"Oh, put me in, coach - I'm ready to play todayThe underdog competitor wins a competition, sparks a Miracle Rally for the team, or puts in the final score to help win a competition. This is Underdogs Never Lose, narrowed down to one person. Not to be confused with a request for the cheapest possible airline seats. A subset is Dark Horse Victory.
Put me in, coach - I'm ready to play today
Look at me, I can be centerfield
Put me in, coach - I'm ready to play today
Look at me, I can be centerfield
— John Fogerty, Centerfield
- The Ur-Example (barring any Real Life examples) is the 1925 silent movie The Freshman, starring Harold Lloyd, in which Harold is finally inserted into the climactic football game because his coach doesn't have any other players.
- Hey Arnold!:
- Arnold, in "Eating Contest", wins after the only remaining competitor falls face first into bowl of ice cream
- Arnold again, in "Benchwarmer", with a basketball game. This time, he comes off the bench after being benched for several games for not following his coach's ridiculous strategy and scores game winning points from a set play.
- Eugene Horowitz, in "Coach Wittenberg", bowling. He throws the ball, falls flat on his face, but makes a wide split
- Pip, South Park, dodgeball, after the opposing team taunts him into an Unstoppable Rage.
- Phil Deville, All Grown Up!, "The Big Score" (everyone loves his sister Lil since they've started winning games [to the point of Phil being totally ignored and Lil quitting the team in spite over that], but in a key game, she makes a charge for goal, and actually passes to Phil, and he actually scores the winner)
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is sent in by Mr. Burns to pinch hit for All-Star ringer Darryl Strawberry (the only one out of the 9 ringers he's hired to actually make it to the game) in the final inning of the tied championship game with bases loaded - regardless of the fact that Strawberry has hit nine homeruns, because Homer is a right-handed batter and the pitcher left-handed. According to Mr. Burns, "it's called playing the percentages, it's what smart managers do to win ballgames"; the joke, however, is that Mr. Burns is using a real baseball strategy despite the fact that Strawberry is so obviously superior to everyone else. Mr. Burns then proceeds to confuse Homer with a series of bizarre coaching signals; while Homer stares in blank confusion, he's hit by a pitch and walks (or rather, is carried) in the winning run.
- Homer isn't the only person to walk in the win on an HBP: an episode of the obscure sitcom The Crew (about stewardesses) did just that as well.
- Peter from FoxTrot did this also, after spending the previous 3 strips trying to convince the coach to put him in, then figuring out the best way to stand in the batter's box. He actually receives a concussion afterwards.
- Literary, non-sports example: In Harry Potter and the Philospher's/Sorcerer's Stone, Gryffindor wins the House Cup because Neville scored the last ten points they needed to break the tie with Slytherin.
- Rudy is an interesting example. The titular underdog begs to play in the big game so he can prove to his family that he's on the team. His never-give up attitude having been such an inspiration to the team, they go out of their way to get a large enough lead so that he can make the final play without any risk. And then Rudy gets the sack anyway.
- Eyeshield 21. Panther (and the entire NASA Aliens) kneels in front of Coach Apollo, asking to play for the first time. Panther is let in, and ultimately finishes off the Devil Bats. Apollo's own NFL days are a subversion - his coach never gave him the chance.
- Played with in Unseen Academicals, where during the Big Game between the Academicals and Ankh-Morpork United, Trev Likely doesn't want to be put in because he promised his old mum he wouldn't play football, despite the fact that the game is almost literally not his father's football (the brutal street sport that got his dad killed). He eventually caves in when the crowd (and his girlfriend) starts shouting for "Likely!", but proves terrible because he's used to kicking around an old tin can, and not an actual football. Fortunately, some quick thinking lets the Academicals exploit an old rule ("the ball shall be called the ball, if it has been played by at least three consecutive players") and win the game.
- Played with in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in the episode "Take Me Out To The Holosuite". They substitute Rom in at the last minute after he got booted from the team for being unable to hit, catch, or throw the ball during practice, and he completely accidentally makes a bunt that lets Nog get the Niners' only run of the game, they still lose ten to one but the team still treats it as a triumph and celebrates afterward.
As the Niners celebrated their first run, Solok tries to get the attention of Odo (who is umpiring the game), and is ejected much in the manner that Sisko was (touching the umpire). As the Vulcan team only brought nine players to the game (including Solok as a player-manager), the Vulcans would have had to forfeit the game. Sisko's roster had 11 active players (Sisko, Kasidy, Jake, Kira, Bashir, Worf, Quark, Rom, Leeta, Dax, and Nog), and thus were able to continue playing after Sisko's ejection.
- The cute little rabbit in the Porky Pig cartoon "Porky's Building" (1937, Tashlin) wants to be put in to show what he can do as Porky races a bully adversary in construction of a building. Porky keeps saying no, but when he sees the bully using a rapid-fire brick-laying device, he gives in and sends in the rabbit. With his ears alone, the little bunny defeats the machine (which self-destructed after getting lodged in reverse) and finishes the building.
- Played straight in Disney's Chicken Little, with the added motivation of the title chicken trying to put the embarrassing "sky is falling incident", where his claim that the sky is falling turned out to be an acorn, behind him. And then it turns out the incident was real.
- In the Baseball Episode of Heaven's Memo Pad, Alice, the coach, subbed herself in. She's a small hikkikomori who even has trouble opening a drink can herself. While completely failing to actually hit the ball, she managed to steal a base, which directly led to a one-point victory
- Uncle Rico of Napoleon Dynamite wants to invoke this... through Time Travel. He's spent the last twenty-two years lamenting that his high coach left him on the bench, and wants to go back to 1982 for a second chance at the big game, thinking its victory will make him into a famous football player.
- Inverted in CSI where one of the college football team's best players demands to be put on the field because there are professional scouts... and the coach (the Victim of the Week) keeps him off because the player was benefiting from a backer's program behind the coach's back, thereby putting the entire school's athletic program in jeopardy, and accidentally killing a girl in a backer's car.
- In the Goofy short "Double Dribble", the shortest member of a basketball team (and by shortest we mean he's knee-high to the rest of the team) keeps hoping to be called in to play, but the coach keeps calling to other players. By the last quarter, all the other alternates have been eliminated, and the short player is the only one left. He wins almost by accident, when an opponent trips on his laces and falls through the floor, a board catapulting him, ball and all, through the hoop.
Real life examples:
- First overall draft pick Drew Bledsoe had been the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots for seven years and was arguably the best quarterback the franchise ever had. Then in the second game of the 2001 season, he was hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, shearing a blood vessel in his chest. Who steps in? Second-stringer and sixth round draft pick Tom Brady, who would then lead the Patriots to four Superbowl wins.
- New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, buried fifth on the depth chart almost the entire season, starred in Super Bowl XLII and made the key play on his team's last-minute touchdown drive - a leaping catch secured by pulling the ball against his helmet. (He also scored a touchdown earlier in the game, but nobody remembers that.)
- Tyree's dramatics are still arguably no match for the original Super Bowl hero-off-the-bench - Green Bay's Max McGee, who was so sure he wouldn't be playing in Super Bowl I that he spent the previous night out on the town and didn't even bring his helmet to the game, came on as an injury replacement, made a highlight-reel 37-yard catch for the first touchdown of the game and finished with seven catches for 138 yards.
- Australia's Jacqui Cooper had injured herself before the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and so it was left to Alisa Camplin (who herself was competing against doctors' advice) to compete in freestyle ski jumping. She won the gold.
- Jason McElwain was the autistic student-manager of the Greece Athena HS (Rochester, NY) basketball team. For the team's last home game of the season on Feb. 15, 2006, McElwain was put on the roster so he could be given a jersey and allowed to sit on the bench. With four minutes left in the game, and Greece Athena leading by double digits, coach Jim Johnson put McElwain in the game, who dropped six three-pointers. McElwain's treys weren't relevant to the final outcome, but otherwise it was one of greatest Put Me In, Coach! moments in Real Life high school sports.
- With 12 seconds left in the first half of Super Bowl XVIII, the (at the time) Los Angeles Raiders were leading the defending champion Washington Redskins 14-3 and had pinned Washington deep in their own-territory. During an earlier meeting that previous October, the Redskins managed to pull off a screen pass from quarterback Joe Theismann to running back Joe Washington that gained 67 yards. So assistant coach Charlie Sumner replaced starting linebacker Matt Millen (yes, THAT Matt Millen) with little-used backup Jack Squirek, who was assigned to cover Washington man-to-man. The result was Squirek making a leaping interception and landing in the end-zone for a touchdown that basically broke the Redskins' backs.
- This is Kurt Warner's entire career. In 1999, the hapless St. Louis Rams had a shot at their first winning season in a decade after signing free agent quarterback Trent Green, only to see him go down to a season ending injury in the second preseason game. One tearful speech from Dick Vermeil later, Warner the former supermarket stockboy was the starting quarterback. He would win the MVP on his way to leading the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams to their first Super Bowl victory.
- In 2008, the hapless Arizona Cardinals had a shot at their first winning season in a decade after drafting quarterback Matt Leinart a few years earlier, only to see him perform terribly. See if you can guess where this is going. In the end, the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl for the first time, but their Miracle Rally fell short and they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- May 25-26, 2011: After 18 innings and nearly six hours of baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds remain tied at 4. The Phillies have just pinch-hit for their last relief pitcher. Everyone was expecting the Phillies to send out an off-rotation starting pitcher, despite the fact that tiring them out is a risky thing to do, simply because they had no one left but starting pitchers on their bench. Instead, Manager Charlie Manual makes the unorthodox move of putting the utility infielder, Wilson Valdez on the mound, keeping the pinch hitter in the game as catcher and moving around other infielders to accommodate. Valdez proceeds to win the game for the Phillies, pitching one inning and giving up no hits as the Phillies proceeded to score the game-winning run in the bottom half of the 19th inning against an exhausted Reds pitcher, whom the Reds did not substitute for, due to a similar manpower shortage. Even though Valdez played the entire game, this still qualifies because it is very rare for a position player to pitch in the majors, let alone win the game. note
- It's been argued that not following this trope is what could have changed the outcome of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. In previous games in clutch situations, the injured Bill Buckner had been pulled from first base and replaced with Dave Stapleton, but they decided to let Buckner stay in so that he could be on the field when the Red Sox got their World Series win. Which never came. note
- Australian Rules Football: In the 1970 VFL Grand Final, with Carlton 44 points down at half time, coach Ron Barassi brought Ted Hopkins on, who proceeded to rip Collingwood to shreds. Afterwards, Hopkins realised he could never do anything to top his achievements in that game, and retired.
- Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series: Trailing 2-1 with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, the Atlanta Braves send pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera to the plate. Cabrera, who'd gotten only ten at-bats all season, hit what turned out to be a game-, series-, and pennant-winning walk-off single to left.
- Game 7 of the 2011 World Series: St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder Matt Holliday had an arm injury that hadn't fully healed, so he sat out and Allen Craig started. Before this, Allen Craig was known as a pretty good if injury-prone young player who had a pet turtle. He played an excellent game and caught the final out of the Series.
- In 2012, the Columbus Blue Jackets were so short on goalies that they were forced to call on Shawn Hunwick. He not only wasn't on the team officially, he wasn't even a professional athlete. He had to skip classes at the University of Michigan, where he was still a senior, to come down and sub-in for the game. Which he ultimately won. Bonus? Columbus is the home of UM's extremely-bitter archrival Ohio State, and Humwick was forced to take the ice in his Michigan pads.
- Game 1 of the Clippers/Grizzlies playoffs of 2012. The Clippers were down as by much as 27 points. Coach Vinnie Del Negro almost decided to bench Chris Paul and the other starters and give up the game but Paul convinces Del Negro they can still win the game. Caron Butler is injured, so Del Negro is forced to play Nick Young, who hits three 3 pointers in a row to help tie the game.
- Double example. I the olympic handball tournament, Danish goalkeeper Niklas Landin wasn't doing well against Spain, so the second keeper Marcus Cleverly was subbed on. Cue Cleverly saving a lot of shot, peaking at over 50% saved. Cleverly stops saving, so Landin is put back on, and makes several important saves, eventually securing a win for Denmark.
- Former All Black first-five Stephen Donald had dropped from favour due to a number of competitors for the position, and was not selected for the 2011 World Cup. However, the All Blacks suffered an injury crisis in this key position, with Dan Carter and Colin Slade picking up injuries. A week before the final, Donald came home from a day of fishing with a friend to find a text on his phone from the coach saying that he was needed. He was on the bench for the final, and in the first half the third-choice first-five Aaron Cruden went down injured. Donald came on, played the rest of the match and made no mistakes, and kicked what proved to be the winning penalty goal as the All Blacks won 8-7 over France.
- In 2014 after losing their starting QB before the season and their backup just before the Conference Championship, Ohio State was forced to start third-stringer Cardale Jones. Jones proceeded to not only win the Conference Championship, but also lead the team past the top two teams in the country to win the national championship.
- Cornerback Malcolm Butler was the only undrafted rookie on the New England Patriots' roster in 2014, and he spent the first half of Super Bowl XLIX on the bench. He replaced Logan Ryan in the second half and played well, but no one could have foreseen him making the game-clinching interception at the goal line with 20 seconds left. In a secondary starring Darrelle Revis (one of the two best cornerbacks in the league), Devin McCourty, and Brandon Browner, the play of the season was made by Malcolm Butler.
- NBA player Andre Iguodala didn't start a single game for the Golden State Warriors in the 2014-15 season despite being a former all-star (He wasn't exactly doing horrible; the Warriors' roster was just THAT DEEP during the season). Flash forward to the 2015 NBA finals: The Warriors are down 2-1 to the Cavaliers, who were led by nigh-unstoppable juggernaut LeBron James. What do the Warriors do? They start Iguodala for the remaining games of the series in order to guard LeBron. The strategy worked: Iguodala had one of the best playoff performances in his career, and the Warriors ended up winning their first Championship in 40 years. And to top it all off: Iguodala would end up winning the NBA Finals MVP (Beating out LeBron and Regular Season MVP Stephen Curry) due to his excellent play (becoming the first NBA Finals MVP to start zero games in the regular season)
- In the third game of the 1992 season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Don Majkowski injured his ankle and was replaced by a second stringer named Brett Favre. Favre proceeded to lead the Packers to a last minute win and start the next 230 games for the team and become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
- Similarly, Aaron Rodgers played very little in the three seasons he spent as Favre's backup. During his first season as starter, and despite a losing record, he passed for over 4,000 yards. He would go on to win the Superbowl two seasons later and have perhaps the greatest season for any quarterback a year after that.
- In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, German attacking midfielder Mario Götze had been sparingly played throughout the tournament and started on the bench in the final against Argentina. He entered the game as a substitute in the 88th minute and went on to score the championship-winning goal in extra time.
- Tino Tonitini, The Weekenders, horseshoe throwing (3rd place to much fancied competition)
- Subverted in The Simpsons; in the final seconds of a peewee football game, the police come by to arrest the star quarterback, because he happens to be resident delinquent bully Nelson. Bart volunteers to be put in...to the back of a police car as Nelson scores a game winning touchdown.
- Carlton Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, basketball game (airballs the final shot of the game after, in a desperate need to be lauded as Will is on the court, he wrestles the ball away from his team's star player).
- In Eyeshield 21, the Devil Bats play against the Yuuhi Guts during the Fall Tournament, only to find the coach has replaced the regular line-up with ringers from the other sports teams at Yuuhi High School. After the Devil Bats manage to gain a strong lead anyway, the coach reluctantly sends in the regular lineup, who fail to make a comeback, but still put up a good fight (this is even more pronounced in the manga, when it's the regulars who score Yuuhi's only touchdown against Deimon instead of the ringers).
- There are some straight examples, though, like when Leonard Apollo put Panther in for the NASA Aliens in the fourth quarter of the game with Deimon. if it wasn't for Panther, Deimon probably would've won.
- When Yukimitsu Manabu is finally sent in, he's revealed as an ace in the hole. He scored the Devil Bats' first touchdown against the Shinryuuji Naga, even overtaking Agon to do so.
- Fry, Futurama, basketball game, "Time Keeps On Slipping". After one of the atomic supermen basketball players is killed, Fry volunteers to fill in for him. His team is 35 points ahead of the Harlem Globetrotters with two minutes left, but somehow ends up losing, 244-86. (The keyword being "somehow", since the overarching plot is that time keeps jerking ahead, leaving events in place but everyone with no memory of what happened.)
- Charlie Brown is an avid baseball player, but he can't seem to do anything right, not even hold a 50 run lead with one out left when Peppermint Patty puts him in after he's sold some peanuts. (Once again, the keyword is "somehow": We cut from Patty getting hit by Charlie's 2nd pitch, to her waking up in bed and finding out from Marcie that their losing streak is still intact.)
- In FoxTrot Peter begs the coach to put him in, but he's a genuinely terrible player who spends more time practicing theatrics then actually practicing.
- Ojamajo Doremi double dips: Perennially athletic Aiko asks the perennially brainy Hazuki to race her leg in a swim relay for her against the other room, since it turns out that swimming is something Aiko isn't good at (even after she's spent the last week or two practicing for the race). Hazuki takes the lead on the way out... and then the other room takes it back on the way in when Hazuki cramps.
- The John Grisham novel Playing for Pizza opens with the protagonist coming off the bench for the Cleveland Browns, who are holding a 17 point lead with only a few minutes left to play in the AFC Championship game. He proceeds to throw three interceptions for TDs and be KOed by the Denver defense. The humiliation is so huge that he has to flee the entire US and play football in a beer league in Italy.
- A Freaks and Geeks episode has Bill urging Coach Fredricks to put him and his fellow geeks on the gym-class baseball team. They get their wish...and find their side getting shelled before the first inning is over.
- Somewhat inverted in the end of The Mighty Ducks, where one of the best players is knocked unconscious scoring the team's first point in the Big Game and doesn't play for the remainder of the match.
- James Thurber's short story You Could Look It Up features a baseball team in a slump putting a midget in as a pinch hitter to walk in the tying run. After verifying that yes, his contract is valid and no, there Ain't No Rule that says he can't play, he's allowed to bat... and promptly hits the ball and is thrown out at first, losing the game. In a Double Subversion, however, the incident is so ridiculous that it snaps the team out of their slump and they go on to win the pennant.
- Some years later, the St. Louis Browns actually tried it. Their owner denied having been inspired by the Thurber story.
- Subverted on South Park. When Stanley's preschool hockey team had their opponent cancel, the Colorado Avalanche insist that the kids play for them against the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings score thirty goals, beat all the kids into bloody pulps, and the Littlest Cancer Patient that was relying on the game for moral support dies.
- Then the "winning" team celebrates riotously, hugging and crying and having tearful reunions with their proud fathers as if they had won a great victory over adults.
Real life counter-examples:
- A Real Life subversion occurred at the 2007 Grey Cup. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' first-string quarterback was injured in the previous game, and had to be replaced by cold rookie Ryan Dinwiddie who, while promising (called the best football player Boise Idaho had ever produced), hadn't played an actual game all season. He performed well—but Winnipeg still lost. (Ironically, when he had his first start the next season, it would become the Bombers' first win that year.)
- Inverted in the famous 1980 "Miracle On Ice," when the Soviet coach horribly overreacts to a sloppy goal and benches his goalie, Vladislav Tretiak (one of the best goaltenders in hockey history) for the backup. The US takes the lead and ultimately wins.
- In the 1999 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills started Doug Flutie who had returned to the NFL after a successful career in Canada. Coupled with a strong defense, Flutie had clinched a playoff berth before the last game was played, and his backup Rob Johnson played an excellent game to close out the season. The following week, Johnson remained the starter (though no one will take credit for that decision) and lost to Tennessee on one of the biggest miracle plays in NFL history. To double the sting, the Bills haven't made the playoffs since. It's still a sore enough subject to start arguments in a Buffalo bar.