February 03, 2008

Perpetually Rooting for the Underdog

By now, it's no secret, even to the least sports-affiliated of you, that the New York Giants beat the previously-undefeated New England Patriots to claim Super Bowl XLII. Just a week after many were arguing whether the Patriots team was among the best ever in the history of the NFL, it turned out they weren't even dominant enough to beat the Giants in the one game that would have truly made history. Now, instead, the Patriots were just on the downside of one of the bigger upsets in recent memory. And we loved it. As I watched, I loudly clapped my hands and shouted when Eli Manning made his touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, making the win a near-certainty.

While I'm not really a huge fan of any specific NFL team, having left the stable of the 49ers faithful more than a decade ago, there was no question I was rooting for the Giants tonight, as well as against the Patriots, as much as anything. As a Bay Area fan, I've grown tired of the antics of the Boston teams, and especially their fans, who see it as their God-given right to go out and gather championships. Since 2004 (and earlier), when the Red Sox finally garnered their first World Series trophy in nearly a century, their fans have been among the most vocal and most annoying, rivaling only Yankees fans in their ridiculousness. As their own team's salaries spiral ever higher, they can't be seen as fighting against a Goliath, being a Goliath themselves. And in a rare twist, tonight, I was rooting for a New York team who hadn't been given much chance by the national media to win it all.

Over my life, I've grown accustomed to rooting for the underdog, not only in sports, but in technology, business and even politics. I don't tend to gravitate toward that which is most popular or most purchased because I see others doing it. Instead, I tend to make my own choices, market share be darned. That's why even in the face of intense competition from other vendors, I've made my choices in Apple and TiVo, and am not a big fan of Microsoft. I continue to root hard for my small-market teams, the Oakland A's and the Sacramento Kings. I continue to find flaws in the big companies' offerings and laud the efforts of small start-ups, even when their own offerings have holes. I see the potential in the little guy as they work hard to become the big guy, and hope they remain humble.

And when the little guy I have always rooting for may become the big guy on the block, their newfound power has me sometimes questioning if they've lost that innovative focus, and just what made them great in the first place. Google is slowly making that transition, adding on new focuses, when the ink isn't yet dry on the last product announcement, and they aren't always going to receive the benefit of the doubt from me the way they once did. And Apple, a one-time blip in most markets, is now owning the leadership position in digital entertainment and devices, and should be expected to do the right thing in terms of product prioritization and pricing.

Unfortunately for me, and others like me, teams and companies and technologies are often the underdog for good reason. Sometimes the competition has bigger stars, a bigger cash hoard, and more resources. Sometimes, they have a few years' head-start, or a customer base so strong that its difficult to push for conversion. So, I often find myself disappointed when I see the little guys give up, stay small, or in the world of sports, lose and go home, only to re-open my hopes the following year. But tonight, at least for 24 hours, we're happy that the big beast from Boston was thwarted, and the underdogs went home victorious. If only that always happened.