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Underdog Days

Better Days

By Mayer Bick

Bobby Cremins, the coach of the nationally ranked Georgia Tech men's basketball team, has one testicle. And, in an amazing coincidence, so does his closest childhood friend. Bobby says that he and his buddy (let's call him "Lester") used to go into bars and make bets about how many combined testicles they had.

"The smart money went with three," Bobby said.

Bobby, however, did not lack the machismo to rise up from the slum in Brooklyn where he grew up. Bobby is known today as one of the best recruiters (if not the best game coaches) in college basketball, and one of the hardest workers. He has sent a countless number of players to the NBA, including Mark Price, John Salley, Tom Hammonds, Dennis Scott, Travis Best and Kenny Anderson, among others.

"You can do anything you want if you set your mind to it," he tells potential recruits.

And this is not just an empty cliche to Bobby. He actually means it.

The point of all this is that sports is the most fertile ground for the underdog. While Bill Clinton had to shamelessly network for his whole life to become President (he says that after each day he spent in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, he would write down the name of and an amusing anecdote about everyone he met), Bobby Cremins just had to give it his all on he court (he was a schoolyard legend who got a college scholarship to play Basketball) and on the sidelines. Bobby Cremins' triumph is unassailable.

There are countless examples of the underdogs winning out over fat cats who were overconfident and lazy, who just didn't work as hard. Take the case of Buster Douglas, Jr., who beat a seemingly indomitable but actually flabby and pariah-surrounded Mike Tyson one glorious night in Japan five years ago. Buster then was bitten by the overconfidence bug that bit Tyson, and was knocked silly by Evander Holyfield. (Buster has since ballooned to a 400-pound man with dread locks. "I always hated fighting," he says now.)

But the underdog is not always pure. When Villanova beat George-town to win the 1986 NCAA basket-ball championship, it was perhaps the greatest upset in college basketball history. Georgetown was led by Patrick Ewing, and had only lost once that season (by one point to St. Johns), while Villanova barely made the Tournament.

Unfortunately, it was later revealed that many of those lovable Villanova players were involved in NCAA infractions, and more alarmingly, were involved with drugs--and not just marijuana. And worst of all, Villanova's mighty mite of a point guard, Gary Mclain, told this sordid tale in a shocking expose in Sports Illustrated. All of a sudden the under-dog got pretty unattractive.

More pertinent to most of our lives, however, is that many Harvard teams are now playing the role of underdog. Football, cross country track, field hockey, etc., are all fighting to survive with success, whether with much fanfare (football) or with-out (field hockey). But these underdogs should not get discouraged, because an example right in our own backyard gives hope.

The women's basketball team of 1994-1995 started the season as big underdogs. Coming off a disastrous 1993-1994 season that broke a long tradition of winning under Coach Kathy Delaney Smith, the Crimson was not given a chance in the Ivies. Yet that team, scrapping and fighting all season, came within one win of claiming the Ivy League title and with it the first ever NCAA Women's Tournament berth for an Ivy League team.

And although it seems that more and more Harvard teams are being forced to play the role of underdog lately, that shouldn't discourage Crimson fans, because the longer road is always more satisfying.

Just ask the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, or Michael Change at the 1989 French Open, or the 1987 Minnesota Twins, or the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, or the 1969 New York Mets, or the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack, or the 1995 Northwestern football team. Or even Bobby Cremins. (But don't ask Rudy.)

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