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Blue Jackets look to follow in Buster Douglas' footsteps by defying odds

Former heavyweight champion of the world among those with playoff fever

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When Columbus native Buster Douglas stepped into the ring in Tokyo to fight Mike Tyson in 1990, he went off as a 42-to-1 underdog to knock off the heavyweight champion of the world. 

When the Blue Jackets stepped onto the ice in Tampa to take on the Lightning in Game 1 of its first-round playoff series this season, Columbus didn't face quite as long of odds. 

But the Jackets were still pretty well regarded as nothing but a longshot against the Bolts. A group of 52 hockey experts on the website The Athletic picked what they thought would happen in the series, and only one predicted the Blue Jackets would advance. 

Video: Buster defied the odds. We're looking to do the same

Of course, everyone knows what happened next in each of those cases. Columbus took the fight to Tampa Bay and delivered a knockout, dispatching the history-making Lightning in four games in the first-ever sweep of an NHL Presidents' Trophy winner in league history. 

And it was fitting that late in Game 4, as the Jackets were sending the Lightning to the canvas, a video was shown in Nationwide Arena comparing the team's accomplishment to that of Douglas almost three decades ago. 

PLAYOFF CENTRAL: Your one-stop location for news, notes, videos, and more

In one of the most shocking upsets -- and enduring moments -- in sports history, Douglas knocked out the invincible Tyson to become the heavyweight champion of the world. It's been commemorated in every way, from documentaries to T-shirts, and remains one of the great moments in Columbus sports history. 

So it only made sense that Douglas was in the house Thursday night for Game 4 as the Jackets attempted to continue their historic run in the second round against Boston. 

"It's a great time," Douglas told from his seat at ice level. "Playoff fever, man. This is awesome. I'm really enjoying it. I hope they pull it out." 

The Jackets were unable to do so, as Boston captured Game 4 by a 4-1 score to send a heavyweight fight of a series back to Beantown with the teams knotted at two wins apiece. 

But if anyone knows how to take a punch and come back from it, it's Douglas, who came back from a title fight loss in 1987 to Tony Tucker to resurrect his career. Douglas won six straight bouts before going up against Tyson, but few outside of Columbus Dispatch writer Tim May gave the Linden native a chance when he stepped into the ring on a Sunday morning in Tokyo. 

After dominating the early rounds by going right at Tyson, Douglas was knocked to the canvas by the champ in the eighth round, but rose to his feet to continue the fight. Finally, in the 10th round, Douglas landed the decisive blows, downing Tyson, who could not get up to continue. 

It was the culmination of a lifelong dream for the Columbus native, one that has made him a local and international celebrity, and an inspiration to those facing long odds. 

Asked about what it meant to see his great accomplishment replayed in Nationwide Arena by the Blue Jackets, Douglas said, "It brings back great memories, I'll tell you. Hard work paid off. I really appreciate it, man. It's an honor to be here and support them as well. I'm just having a great time." 

The Jackets' playoff run has captured the imagination of Columbus over the past few weeks. Longtime Jackets fans like college football analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit and IndyCar star Graham Rahal have tripped to Nationwide to root on the team, and such names as Urban and Shelley Meyer, Jack Hanna, and Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer have stopped in to witness playoff fever first hand. 

But few have stories that parallel what the Jackets are doing quite like Douglas, the native son who shocked the world and delighted his hometown with a moment that will always live on. 

"We have a strong sports tradition, a great tradition in Columbus," he said. "Hard workers come from Columbus."

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