The Power of the Underdog

Inspired by a scrappy Saint Peter’s basketball team, we too can come out of nowhere to fight overwhelming odds.

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Posted in , Mar 29, 2022

Saint Peter's basketball team celebrates

Sometimes the slipper doesn’t quite fit.

After one of the great Cinderella runs in recent NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, scrappy underdog Saint Peter’s was finally eliminated by the semi-professional college team, the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina, last Sunday. 

Okay, that comment about UNC being a semi-pro team is a bit snarky but little Saint Peter’s of Jersey City, New Jersey, defied all odds, blowing past bigger and higher-ranked teams to make it to the Elite Eight when few gave them a chance to survive the first round. The Peacocks captured the imaginations of even casual fans like me who have never filled out a bracket in their lives and probably never will.

What is it that makes many of us root for the underdog? I mean, who rooted for Goliath except his fellow Philistines…and I bet even a few of them were secretly pulling for seemingly doomed David. I think what we see in the underdog is ourselves, up against the forces of life that often feel overpowering. To see someone come out of nowhere to conquer overwhelming odds inspires us and gives us the flickering hope that we too can triumph. 

In fact, wasn’t Jesus himself a kind of underdog? He wasn’t the progeny of a celebrated rabbi or scholar. He wasn’t born into earthly royalty. He was the son of a humble Hebrew carpenter, brought into this world by a young Jewish woman of even more modest origins, and laid in a manger typically used to feed livestock. He led a ragtag squad of unemployed Jewish laborers in a small corner of the Middle East spreading a simple—even simplistic, according to many religious scholars of the time—gospel of love and justice that would eventually change the course of human history over the next 20 centuries. 

If ever there was an underdog religion, it was early Christianity, whose adherents were persecuted and martyred and driven underground. Whose faith was outlawed by the Roman Empire and spurned by the religious authorities. And yet against all odds Christianity prevailed, built upon the rock, I can’t help pointing out, named St. Peter. 

Christianity is still an underdog religion despite its troubling trappings of wealth and power. Practiced as Jesus commanded, we champion the poor and underprivileged. We are called to defend the defenseless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, love the unloved and even the unlovable, oppose the powerful. We see it now in Ukraine, where a smaller country is under brutal attack by a much larger foe. We rally to the underdog as we must while praying for peace. 

In our own lives so many of us feel like underdogs faced with the problems of the world. And yet every time we do the things our Christianity asks of us, we win. We overcome. With our faith in hand, we are David against Goliath. 

And so let all of us, we underdogs, rise up!

>Read about NFL great Kurt Warner on overcoming setbacks.

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