Let’s start with something we can all agree on: Super Bowl LII was a great game. It was close but high-scoring game with disputed calls, trick plays, missed kicks, a brewing comeback, and a dramatic turn that all came down to the last play of the game. Despite catching up on chores like laundry and cooking during the game, I really did enjoy it without having any allegiance to either team. However, it’s hard to watch any sports impartially, and although I don’t particularly like them, in my heart, I was rooting for the Patriots.
Without looking at an unscientific online poll, my guess is that most people were rooting for the Eagles. Although there are some true Eagles fans in there, most were just anti-Patriots. Whether it was because of Deflategate or because they “win too much,” many people found a reason to get behind their opponent. And it feels good to root for the underdog against the behemoth, even if only by 4 points or so.
On the other side were those rooting for the Patriots fans. Some are true New England born and bred, but most of their following are admirers from afar. Bill Belicheck runs a somewhat unorthodox team with high turnover, strong disciplines, and intense secrecy. Tom Brady is probably the most famous football player and has his own following even without the TB12 Method.
I have no loyalty to the Patriots. I think Deflategate was sketchy. I have no beef with Brady but also don’t particularly admire his ability. Patriots players have largely let me down in fantasy, too. And lest you think I am simply apathetic about the NFL as a whole, I do root for Stanford players, so teams like the Colts or Seahawks get a bump from me. However, I was rooting in my heart for the Patriots because I like to root for the favorites.
Most people like the underdog story, the improbable comeback, the triumph against adversity. However, I have rooted for the favorite for as long as I can remember. I cheered for the Spurs through the past 2 decades in championship series. I supported Roger Federer throughout his career. As a Jays fan, I could never be a Yankees fan, but I did make the Braves my NL team because they were so good in the late 90s through the 2000s.
Having quietly been rooting for the favorites in rooms of underdog supporters for years, I have had many reasons to think about it and have come up with two big reasons.
First, I like to see history happen. An upset is a momentary shock, but dynasties and all-time records make their mark. It’s cool to complete a perfect season, to win the most Grand Slam titles, or make every All-Star team for 2 decades. Getting all the way to the top even once is impressive, but to maintain that peak performance over time is truly awesome. In these big games, the favorites are usually the ones with a track record for success, so I like seeing them succeed again.
Second, I think I empathize more with the favorite. When the favorite wins, they are hopefully excited but at a minimum relieved. They finished what they were expected to do. The underdogs are likely disappointed, but they didn’t fall short of expectations and have nothing to be ashamed of.
When the underdog wins, they have their moment of triumph in overcoming the odds. They feels great. However, it feels terrible to be the favorite who failed. They likely will go through “what ifs” after the game about what went wrong. And perhaps they already have their past titles for posterity, but in that moment, most are probably just consumed with the moment. That’s a disappointment that I can’t root for.
Of course, it’s necessary that the underdogs win sometime. If the same favorites won all of the time, sports wouldn’t be very interesting: the variance and surprise is what makes sports so compelling to watch. Dynasties rise and fall over time, and new favorites emerge out of the underdogs. Losing is part of playing a competitive game, and players have to be okay with that.
Either way, what I mostly hope for is a good, competitive game. Underdogs can have their Pyrrhic victories by exceeding expectations even in defeat. Favorites put their reputations to the test. Blowout victories can be quite boring to watch, and the tension of a close game is far more exciting.
So congrats to the Eagles on their victory. Nick Foles has set himself up nicely for a big payday to come soon, and we will see if the Eagles can keep it together to become the new favorites so I might cheer for them, too.