With America's college basketball championship entering its second weekend featuring face-offs between the Sweet Sixteen best teams in the country, it is the time of year when hopes ride with the Cinderellas, the little squads that have beaten the odds by getting this far in the tournament. Oddsmakers be damned, these little schools from places like Wichita, Kansas (the Wichita State "Shockers") and Fort Meyers, Florida (the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles) offer hope to the little guy by showing underdogs can stand up to the big, hugely funded programs who dominate the headlines and the airwaves for most of every year.
But Cinderella stories are not just for basketball tournaments. They have their geopolitical side. After all Cinderella, herself was a working-class heroine who turned a pumpkin and a few mice into a successful power grab in a monarchy ready for some charismatic new blood (in glass slippers). It is not a well-known fact, but the earliest known version of the Cinderella story is actually from ninth-century China (in which the missing slipper was made of gold).
For this reason, and because we obviously had too much free time on our hands one afternoon this week, we have decided to cook up a Sweet Sixteen bracket of our own, pitting eight of the sports world's greatest Cinderella stories against eight of the great rags to riches stories from world history. The goal: determining the greatest Cinderella story of all time. Here's how it all plays out:
The Round of Sixteen
Our first match pits the most famous underdogs ever to play in a U.S. Super Bowl, the 1969 Jets of "Broadway Joe" Namath, versus those once-upon-a-time underdogs of the modern Middle East, those little Davids that took on the Goliaths of the unified Arab World, the Israel Defense Forces of the 1967, led by the equally charismatic one-eyed general, Moshe Dayan.
In the second contest, the Canadian Football League's answer to the Jets, the '00 British Columbia Lions, a team that entered the playoffs following a losing season, suit up against the ultimate long-shot contender: 13 fractured, struggling colonies that first took on the British Empire to win their freedom and then in two short centuries rose to become the greatest power the world has ever known.
Next up we find the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" USA Olympic Hockey Team that beat the powerful Soviet ice hockey behemoth in the semi-final rounds of the Lake Placid Olympics versus a guy who spent much of his youth homeless and penniless but grew up to rule the greatest land empire in human history, that fan favorite, Genghis Khan.
Finally, at the bottom of our left-hand bracket, we have the inspiring Japanese Women's National Soccer Team of 2011, winners of the World Cup in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, facing off with the world's most beloved former welfare recipient, the woman from whose brow Harry Potter and the Hogwarts crowd sprang fully grown, J.K. Rowling, now herself a billionaire.
Across the bracket, we find the young man who won "the greatest game ever played": amateur golfer Francis Ouimet, winner of the 1913 U.S. Open, playing the son of a slave who grew up to rule the Roman Empire, the Emperor Diocletian.