Cinderella (sports)

Cinderella (sports)

In American and Canadian sports, a Cinderella or "Cinderella Story" refers to a team or player who advances much further in a tournament or career than originally anticipated.[citation needed] Cinderellas tend to gain much media and fan attention as they move closer to the championship game at the end of the tournament.[citation needed] The term comes from the ending of the fairy tale Cinderella, and it implies unexpected success after a period of obscurity.[citation needed] The term has been used at least since 1939, but came into widespread usage in 1950, in reference to City College of New York, the unexpected winners of the NCAA Men's Basketball championship that year.[1] The term was used by Bill Murray in the 1980 hit movie Caddyshack where he pretends as the announcer to his own golf fantasy: "Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion."[2]

Referring somewhat inaccurately to the plot details of the classic Cinderella story, the media will debate whether the given "Cinderella" team or player will "turn into a pumpkin," i.e. fail to win the prize and then return to its former obscurity.[citation needed] In the fairy tale, it was the carriage that turned into a pumpkin at midnight, not Cinderella herself. Another popular term is "strike midnight," when a Cinderella team does finally get beaten.[citation needed]

Prior to the widespread use of "Cinderella" in this way, the more common term for unexpected and dramatic success was "Miracle," as in the "Miracle Braves" of 1914, the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" in 1951, the "Miracle Mets" of 1969, and the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980.[citation needed]

In the United Kingdom, by contrast, a Cinderella team is one which usually underachieves, or is overshadowed by more successful neighbours (for example, Tranmere Rovers and Everton by Liverpool).[citation needed] This refers to the early part of the Cinderella fairy tale, where the heroine is downtrodden. A U.S.-style Cinderella team would be a surprise package or surprise packet, and their success would be termed a fairy-tale run.[3]

A related concept is the giant-killer, which refers to a lesser competitor who defeats a favorite. The name reflects such stories as David and Goliath, and Jack the Giant-Killer.[citation needed]

Most Cinderellas send one strong message: a team or a player that has not had a good regular season can atone for the struggles with brilliance in a short period of time.


Examples of North American "Cinderellas"

Many teams are considered "Cinderella teams" when they seemingly overachieve. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Cardinals went all the way to their respective leagues' championships in 2008 only to "turn into a pumpkin" at the end. This list is largely confined to "Cinderella teams" that won championships.



  • New York Giants (1954)[citation needed] – The then-New York Giants swept the 111-win Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series in one of the greatest World Series upsets in baseball history. Center fielder Willie Mays made an iconic over-the-shoulder catch in the 8th inning of game 1 to preserve a tie. Dusty Rhodes would later win the game for the Giants with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning that set the stage for a series sweep.
  • New York Mets (1969)[7] – The Mets won their first ever World Series title after beating the heavily favored 109-win Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series; previously, the Mets had finished either last or next-to-last in the National League every year.
  • Cincinnati Reds (1990)[citation needed] – not seen as a particularly strong team, the Reds were not expected to defeat the Pirates in the NLCS nor were they expected to have any chance against the mighty Oakland Athletics. Critics expected a sweep, which did happen. However it was the Reds sweeping the A's in a stunner to win the championship.
  • Minnesota Twins (1991)[citation needed] – One year after finishing dead last in the American League West and tied for the second-worst record in the American League, the Twins won the 1991 World Series by defeating a fellow Cinderella, the Atlanta Braves (see below), in seven games in what was considered among the greatest and most dramatic World Series of all time. The Twins won games six and seven of the series in extra innings, with a walk-off home run and walk-off single respectively.
  • Anaheim Angels (2002)[citation needed] – The Angels won the first World championship in their 41-year history. The Halos finished the regular season in second place in the American League West standings to the Oakland Athletics, making the playoffs as the American League wild card qualifier. Nevertheless, they put together a magical postseason run, upsetting the mighty New York Yankees in the ALDS, besting the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS to win the American League pennant, and going the distance against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series to clinch the title.
  • Florida Marlins (2003)[3] – The Marlins used a strong second half to win the World Series, after upsets against the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees.[8][9] The NLCS was especially memorable for the Marlins' rally and another Cubs collapse, as it extended the alleged Curse of the Billy Goat.
  • St. Louis Cardinals (2011). With about a month to go in the regular season, the Cardinals were 10½ games behind the wild-card leader, the Atlanta Braves, but by a combination of a winning streak by the Cardinals and a losing streak by the Braves, the wild-card position was decided in favor of the Cardinals on the last day of the regular season. The Cardinals then won playoff series against the Philadelphia Phillies (who had the best win-loss percentage in baseball) and the Milwaukee Brewers (who were the leaders in the same division with the Cardinals and had the best win-loss percentage at home) to face the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Going into the sixth game of the series, the Cardinals were behind 3 games to 2, and had to win the next two games. In the ninth inning of the sixth game, the Cardinals were behind by two runs, and with two outs and two strikes on David Freese, he hit a triple tying the game, which the Cardinals then won in extra innings. The Cardinals then went on to win the seventh game and the series.


Canadian football

College baseball

  • Fresno State (2008) – In one of the more improbable Cinderella stories in American sports history, the Bulldogs surmounted a daunting array of obstacles on their way to the NCAA title:[10][11]
    • Fresno State had never won an NCAA championship in any men's sport going into the 2008 tournament.
    • The Bulldogs entered the Western Athletic Conference tournament at 33-27; they would likely not have made the NCAA tournament without winning the WAC tournament, which they did.
    • They were the #4 seed in their regional. Since only four teams play in each of 16 regionals, this is the equivalent of a team seeded #13 or lower in the NCAA basketball tournament. No #4 seed had ever advanced to the College World Series. By contrast, no #13 or lower seed has ever made the "Elite 8" of the men's basketball tournament, which is arguably equivalent to the eight-team College World Series.
    • Six times in the NCAA tournament, including three times in the College World Series, they faced elimination with a loss. They won all six times.
    • They won a total of 10 tournament games against six different teams ranked in the top 20. ESPN pointed out that in terms of the NCAA basketball tournament, Fresno State's run would be equivalent to a 13 seed beating a 4 seed in the first round (second round from 2011), a 5 seed in the second round (third round from 2011), a top seed in the Sweet 16, a second seed in the Elite 8, another top seed in the Final Four, and still another 2 seed for the championship.

College/high school basketball

High school
  • Texas Western Miners[citation needed] (1966) – Little-known Texas Western College advanced to the NCAA Championship Game where they defeated perennial powerhouse Kentucky 72-65 to win the school's only men's basketball national title to date. The Miners' championship is best remembered for the fact that the team utilized an all-black starting lineup at a time when many universities (particularly in the south) were resisting integrating their athletic teams, including the all-white Kentucky team that Texas Western defeated in the title game. The team's story was subject of the 2006 film Glory Road.
  • North Carolina State University Wolfpack (1983)[citation needed] – The Wolfpack defeated the heavily-favored "Phi Slama Jama" Houston Cougars, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, 54-52 to win the NCAA Men's Tournament.
  • Villanova Wildcats (1985)[citation needed] – Villanova became the lowest seed (#8) to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Furthermore, the Wildcats missed only one field goal in the entire second half of the championship game against the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas.
  • The 11 seed George Mason Patriots were able to reach the Final Four, beating number 1 overall seed Connecticut, before losing.
  • VCU Rams (2011) [1]Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) lost the Colonial Athletic Association title to Old Dominion (ODU) thus making an automatic bid to the Final Four tournament impossible. VCU did not even meet together as a team to watch the selection of the newly instituted "First Four" wildcard teams. [2] VCU's selection into the First Four was panned by the likes of sportscasters Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale. Their trip to the final four involved double digit wins over #13 ranked Purdue and #1 ranked Kansas.[3]

College football

Ice hockey

Other Sports

  • 2010 NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson. Who had won the last four Sprint Cup championships in a row, was in deep trouble. They were out of it after the Fall Talladega Race and it looked like Denny Hamlin would win his first championship. But midway though the Fall Texas Jeff Gordon was wrecked under caution and Jimmie's crew chief Chad Knaus switched the two teams pit crews because Jimmie's was very slow. After the switch Jimmie came back from a -50 point deficit and was able to seal the deal with a 5th and a 2nd at Phoenix and Miami respectivly, while Denny Hamlin choked. Jimmie beat Denny by 39 points and becomes NASCAR's first 5 in a row championship.

Examples of Cinderellas that did not win the championship

These Cinderellas made it to the finals in their respective leagues.




Canadian football

College basketball

  • Jacksonville University (1970)[citation needed] – Jacksonville became the smallest school by enrollment to reach the final round of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. However, the Dolphins lost to UCLA in the finals.
  • Louisiana State University (1986)[citation needed] – LSU's 1986 team is tied for the lowest-seeded team (#11) to ever make the Final Four (with George Mason's 2006 team and Virginia Commonwealth's 2011 team).
  • Loyola Marymount University (1990)[18] – After averaging an NCAA record 122 points per game, the Lions lost senior leader, and former scoring and rebounding champion, Hank Gathers, to a heart condition as he died on the court. However, the Lions fought their way to the Elite Eight where they lost to eventual champion UNLV Rebels. Their run included defeating defending national champion Michigan 149-115.
  • Gonzaga University (1999)[citation needed] – Gonzaga's 1999 team pulled the program from total obscurity by reaching the Elite Eight. Their run was ended by a narrow 67-62 loss to the UConn Huskies, the ultimate tournament champions.
  • George Mason University (2006)[citation needed] – In 2006, the Patriots became the first true "mid-major" team in over a quarter-century to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Tournament before losing to the eventual national champion Florida Gators. They were named the Sports Illustrated Biggest Cinderella Team of the Decade in college basketball
  • Butler University (2010)[citation needed] – Despite having a great season in the Horizon League, going 18-0, including winning the conference tournament, and receiving a #5 seed, Butler, a traditional mid-major power for a decade, was not expected to advance past the Sweet Sixteen. However, after victories over #12 seed UTEP and #13 seed Murray State, Butler upset the heavily favored #1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, and the also heavily favored #2 seed Kansas State in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. They then beat last years NCAA Tournament Runner Ups, Michigan State, in their sixth Final Four in 12 years, including second straight. In the championship game against #1 Duke, however, their run ended when star Gordon Hayward's desperation heave at the buzzer rimmed out.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (2011) – Many fans and analysts, including Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, and Billy Packer, were surprised that VCU was given a berth in the NCAA Tournament as a #11 seed over other teams that seemed to be more deserving of an at-large berth.[19] However, VCU silenced all the critics by upsetting five teams from five different power conferences en route to the Final Four: USC in the First round, #6 seed Georgetown in the second round, #3 seed Purdue in the third round, #10 seed Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen, and #1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight. They became the first team to make the Final Four after playing a play-in game, as well as being the third #11 seed to make the Final Four after LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006. However, just like LSU and George Mason, they were defeated in the Final Four, losing to fellow mid-major Butler.

College football

College Hockey

  • RIT Tigers (2009-2010) In their fifth season of Division I play, the RIT Tigers won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, receiving their first bid to an NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament. They defeated Denver and University of New Hampshire in the East Regional in Albany, New York to make it to the Frozen Four. They were the only team to make it to the Frozen Four in their first NCAA tournament appearance, as well as the only Atlantic Hockey team to make it to the Frozen Four. [20] They lost to Wisconsin in the Frozen Four semifinals.


Football (soccer)

  • South Korea (2002 World Cup)[citation needed] – South Korea became the first Asian team to reach the final four of the World Cup. The South Koreans, who were ranked by FIFA at #40 at the time, advanced by upsetting some very high ranked teams (#5 Portugal, #6 Italy, and #8 Spain) before losing to Germany in the semi-final and to Turkey in the third-place playoff to finish fourth overall.
  • Gretna F.C. (2006)[citation needed] – Gretna progressed to the final of the Scottish Cup knocking out Preston Athletic, Cove Rangers, St. Johnstone, Clyde F.C., St. Mirren and Dundee F.C.. They were beaten in the final by Heart of Midlothian on penalties. In their run, Gretna became the first club in the Scottish Second Division to reach the Scottish Cup Final.
  • Barnsley F.C. (2008)[citation needed] – Barnsley advanced to the semi-finals of the FA Cup after knocking out Liverpool and Chelsea, two of the top clubs in English football, in the last two rounds. However, they lost the semi-finals to Cardiff City.

Ice Hockey

  • Vancouver Canucks (1982 and 1994)[21][22][23] – In 1982, despite having a losing record in the regular season at 30-33-17, the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, sweeping the Calgary Flames and then defeating the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, each in five games. However, they were swept by the two-time defending champion New York Islanders in the Finals. In 1994, the Canucks entered the playoffs as the #7 seed in the newly-renamed Western Conference. They upset Calgary in the first round (rallying from a 3-1 series deficit), then upended the fourth-seeded Dallas Stars and the third-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs, each in five games. In the Finals against the New York Rangers (who had won the Presidents' Trophy during the season), they once again rallied after being down 3-1, but the rally was unsuccessful; the Canucks lost Game 7—the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
  • Minnesota North Stars (1991 Stanley Cup Finals)[24] – Despite a losing record in the regular season and being the 16th seeded team in the NHL with only 68 points, the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history. They knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues (the top two teams in the NHL during the regular season) in six games each and the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in five games. The team fought hard against the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Mario Lemieux, winning two out of the first three contests before being obliterated 8-0 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series.
  • Florida Panthers (1996 Stanley Cup Finals)[citation needed] – The Panthers, in their third NHL season, surprised the hockey world by spending the majority of the season in first place in the Eastern Conference, but a collapse late in the season prevented them from getting home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The team finished the year with a 41–31–10 record, which was good enough to finish 4th in the East, despite a 16-19-6 record on the road. Though the Panthers were predicted to lose their first ever playoff series to the Boston Bruins, the team relied on the goaltending of John Vanbiesbrouck to carry them past the Bruins. The Cats momentum continued as they continued their improbable run by knocking off the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in six games and the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven, holding both Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr to three points in the series, en route to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in four straight, losing in triple overtime on an Uwe Krupp slapshot goal on home ice.
  • Carolina Hurricanes (2002 Stanley Cup Finals)[25][26] – Though the Hurricanes were seeded third as a division winner, having won the Southeast Division, in actuality they had the second-lowest point total (91) for a playoff team not only in the Eastern Conference, but also the whole NHL. However, they defeated the New Jersey Devils, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs all in six games, to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
  • Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003 Stanley Cup Finals)[citation needed] – The Mighty Ducks entered the playoffs as the #7 seed and surprised many by sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, who were the #2 seed, in the first round. They followed that series with a six-game series win over the top-seeded Dallas Stars and a four-game sweep over the sixth-ranked Minnesota Wild to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. There, they met the Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils, who beat the Ducks in seven games. Both teams won every home game played, but the Devils had home ice advantage and thus had a strong edge going into Game 7.
  • Calgary Flames (2004 Stanley Cup Finals) - The Calgary Flames were 6th seed going into the playoffs and didn't have home ice advantage through the playoffs. However, they beat the Canucks in 7, the President's Trophy Winners Detroit Red Wings in 6. And the San Jose Sharks in 6.
  • Edmonton Oilers (2006 Stanley Cup Finals)[27] – The Oilers entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They upset the Red Wings (who had 124 points, the first time a team had had 120+ points since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings), and the San Jose Sharks each in six, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in five to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, where they faced the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series before finally losing in Game 7.
  • Philadelphia Flyers (2010 Stanley Cup Finals)[28] – The Flyers, inconsistent for much of the season and battling injuries that left them at one point starting their 4th choice goaltender (Johan Backlund), qualified for the playoffs in the final game of the season in a shootout against their rival New York Rangers. As the seventh seed, the Flyers upset rivals and Atlantic Division champions, the New Jersey Devils in five games in the first round. In the second round, the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games, in the process becoming only the third team in NHL history to win a series in which they had trailed 3-0 at one point. In the conference final, they needed just five games to beat the Montreal Canadiens, who had been on something of a Cinderella run themselves; the Canadiens had defeated the top seeded Washington Capitals and defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. In the Finals, the Flyers lost in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 — the Blackhawks had won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.[29]

Other Sports

  • Clint Bowyer had no NASCAR wins prior to the 2007 Chase and he was the only Chase contender without a win in 2007. In the first race he dominated the 2007 Sylvania 300 by leading 218 of the 300 laps that day. He was the only non Hendrick driver that had a shot at winning the Chase. Thougout the Chase he was dubbed as a "Cinderella Story". He came up short while Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon finished ahead of Clint.


  1. ^ ESPN (2009). ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. New York: ESPN Books. p. 28. 
  2. ^ "Soundclip of Bill Murray in Caddyshack". MovieSoundsCentral. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  3. ^ a b Brewer, Jerry (October 26, 2003). "Marlins Stun Yankees for Title; Josh Beckett Pitched a Gem as Florida Completed a Fairy-Tale Run". Orlando Sentinel: p. A1. 
  4. ^ Anderson, Dave (January 13, 1969). "Jets Upset Colts by 16-7 for Title in the Super Bowl". New York Times: p. 1. 
  5. ^ "Football's Super Star; Joseph William Namath". New York Times: p. 32. January 13, 1969. 
  6. ^ Shaughnessy, Dan (February 4, 2008). "History derailed: Giants ruin Patriots' quest for perfection with 17-14 stunner". Boston Globe: p. A1. 
  7. ^ a b Sullivan, Paul (October 22, 2008). "Amazin' turnabout; Rays' rise evokes memories of Mets' gripping run to '69 title". Chicago Tribune: p. 4. 
  8. ^ Greenstein, Teddy (October 26, 2003). "Happy ending to fish tale; Beckett ices Yanks with 5-hit shutout". Chicago Tribune: p. 1. 
  9. ^ Sheinin, Dave (October 26, 2003). "King Fish; Beckett Blanks Yanks, Cinderella Marlins Stun New York in World Series, 4-2". Washington Post: p. E1. 
  10. ^ "Fresno State reaches historic postseason heights". 2008-06-23. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  11. ^ Associated Press (2008-06-25). "Fresno State shocks Georgia for first CWS championship". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  12. ^ Fitzpatrick, Jamie. "Miracle on Ice: American Hockey's Defining Moment". Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  13. ^ Livingstone, Seth (October 23, 2008). "'Bossman,' DickieV boost Rays' Upton". USA Today: p. C4. 
  14. ^ Cafardo, Nick (October 30, 2008). "A great finish saved face". Boston Globe: p. C2. 
  15. ^ Robbins, Josh (October 30, 2008). "Phils end Rays' magic". Orlando Sentinel: p. D8. "This Cinderella season did not end happily ever after...The Tampa Bay Rays' Cinderella season is over." 
  16. ^ Wise, Mike (June 26, 1999). "Knicks' Magic Ride is Over". New York Times: p. D1. "After a moment of disbelief had passed over the crowd, they began clapping and saluting this implausible Knicks run that began with a miracle in Miami, swept through Atlanta, somehow overcame Indiana and ended with a four games to one loss in the league championship series." 
  17. ^ Roberts, Selena (June 26, 1999). "Spurs Win Title as Knicks ' Dream Ends". New York Times: p. A1. "It was quite a finish to an improbable and enchanting playoff run for the Knicks." 
  18. ^ 1991 International Year Book. Macmillan Educational Company. 1990. p. 447. 
  19. ^ Hiestand, Michael (March 31, 2011). "Billy Packer agrees with ESPN's Bilas on VCU.". USA Today. Retrieved April 5, 2011. 
  20. ^ Albright, David (March 28, 2010). "RIT downs UNH, reaches Frozen Four". Retrieved November 15, 2011. 
  21. ^ Cole, Stephen (2004). The Best of Hockey Night in Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company. p. 107. ISBN 1-55278-408-8. 
  22. ^ Morrison, Scott (2008). Hockey Night in Canada: My Greatest Day. Toronto: Key Porter Books. pp. 106–109. ISBN 978-1-55470-086-8. 
  23. ^ Miles, Gary (June 13, 1994). "Canucks' Improbable Resurgence Has Vancouver in a Frenzy". Philadelphia Inquirer: p. E2. "How improbable is this resurgence by a team few Easterners know anything about?...It comes as no surprise that the Canucks are pretty worked up about the momentum they have gained...These guys have ignored the odds all season. They did it in the first round against Calgary." 
  24. ^ Hunter, Paul (May 26, 1991). "Lemieux sparks Stars' demise". Toronto Star: p. G1. "The clock struck midnight for the Cinderella North Stars last night. And the fairy tale Minnesota had written through the National Hockey League playoffs came to a grim and disappointing conclusion." 
  25. ^ Robinson, Alan (June 5, 2002). "Carolina canes Detroit, forcing fans to stow brooms". Associated Press. "Carolina finished 25 points behind Detroit in the regular season, the largest gap in the Finals since the Rangers' 27-point edge over Vancouver in 1994." 
  26. ^ Marrapese-Burrell, Nancy (June 5, 2002). "Hurricanes do Damage; They Stun Wings by Winning in OT". Boston Globe: p. F1. "The impressive Cinderella team continued its giant-killing ways at Joe Louis Arena last night, beating the Red Wings at the 58-second mark of overtime, 3-2, and capturing Game 1 of this best-of- seven series." 
  27. ^ MacKinnon, John (June 20, 2006). "Just Out Of Reach: Hurricanes hold on to deny Oilers a perfect ending to cinderella season". Edmonton Journal: p. A1. 
  28. ^ Gallagher, Tony (June 10, 2010). "Cinderella ultimately a bridesmaid; Philly can't escape the noose this time". Vancouver Province: p. A60. 
  29. ^ Carchidi, Sam (June 10, 2010). "Sudden Death; Flyers' unforgettable run ends as Hawks win Cup". Philadelphia Inquirer: p. C1. 

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