In the wee morning hours of 3 November 2016, the Chicago Cubs did it. After a century plus of lovably losing, the most rabidly “happy to be hear” fanbase in all of baseball finally got to fly the last W of a baseball season. Facebook posts of grandparents crying, fans roaming Addison in mindless glee, and young Cubs fans entering a world where “Billy Goat, Bartman, black cats” mean absolutely nothing. The long Northside Nightmare was over. But for every broken curse, another lives on. Sports is a dichotomous exercise and for every W there is an L. Sadly, the fans of the Cleveland Indians experienced something last night that they’ve become accustomed too over multiple generations: the despair of sports suffering.
The Cubs victory was more than just a celebration for 25 athletes playing a game, it was a symbol of civic pride, something that modern day sports has cemented itself within our social fabric. While 108 years of not winning it all is longer than any one fan should have to endure (mainly because biology likely won’t let them), its tough to say that Chicago has suffered as a sports city. Soutside rivals White Sox broke their Joe Jackson induced curse in 2005 and the NHL Chicago Blackhawks have won it twice since Obama’s reelection alone. Lets also not forget Chicago lived a decade with the world’s greatest team athlete in the form of Space Jam star Michael Jordan. When it comes to GOATs, Chicago may have had the greatest.
So that brings us back to Cleveland. Yes, LeBron James did the incredible and took the Cleveland Cavaliers to a game 7 title victory after being down 3-1. But that was after Cleveland vigorously fought for permanent Suffering Sports City status for 4 decades. And the way the Indians let this title slip away only adds to the sting. So, which North American cities can claim the status a Suffering Sports Metropolis? Let’s take a sad sad look down memory lane…
First, here were the five conditions we had for determining which cities were sports sufferers.
- Must have 2+ franchises in one of the 4 major North American sports leagues (with one exception to be explained)
- Recency of last title (championship grace periods can extend across a city)
- Total number of titles (at some point, even the Russell/Bird Celtics banners weren’t giving Boston much comfort)
- Crushing Defeats (His Holiness Bill Simmons did his ‘Levels of Losing’ column, which of course ESPN buried with the Clinton emails, but thankfully we have the blogosphere)
- Franchise movement (losing a team can be harder than losing a title)
With some low level science, we present to you every city currently suffering from sports depression, to some degree or another.
First off, yes, we know the Seahawks just won a Super Bowl title 3 years ago and still in the middle of semi-elite roster. But remember, this is a city-wide exercise here. Before the Seahawks almost put away Peyton Manning’s legacy, their last title as a city was the 1979 NBA championship by the Supersonics. The Seahawks had been an NFL loser since 1976, including a remarkable Super Bowl run in 2005 that only ended in referee induced defeat. And let’s not forget “Malcolm Butler“. Moving along, there has never been an NHL franchise and their most recent chance to get one ended with Las Vegas (!?!?!) beating them out. And baseball? After the Cubs won the 2016 pennant, the Seattle Mariners became the longest tenured MLB team since their last World Series appearance. And its because they’ve never been to one since their inception in 1977. Hell, throw in the Huskies 2008 0-12 season and that’s a lot of losing.
Finally, regarding franchise movement, Seattle has lost out twice in this department. The MLB Seattle Pilots didn’t even last a year after 1969 and moved to Milwaukee. The other team to jump the sound? Your aforementioned title holder Seattle Supersonics, having been robbed by Clay “His Name Shall Not Be Uttered North of the Columbia River” Bennett and taken to the basketball haven of Oklahoma City. Russell Wilson and Robinson Cano still have time to inject more hope, but for now, there’s enough dismay to go around.
Here is our exception to the “2+ franchises” rule. Because rule 5 re: franchise movement supercedes in this case. For most of Canada’s early history, Montreal was the epicenter of America’s northern neighbor. A big, cultural city that doubled as the economic heart of a frozen nation. Toronto was a backwater and “Where the f*&k is Calgary” was that city’s official name until 1974. Montreal became host to the first non-NHL professional sports franchise outside of America in 1969 when MLB established the Expos. Thirty-six years of losing, fiduciary nightmares, and strike-induced title barriers led to the Expos losing more attendance than a Trump rally in Miami. While not a single game soul crushing defeat, the 1994 Expos were easily on their way to title contention before the ’94 baseball strike decided 3 Canadian teams winning the World Series in a row was too much. A Pedro and Vlad later, the team was headed to Washington DC.
So, what about the other, more important sports franchise in French Canada? The Canadiens have have more Stanley Cup appearances (34) and wins (24) than any other NHL franchise. Obviously skewed because of their longevity and the size of the league for most of the 20th century, but numbers don’t lie. The downside to all that winning? It hasn’t happened since 1993. The other curse to that title? It was the last time a Canadian based team has brought home the Stanley Cup to the country it permanently belongs in. Throw in the departure of the neighboring Quebec City Nordiques in 1995 and a decades long shift in political, cultural, and economic influence from the St. Lawrence River valley to the Toronto shores of Lake Ontario, and Chacun sent le mieux où le soulier le blesse.
Milwaukee should be higher (lower?) on this list, but is saved by its in-state neighbor Green Bay. Yes we’re cheating, but its sports and I’ll piss in a cup if you want. The Packers have had a 2 decade renaissance through the Favre and Rodgers eras after suffering an insurmountable amount of losing since the early Super Bowl days that everyone in Wisconsin has somehow managed to forget. But even with these two QB mainstays, the Cheeseheads have only pulled off 2 SB titles in the past 50 years. Now let’s balance out those bright marks of winning with the local mainstays. We’re about to do a lot of cross cancelling with our rules/metrics, so grab on to your TI-89s.
In 1953, the Boston Braves moved west to Milwaukee, keeping the nickname, but soon ditching the bad juju that franchise suffered for over 80 years. Five years after arriving, Hank Aaron led the Braves to a World Series title and an AL pennant the year after. Then Hank Aaron became one of the greatest baseball players ever…in Atlanta. Thirteen years later, Milwaukee was suddenly sports-less again. That would turn around with the introduction of the NBA Bucks in 1968 and the Brewers in 1970. How have the Brew-Crew fared since being the former Seattle Pilots? Forty seven years in Wisconsin no titles. Only 4 playoff appearances in total, including a 26 year drought. That’s 43 total years of watching other cities play in October. Somehow, the combined powers of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were only able to squeeze in that WS appearance in 1982. Meanwhile, the Bucks haven’t fared much better. In 48 seasons of calling Milwaukee home, there was the Kareem Abdul-Jabar title in 1971 followed by two nice playoffs runs with the Jack Sikma 80s team and the Ray Allen 90s team. But even that 1971 title is tainted by Kareem leaving as soon as he could for LA. Other than those 16 seasons, including some heartbreaking Eastern Conference Finals loses, Milwaukee basketball peaked with Dwayne Wade’s collegiate career at Marquette.
Growing up a baseball fan in the 90s/00s, you’d think being a Braves/Atlanta sports fan native would be euphoria. The 3-headed monster of Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine was (and still is) the best pitching front ever. Add in the cool coolness of Chipper Jones and the exciting coolness of his cousin Andruw and this team exemplified winning. Besides the ’94 strike season, this Braves team went to 14 straight playoffs, including five NL Pennants and a World Series title in 1995. And that’s it. The Falcons have been in the NFL since 1966, the first season that ended in a Super Bowl, and they can claim to have attended that national spectacle once. And it involved Chris Chandler. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks have been an NBA franchise since before the Korean War, but calling ATL home since 1968. Zero titles. Zero championship appearances. Lots of 1st round exists and ‘Nique dunks. And once there was a hockey team named the Thrashers, but they’re gone now. If it weren’t for those Braves and the glimpses of Vick, this city would be in the doldrums.
On the plus side, Donald Glover’s phenomenal TV creation Atlanta is already on its way to the television HOF. So there is that.
Once upon a time, an NFL team called the Houston Oilers gave up the largest lead in an NFL game. To a backup quarterback. Despite roaring out to a 32 point lead in a playoff game, the venerable Frank Reich led the Buffalo Bills to a 41-38 victory. And thus was created the only happy moment in Buffalo sports history. Four years later, the Houston Oilers would cease to exist. Despite losing a football franchise in football loving Texas, most of the Houston sports experience has actually been pretty enjoyable.
The Houston Astros can claim a lot of fun over the years: home to the first indoor stadium (RIP Astrodome), a cool, whacky pre-PC name (the Houston Colt .45’s), Nolan Ryan, the Bagwell/Biggio experience, that crazy Randy Johnson half season, and the 2005 NL pennant (Clemens tainting aside). And let’s not forget that crazy Beltran run in 2004. Meanwhile, the most successful sports memories in Houston history have occurred in the NBA. While Michael Jordan was
on suspension from the NBA per David Stern’s warning against his errant gambling habits playing minor league baseball, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon frontcourted his way into the basketball hall of fame and an eternal legacy with back to back titles in 1994-1995. And that’s on top of the What-Could-Have-Been Rockets teams of the mid-80s with Hakeem and Ralph Sampson.
Still, besides those two Rockets titles, its been a dry well for championships in eastern Texas.
Its hard to believe that the Phoenix Suns have given this desert hellhole since 1968. That’s almost half a century! What exactly was going on in Phoenix basketball for most of that time? Apparently there was a Finals appearance in 1975-76 during the height of Paul Westphal’s short but supernova career. But between their inauguration and the Barkley-led/Westphal (hey you!) coached Suns of the 90s (that lost to MJ in the ’93 Finals). Not a lot was happening with Suns basketball. Plenty of playoff appearances over the years, including a string in the 80s and the exciting Steve Nash years in the 2000s. But otherwise, not a lot of championship caliber play.
Meanwhile, Phoenix stole TWO franchises, the NFL Cardinals from St. Louis and the NHL Coyotes formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets. So that’s a plus. But what those franchises did once arriving, that’s a minus. And then some. From 1988-2008, the Arizona Cardinals made exactly one playoff appearance, actually making the most of it by beating the Cowboys in Dallas before losing in the 2nd round. Jake the Snake was born thereafter. Meanwhile, the Coyotes have had more name changes than Stanley Cup appearances, although they did make the Western Conference Finals in 2012. On the flip side, they also somehow missed out on Auston Matthews and drove out Coach Wayne Gretzky. The only thing keeping this city from hitting our top 5 was the random Arizona Diamondbacks World Series title in 2001 against the Yankees that involved Randy Johnson pitching 62 innings in the Series.
Oakland might need the “Montreal Rule Exception” to make this list given that Baby Al Davis is doing everything but drive the Mayflower trucks himself to get the Raiders to Vegas. When the Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, they were gifted a Super Bowl appearance only seven seasons later. And since then, they’ve gone 63-145. That’s a .434 winning percentage. That’s one too many JaMarcus Russell passes. No playoffs and no winning seasons. So maybe for the franchise, a change in scenery will do it some good. Meanwhile, their stadium flatmates the Athletics have also been mired in Billy Beane mediocrity for two decades. Despite being hailed as a revolutionary baseball team builder (which he is), Beane’s A’s have gone to zero World Series since inducing Jonah Hill fist clenching.
The one thing this team does have is history. The Oakland Athletics can lay claim to a phenomenal baseball run in the 1970s as Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Vida Blue led the As to three World Series titles in a row. Then came the late 80s McGuire/Canseco roid rage contenders that cashed in for three straight AL pennants and the 1989 title. The silver and black had their own historical run in the late 70s/80s first under coach John Madden with a Super Bowl victory in 1976 followed by the random Jim Plunkett title in 1980. Sprinkle on the LA Raiders winning it all in 1983 and there’s enough member berries to go around to keep those win starved fans warm during those 68 degree California nights.
For recent sports fans, this might not be the epicenter for a top-10 suffering sports city. But the fact that we don’t really think too much about Cincinnati in general might be enough of an argument. Another two-team city, the Bengals and Reds have dominated the sports landscape forever, cultivating a solid friendly Midwest fan base; in a way Chicago-lite. But then we dig into the history. First, the NFL Bengals who have been around since the AFL days. There have been a couple of highlights, including two Super Bowl appearances (one in the midst of the Boomer Esiason years) and the recent “success” under Marvin Lewis. But then there was the drought. From 1990 to 2005, the jokingly called “Bungles” seemed like a football black hole. The failures culminated in the drafting of Akili Smith in the infamous 1999 Draft. Despite being an athletic, pass-run option out of Oregon, Smith showed his true colors finishing an NFL “career” with a 3-14 record, 46.6% passer completion, and 5 TDs to 13 INTs, all in 17 games started. Yikes.
Meanwhile, the MLB Reds have had a storied history, including 4 NL pennants and 2 WS wins with the 1970s Big Red Machine, led by future baseball analyst HOFer Pete Rose, and even some other old school baseball titles pre-WW2. More recently, they won the most unmemorable World Series of the past 50 years, beating the Oakland As in 1990. Their best player by WAR? Jose Rijo. Yeah, no one is still sure how they won this title, so we’re discounting it a bit. Things were looking up more recently behind Joey Votto and company, but then the “company” part got old, regressed to the mean, or left the team entirely, leading to many mad Joey Votto moments. Maybe not all Canadians are happy and nice all the time.
One word: Eagles
Two words: The Process
“On the Bright Side” word: Phanatic!
(PS: if I wrote anything more about the long suffering sports fans of the City of Brotherly Love, they would show me just how much love is brotherly to my personal property and possibly my physical being. Let’s just move along).
Well get the good news out of the way first. The Jays are currently one of the more exciting teams in baseball, despite their fans going LaBatt heavy in the stands. Still, despite being Canada’s second baseball team for decades, the Joe Carter Jays teams of the 90’s are still not far enough in the past to start wondering whether even YouTube could save the memory. Joe Carter’s walk off in ’93 still holds up. Even in between, the likes of Delgado, Green, Halladay and those crazy Clemens Cy Young seasons graced the carpet of the SkyDome. So the Jays are fine. And the Raptors haven’t been around long enough to induce enough suffering on their fans, although Chris Bosh’s departure and then Men in Black self red flashing memory loss of his time there is a small chip on Toronto fans’ shoulders. But after enough Steam Whistle, most folks in the T-dot don’t worry too much about these two franchises.
Then there are the Maple Leafs. Some sports don’t farewell when expansion becomes the rallying cry of owners and league commissioners. Just ask the ABA, WHL, and USFL (the latter of which you can ask Donald Trump personally what happened. Hint: He happened). For the Maple Leafs, it might have been their undoing. During the NHL’s “Original Six” era of six franchises (Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago), the Maple Leafs were the Yankees of hockey. Between 1942 and 1967 (25 years), the Leafs took home the cup nearly half the time with 10 titles. They appeared in two more Cup Finals as well. Then the NHL announced plans for expansion for the 1967-68 season and the Maple Leafs haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Finals since. For the metro epicentre of a nation that is 80% hockey, 8% permafrost, 7% syrup/oil, and 5% Trudeau to be this far removed from even competing for a Stanley Cup, the fan experience is nearing Rob Ford levels of insanity.
Got to hand it to the sports gods. Of course the Indians would be up against the only franchise in baseball history with equal or more grief. Waiting since 1948 isn’t exactly a distant second to the Cubs 108 year long wait when you think about it. You’d have to be 80 years old to even have some fleeting memory of that title. So we were dealing with two fanbases last night that really have no idea what winning it all feels like. Cubs fans just inherited the extra 40 years of baggage, but like all unwanted inheritances, there’s always room to collect dust in the attic. Still, blowing a 3-1 series lead, on top of the Jose Mesa meltdown and the 40 years of no playoffs, is hitting DANGER ratings on the levels of losing. Especially after that Davis HR to tie it up, having the rug ripped out from underneath you at home only adds more bullets to the wound. If anything, the Indians fans suffering might just be turning to straight disdain at this point:
Yet it could have been worse. If it wasn’t for LeBron and the Cavs for the ages comeback and “The Block” against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, this city might have ignited the Cuyahoga River and walked away from the burning ruins of former Cleveland. And with the NBA Eastern Conference looking just as lackluster as last year, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of the Cavs getting to three straight Finals.
But that’s all the good news we have. Cavs fans still had to endure The Decision and the decades of losing prior. Indians fans will be recovering for months after last night while sharing their health insurance plans with Michael Bradley and Danny Salazar. And then there’s the Browns. Since the last Browns victory, the Cavs and Indians have put together entire championship caliber seasons. The team even disappeared for a few years, stolen to Baltimore where that franchise proceeded to win two Super Bowl titles and former coach Bill Belichek soon became Bill Bellichek. And to top it off, when given the chance to start anew, what did they do? Bring back the same cursed name and colors and uniforms and everything. As always, when available, we defer to His Holiness Bill Simmons for the complete rundown:
Yes Cleveland might no longer be a lock for Most Suffering Sports City, the as long as the Browns are the constant Mistake on the Lake, Cleveland can rest at night knowing their suffering has no end.
When your football franchise has a weird mascot symbol that not only might be culturally insensitive, but is in itself just a lame sports nickname in general, you probably deserve to have your sports experience tainted a bit. Still, beyond the NFL Washington Professional Football team’s 3 random titles with oh so HOF worthy quarterbacks, not much has happened in DC sports history recently. And even the last of those Super Bowls is now 23 years old.
The Nationals have been around since the W Bush years, so they get somewhat of a pass. It took them half a decade to field a semi-quality 25 man roster, and even longer to get that many number of fans into the seats that knew what a 25-man roster was. Still, we can’t ignore the pop-the-cherry moment of losing during Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Shortly followed up by the miraculous slipping away of the 2016 NLDS against the LA Dodgers. There’s a foundation there for some good baseball until Harper leaves in two seasons and then the stadium will go back to being a pin-drop recording sound studio. (EDITORS NOTE: we’re not including the Expos years or the Washington Senators years because, no. Until the fanbase understands those things happened, they can’t lay claim to either or both. Even after that revelation, its maybe only Expos history we can consider b/c we don’t want to make Rangers/Twins fans mad.)
Up the metro at Verizon Center, the two franchises that share the building have had two very interesting experiences in their respective sports. The Washington Almost Bullets aka Wizards have recovered from the 90s misadventures with Chris Webber and Too Old MJ/Kwame Brown followed by a fun Gilbert Arenas team…until it wasn’t. John Wall is a piece of a title team that has yet to find the other pieces, but we’re pretty sure giving Bradley Beal $130m will do the trick. Still, the Almost Bullets/Wizards have won thing in their back pocket: a championship title. Thanks to Earl the Pearl and the 1977-78 Bullets (followed by a Finals rematch the next year against Seattle), the Washington NBA experience has 3 Finals appearances and that title. Meanwhile, the Capitals might have locked down the claim as biggest chokers in sports history. Since 1982, the Capitals have made the playoffs 17 of 24 chances, including a Stanley Cup appearance (and loss) in 1998. If we’re going against our previous Editor’s Note regarding the baseball experience in DC, the Caps are the only franchise without a title. And during their many chances to hoist the Cup, they’ve blown enough series leads and President’s Trophies to make losing almost a 538 rated guarantee.
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul
Let’s go through our suffering checklist on this one:
Must have 2+ franchises in one of the 4 major North American sports leagues
- Check: Minnesota Twins (MLB), Minnesota Vikings (NFL), Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA), Minnesota Wild (NHL)
Recency of last title (championship grace periods can extend across a city)
- Minnesota Twins in 1991. Before that? Minnesota Twins again in 1987. Before that? Basketball in the 1950s and we’re about to explain that away.
Total number of titles
- Collectively Minneapolis has hosted 181 seasons by the local NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL teams (including the North Stars and Wild) and have only those 2 titles to show from it. That’s a 1% title success rate. To put that into perspective, the Cubs futility has produced 3 titles in 113 years for a 2.6% success rate. I guess we could count the Minneapolis Lakers with George Mikan in the 1950s winning 5 titles. But that was also the pre-shot clock, so calling it basketball is a stretch. Also, those titles technically reside in LA now. So…um…uh…..that’s it.
- Luckily, Minnesota got to experience Jack Morris going the distance in 1991. Otherwise, there was this…
Franchise movement (losing a team can be harder than losing a title)
- While Minneapolis is home to every major sports league, Minnesota itself is above and beyond Hockey Country. The Minnesota Golden Gophers Men’s Hockey team has claimed 21 Frozen Four appearances, including back to back championships in 2002-2003. Their 5 NCAA titles are tied for 5th on the list of most titles. Minneapolis is even home to the greatest hockey movie franchise of all time, the Mighty Ducks. But did that stop Gary Bettman and the NHL from taking the Minnesota North Stars and moving them to “Land of the Frozen Ponds” Dallas, Texas? Nothing stops Gary from proving souls might not exist.
P.S. the fact we haven’t even mentioned the Timberwolves beyond just recognizing they have existed for 28 years is telling enough about the sports memories in this city. The best KG-TWolves moment came when he returned to the team in 2015, 8 years past his prime and in possession of an NBA ring from Boston.
Thank you Cleveland. It was rough for Buffalo fans to have to get fussy in their 18 year old, cracked leather, permanent smell of cigarette and Labatt Blue Lay-Z-Boys whenever SportsCenter would bring up the saddest, most depressed sports town in America and reference Cleveland, Ohio. Both cities have suffered astronomical losses in population, economic staying power, and the ability to dump industrial waste into local water streams. And yes, Cleveland has had just as many depressing sports moments (The Fumble, The Drive, The Decision, The Jose Mesa) as Buffalo (The Wide Right, the Phantom Hull Goal, the Music City Miracle, The People vs. OJ Simpson). On top of it, Buffalo hasn’t its current franchises, but arguably one of its more successful teams, the NBA Buffalo Braves led by MVP Bob McAdoo, departed Western New York and became the LA Clippers. So now Buffalo has the Clippers stink on it to boot. Still, this is a question of civic sports suffering and Cleveland has had LeBron and those great Indians teams. Buffalo has been stuck with JP Losman and watching Dominik Hasek win titles as Red Wing. Buffalo even inspired this too close to home ESPN ad:
As always, f&*k you ESPN.
In the meantime, Buffalo fans have kept themselves entertained by keeping deadspin in the black. Whether its drunk tailgate fighting, drunk tailgate public intercourse, drunk tailgate running into immobile objects, or drunk sex toy tossing, Buffalo fans know exactly how much Labatt Blue it takes to numb the pain of decades upon decades of losing as a sports city and city itself (the answer: all the beer. all of it). If it wasn’t for SUNY and a giant rush of water going over a ledge, Buffalo would probably have stopped existing as a city long ago. In the meantime, the proud people of Western New York that await every fall for a new hope of Bills or Sabres championships continue to stand by their team with more unabashed, blind loyalty than the Republican Party and its nominee. Nothing can break the will of a true Buffalo native. Unless the Labatt runs out. If that happens. run.
And that’s it. If your city isn’t on this list, we get it. No team is perfect, not everyone wins all the time. But no complaining. It’s likely some sports franchise in your city has had a recent run in with success and you can at least have some HD quality memory of this sort of feeling:
For the rest of us, there’s always next year. And next year. And next year…