Flames upset not greatest

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

 t's confession time.

 Somehow, over the last several days, I've found myself pulling for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

  There. I've said it.

 While the Calgary Flames have captured the hearts of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I turned on them.

 I don't know if this makes me un-Canadian.

 We love the underdog in this country, because often we are one. The Flames have been the underdog in every series they've played.

 In a strange way, though, that same mindset is what sent me over to the Lightning. This is the team nobody outside Florida, it seems, is cheering for. Heck, not too many people in Florida give a lick.

 From the coach on down, they also seem less belligerent than the Flames. And when Calgary boss Darryl Sutter went on his anti-NHL rant the other day, that sealed it.

 Now that I've got that off my chest, let's get to the real reason for this column.

 Some people say a Calgary Stanley Cup win would go down as the biggest upset in hockey history.

 That's ridiculous.

 Hockey's top underdog story of all time continues to be the Miracle on Ice, team USA's Olympic win over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid in 1980.

 As for the greatest underdog stories in Stanley Cup history, I'll give it to the Flames ahead of New Jersey in 1995, at least in terms of post-expansion teams.

 But where will the history books rank Canada's team?

 Here are five of our favourite all-time underdog stories in sports.

 1. The Miracle on Ice, 1980

 How far apart were the Yanks and Soviets? The Russians beat them 10-3 in a tune-up game just before the Olympics. We're talking about a team of amateurs against probably the best team in the world, NHL included. The 4-3 win over the Soviets led to a gold medal victory over Finland.

 2. Buster Douglas, 1990

 A 42-1 underdog, James Buster Douglas knocked out the baddest heavyweight on the planet, Mike Tyson, who'd been undefeated in 37 previous fights (33 knockouts). I'll never forget watching this during a break at college. It's one of the few times I didn't believe what I was seeing.

 3. The Miracle Mets, 1969

 Baseball's version of the Flames, the New York Mets hadn't finished higher than ninth in seven previous seasons. Like Calgary, they were 100-1 longshots to go all the way that year. They won 100 games, and capped it with a World Series shocker over Baltimore.

 4. Broadway Joe's Guarantee, 1969

 The AFL champion New York Jets weren't supposed to have a prayer against the NFL's best team, 15-1 Baltimore. After all, in the first two Super Bowls, the more established NFL had won going away. The Jets proved everybody wrong, winning 16-7, just as quarterback Joe Namath had predicted.

 5. New England Patriots, 2001-02

 The Pats were 5-11 in 2000, and entered the '01 season a 50-1 longshot to win the Super Bowl. Even after going 11-5 to reach the big game, they were still 14-point underdogs against the 14-2 St. Louis Rams. A 48-yard field goal on the last play gave the Pats a 20-17 win.

 So where would the 2004 Calgary Flames fit in if they complete their amazing story tonight?

 I'd put them behind Joe Namath's New York Jets, but ahead of the New England Patriots, at No. 5, for a couple of reasons.

 In today's salary-capped NFL, parity rules. Missing the playoffs one year, then contending the next, is the norm.

 Today's NHL, on the other hand, is still big markets vs. small, and that's why the Flames are such a compelling story.

 Winning the Stanley Cup playoff marathon is hard enough.

 Doing it on a $35-million payroll in a medium-sized Canadian city, with just two star players, is slightly short of a miracle.


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