Of course, a distinction must be made between rooting for an underdog and hoping against the inevitable. There is a fine line between optimism and baseless hope.
Rooting for the perceived weaker faction is nothing new. Some of humanity's greatest stories, in fact, are based on this very premise. Whether it's Moses' Hebrews vs. the Pharaoh's Egyptians, or David against mighty Goliath, or any mortal going against any of the gods of Olympus, it seems that we can't help but cheer for the underdog. A cursory survey of the history of sports suggests that it's almost impossible for there to be a perfectly even match; in other words, one side will almost always be superior to the other, by any measure.
Strangely enough, though, sometimes the underdogs can steal a win too!
Here are a couple of examples that should warm the hearts of those who, for whatever reason, choose to not jump on the bandwagon of the high and mighty:
- Automobili Lamborghini was founded by Ferrucio Lamborghini, an Italian industrial tycoon who founded his empire on farming tractors (there are many farmers in Italy and all across Europe who own Lamborghinis!) and hydraulic equipment.
The popular legend goes that one day, Signore Lamborghini was having problems with his Ferrari's clutch. He took the car to Maranello and described the problem to Enzo Ferrari himself. Enzo then rather impolitely suggested that Lamborghini shouldn't tell him what's wrong with the car, and that he should stick to tractors. Lamborghini then said to Ferrari that perhaps he (Ferrucio) should consider building cars good enough to beat Ferrari at his own game. Enzo laughed this off.
By the time the legendary Miura was in production in 1966, Enzo Ferrari was no longer laughing. The Countach of 1972 prompted Ferrari to finally eschew the traditional front-engined GT and produce a proper mid-engined car, the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer.
The upstart Lamborghini really thrashed Ferrari for a time in the court of public opinion (if not in actual sales, since Ferrari had a head start of almost twenty years and a much bigger budget thanks to its Fiat parent company) and formed its own hardcore client base. It is said that you are either a Lamborghini man or a Ferrari man. You can admire both, but can love only one.
Despite a few scrapes with real death (i.e., company closure), Automobili Lamborghini has somehow survived and thrived. Absorption by Audi has all but guaranteed that Lamborghini will not be going away anytime soon.
- Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., was originally a producer of logic chips and RAM before they branched out and produced their own microprocessors. In the mid-1970s, long before they entered the CPU-production business, they produced a fully-functional clone of Intel's 8080 microprocessor and were a production partner of the industry giant.
AMD and Intel's marriage didn't last, though, due to the younger partner's desire to grow and diversify further. The two companies started to wage war with each other on several and diverse fronts: Whether the battleground was technological, legal, or financial, neither side didn't want to lose to the other.
Against the odds, AMD somehow survived and grew. Despite the dual disadvantage of much smaller coffers, and thus a much smaller marketing and advertising presence, AMD did a great job of giving consumers a viable alternative to Intel's Pentium juggernaut. Small victories chipped away at Intel's defenses and earned market share, all the while establishing a reputation for finding innovative solutions.
AMD the underdog finally won a huge round by the time their K8 generation of processors were in production. The Athlon64 was the stone that AMD used in its sling to slay the giant Intel. Demonstrably superior to Netburst tech, K8 was the Kryptonite that really put a hurting on the Intel Superman.
Alas, like Ferrari, the giant Intel simply woke up after getting thrashed. Financial muscles flexed, and R&D produced the mighty Core microarchitecture. Smart use of resources on Intel's part has seen the giant reclaim the performance crown and retake market share from its smaller competitor.
It's fashionable to jump on someone's throat when he's down, to kick him while he's defenseless. But it's folly to dismiss anything that has shown a real talent at innovation and a strong instinct to survive no matter what the odds.
Every dog has its day, as the saying goes.
Even the underdog has one, or several.