Boston, Washington DC, Kansas City are among some of the cities that have had major sports success over the past few years.
But what about the opposite? What about those who lack success, not just recently, but historically?
This was a challenging task, but I have attempted to rank the saddest North American sports cities.
It’s difficult because every city is created differently. Some have just 2 teams, 3, or more. Some had success many, many years ago, some have never come close to success. Are you sadder having gotten close and failing vs. never even getting there? Are you sadder if you won a long time and never got back, since you know the feeling of how close you got?
Here is how I attempted to judge each city
- ONLY included teams from NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL (sorry, no MLS or WNBA).
- Recency bias played a large role – Lot of weight given to more recent playoff and championship droughts.
- Championships from ’70s or ’80s were largely disregarded, as were championships from defunct leagues (AFL, ABA).
- Losing a franchise (especially one with a championship background) was a major strike against a city.
Vancouver: Canucks, who first began play in 1970, have never won the Stanley Cup and between 1995-2001 the Grizzlies were one of the worst franchises of all-time.
San Diego: Padres are one of 6 teams to never win a World Series, but have been there twice in 1998 and 1984. Chargers played in San Diego from 1961-2016 and made just one Super Bowl (lost in 1994).
New York: It’s insane to include a city that has the 27-time World Series champion Yankees, but lately, the city’s teams have been focused on who they will hire/fire, spending free agency money, and acquiring high draft picks vs having actually success. Why New York sports suck.
Teams: Hornets and Panthers
Charlotte has never won a championship, but come in low on this list because both teams are still relatively young, with the Hornets beginning play in 1988 and the Panthers in 1995.
Here’s what you should know about the Hornets:
- Never appeared in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- Never finished higher than 4th in the East.
- Never finished 1st in their division.
- Left Charlotte to move to New Orleans, leaving NBA vacant in Charlotte for two years.
- Were known as the Bobcats for 7 years.
Also, the New Hornets (established in 2004) are 3-12 in playoff games, with their last series win coming in 2002, the last year of the original version of the franchise.
Recently, they lost Kemba Walker to free agency. Walker was the best player the new Hornets ever had and one of the 2-3 best players in franchise history. That probably means the playoff series win drought isn’t ending any time soon.
Panthers have had some success, at least making it to two Super Bowls. But both times, they ran into legendary quarterbacks – 2003 lost to Tom Brady and Patriots and 2016 lost to Peyton Manning and Broncos.
Like the Hornets, Panthers recently lost the franchise’s best offensive player ever – Cam Newton. Unlike the Hornets though, Newton is not in the prime of his career (like Walker). Still, it’s hurtful to lose a guy who was the #1 pick in the draft. The 2015 MVP and gave so much to the city and the team.
Teams: Colts, Pacers
Colts have played in Indianapolis since 1984 and the Pacers have been in the NBA since 1976. During that time, they have combined to go 1-2 in championships.
For most of the last 20 years, the Colts had Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at quarterback. To show for it, they have 4 total AFC Championship Games, and 2 Super Bowl appearances. That Super Bowl XLI win in 2006 over the Bears is forgettable for most football fans given the conditions (rainy) and the opposing QB (Rex Grossman), but it’s still a memory that lasts forever for Colts fans.
But that’s the thing – it’s one memory out of how many opportunities? It’s been good to be a Colts fan because of sustained success, but it’s been tough because they have been unable to break through.
Pacers have never won an NBA title, but they won 3 ABA championships in 5 appearances between 1968-1975. I’m not putting much weight on those since it’s a defunct league and many decades ago.
NBA’s version of the Pacers are just 1-7 in Eastern Conference Finals series appearances. In the ’90s, the Bulls and Knicks were major obstacles in the and in the early 2010s, Pacers couldn’t overcome Lebron and the Heat. Their one NBA Finals appearance came in 2000, when they lost to Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers, at the beginning of LA’s dynasty run.
Lots of recent disappointments, but still a recent enough Super Bowl win to keep them low on this list.
Teams: Bucks, Brewers
As I went through this, I wondered if Milwaukee should be higher? But they are hurt by only having two pro teams and the successful Green Bay Packers in close proximity.
Milwaukee has experienced championship success once, way back in 1971 when the Bucks won the NBA Finals in their third season and got back to the Finals in 1974.
The Brewers made the World Series (and lost) in 1983, but that’s the extent of the success. They have won just three playoff series in their Milwaukee history (dating back to 1970).
Right now they have top players in both sports – Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich won MLB MVP in 2018 and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo won NBA MVP in 2019.
In 2018, Brewers lost Game 7 at home to the Dodgers in the NLCS.
In 2019, the Bucks, after leading 2-0, lost 4-2 to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, despite having the NBA’s best record.
Recent failures really put an emphasis on the sadness of their history.
Teams: Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers
Detroit is a city with rich sports history, but their recent failures are tough.
The good – Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons have each played in two championship rounds since 2004, going a combined 2-4. Red Wings won the Cup in 2008 and lost in 2009. Pistons won the NBA title in 2004 and lost in 2005. Tigers lost World Series in 2006 and 2012.
The bad – The four major pro sports teams haven’t won a playoff series since 2013 and have seen 6 last place divisional finishes during that time.
The recent bad is bad, but it’s hard to bump them up too much given the 11 Stanley Cups, 4 World Series titles, and 3 NBA titles.
As good as those three teams have been in the past, the Lions provide enough sad history for any city. Lions are one of four NFL teams to never play in the Super Bowl and have the distinction of being the first team to ever go 0-16 in a season. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1991 and it was the only playoff win in the NFL’s Super Bowl era (dating back to 1970).
Pistons had it made in the 2000s, but couldn’t capitilize on a dynasty opportunity. They played in the Eastern Conference Finals every year between 2003-2008, making the Finals twice, winning once in 2004. Since their loss in the 2008 ECF, Pistons haven’t won a playoff series.
Red Wings’ legendary 25 consecutive year playoff streak ended in 2017, and now they have gone four years without a playoff appearance and last won a playoff series in 2013. In 2020, they had the worst record in 2020 and things are so bad that they “lost” the draft lottery and will pick #5, instead of #1.
Tigers have finished last in the AL Central in 3 of the last 5 years, including a franchise-worst 47-114 record in 2019. They last won the World Series in 1984.
The good news – all these bad seasons will give Detroit some exciting young prospects to build around in the future.
The bad news – this cycle of sadness will likely continue regardless, in Detroit.
Teams: Bengals, Reds
Cincinnati is a hard city to judge, because there’s only two teams. But, both have brought sadness to the city for a long time.
Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1995. Bengals and Reds have combined to lose 11 straight series since than.
The Reds have won the World Series 5 times, but their most recent one came in 1990. After an NLCS win in 1995, the Reds went 14 years without a playoff appearance. They returned in 2010, only to get swept by the Phillies, which included being no-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1. Imagine waiting 14 years to play in a playoff game, and in your first game you don’t even record a hit…
In 2012, Reds went to San Francisco, and won games 1 and 2 vs the Giants. All they needed to do was win one game in three opportunities at home and they could not. The next year, Reds lost Wild Card round and haven’t been back to the playoffs since 2013.
A few months after that World Series win, the Bengals beat the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. That win is the last playoff win for the Bengals. Including their loss to the Raiders in 1990 playoffs, they have lost 8 straight playoff games. That includes a stretch of 5 consecutive Wild Card losses between 2011-2015.
To their credit, the Bengals have made 2 Super Bowl appearances (1988, 1981) but including those 4 wins, those two seasons, they have 5 playoff victories all-time, dating back to 1970.
Teams: Bills, Sabres
Buffalo is 0-6 in championship games, but ranked 7th due to only having two teams.
City of Buffalo hasn’t seen a playoff win since 2007, when the Sabres beat the Rangers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, Sabres have made the playoffs twice, but not since 2011.
Bills last playoff win came in 1995, and they have qualified for the playoffs just 5 times since, including a 2017 appearance that snapped a 17 year playoff drought. They infamously made the Super Bowl 4 consecutive years between 1990-1993, losing all 4 times.
Teams: Cardinals, Suns, Coyotes, Diamondbacks
Phoenix is one of 12 cities with at least one active pro team in each of the four major sports. To show for it, they have the fewest championships, winning just one.
Diamondbacks are Phoenix’s youngest team, originating in 1998, and yet are the only ones to experience championship success. They beat the Yankees in 2001 to win the World Series, in just their fourth year of existence.
Suns are 0-2 in the NBA Finals (losing in 1993 and 1976) and haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. Before that, they made it 5 of 6 years between 2005-2010 and had 2x MVP Steve Nash. In those 5 appearances, they made the Western Conference Finals 3 times, but could not get over the hump, losing twice to the Spurs, once to the Lakers, while winning 4 games total.
Cardinals have played in Arizona since 1988. In 31 seasons, they have just 4 with 10 or more wins. One of those seasons came in 2008, when they made the playoffs for just the second time and advanced all the way to Super Bowl XLIII, before losing to the Steelers.
Coyotes moved to Ariozna before the 1996-97 season (from Winnpeg). Their time in Arizona has mostly been spent searching for a real home (Phoenix, Glendale) and battling bankruptcy issues. In the early 2000s, Wayne Gretzky bought into the ownership group and even coached the team. But nothing good came of it. They have won a playoff series in just one season – 2012 – when they advanced to the Conference Finals.
Teams: Cavaliers, Browns, Indians
Cavs won the NBA Finals in 2016 (most recent championship of any city on this list). But as awesome as that one championship was in 2016, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Warriors, they also lost 3 of 4 championships between 2015-2018. Those Warriors teams were great, but you can’t just ignore the disappointment of those losses.
Speaking of losses and disappointment – they also lost Lebron James, not once, but twice, to free agency in the last decade. Pre-Lebron (before 2003), the Cavs were 0-3 in Conference Finals appearances, so he is their entire history.
Indians haven’t won a World Series in 71 years! A few months after the Cavs won the NBA title, overcoming a 3-1 deficit, the Indians led the Cubs 3-1 in the World Series. But the Cubs came back, winning Game 7 in Cleveland, giving them their first championship in 107 years at the expense of the Indians.
And the Browns….well the Browns haven’t made the playoffs in 17 years, recently went 0-16, are one of four teams to never appear in a Super Bowl and left Cleveland after the 1995 season, only to return a couple years later as an expansion team. There’s a LOT more you could say about the Browns, but it’s all implied.
Teams: Seahawks, Mariners
Here’s what you need to know about Seattle’s sports scene – the Sonics have made two playoffs appearances (and one series win) since Mariners last made it. The problem is the Sonics haven’t existed in 12 years.
Sonics departure from Seattle (despite a 1-1 record in 2 NBA Finals appearances) has been extremely disappointing for the city. It’s left them with two teams – Mariners and Seahawks.
Mariners hold the MLB record for wins in a season (116 in 2001). But they lost 4-1 in the ALCS to the Yankees and haven’t made the playoff since that season. Their 18 year drought is the longest active playoff appearance drought in all four major sports.
Additionally, the Mariners are the only MLB team to never appear in the World Series. Their history dates back to 1977 and they have made just 4 playoff appearances (3 series wins).
Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013. But this past decade has all felt like a missed opportunity. They returned to the Super Bowl in 2014 and lost because of a terrible coaching decision. They have won 9 or more games every year since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012, but have not been able to capitalize.
At least they have hockey beginning in 2021…
In the last 12 months, Oakland lost it’s championship window and it’s city’s identity.
The Warriors are Golden State’s team, but Golden State isn’t technically a place. Oakland is, and it’s where the team mostly played from 1971-2019. Oakland hosted the NBA Finals each year from 2015-2019, where the Warriors won 3 out of 5 times. But in 2019, they opened a fancy new arena in San Francisco.
Oakland is more known for it’s football anyways right? Well, the Raiders have departed the famed “Black Hole” and are heading for the bright lights of Las Vegas, beginning in 2020. Raiders had two stints in Oakland, from 1960-1981 and 1995-2019.
Oakland and the Raiders are synonymous with each other because of the fans. Raiders leaving is a much bigger loss than the Warriors, in my opinion. At least the Warriors are less than an hour away, and they aren’t changing their name. They are still Golden State and Oakland can still stake a claim in them as their own. The Raiders are in another state, not exactly around the corner. and are re-branded as Las Vegas’ Raiders,
That leaves Oakland with just one team (for now) – the Athletics. A’s are 4-2 all-time in the World Series but they haven’t been to one sine 1990 and haven’t won a playoff series since 2006 (lost 6 in a row). The stadium, built for football, is a total mess and the A’s desperately need a new ballpark. There are major questions about whether or not that will happen in Oakland.
Teams: Falcons, Hawks, Braves
When you blow a 28-3 second half lead in the Super Bowl…you’re going to be pretty sad.
Falcons are 0-2 in the Super Bowls and last appeared during the 2016 season, in which QB Matt Ryan won league MVP. Falcons had a lead for most of the game. But when the game ended, they didn’t. Tom Brady and the Patriots made a historic comeback, winning in overtime.
From 1991-2005, the Braves won the NL East 14 times in 15 years, and won it 11 straight from 1995-2005. However, during that incredible run, they won just 1 World Series (1995) in 5 appearances.
Recently, the Braves have lost 10 straight playoff series, with their last win coming in the 2001 NLDS.
Hawks have played in Atlanta since 1968, and while they won 3 titles in St Louis, they have never won in Atlanta, and have only been to Eastern Conference Finals once (2015).
Atlanta also tried hockey. Twice. First, Atlanta Flames last 8 years (1972-1980). They did make the playoffs 6 times, but compiled just a 2-15 playoff record. Then, the Thrashers played from 1999-2011 and made one playoff appearance in 2007, getting swept. Flames won 2 playoff games and 42% of their games while the Thrashers won zero playoff wins and 38% of their games.
Looking into the future Atlanta has exciting stars like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Trae Young, and Ronald Acuna. Maybe happiness is finally on the horizon?
Teams: Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild, Twins
Among cities with four pro teams, Minnesota has the longest active championship win or appearance drought.
Since the city’s last championship win/appearance in 1991, 31 other cities have seen a championship victory, with 43 cities, in total, making an appearance.
Why, in my opinion, Minneapolis is the saddest North American sports city.
What do you think? Where did I go wrong? Let me know on twitter or instagram what you disagree with.