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Super Bowl Underdog

Super Bowl Underdog

Why do we cheer for an incredible upset?


The Super Bowl – the most globally watched annual event – has finally arrived, along with all the hype, excitement and hilarious TV ads that it brings. A game where two privileged teams battle for arguably the most coveted prize in the world of sports: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

A quick survey of past Super Bowls reveals one perennial theme: the underdog. From the ’69 New York Jets to the 2010 New Orleans Saints, we have relished in seeing the underdog pull off a stirring upset. Research bears out that the underdog is a magnet, attracting fans who anxiously hope that the underdog will do the impossible and overcome its mighty foe.

Even this year, a recent headline proclaimed: “Steelers Embrace Underdog Status in Super Bowl.”

What is the secret of the underdog? What are they offering us that the better opponent doesn't have?

The answer touches on the meaning of greatness, and its relevance to each of us.

At the core, every human being yearns to overcome obstacles. We understand that true greatness can only be experienced in accomplishing that which is difficult – in conquering that which we thought was unconquerable. One needs only to live up to the challenge.

When it comes to the underdog, we recognize the unique opportunity for greatness. Since the mountain to be climbed is higher, there is more potential for greatness. Whether David defeating Goliath, or Lance Armstrong overcoming cancer, underdog stories universally inspire.

Related Article: Life After the Super Bowl

Conquering Self

And yet, in one fundamental way, Judaism diverges from the Super Bowl.

Judaism teaches that life is more than just hoping to vicariously enjoy the thrill that “this year’s underdog” might experience. On a deeper level, we all crave this same victory in facing our own personal challenges, to be the one who, when faced with an insurmountable difficult, triumphs over challenge.

So how can we – who will never throw a touchdown pass in front of a packed stadium crowd – assume that underdog role ourselves?

True strength and greatness, the Talmud says, is claimed by "he who conquers himself" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). When you hold back from eating the extra piece of chocolate cake, that is greatness. When you return the extra change at the supermarket, that is greatness.

Material pleasures sparkle in a way that a moral choice does not.

In a certain sense, the deck is stacked against us. The lure of material pleasures sparkles in a way that a moral choice does not. But by digging deep down to find that spark of strength, that determined will to push upward, then with God’s help, against all odds we can conquer. At that moment we become the victorious underdog sporting a championship ring.

At any given moment we have a mountain to climb, a struggle to beat, a challenge to accomplish. It isn't a physical mountain, but an internal one. The soul is the underdog, battling against our basest bodily drives. We have to fight the battle of our souls and experience the excitement and pleasure of beating the most difficult opponent in the world – our negative inclinations.

So whether you're trying to quit smoking or trying to control a bad temper, picture yourself as the team trying to beat the odds and win the greatest championship in the world. Yes, there is a stadium full of family and friends – plus the Almighty Himself – rooting for you. Except this time it isn't the Super Bowl, it's even greater: The goal of perfecting oneself – of becoming the greatest “you” that you can be.

February 3, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Avraham, April 11, 2011 2:26 PM

How can you say that is the most coveted trophy?

Hi with all due respect you should learn more about international sports before making a statement like that. At the end of the day the super bowl is the final of a minor sport only taken seriously in one country, hence the name American football. here is a list of trophies which are far more coveted, if i thought for more than 5 minutes i could probably think of far more. FIFA world cup,cricket world cup,rugby union world cuprugby league world cup, wimbeldon,ipl,tri nations,six nations ,Heineken cup,super 15, champions league,europa league. There are about 30 more competitions with far more fans and global appeal,next time please research your articles better and realize that there are other countries in the world.

(3) Anonymous, February 4, 2011 4:35 PM

good comment

This article was very well done. Good for you Beverly. We can make a kiddush Hashem in many ways, and through your positive reinforcement, your son will iy"H continue your legacy.

(2) Anonymous, February 4, 2011 2:43 AM


(1) Beverly Kurtin, February 3, 2011 10:53 PM

Super Bowl near me

The Super Bowl is about 10 miles from me and NO, I'm not going to waste my money on tickets that sell for over $2,000. And by the way, it is in ARLINGTON, Texas, not in Dallas or Ft. Worth. One day I got a call from my son. "Darn you, mom." I asked him what I'd supposedly done. "I gave the girl at the grocery a ten dollar bill and she gave me change for a twenty and I really needed that money but as I walked away I saw you standing there with your arms crossed shaking your head." He did the right thing and gave the extra cash back to the cashier. I told him to drive over to my apartment. He ask why. I used my "Don't argue with me" voice. When he got to the apartment I handed him a twenty-dollar bill and a hug. I just wanted him to know I was proud of his action and the money was to show him him he didn't have to cheat when he needed money. He had seen me return money before, after all, the cashier's job could be no the line plus it was the RIGHT thing to do. One girl asked me why I did that. "Because I'm Jewish and if I hadn't given you the proper amount of money it would have been the same as thief. " She was amazed, "You're the first Jewish person I've ever met that I knew was Jewish; you've changed some thoughts I had about Jews, thank you." Although we don't proselytize, we can have a positive impact on people who might have had negative feelings toward us.

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