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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.
    • Both Barack Obama and John McCain were considered unlikely even to be nominated by their respective parties (Democratic and Republican respectively) in the 2008 US presidential election. Though lots of people knew the other candidates (including McCain), most people outside of Illinois had never even heard of Obama until the middle of 2007, when he was in the middle of his first term as a U.S. senator. Plus, as many people, including 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.
    • 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 husbands' policies. Bristol Palin, Meghan 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 frontrunner. 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 be elected Mayor of London twice, 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.
      • The man was President of the Oxford Union!
      • Of course, now that his popularity plummets after he and his party successfully campaigned for the controversial Brexit and becomes Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs under Theresa May after David Cameron resigns. However, it is widely believed, especially since Boris Johnson was quite Pro-EU until the referendum when Cameron said he would resign if Leave won, that Boris supported a cause he didn't believe in so he could become Prime Minister. This failed due to his colleague Michael Gove backstabbing him and trying to become PM, but failing.
    • American Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who won her seat in the Senate by a landslide (admittedly, she ran as a Democrat in Massachusetts, so it wasn't hard). She is well-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 Democratic nomination or were even disillusioned by her decision not to back popular candidate Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Instead she remained undecided until the final days, when she endorsed Hillary Rodhman Clinton for the Democratic nomination. That she also delivered a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the Republican Party for supposedly not respecting President Obama as detailed here earned her still more favor.
    • In 2015, Jeremy 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 — after being nominated solely to broaden the debate.note 
      • He then replicated this feat in the 2017 snap general election; the polls and popular wisdom said he would lead Labour to a massive defeat where it would lose hundreds of seats and millions of votes, but Corbyn's Labour gained a net 30 seats (which was still too few to win the election — instead a hung parliament where nobody had more than half of the seats resulted), gained a net 3.5 million votes and came within two percentage points of the ruling Conservative Party in terms of vote share, and he was widely credited with energising and inspiring young voters and non-voters to come out, something few politicians had been able to do.
  • 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. Despite 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 long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844, behind three frontrunners (former President Martin Van Buren, future President James Buchanan and Lewis Cass), 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 two 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 two years (1792–94), 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 political party leader (he was 41 when he took over the Liberal Party of Canada in 2013). 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.note 

     Sports 
  • Dwayne 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 or 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.
  • The World Cup frequently has a non-traditional nation overperforming and drawing global sympathy. Locations include:–
    • Asia: North Korea in 1966 (got to the quarterfinals defeating powerhouse Italy), Saudi Arabia in 1994 (round of 16 scoring this amazing goal), and many times for South Korea (got to fourth place at home in 2002 — though Spain and Italy hated that for some gross refereeing mistakes that helped Korea — and the round of 16 in 2010) and Japan (three rounds of 16, in 2002, 2010, and 2018, in the first at home and in the last scaring a rising Belgium team).
    • Africa: Cameroon, Senegal (both reached the quarterfinals — 1990 and 2002, respectively — after defeating the defending champion in the tournament opener), Nigeria (round of 16 in 1994, 1998 and 2014), and Ghana (round of 16 in 2006, quarterfinals in 2010).
    • Post-Communist Eastern Europe: Bulgaria (fourth place in 1994), Romania (quarterfinals in 1994, round of 16 in 1998), Slovakia (round of 16 in 2010, eliminating defending champions Italy) and Croatia (third place in their 1998 debut, finalist in 2018).
  • The 2016 European Championship had two: Iceland, who for a small and frozen country managed to get to the quarterfinals, defeating England along the way; and semifinalist Wales, who outlasted the other Great Britain nations and even beat a much-hyped Belgium team.
  • Geoff Hurst was only included in England's 1966 World Cup squad as back-up to England's established star striker Jimmy Greaves. However, after Greaves was injured early, 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 200-metre sprinter who only occasionally ran 100-metre races for training purposes. By 2009 he was both World and Olympic 100-metre 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 Dark Horse 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.
    • He also gets rated much higher than his in-game performance due to his memetic fame: NBA 2K had him rated 90, while NBA Live Mobile rated him a 93.
  • 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.
  • 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 0.1 points but nobody expected him to do anything but embarrass himself. Against all expectations, Wylie skated the performance of his career and won a silver medal (with many people thinking he should have 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 semifinals against Chicago. However he is sort of divisive outside of the Cavs fanbase.
  • Buffalo Bell, the mascot of the Japanese women's baseball team the Orix Buffaloes, has a following in the Furry Fandom due to her cuteness and greater resemblance to Petting Zoo People than the Funny Animals that mascot character design tends to follow. She is treated as her own character moreso than a mascot, however, and as such, she's typically drawn as an anthropomorphic buffalo rather than someone in a mascot suit.
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     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.
  • 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.
  • Of the General Motors EMD F-series diesel locomotives, the the EMD F3 is by far the most popular thanks to the Lionel Corporation making their now world famous Santa Fe decorated F3 locomotive as their premier Diesel model train in the 1940's through 1960's. The F40PH is also popular thanks to the Memetic Mutation of it being a furry killer.


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