Sports Nation W Debate
Famous faces or unknown underdogs: Who's more fun to watch?
Famous faces
Famous faces

You can count on favorites to deliver


Fresh scripts add to suspense

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As a sports writer, sports fan and general believer in the underdog, I am forced to be honest here.

I'd still rather watch Tiger Woods than Jonas Blixt; Michelle Wie rather than Mo Martin.

Perhaps it comes from too many times watching the Sabine Lisickis of the world pull off inspiring upsets (see: 2013 Wimbledon, knocking out Serena Williams in the fourth round) only to wilt in the final (see: same-year collapse against another relative no-name, Marion Bartoli).

Back in the day, it was indeed thrilling to see Zina Garrison knock off Steffi Graf in a stirring 1990 Wimbledon semifinal. And yet, even hoping against hope for an equally entertaining final, I somehow knew Garrison would be steamrolled by Martina Navratilova in a boring final, which she was.

I recall Jana Novotna mucking up the draw a number of times, occasionally giving a decent showing in a final ('93 vs. Graf at Wimbledon) but just as often knocking off Navratilova (as she did the following Wimbledon in the fourth round), then eventually succumbing meekly to Graf in still another lifeless final.

I can rattle off other underdogs who couldn't see it through and yes, if Eugenie Bouchard would have defeated Petra Kvitova this year for her first Grand Slam title at age 20, it would have been terrific. But here's the thing. There are underdogs of the unknown and very rare variety, and Bouchard, who reached the semifinals in the first two majors of the year, was not one of them.

Sure, there are those superstars who were once unknowns, the athletes who seem to have greatness stamped all over them and who offer possibility you may be watching something wonderful as they begin their ascent. Bouchard gives people that feeling.

But either way, Serena Williams at her best and going for history as she pursues Navratilova's and Chris Evert's career record of 18 majors is the once-in-a-lifetime stuff that stays with me forever.

Give me Wie further legitimizing her comeback in women's golf. And give me Roger Federer anytime. You knew the Federer-Novak Djokovic Wimbledon final was going to be fabulous, knew with absolute certainty that one of them was not going to shrink from the spotlight, knew they had the pedigrees to deliver in the biggest moments and that simply the best on that day would win. And that's exactly what happened.

I can read about unknowns anytime and in early rounds. But more dependable and fun to watch on a consistent basis and playing for championships? Give me the favorites.

There is a reason "Hoosiers" is as good on the hundredth viewing now as it was when released more than a quarter-century ago, while "The Babe" has gone the way of the stores that used to rent it.

Come to think of it, it's the same reason "Babe" is an infinitely better movie than the aforementioned John Goodman vehicle of almost the same name about Babe Ruth. It was much more fun to root for the pig.

We appreciate the greatness behind fame, but we are inspired by those of modest means who do great things.

So give me the unknown underdog and tell me a story I don't already know.

It would be next to impossible to pick out the best college basketball team I've seen with any subjective certainty, let alone objective certainty, from among the iterations of Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford and Tennessee. I appreciated the excellence they embodied, players and teams operating in ways beyond the reach of their peers.

But the team that was the most fun to watch? It isn't close. The 2010-11 Green Bay Phoenix weren't as good as the Baylor team that beat them in the Sweet 16, or any of the aforementioned powerhouses, but they were astoundingly better in going 34-2 than a team should have been based on a roster comprising almost entirely local talent overlooked by bigger programs and a school with the smallest athletic budget in one of the smallest Division I conferences.

Kayla Tetschlag, Celeste Hoewisch, Adrian Ritchie and Julie Wojta were unknown names to most fans, and still are, but they put together a story every bit as good as Connecticut or Tennessee for anyone willing to stop and listen to it.

There is always a story, whether it's Green Bay, Mo Martin, Marion Bartoli or even Jimmy Chitwood.

I enjoy the first weekend of the NCAA tournament more than later rounds. I enjoy the group stage of the World Cup more than the knockout round. Save the odd classic, championships often feel like epilogues to the real enjoyment.

Fame is a wonderful consolation prize when it means watching the familiar excellence of Lionel Messi against Germany, or Connecticut against Notre Dame.

But I would rather watch someone do what I think isn't possible than what I know is.

SportsnationW Debate
Total votes: 425

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