Ensemble Dark Horse / Real Life

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     Politics & History 
  • Frequently happens in elections where unknown or unlikely candidates come out of the blue and sweep into a position of power. This is most likely because their unknown status means the media has not yet accumulated a warehouse of dirt to use against them.
    • For example, both Barack Obama and John McCain were considered unlikely to even be allowed to run as their party's candidates in the 2008 US presidential election.
      • On that front, Obama is far more of a darkhorse than McCain. McCain has run for president before, lots of people knew who Mitt Romney was, and everyone knew who Hillary was. Most people outside of Illinois had never even heard of Obama until the middle of 2007. Plus, as many people, even Obama himself, have noted, if you had told people in 2005 that the next president would have the middle name "Hussein" (and a surname that's one letter away from "Osama"), they would have assumed you had a crappy sense of humor.
      • Similarly, Sarah Palin was virtually unknown outside of Alaska prior to the 2008 election.
      • And as we approached Super Tuesday, who would have through the Republican front-runners would include Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum?
      • Though he was in no position to win the race, congressman Ron Paul is easily the most popular candidate in the 2012 elections to young people, and even to some in the left. Don't believe me? Just compare the numbers in a Romney or Santorum rally to the number of participants in a Ron Paul rally.
      • Bernie Sanders, once considered a longshot for the 2016 Democratic Party nomination, is a current darkhorse. He was hardly known well outside his home state of Vermont until 2015 and is a very popular figure with Democrats, managing to successfully challenge the seemingly likely frontrunner in Hillary Clinton.
    • Sometimes, it's members of the candidates' families who can become the darkhorses. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama are both pretty well-respected, even by people who don't agree with their husband's policies. Bristol Palin, Megan McCain, and several other children of candidates have also gotten a certain level of popularity for one reason or another.
  • Let's not forget H. Ross Perot, and his legendary campaign. In February of 1992, well after other political campaigns had began, he appeared on Larry King Live, and claimed he would run if enough people volunteered. Within months, his campaign office was getting thousands of calls, and he quickly became the front-runner. Although he lost that momentum due to his paranoia, and his refusal to address social issues, he remained a prominent figure in the election, winning 19 percent of the vote. Some people have seen his views on NAFTA as prescient, considering America's deindustrialization.
    • Boris Johnson, a Cloud Cuckoolander of a politician, managed to become Mayor Of London (and was re-elected as such) purely because of his personality... and his hair. Naturally there are some who dislike him because he can't be taken seriously and shouldn't be in such an important position of power... but that's also the exact reason why some people love him: he's too silly to take seriously.
    • Another major darkhorse is Sen. Elizabeth Warren who won her seat in the Senate by a landslide. She is extremely respected for her firm stance to increase regulation on Wall Street, to the point that many were disappointed that she didn't decide to run for the 2016 Democrate nomination. The fact that she is also the one that deliver the speech that calls out the Republican party for not respect president Obama (which reached ridiculous level when they denied to discuss his nomination for the Supreme Court with flimsy excuses to the point that Warren had to angrily tell them to do their job and protect their own party) as detail here just earned her major favor.
    • In 2015, Jerermy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party in the UK. If you'd asked people just after Ed Miliband's resignation if he would be a good choice to replace him, most people would have replied "Jeremy who?". He not only won, he won by a landslide, winning nearly 60% of the vote.
  • Benjamin Franklin is this for the United States' Founding Fathers. Though he had a series of prolific careers in his lifetime (as a writer, scientist, inventor, and diplomat), he only had a supporting role in most of the events leading up the the country's founding. In spite of this, he's arguably the most beloved and well-known figure in American history, partly because he's just such a fascinating figure.
    • Similarly, John Hancock and Paul Revere are also exceptionally famous beyond their actual professional accomplishments. Revere is only well-known thanks to a very famous poem (although he was an important political organizer and had a significant role in bringing industrialization to America), and Hancock was completely forgotten until the country's centennial celebrations, when everyone was trying to research every tiny corner of the Revolutionary period. Some others are also arguable cases (Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry come to mind, but they did have some notable influence in shaping the country), but those two stand out.
  • James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States. He started out as a longshot for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844, behind the three frontrunners, but not only won the nomination, but also the presidency. He is the most effective single-term President in US history in terms of his historical legacy — and the only reason he's single-term is that he decided not to run again in 1848.
  • Richard III of England. Despite only ruling for 2 years, being overthrown and portrayed by many people as one of history's worst villains he is one of the most popular and debated figures in history.This is largely due to the Historical Villain Upgrade he went through, along with his heroic and loyalty-driven nature and his good management of the North. He is the only British King to have a society devoted to him. Now his bones have been discovered this seems to have increased.
  • Louis Antoine Saint-Just was 27 years when he died and only had a political career of 2 years (1792-1794), yet he's considered one of the most iconic figures of The French Revolution. Likewise, Camille Desmoullins, a popular journalist and delegate of the time, is often a Historical-Domain Character because of his highly romantic love-life, his idealism and the fact that he was One Degree of Separation from every other key revolutionary, making him the linchpin of the events.
  • In Canada you have Justin Trudeau; who was widely mocked for his stance on legalizing marijuana and his young age for a politician. Despite Stephen Harper's ad campaign attempting to discredit Trudeau for his inexperience; Justin Trudeau became one of the youngest Prime Ministers in Canada's history. This is despite Harper's heavily aggressive ad campaign that borderline slandered him. Despite his win many Canadian analysts have attributed his win not due to his campaign promises; but to the fact that many Canadians were growing sick and tired of Harper's increasingly unpopular policies. Which are widely attributed to causing the collapse of the Canadian economy.

     Sports 
  • Dwyane Wade, drafted after Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony. Most people were only focused on James and Anthony and Wade barely got any attention. Wade was the first of them to win a championship and a finals MVP.
  • The 2001 Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. No big stars and almost everyone was over 30 on the Mariners, who would go on to win the most games in an American League season ever and tie with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most wins in a season in all of baseball. This coming from a team that had never gotten serious consideration in a post-season before and had never gone to the World Series. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, were the newest team in baseball and did what neither the Mariners or anyone else in the past three years could do - beat the Yankees and win the World Series,
  • The Liverpool squad of 2004/5 had just lost their star striker, Michael Owen, to Real Madrid and their long serving, highly successful and much loved French manager Gerard Houllier, forced into temporary retirement by illness. While the club had a rich history, especially in Europe, the last European Cup/Champions League triumph had been in 1984. The squad wasn't exactly vintage and their captain and star player, Steven Gerrard, was being tempted by big spending rising stars and that season's league champions, Chelsea. They were expected to have trouble even qualifying for the Champions League via the league (which in the end, they failed to do) or getting out of the group stage. Instead, they actually won the damn thing, beating Greek champions Olympiakos, Italian champions Juventus, soon to be English champions Chelsea and last season's Italian champions and previous Champions League winners AC Milan in the process, through what can only be called pure stubbornness. This last, the final in Istanbul, has become known as 'the Miracle of Istanbul' because the vastly superior AC Milan side raced into a 3-0 lead at half-time, and it could have been more. Liverpool responded by scoring three goals in six minutes to level the tie on the hour mark, then spent the remaining thirty minutes of normal time and thirty minutes of extra time resisting the Milan onslaught, including an impossible double save by Polish keeper Jerzy Dudek from Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko that was later voted the best moment in the competition's history, before winning on penalties.
  • Nobody expected the Spanish national team to win a World Cup any time soon. Their weapons were fear and surprise and a ruthlessly efficient defense.
    • Just to prove Real Life is just as surreal as fiction, the only person who thought Spain would win was Paul the Psychic Octopus, clearly the Dark Horse of world cup pundits.
    • The Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys of 1998. France failed to make the World Cup in 90 and 94 and got into the 98 tournament only by hosting the dang thing. They shocked the world with one of the most dominating defenses ever (one non-PK goal for the entire tournament) and capped off their improbable win with a 3-0 win over supposedly invincible Brazil in the final.
    • Greece winning the 2004 European Championship. No one expected them to even win a match, let alone the tournament: they were 80-1 outsiders before it got underway.
    • Denmark winning the European Championship in 1992. They weren't even supposed to be in the tournament, but replaced Yugoslavia (who was excluded due to UN sanctions) at the last moment. Both players and trainer were thus utterly unprepared and treated the whole thing as an experience.
    • For other continental soccer/football championships - we have Iraq winning the 2007 Asian Cup (not only during the War, but also overcoming multiple continental giants) and Zambia taking home the 2012 African Nations Cup after a long penalty shootout against the Ivory Coast.
    • Geoff Hurst was only included in England's 1966 World Cup squad as back-up to the England's established star striker Jimmy Greaves. However Greaves was injured early on, and Hurst went on to score a hat-trick in the final as England won the tournament; he was later knighted. Greaves, on the other hand, never played for England again.
  • How about Leicester City in the Premier League 2015-16 season, who were quite literally a dark horse : 5000 to 1 outsiders, favourite for relegation and the biggest payout from bookmaker in sports history when they won the Premier League anyway.
  • The Brazilian football team Sport Club Corinthians Paulista in the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup. After years being mocked by the other teams supporters for not having a Libertadores title and a “real” club world title (the 2000 title is fake according to the rivals), Corinthians claimed the Libertadores title and defeated Chelsea in a dramatic match by 1-0 in Yokohama Stadium. Corinthians had no stars in the team while Chelsea was a full stars team in that time. Corinthians won both titles without losing a single match and won the Club World Cup without suffering a single goal. The celebration after the match was huge and the Corinthians supporters were so happy. For they this was a true Moment of Awesome and they often cry when remembering that moment.
  • Usain Bolt as recently as 2007 was solely a 200m sprinter who only occasionally ran 100m races for training purposes. By 2009 he was both World and Olympic 100m champion and had reduced the world record from 9.72 seconds to 9.58 seconds, a huge margin for one of the most pursued sports records.
  • For the NHL, the Phoenix Coyotes have a surprisingly large fanbase, despite its hot climate for the city. It also helps that the Coyotes are The Woobie of the NHL, only winning their first playoff series in Arizonanote  in 2012 by beating Chicago, but still loved. Well, at least in the U.S.
  • David Freese had some fine, if not outstanding seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals before going absolutely nuts in the 2011 MLB playoffs, culminating in hitting the game-tying triple in the 9th and game-winning home run in the 11th during Game 6 of the World Series (with his team one strike away from defeat in the 9th, at that).
    • Allen Craig earned Ensemble Darkhorse status at the same time for less heroic reasons: the phrase "Win one for Torty," referring to his pet turtle, became a monster Memetic Mutation among the fanbase. Torty Craig, in turn, became a Twitter phenomenon, Tweeting happily about his adventures with his Master Allen.
  • DJ Mbenga during his time in the Los Angeles Lakers was a fan favorite even though he barely had any playtime in the team.
  • The Olympic Games have athletes whose actual performance was actually rather unremarkable and borderline So Bad, It's Good but was nonetheless remembered more than the actual medalists. Notable examples include Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards (Calgary 1988) and Eric "the Eel" Moussambani (Sydney 2000).
  • A more literal one is Phar Lap, a racehorse during the Great Depression in Australia. Phar Lap was born to two unremarkable horses, and all its siblings were equally unremarkable: only two managed to win any races at all. Not only that, but prior to its racing years, it was covered with warts, gangly, and had an unusual manner of walking. Did we mention it won a Melbourne Cup, two Cox Plates, an AJC Derby and 19 other races?
  • Brian Scalabrine is a former NBA player of decent skill. However, since he is a ginger, he tends to get a lot of fans and memes.
  • Sébastien Chabal during his time in the French Rugby team. Absolutely average, he gained much more popularity than the rest of team by way of his fearsome look and his Badass Beard.
  • In 2014, the Super Bowl champions were the Seattle Seahawks. Denver was the hands-on favorite by a long shot.
  • American figure skater Paul Wylie, while successful on the home circuit, had never finished better than ninth in the World Figure Skating Championships. He scraped into the 1992 US Winter Olympic team by 1/10th of a point but no-one expected him to do anything other than embarrass himself. Against all expectations Wylie skated the performance of his career and won a silver medal (with many people thinking he should've gotten the gold and blaming anti-American bias from the mostly European judges.)
  • Journeyman English snooker player Joe Johnson was a 150-1 outsider at the start of the 1986 World Snooker Championship. Against all odds he made it through every round to the final (beating a former champion and former semi-finalist both ranked higher than himself on the way) and then beat the favourite Steve Davis (who'd won twice and reached the finals once in the previous three years) in an epic final to clinch the championship. He almost did it again the following year, losing to Davis in the final. Johnson never again came close to this level of success.
  • Matthew Dellavedova of the Cleveland Cavaliers who was originally a walk on became this after the 2015 Eastern Conference semi finals against Chicago. However he is sort of a Base Breaker outside of the Cavs fanbase.

     Other 
  • During the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Australian comedians H.G. Nelson and Roy Slaven, unimpressed with the games' mascots, unveiled their own mascot, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat. Fatso became more popular than any of the official mascots.
  • Limited edition food or beverage flavors can become so unexpectedly popular and profitable that it would be staggeringly insane for a manufacturer to not re-release them. One of the best examples of this in the United States was probably Mountain Dew's Livewire, which added a touch of orange flavor. It was originally supposed to be produced for just a single summer run in 2003, but consumer reactions to it were so overwhelmingly positive that it was brought back a year later, and then eventually produced all year round for several years.
    • In fact, a combination of this and the fiasco that was "New Coke" in the 80s led to the policy of everything being released as a "limited edition." If it becomes a Darkhorse, it stays, if it's a colossal disaster, the run is quietly ended and never spoken of again.
  • Italy in World War I. The one reason the Entente got Italy in the war was to distract Austro-Hungarian troops from the Eastern Front and relieve pressure on Russia. By October 1917 cold application of attrition had nearly caused the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Italian front before reinforcements from the Eastern Front (freed thanks to the Russian Civil War) and German help allowed to break through and occupy part of Northern Italy, with the end result being the complete annihilation of the Austro-Hungarian Army at Italian hands one year later, which also led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (with the army destroyed the component nations broke away) and the German surrender at seeing their southern flank completely open to Italian penetration with all the army busy to hold the line on the Western Front.
  • Stuart Sutcliffe, original bassist for The Beatles, has quite the little fanbase on the Internet, probably thanks to Backbeat (which depicted his romance with Astrid Kirchherr), his good looks, his sudden death at the age of 21, and the fact that he dressed like a hipster.
  • Mercedes-Benz follows this trope with the G-Class. In 1979, it was originally a vehicle made for military purposes, but gained steady ground in popularity because of its performance, strength, and easily recognisable box shape. It was supposed to be replaced by the GL-Class, but it got so successful that Mercedes kept it in production and released its successor at the same time. To this day it's Merc's second longest-running and most successful production vehicle for over 35 years.


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