THERE ARE PLENTY of great sporting competitions in the United States, from the high drama of NCAA basketball’s March Madness to the spectacle of the Super Bowl.
There’s the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA Finals, the Masters and the Kentucky Derby. Before the rich people in charge of college football insisted they needed to be richer, we had four great bowl games that ended every college football season — the Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Rose.
We have the tennis and golf U.S. Opens, the New York and Boston Marathons, the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s and even the College World Series (which is a total misnomer, just like Major League Baseball labeling our Fall Classic a “World” Series. One thing about us Yanks, we embrace our arrogance.)
But there’s a football tournament in England each year that trumps anything going on in the American sports universe. It doesn’t have a fancy name and many of the teams involved in the early rounds have likely never come up in most Yanks’ discussion of sports.
However, in my opinion, the Football Association Cup is the single greatest sporting competition on Earth.
The first FA Cup final took place in 1872 when Wanderers edged Royal Engineers, 1-0, for the title.
Think the World Series or the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl have history? The inaugural FA Cup was played a full 20 years before the earliest incarnation of the oldest major American professional sports championship, the Stanley Cup, which was first awarded in 1892.
The first World Series wasn’t held until 1903 and the NFL’s title game is a relative baby. The first Super Bowl kicked off in 1967.
The FA Cup’s history is rich and fascinating. If you support an English team, chances are your favorite club has won the Cup, or at least appeared in a final. Go online and check out the full list of FA Cup winners. It’ll blow your mind.
While the tradition of the FA Cup is worth discovering, it’s also worth noting that this isn’t some ancient competition barely hanging on to its relevance. Sure, the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas, Arsenals and Liverpools of the English football world have come to dominate the tournament, but each year presents football fans with an opportunity to cheer wildly for an underdog team we rarely, if ever, hear about or see on Sky Sports News.
Leeds United winning at Old Trafford over the weekend is just the latest example of a David knocking off Goliath. It seems there are always one or two minnows not afraid to swim with the sharks during FA Cup play, and that’s what makes it so special.
Imagine the Kansas City Royals beating the New York Yankees to win the World Series title. (I know that couldn’t happen because both are in the American League, but I’m trying to make a point here. Hence the word “imagine.”)
Now, imagine the Chattanooga Lookouts or New Orleans Zephyrs or the Wichita Lugnuts — three minor league baseball teams —pulling off the feat. Or imagine the Florida Everblades defeating the Detroit Red Wings for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The FA Cup gives us the opportunity to see how the minor league teams do against their bigger, richer brethren. Do the minnows break through to win the big prize? Rarely. The last huge upset in the Cup final occurred in 1988, when Wimbledon knocked off Liverpool.
But lower league teams just getting the chance to take on Premier League sides is enough of a reason to love the FA Cup. Watching the minnows survive a shark attack is why I don’t think any other tournament in any sport can beat it.