When the opportunity to cover Leicester City F.C. for the Fosse Posse presented itself, I was highly intrigued by the prospect for a couple of different reasons:
1.) Shane Evans bribed me with an $8 gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings and a complimentary ticket to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 for my trouble.
2.) Leicester City just happens to be the biggest, craziest story currently unfolding in all of sports.
As of this writing, Leicester are atop the English Premier League table with 66 points - five clear of second-place Tottenham and a full 11 up on third-place Arsenal with just seven matches left on their schedule. The days in which the Foxes were considered a cute, feel-good underdog bound to come down to earth have been over for some time. They have proven they deserve to be mentioned among the juggernauts - at least for this season.
This boggles the mind to an even greater degree when you consider that as recently as two years ago, Leicester City was in the midst of a decade-long stint in England's second tier. Last year, in their first season back in the EPL after they got promoted, the Foxes finished a cool 14th out of 20. One Vegas oddsmaker put their chances at an EPL title at 2,500-1 before the start of this season, while at least one British oddsmaker had their odds as long as 5,000-1.
In other words, no one even remotely saw this coming. If anything, the benefit of hindsight shows us the Foxes were a trendy preseason pick to finish at the BOTTOM of the table and get relegated back to the Championship. In this preseason preview from The Guardian put together by their team of ostensibly knowledgeable EPL analysts, almost EVERY SINGLE ONE of them had Leicester getting relegated - and that's just one example. The thing is, I don't even blame them or anybody else for missing this. If you asked me the same question at the beginning of the season, I can't rightfully say that I wouldn't have made the exact same prediction. I think most people would have.
So, with all this in mind, where exactly does Leicester City's 2015/16 season rank in the historical pantheon of great sports stories? I don't think it's premature question to ask, even if we still have seven games to find out if they actually wind up as EPL champs. Just for kicks -- and in the celebratory spirit of the launch of our humble website -- I put this year's Foxes up against some of what I consider the greatest the stories in the history of sports (past and present) just to see how they stack up.
The 2016 Golden State Warriors
The way I see it, the 2016 Warriors are Leicester's biggest competitors for "Best Sports Story" in the current landscape. Golden State are a blistering 68-8 on the season and very much on pace to break the all-time single-season NBA wins record set by the 1995 Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. The way they're doing it is probably the most impressive part. Steph Curry and Co. are tossing in three-pointers at an unprecedented rate and are clowning on the rest of the league in the process. It's absolutely the biggest spectacle in any of our three major sports leagues at the moment and, like Leicester City, it's an accomplishment that requires sustained excellence over the course of an entire season -- not just a portion of it.
But, unlike Leicester, there's just no underdog component here. The Warriors are coming off a season in which they won 67 games and an NBA title. The fact that they're laying waste to the league this year should not warm the cockles of anyone's heart. Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical universe in which the Reno Bighorns earned a promotion to the NBA from the D-League, promptly rattled off 73 wins, then embarked on a legendary playoff run, topped off by beating the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals to win the most improbable title in the history of the game.
THAT would be Fox-level crazy. What the Warriors are doing is not.
2006 George Mason University Final Four run
In the 2006 NCAA tournament, George Mason University made the most improbable Final Four run in the history of March Madness. Not only did the Patriots become just the second No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four, but they did so by defeating a Michigan State team in the first round that was coming off a Final Four appearance the previous year and a University of North Carolina team that had was the defending national champion. They then had to vanquish Wichita State and top-seeded UConn before they eventually fell in their Final Four matchup with the Florida Gators. Unlike the Warriors, this story features the ultimate underdog component. It's essentially like David slaying Goliath but they made him do it like four separate times.
But is it Fox-level crazy? Nah. NCAA tournament Cinderella stories are fun but they're also a function of getting hot at the right time as much as anything. What Leicester is doing demands season-long consistency on a level that March Madness doesn't. An argument could be made that George Mason's run was more adrenaline inducing and it was certainly improbable on a historic level. But it's not more impressive.
2004 Red Sox ALCS comeback
The Boston Red Sox became the first team in the history of baseball to come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit after they rattled off four straight victories to top the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. This would have been a crazy story on its own but it was made all the more legendary by the fact that Boston's subsequent World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals snapped an 86-year title drought - the main factor that I think puts it squarely in the discussion as one of the greatest stories in the history of any sport.
But aside from that legendary ALCS and the novelty of the vanquished "Bambino Curse", the fact that the 2004 Red Sox won a championship shouldn't be seen as overly shocking. That team won 98 games. Once they vaulted the Yankees, they swept the Cardinals with ease in one of the more non-descript World Series you'll ever see. If every single one of their playoff series featured a series of events as wild as what we saw in the ALCS, the '04 Sox would have more of a case here. As it stands, they're another example of crazy, but not Foxes-level crazy.
1980 US Men's Hockey "Miracle on Ice"
The United States national hockey team's 1980 upset of the Soviet Union is often mentioned in discussions like this, and rightfully so. Playing with a roster of amateur and collegiate players, the US and coach Herb Brooks nabbed a most-improbable 4-3 victory over the juggernaut Soviets - a win that propelled the US to a gold medal victory over Finland in the next round.
Broadcaster Al Michaels' "Do you believe in Miracles?!" call immediately went down in sports lore and they even made a Disney movie about it (that actually has an 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which I think is how you know you've really made it.
The Miracle on Ice might just be the closest equivalency to Leicester in terms of a triumph of a longshot underdog. But one game is still just one game and if sports have taught us anything, it's that anything can happen in an individual game, no matter what the talent disparity between the teams may be. It's a great story - one of the best in the history of sports - but it does not demonstrate the type of historically improbable consistency that the Foxes have put on display this season.
Of course, whether or not the Foxes take their place among the stories I listed above remains to be seen in the coming weeks. If they relinquish their lead to Tottenham or Arsenal, a top four finish and a Champions League berth should still qualify as a wildly successful season. If they hold on and become English Premier League champions, they would and should go down as the most improbable champion in the history of not just soccer, but any sport. If that happens, I fully expect a Disney moving starring Creed Bratton from The Office as Claudio Ranieri within three months.
We have seven games to find out. No matter what happens, it's going to be fun to watch.
Ari Liljenwall is the lead feature writer for The Fosse Posse. You can follow him on Twitter @AriLiljenwall.