Champions on the Inside
So your Ragtag Bunch of Misfits has finally learned to work together, become a family, and made it all the way to the championship. Now all they have to do is win the big game, which is easy, because Underdogs Never Lose.
Except for this time. This time, the underdogs lose by one fourth of a point in the last two seconds of over-time because the star player twisted his ankle at the worst possible time. The team's spirit is utterly crushed and they feel like they let everyone down. But then, their fans all start to cheer, the Jerk Jock captain of the rival team comes to praise them for being such Worthy Opponents, and their coach congratulates them on playing such a great game. When they ask why everyone is so excited that they lost, their coach tells them that it's because they're still winners. On the inside.
Even though they did lose the big game, the protagonists are still better people because of what they had to go through to get there. Happens often in movies Based on a True Story, with a Where Are They Now? Epilogue to show you that everyone still went on to be successful despite this loss. Although this trope used to be considered a twist on the usual Underdogs Always Win story, it's actually starting to become the most common ending.
Warning! This is an Ending Trope, so all spoilers will be unmarked.
- In the baseball drama Taishou Yakyuu Musume (Taishou Baseball Girls), the girls middle school baseball team loses by a single point to their nationals-contending boys team rivals when the protagonist is off by a few millimeters in her last second slide to home base. This is still considered to be a good ending as the girls have earned the respect of their rivals, and more importantly have proven to themselves that being girls does not mean that they can't achieve anything they put their minds to.
- Pokémon: Save for the Orange Islands Filler Arc, in the nearly thriteen years that the show has been on the air, Ash Ketchum successfully battles almost all the way to the championship, only for Always Someone Better, or, in the case of the Sinnoh League, straight up Diabolus Ex Machina, to rear its head. However, these defeats only temporarily discourage Ash, and instead are used to encourage him to keep going and train harder.
- Best of the Best. It's the last match of the U.S./South Korea karate tournament and the South Koreans are ahead by a few points. The South Korean fighter is badly hurt but still standing, and could be killed if the American fighter hits him at full power. He's also the guy who accidentally killed the American fighter's brother years ago during a match. The American decides not to attack the South Korean, allowing time to expire and the U.S. to lose the tournament. The Americans are dismayed by the loss but believe their colleague did the right thing. The South Korean team, recognizing the honor and mercy shown by their opponent, give their gold medals to the American fighters because they feel the Americans truly won.
- In Comrades of Summer, the newly minted Soviet Olympic baseball team (only one of whom ever played baseball before being drafted for the team, which itself had only been training for all of about eight months) play an exhibition game against the New York Yankees before their appearance at the summer Olympics. They lose by two points. The Russians are downhearted at the loss, until one of the American sportscasters point out that they held the World Champion New York Yankees to only a two point lead despite being inexperienced amateur players.
- In the film Coach Carter, even though the protagonists lose the championship, they return home to a gymnasium full of all their friends and family cheering for them. The epilogue makes it clear that every one of them was able to graduate and go to college due to the titular coach inspiring them not to give up. It helps that their coach was Samuel L. Jackson.
- The original The Bad News Bears. They lose the big game but still feel like they won.
- In Whip It, they lose the final match but the protagonist has won the respect and approval of her parents and peers.
- Rocky and Rocky Balboa both have this as the point, with Based on a True Story on the first film to boot.
- In Mr. 3000, the main character never actually reaches 3000 base hits, giving up his last opportunity in a sacrifice bunt because its better for the team if he bunts. He is still in a good life position afterward, and helped his team to learn some things and win their last game.
- School of Rock: The School loses at the Battle of the Bands, but everyone loves them, and they get a nice future in the closing credits.
- The movie Cool Runnings, loosely based off the first Olympic attempt by the Jamaica bobsled team. They lose, but prove that they're capable of competing in the Winter Olympics.
- In Rollbounce, the protagonist, in a roller-skating competition, attempts a complicated move he's been practicing for weeks—and falls flat on his butt. The Jerk Jock competitor gives him a thumbs up for even trying it.
- At the end of Cars, Lightning McQueen loses the big Piston Cup race to a cocky opponent, but is still revered by everyone due to helping the King finish the race. The actual winner on the other hand, not only loses the sponsorship of Dinoco, but the respect of most everyone.
- The baseball episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Niners lose, significantly, but in the process Sisko is reminded that baseball is meant to be fun, and he shouldn't let his rivalry with the other captain interfere with that, and Rom gets to be a hero.
- Glee: The McKinley High glee club lose at Regionals at the end of season one, but have a great time and get to continue glee club for another year.
They lose Nationals at the end of season two as well. Though it might be more of a case of them deserving what they got since they were more than capable of doing better, but were extremely poorly prepared and how their leads seem to care more about their tumultuous romance than the team's well-being.