March 26, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 93  

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Cinderella stories: Battling from the bottom up

By Suzie Kim
Gazette Writer

Gazette File Photo
THE GLASS SLIPPER HAS BEEN PASSED ON. The University of Nevada Wolfpack are this year’s Cinderella story in the NCAA basketball tournament. However, there has been a long line of underdog’s in many sports.

There’s a word that’s been buzzing around sports bars, gyms and the office water cooler these days, and it’s not how you remembered it as a kid.

The modern Cinderella story has come a long way from its cultural roots of our past. In today’s Cinderella story, there isn’t any room for sweet romances and fairy godmothers. Instead, what remains is sweat and determination, with a pinch of luck and a whole lot of heart.

As the final installment of March Madness approaches, the question on many minds is who will come out on top and who will be the next big Cinderella story.

For the last four years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the story of heart in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, making fantastic efforts to overthrow many perennial powerhouses. It’s fitting, then, that this year the glass slipper was passed on from the second-seeded Gonzaga to a 10th- seeded underdog in the second round. The stunning upset came as a first-time win in the tourney for the Nevada Wolfpack, making their first appearance since 1985. Nevada played three-seed Georgia Tech Thursday night as the only double-digit seed to advance into the Sweet 16.

The other shocker of last weekend’s second round games came from the fact that two of the four top seeds were eliminated by eighth and ninth- seeded teams. The University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers knocked out Kentucky and moved on to face fourth seeded Kansas on Friday. In a less surprising upset, top-seeded Stanford was eliminated from the second round for the fifth time in six years. The loss means the Alabama Crimson Tide will get to stay for at least one more dance. They face defending champion Syracuse tonight.

So what exactly is the difference between a Cinderella team and an underdog? Western men’s basketball captain Sagar Desai explains that part of the equation is exceeding set expectations.

“[When a team] basically comes from nowhere and fights their way to the top, they can be considered a Cinderella team,” he says.

Similarly, men’s basketball coach Craig Boydell claims that very few teams can be considered as Cinderella stories.

“It’s easy to call a 10th-seeded team that gets to a championship a Cinderella team, but you have to look into other factors,” he explains. “If that team struggled in the regular season and then was strong in the championships, I would classify it as an underdog.”

Part of the phenomenon that’s attributed to the success of Cinderella teams comes from the influence of society. “It has a lot to do with the fact that teams are rarely expected to exceed certain expectations. There’s a lot of pressure from the media and other teams for them to fail, and that’s what often fuels them to succeed. Young teams may feel a lot of pressure but can also feed off the energy that the media and the crowds produce,” Boydell adds.

From a captain’s point of view, Desai believes that being an underdog serves as motivation. “To go out there with a chip on your shoulder, getting no respect from the other teams, the media and even your own fans [is motivating.] Fans don’t expect you to win — they want you to win, but they never really believe you can do it.”

Society plays a pivotal role in creating the Cinderella’s in sports. Darwin Semotiuk, a Western kinesiology professor and an expert on sport and culture, believes that watching an underdog win resonates well with an audience.

“Watching the unexpected unfold stirs human interest. People are caught up in it — they’re mesmerized by it. It also depends on how the story is told by the media — there’s a lot of media hype associated with [the Cinderella teams] and the attention surrounding it.”

Semotiuk also notes the influence of gambling on cheering for the little guy. “There’s always lots of pools with a fair bit of gambling going on — it’s an important part of the sporting culture.”

The underlying meaning of the Cinderella myth is that anything is possible. There is a certain thrill in watching evil empires fall and revolutions unfold, and sports are not very different in these aspects.
“For the Yankees, they represent real imperial establishment. They depend on buying the pennant every year because they have the biggest budget,” Boydell says.

“It’s fun to see these guys who have nothing on the line and are outmatched — talent-wise and physically — put everything on the line. It’s like the old story of David and Goliath,” Desai adds.

In an age where power, greed and pessimistic mantras seem to consume the hearts of most people, the Cinderella story reminds us that even a butterfly can flap its wings in Tokyo and cause a tidal wave half way around the world.

The glory of watching a true Cinderella team unfold has nothing to do with the high profile, scandalous and often overpaid world of professional sports that dominates our culture nowadays.

The beauty of the Cinderella team is that it’s not about the money or the power, but that one fleeting moment when all the world seems to bow down to a force that could not be broken.



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