staff Writer (Minnesota Star Tribune, April 23, 2003)

Though this one against the Chicago Blackhawks last night was pretty amazing too:

Minnesota Wild win
Minnesota Wild Shutout Chicago Blackhawks (4-0)

In the end, there’s a reason why we love an underdog. It is inspiring not only to see people beat the odds but almost more so just to see them taken on. Every day we are faced with things that seem impossible and pointless. We wonder if one voice matters among many and what the point is of doing something if the odds are stacked against us. The Husband says that I’m an idealist and that it isn’t worth wasting time on impractical things and that may be true. But really, you will never know what could happen if you don’t try going the distance. And when you do win, the victory always seems to taste sweeter.

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Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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