Why children root for Duke and their parents for Mercer

by Mr. Sheehy

Why root for an underdog? The desire to do so is ancient, of course — even older than the NCAA tournament, which predates Verne Lundquist’s broadcasting career and therefore also the Epic of Gilgamesh — but given its primality, it also strikes me as surprisingly sophisticated. What I mean by that is that the really deep-down, automatic, lizard-brain urge is surely to ally yourself with Goliath, to stand behind the biggest, meanest, baddest guy in the yard. To root for an underdog, by contrast, requires an outlook. You have to think something about the world, something that extends beyond the mere worship of strength; you have to believe in a kind of merit that is invisible. Children, given a choice between two sports teams and no information, will almost always gravitate toward the one that’s winning. It’s only when you’ve seen a little more life that you start to pine for the upset.

Brian Phillips on Grantland.