Leicester City’s title run ranks as top upset in sports history

A week ago today, Leicester City pulled off the unthinkable… well, actually, it was Chelsea who helped them pull it off with a draw against Tottenham.

For those who might have been living under a rock, the Foxes started out as 5,000–1 odds to win the Premier League. They were one of the favorites to get relegated back down to the Championship, the second division of English football.

But with Eden Hazard’s brilliant strike in the late goings of last week’s match to level the scoreline at 2–2, Leicester City finished off the ultimate dream. And when they lifted the Premier League trophy after Saturday’s match, they officially put themselves at the top of the best upsets in all of sports history.

There have been great upsets in sports history. The group of American college players defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Jim Valvano and North Carolina State taking down Phi Slamma Jamma. Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.

But none of those come anywhere close to the scale of Leicester City’s accomplishment.

To put the Foxes’ triumph into context, the USA hockey team entered their contest against the Soviets as 1,000–1 underdogs, five times better odds than Leicester. The Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s middling, bottom-feeder team, have the league’s worst odds at 200–1 to win the Super Bowl, a mere 25 times better than Leicester. No other NFL team has a greater than 80–1 odds to win it all.

Why the great disparity between the bottom team of the Premier League and the NFL? It’s all in how the leagues are structured. American sports leagues thrive on parity. Salary caps, drafts, free agency and playoffs all promote teams getting at least a rough fair shot at the title. But the Premier League and other European leagues are a free-for-all. There’s no salary cap, no draft, no playoffs and free agency is dominated by teams that have the most money. And teams that underperform get demoted.

Essentially, the deck is stacked so that the usual suspects — Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool — are the only ones that have a realistic shot at lifting the trophy in May. Teams like Leicester City are usually kept in a perpetual fight to stay out of the relegation zone or to get back up from the Championship. Coming out of nowhere to win the league title isn’t supposed to happen.

Another thing that makes this run so incredible is that they held this form across the entire season. This isn’t some miracle run in the postseason after being middle-of-the-pack in the regular season. Instead, this happened across 36 matches, from start to finish. The Foxes lost a grand total of three matches and came out on top 23 times. And in the final third of the season, when the experts expected the dream to come to its usual conclusion, Leicester City went on a run of seven wins in nine matches — including five 1–0 wins, to seal the title.

Of course, others might say that the Miracle on Ice meant more because of the world political stage at the time, or that N.C. State’s title meant so much because of Valvano and the seemingly unstoppable Houston Cougars.

But with 5,000–1 odds, a deck stacked against them from the start of the season, it’s hard not to say that Leicester City isn’t the greatest upset in sports history. It’s was dream that wasn’t even realistically a dream back in August that now, all of the sudden, has become real. This time, David took on five Goliaths and still managed to win.