BY Steve Rudman 09:31AM 12/31/2010

A century of improbable shockers

Ranking the biggest upsets in state sports history

Mason Foster, Washington's All-America linebacker, celebrates the Huskies' 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

No individual in his or her right mind figured Washington to pull off a 47-point turnaround against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. But the Huskies did, rebounding from a 56-21 loss to the Cornhuskers last September by beating them 19-7 on Thursday night in San Diego.

In the first meeting between the teams, Nebraska featured an absurd three 100-yard rushers, first time in UW history the Huskies had allowed a trio of backs to accomplish that feat. In the rematch, not one Cornhusker runner cracked 40 yards.

The Omaha World called Nebraska’s loss “ridiculous.” Maybe so. Husky fans might subscribe to “sublime” as a more apt description.

Back in late 2008, The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists ranked the most improbable shockers by teams and individuals in state sports history. In a revised list, authors Mike Gastineau of KJR-AM and Art Thiel and Steve Rudman of Sportspress Northwest would consider inserting Washington’s Holiday Bowl conquest of Nebraska.

Following is the 2008 list. Let us know where you would insert Washington’s upset of the Cornhuskers.

10. Bellevue snaps De La Salle’s 151-game win streak, Sept. 4, 2004. The Wolverines turned one of the most anticipated games in state high school history – the match-up with De La Salle of Concord, CA., the nation’s top prep team – into what more closely resembled an ordinary Kingco Conference 3A romp. Bellevue ran the ball at will (Bellevue did not even attempt a pass), delighting an Emerald City Kickoff Classic crowd of 24,987 at Qwest Field. The 39-20 victory, coming against a team that had shut out seven opponents a year earlier, snapped De La Salle’s national record 151-game winning streak that began in 1992.

9. Lindgren upsets the Russians, July 25, 1964. Spokane’s Gerry Lindgren won 11 of the 12 NCAA cross-country events he contested while a student at Washington State, set a six-mile world record in 1965, held national records at 3,000 and 5,000 meters, and was national champion at 10,000. But nothing Lindgren did gained him more enduring fame than his performance in the USA-USSR track meet when, as largely unknown 17-year-old, he outran two seasoned Russians, Leonid Ivanov and Anatoly Dutov, to win the 10,000 in front of 50,515 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Lindgren opened up a 20-yard lead at the four-mile mark and steadily widened his margin, finally winning in 29:17.6, with more than 100 yards to spare.

8. UW finally beats a No. 1, Feb. 22, 1979. Brad Holland put the Huskies (11-13) in the soup with 15 seconds to play with two free throws to give UCLA (eventually 25-5) its first lead of the night. Washington’s first option was 7-1 center Petur Gudmundsson. But the Bruins defense forced UW to a second option, Stan Walker, who hit a jumper over All-America Keith Wilkes, giving Washington a 69-68 victory – the first time a UW basketball team beat the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.

7. Huskies hand Wooden last loss, Feb. 22, 1975. John Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball titles during his tenure at UCLA. His last defeat came at Hec Edmundson Pavilion when the Huskies (16-7), led by Larry Johnson’s 27 points and 14 rebounds, built a 52-44 halftime lead, went on a 10-0 run in the second half and upended the Bruins 103-81, UW’s first win over the Bruins in 12 years. Undeterred, UCLA (28-3) regrouped to win another national championship, and Wooden retired.

6. Cope wins Daytona 500, Feb.18, 1990. A lightly regarded racer from little Spanaway, south of Tacoma, Derrike Cope had never came close to winning a NASCAR event in 71 career attempts, and was given no shot in a field that included Dale Earnhardt, desperate to win the only race that eluded him. Earnhardt led for 155 of 199 laps and seemed certain to win when the flag dropped for one final spin around the oval. Cope, remarkably, put himself in a position – he led laps 194-195 – to take advantage of any trouble. Cope got his break when Earnhardt ran over debris that nearly caused him to lose control. Cope sped by for a win that, in 2008, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebration of the race, was voted the greatest upset in the history of Daytona.

5. Seahawks 27, Dolphins 20, Dec. 31, 1983. No one expected the Seahawks to give Dan Marino and the Dolphins much of a game, especially at the Orange Bowl in an AFC divisional playoff game. At 9-7, Seattle narrowly made the playoffs, was in only its second postseason contest, and an eight-point underdog. Trailing 20-17 halfway through the final period, the Seahawks went 66 yards in five plays, including one of the seminal plays in team history – a 40-yard pass from Dave Krieg to Steve Largent – that set up rookie Curt Warner’s two-yard, game-winning TD inside two minutes. The 27-20 victory was the first playoff win in franchise history and remains the only playoff game the Seahawks have won on the road.

4. Larry Owings over Dan Gable, March 28, 1970. Dan Gable never lost a wrestling match in high school (64 consecutive victories), nor at Iowa State University. When he stepped onto the mat at McGaw Hall on the Northwestern campus, he was a three-time All-America, two-time NCAA champion and the winner of 181 consecutive matches, including his previous final five by pins. His seemingly in-over-his-head opponent in the 142-pound NCAA final: University of Washington sophomore Larry Owings. Owings trailed Gable 10-9 with 25 seconds left but had a near pin and a takedown to win the match. An eight-minute video of Owings’ triumph was subsequently placed on permanent display in the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, OK. Noted the Chicago Tribune: “Owings gave us one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of wrestling and possibly all sport.”

3. Whammy in Miami, Sept. 24, 1994. The Hurricanes were 14-point favorites over UW for at least two good reasons: No. 5 Miami had not lost at the Orange Bowl in 58 games over eight years, and had not lost at home to a team outside of Florida in more than a decade. Miami also had a defense anchored by Warren Sapp (in his Outland Trophy season) and Ray Lewis (future All-Pro linebacker). Miami held a 14-3 halftime lead, but sparked by a 75-yard touchdown pass (Damon Huard to Richard Thomas), a 34-yard interception return (Russell Hairston) and a fumble recovery TD (Bob Sapp), the Huskies (2-1) went on a 22-point scoring spree to break open the game. Miami head coach Dennis Erickson, an Everett native coaching against fellow Snohomish County native Jim Lambright, labeled the 38-20 loss “a fluke.” Erickson resigned after a 10-2 season to take the head coaching job with the Seahawks.

2. Seattle U. derails undefeated Texas Western, March 3, 1966. The Miners entered the Seattle Coliseum (later KeyArena) with a 23-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. With 11,557 watching, the Seattle U. Chieftains, after changing leads 19 times, handed Texas Western (later Texas-El Paso) its only defeat, 74-72, when Tom Workman swished a shot with 53 seconds left. The visitors missed three shots and a free throw in the waning seconds. Less than a month later, the Miners became the first all-black team to win the NCAA title when they upset heavily favored Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team in the championship game. Texas Western’s loss in Seattle was its only one of the year.

1. UW rowers beat the Russians, July 19, 1958. A scandal in the University of Washington football program – boosters paid players, resulting in NCAA sanctions against all of the school’s teams – prevented coach Al Ulbrickson’s rowers from taking part in the 1958 national collegiate championships. So the Huskies accepted invitations to take part in the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in London, and in an international competition on the Khiminskoe Reservoir outside Moscow that had been arranged by the State Department as part of a cultural exchange.  At Henley, the UW eight drew the defending world champion Trud Club of Leningrad, Russia, and lost by a length and a quarter. Trud went on to win the Grand Challenge Cup. Fifteen days later, the Huskies lined up against four Russian crews – Trud Club, Soviet Army, Moscow Spartak and Kiev Dynamos. With KOMO sports director Keith Jackson broadcasting the race live — the first broadcast of a sports event from behind the Iron Curtain — the UW caught and passed the Soviet Army shell at the 500-meter mark. At 1,000 meters, Washington opened up a one-length lead over Trud and went on to win by one and three quarters lengths in 6:18.06 – one of the greatest upsets in rowing history.


  • mark

    I was thinking about the Totems beating the Russian national team. Doesn’t really belong on this list because it was just an exhibition game, but was a shocker. They sat some of their best players, and then they suddenly appeared on the bench or the third period. Didn’t help all that much. What a fun game to attend!

    Love the site, guys.

  • Acadian

    I would slide it in ahead of the Whammy in Miami at No. 3. UW was still recognized as a strong program at that time, and while a sweet victory it was, it was not the stunner that this one was. I’m not familiar with the first two on the list, so will not presume to knock them off. It’s very cool, incidentally, that the first all-black team to win the NCAA title was from Texas, and that they knocked off Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky powerhouse.