Sports fans, hold your hearts above the stats

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By ALYSHA TSUJI
College Contributor Network

Much of sports is based off numbers. Averages determine league-leading players, statistics predict future outcomes, rankings lock in playoff schedules. Books, such as Michael Lewis' hit-turned-movie "Moneyball," delve into why numbers are the most trustworthy factor to lean on.

If you ask me, the qualitative details hang heavier than the quantitative ones.

Holding narratives above numbers may mean that I almost always finish close to last in fantasy leagues and bracket competitions -- I'm infatuated with the player/team backstories and personalities -- but it's how I appreciate sports. I can't help myself.

The wacky quirks of athletes and their teams, and the peaks and valleys they face are gripping. And the best part is the unpredictable outcomes. You can't make this stuff up.

When the impossible happens, no one forgets. The magic lives on through the tales and legends of games past.

Flashback to 2002, Super Bowl XXXVI: the Patriots beat the Rams 20-17 thanks to quarterback Tom Brady, who pushed New England 53 yards in nine plays to set up the game-winning 48-yard field goal.

ESPN reported that in that game, the Patriots were 14-point underdogs. Pair that with the fact that Brady, the 2002 Super Bowl MVP, had been a nobody the year prior. As a rookie in 2001, he had zero touchdowns and had completed a single pass for one yard. One year later, his rating jumped more than 50 points, he converted 18 touchdowns and come February 2002, he had an MVP trophy on his mantel.

It sounds ridiculous now, but at the beginning of the 2001 NFL season, if anyone had said that the struggling Tom Brady would emerge as a Super Bowl hero, they would've been laughed out of the room. On paper, the Patriots were losers. On the field, though, the Patriots had a determined coach, gritty players and the will to win.

A decade later, the Golden State Warriors shook the first round of the NBA playoffs with the same magnitude in which the championship Patriots rattled the NFL. The eighth-seeded Warriors knocked out the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in six games in a devastating fashion.

The Mavs had Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jose Barea -- all of whom would go on to win a ring in 2011 -- and yet the Warriors, with their raucous fanbase, broke them down in the best-of-seven format. The Game 6 margin (111-86) was the second-largest in NBA playoffs history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Sure, the Jazz slammed the Warriors in the second round, but that first round upset will still bring a glimmer to the eye of any Bay Area sports fan -- "We Believe."

Comparing rosters and records, Dallas had the upper hand. However, with the actual outcome decided by Golden State's tenacity and the atmosphere of their home court, Dub Nation was treated to a series of a lifetime. Numbers had nothing on them.

The understated hockey hub of Los Angeles also knows the taste of impossible victories. This past season, the Kings teetered on the edge of postseason elimination against the San Jose Sharks. And the Anaheim Ducks. And the Chicago Blackhawks.

Down 3-0 to the Sharks, 3-2 to the Ducks and tied 3-3 with the Blackhawks in best-of-seven series, the Kings fought back every time. Then, finally, in the Stanley Cup finals, they pulled out a 4-1 romp of the New York Rangers. In this case, it wasn't improbable because of the lack of a talented roster or a legendary coach, it was improbable because of the stats that stacked against them.

According to ESPN, before the Kings beat the Sharks 4-3 in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, only eight teams had ever come back to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0. Out of those eight teams, only two went on to actually win the series.

The Kings beat the odds, and brought home the trophy. Numbers would have demolished them. They kept their heads down and held out for hope -- and it worked.

While much of sports is based off numbers, numbers do not define sports, just as a stat sheet does not define a player or a test score does not define a student. Subtle intricacies can have profound effects on outcomes. Impossible is nothing.

Go hard and root loud, no matter your status. It may take years to find success, but when triumphs come, I promise you they'll be sweet and it'll all be worth it.

Alysha Tsuji is a senior Journalism major at Pepperdine University. Her passion lies in sports media, namely when it comes to covering the NBA. Follow her on Twitter: @AlyshaTsuji

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