Misery fandex: Not even the best at losing

By: Richard Van Heertum

Welcome back to Part 2 of Principally Uncertain’s Misery Fandex, where we cover fanbases and cities that are certainly miserable, just a step below the most miserable. They are losers, no doubt, at least when it comes to winning it all, but tend not to be the most impressive at anything, even failure.

There’s an argument to be made that it’s worse to be a fan of these teams than, say, the Cleveland Browns or Chicago Cubs (prior to this October). At least those teams get sympathy and fame for their ineptitude. The Padres and Brewers, on the other hand, just kind of suck in quiet anonymity.


City ratings

Phoenix just “misses out” on cracking the podium of our 5 cities with more than one team in the Misery Fandex, with both the Cardinals (#14) and Suns (#6) combining for 219 Misery Points and thus combining to take the #4 spot. The Cardinals, of course, have an asterisk of their own, but the whole state of Arizona only has a solitary World Series title to its name. Sunny San Diego, take up the rear among cities, ranking #5 out of 5, even as they can’t seem to buy a title for any of their major sports teams, the Padres, Chargers or, for a short stint, Clippers. It is impressive to have three teams and no championships, but one has already moved North and another might soon follow. Their 100 years of solitude combine for 154 Misery Points.


Team by team

As a reminder, here’s the formula:

Misery Points = Years w/o title + (champ. losses x 5) + (semis losses x 3) + (playoff losses x 2) + just-miss + (noteworthy losses x 3) + weather factor

Misery Fandex: Lower half

Team Rank Misery Points League Last Title Slump length Champ. losses Semis Playoffs Just miss City titles Noteworthy losses Weather adjust.
Vancouver Canucks 10 115 NHL Never 45yrs 3 0 24 3 0 2 0
Tennessee TitansA+ 13 107 NFL 1961 55yrs 3 3 13 4 2 2 -4
Cincinnati Bengals 15 97 NFL Never 47yrs 2 0 12 2 3 6 5
San Diego ChargersA 16 95 NFL 1963 53yrs 3 3 9 4 0 2 -8
Houston Astros 17 87 MLB Never 55yrs 1 3 6 8 2 2 -4
Kansas City Chiefs 18 87 NFL 1970 46yrs 0 1 13 7 4 1 7
Detroit Lions 19 83 NFL 1957 59yrs 0 1 10 6 9 2 0
New York Jets 21 77 NFL 1969 47yrs 0 4 8 5 17 5 4
Texas Rangers 22 76 MLB Never 55yrs 2 0 6 6 5 1 -4
Milwaukee Brewers 23 68 MLB Never 47yrs 1 1 2 6 1 1 2
Washington Nationals 24 61 MLB Never 47yrs 0 1 3 7 9 3 1
Los Angeles Clippers 25 60 NBA Never 46yrs 0 0 11 0 10 1 0
San Diego Padres 26 59 MLB Never 47yrs 2 0 3 2 0 1 -8

+ Last title won in different city.
A AFL and NFL championships credited in the pre-Super Bowl Era. 1968-70 NFL and AFL championship games are considered semifinals.

The NBA has three of the top six most miserable teams, not surprising with their more expansive approach toward the playoffs, but the NFL, NHL and MLB are all represented in the top five. Given the similarly sprawling postseason of the NHL, they actually take up six of the top 10 spots. While a little light at the very top, the NFL takes up 8 of the top 16 spots and 12 of the top 21. Major League Baseball provides a lot less teams the opportunity to play in the postseason, so they only have two spots in the top 20, but take four of the final six positions on the list. In total, the NBA has four teams, the NFL 12, MLB 6 and the NHL 4.

Let’s look at the list in more detail, starting with…


#25 – Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are the anchor on our list, since the Padres are considered together with the Chargers. Los Angeles is an interesting sports city, with the Lakers piling up championships, the Kings chipping in a few, the Dodgers helping out in the 80s and competing most years and various NFL sides calling them home over the years. However, the entire city has fallen on hard times the past few years with the Kings losing in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Dodgers again failing to make it to the World Series in spite of a massive payroll, the returning Rams completing another losing season (and losing their coach), the Kobe-less Lakers struggling for a few years now, and the Clippers perennial underachievers when the playoffs come around. Those Clippers have at least given the city some hope in the recent past, but they just can’t seem to traverse that hump and get to the Conference Finals, much less the Championship itself. The Clippers were perennial losers in their early years, whether in Buffalo, San Diego or LA. They have been more successful in recent seasons, but still can’t seem to avoid injuries or brutal losses on the cusp of the snide they just can’t escape. In total, they have made 11 trips to the postseason in their 46 years in existence, three early, three in the middle and five straight heading into this season. Could this be their year … yeah, right!


#24 Washington Nationals

Like a few other teams on this list, the Nationals have not spent their entire history in DC. In fact, they have only resided in that city for 12 years. However, few teams have suffered with as much disappointment as this team, who have the fewest total playoff appearances of anyone in the top 26. In fact, they have a measly four playoff appearances to their name, with three coming in the last five years. The Expos made it exactly once, losing in the 1981 NCLS to the Dodgers 3-2, after beating the Phillies by the same margin. In fact, they only had 13 winning seasons between 69 and 2004, with another two at .500. Of those 13, five came in a row between 1979 and 1983, when Tim Raines and Andre Dawson were tearing it up. The Nationals have been substantially better during their short lifespan in a new home and will certainly be in the World Series conversation again next season; emerging as one of the teams on this list most likely to get out of this hellish Hall of Shame. However, given the squads the Cubs and Dodgers have assembled and the consistent voodoo magic of the Cardinals and Giants, the Nats will have some tough competition in the playoffs and, in terms of raw probability, are more likely to climb these rankings than they are to drop out of them.


#23 Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers, after a one-year false start as the Seattle Pilots, have been a streaky team that had its best years in the 1980s, when they made their one and only trip to the World Series, losing a tough seven-gamer 4-3 to the Cardinals. The year before, they lost the ALDS to the Yankees 3-2, but didn’t make it back to the playoffs for 26 years (in 2008), having switched to the National League a decade earlier. Three years later they were back, making it all the way to the NLCS, but they lost out to the Cardinals 4-2 and have failed to make the playoffs in the five years since. That team of the mid 80s was pretty stacked though, with Rick Molitor, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers, to name three. More recently, they appeared on the brink of changing their fortunes before the rest of the NL Central (the Cubs and Pirates, in particular) strengthened and they lost some of their best players. Who knows what the future holds, but they are certainly not in the World Series conversation at the moment.


#22 Texas Rangers

One might consider Rangers AND Astros fans within the context of Texas, a huge state with tons of successful teams over the years, including the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, a host of great college and high school football and basketball sides and even a pretty good soccer team. However, for baseball fans, the absence of even a solitary World Series crown must smart. Together they have a combined 110 years between them without a title and, even worse, the Astros have never been to the World Series and the Rangers only twice. That is a lot of suffering for baseball fans, particularly any that don’t care about all these newfangled sports that have subverted the erstwhile national pastime.

With the Rangers, 55 seasons in MLB (including their 10 years as Washington Senators 2.0) have yielded a losing record (.479 all time), 2 American League pennants, 7 division titles (1996, 98, 99, 10, 11, 15, 16), a wild card entry into the postseason and a bagel when it comes to titles. Before the last two decades, the Rangers were largely abject, but have since become a side that competes and, with a few hiccup years, wins. 1996 was, in fact, the first time the Rangers ever even made the playoffs, but they have followed that up with 7 trips to the postseason. Unfortunately, those trips generally end with a first-round exit.

Their two World Series trips came back-to-back, in 2010 and 2011, losing 4-1 to the Giants in the first and 4-3 to the Cardinals in the second. They had the Cardinals down to their last strike in 2011’s game 6, when Nelson Cruz misplayed David Freese’s deep fly into a 2-run triple to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. They had a 2-run lead with one strike to go the very next inning and blew that one, going on to lose on Freese’s walk-off homer in the 11th. They have made the playoff three of the five years since, having a winning record in four of those five years, but first round losses have followed in each case. The Rangers are newer than a lot of other baseball teams around, but they have built a fan base for long enough to make those fans downright ravenous for a title, even as it is unclear whether one is on the offing any time soon. Softening the blow for Rangers fans is the nearby Cowboys, who have managed five titles over that stretch, though none since the third in four seasons back in 1996. Maybe this year they can make it six …


#21 New York Jets and Honorable Mention New York Knicks

Luckily, I am only a true blue fan of one of the teams on the list above, but that team has given me years of agita and heartache. Another, that just fell off the list, is the New York Knicks, who are just as bad. For such a big sports city, New York has actually had a relative dearth of titles in recent years. Sure, one can count on the Yankees to return to the summit in the coming years, but they have now gone seven years without a World Series title, a relatively long stretch for a side with a record 27 crowns, including seven since 1969. The New York Giants are also a side that seems to win a title with some regularity (2012, 2008, 1991, 1987), but since upsetting the Patriots for the second time in four years, the Giants have found it hard to even get back to the playoffs until this season. The Mets were in the World Series last year, but they have to look all the way back to 1986 to find their last title, with 1969 their only other championship. The Nets, moving across two rivers from New Jersey to Brooklyn a couple of years ago, had a short stretch of success in the mid-2000s, but no title emerged from two straight finals. And the Islanders were one of the dominant teams of the late 70s/early 80s, but have now gone almost four decades without a Stanley Cup, celebrating a series win last season as if it was that drive for five fifth.

But three teams take the level of ineptitude in the city that never sleeps to truly narcoleptic levels. The worst of the bunch is the perennial punching bag New York Jets. Their one and only title came way back in 1969, when a brash young quarterback named Joe Namath gave the old AFL respectability in beating the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III. Since then, they have gone to the AFC Championship game on four occasions, losing a heartbreaking 14-0 game to Miami in 1984, to the Broncos 23-10 in 1998, and then two straight to the Colts and Steelers in 2009 and 10. Their overall record is 387-457-8 and they have had an appalling 22 losing seasons since 1969. They have made the playoffs 13 times since that Super Bowl run, winning 10 and losing 13, but have failed to even get back to a Super Bowl. The number of close calls and missed opportunities is quite extraordinary at this point and another lost season is now  concluded.

Similar are the Knicks, who have won two NBA Championships in their 70 years, reaching the finals eight times in total. But since their 1973 title, their second in four years, they have failed to win another. Between 1988 and 2001 they made the playoffs 14 consecutive times, but failed to convert any of their appearances into a crown. In 1993-94, they did reach their first title series in 21 years, but lost to the Houston Rockets in heartbreaking fashion in the seventh game, when Patrick Ewing failed to make his signature jumper from the right corner. They were back five years later, but were blown out in five by San Antonio. They reached the Conference Finals the next year, losing to the Pacers 4-2, but have not gotten back since. In the intervening 16 years, they have made the playoffs only five times, winning a solitary playoff series. Given the market, the stars that have passed through town and all those chances, the Knicks are arguably one of the most underperforming teams to just miss out on the list. The third team to consider isn’t part of our list either, as they won a title in 1994. But, besides the fact they have won a title since the Mets last championship in 1986, it has been a long tough trudge for one of the original NHL sides. They have won four titles in total, with their first three coming in 28, 33 and 40, but went 54 years before claiming their last, and have now gone 22 years without adding that fifth. They were in the Finals two years ago, but it has been tough sailing for three New York franchises beloved by so many fans across the five boroughs. If you’re wondering why New York gets such a long entry, and haven’t already guessed, I’m from the Big Apple.


#19 The Detroit Lions

The pain of the Detroit Lions has been tempered by some good years for the Tigers (World Series winners in 68 and 84), Pistons (3 titles in 89, 90 and 2004) and/or Red Wings (97, 98, 02, 08). But the Lions fans have had it rough for a long, long time. They are one of only four current teams in the NFL to have never played in the Super Bowl, the only one to have gone an entire 16-game season without a victory and have a losing record over their long history (535-634-32). Before their long barren spell, they were among the most dominant teams in the sport, winning three championships in six years, with a fourth appearance in the title game, to go along with a title back in 1935. That last championship in 1957, however, started a downward spiral they have yet to fully recover from. They failed to make the playoffs again from 1958 to 1970, then, after losing their first-round matchup with the Cowboys, went another decade before returning in 1982. They returned the next season, then went another 7 years on the outside looking in before their best stretch as a franchise since the 50s, making the playoffs six times in nine years, starting in 1991. The problem is they only won one of their seven playoff matches, then embarked on another stretch of failure that continued from 2000 to 2011, where they again lost in the Wild Card game; a feat they accomplished again three years later. To put all of that in perspective, the Detroit Lions have won one playoff game since 1957. Yes, that’s right, one! Lions fans have suffered dramatically, but expectations of success are probably long gone by now. The one heartbreak in recent years was that loss to the Cowboys, which they probably would have won but for a terrible call down the stretch as the Cowboys came back to beat them.

One could certainly make a strong case for the once proud Detroit Lions as among the biggest sufferers on our list, particularly residing in a city where sports seem to matter more than some of the other big metropolises and where the economic plight of the city has persisted for many years following its heyday as the epicenter of the auto industry, but the success of the Wings, Pistons and Tigers in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s certainly softened Lions fans’ pain.


#18 Kansas City Chiefs

It’s somewhat surprising to find the Chiefs on this list, at least to me. The franchise was in Super Bowl IV and have been contenders on and off for many years. But that elusive second Super Bowl ring has not arrived yet. In fact, they have gone almost 50 years without getting back to the big game, and have only made the AFC Championship Game once over that near half century. Since arriving in the AFL as the Dallas Texans, they have only made the playoffs 17 times in total. They have been in the postseason four times in the past eight years but have won only one playoff game since getting to the Conference Championship (where they were pummeled by the Bills) in 1993. They are competitive now, but coach Andy Reid has led some pretty good sides in Philadelphia without ever getting his ring. With the Patriots and Steelers in wait, among others, this doesn’t appear to be their year, though they are currently on a pretty hot streak. 


#17 Houston Astros

After many years in the National League, the Houston Astros made the switch to the American League in 2013, making the playoffs once since. Their only trip to the World Series was in 2005, when they were swept by the White Sox. They had a good stretch leading up to that loss, that reached back to 1997, and played in back to back memorable series with the Phillies and Dodgers in 80 and 81. Other than that, this is a side that has some diehard fans but no silverware to show for their 55-year history. Like the Rangers, it took them a while to settle in, going from 1962 until 1979 without a playoff berth. At present, the Astros are a talented young side, only one year removed from the playoffs, but baseball can be a funny sport and there is no guarantee a return to the postseason is in the offing. Houston also has the Rockets and used to have the Oilers, but between the two only have two Championships to their name, the ones won by the Rockets in 1994 and 1995.

So, while the two Texas baseball teams taken together make a compelling case for misery at a high watermark, the alternative teams available throughout the state make it hard to feel too bad for them, though adding them together makes for a cornucopia of futility over a century in the making. Looking specifically at Houston, though, they do have hope with the Texans in the playoff hunt and the Rockets flying high early as the NBA season heads into the New Year.


#16 San Diego Chargers and #26 San Diego Padres

I lived in San Diego for seven years, and became a fan of the Chargers, attending three or four games a year including one playoff appearance. The weather is a nice salve for the fact the Chargers and Padres have both gone their entire history without a championship. The Chargers have had three periods of sustained success: from 1960-65, when they were AFL West champions five times and won their solitary title (AFL Championship in 1963), 1978 to 1982 when they were led by Dan Fouts and “Air” Coryell and 2004 to 2009, when they reach the playoffs five times in six years. Of course, all of that success only reaped that one title and one trip to the Super Bowl in 1994, where they were blown out by the Niners. Since 2009, they have only made the playoffs once, losing in the Division Round to the Broncos after beating the Bengals in the Wild Card. In the other years, good teams seemed to underperform early or late and miss out, until blowing up the past two seasons, finishing 4-12 last season and losing a bunch of close games in the fourth quarter on the road to 5-11 this season. Charger fans can be quite passionate, but years without sustained success have taken their toll and the team could be packing up ship and heading back to Los Angeles next year, the city where they spent their first season.

The Padres are perennial losers who occasionally explode onto the scene with an unlikely postseason jaunt. They failed to even make the playoffs in their first 15 years in the league, only to advance to the World Series in their first postseason appearance. They lost that year to the Tigers 4-1 after, ironically, coming back from 2-0 down to beat the Cubs 3-2 in an NLCS that was the first playoff appearance for the Chicago outfit since 1945. The Padres then waited until 1996 to make another postseason, losing to the Cardinals 3-0 in the NLCS. Two years later, they were back in the World Series, getting swept by the Yankees in four games (I was at the clincher!). Since then, they have made it back to the playoffs exactly twice, in 2005 and 2006, losing both times to the Cardinals in the NLDS (3-0 and 3-2). In 2007, they kind of made the playoffs, ending up in a one-game Wildcard tiebreaker with the Rockies, losing a tough one in the 13th inning on a play at the plate. They have since gone a cool decade without a postseason berth, only managing winning seasons twice over that spell, and no immediate relief seems in the offing. 

Given the failure of Padres (one of only five current teams never to have won a World Series) and Chargers, and the Clippers short stint of failure in the city (77 to 84, all losing seasons and no playoff berths), one can feel for San Diego sports fans, but it has to be tempered by the weather, among the best in the entire world. Nonetheless, Chargers and Padres fans are a hurting, if perfectly tanned, bunch.


#15 Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals entered the NFL in 1968 and have yet to win a title, though they have been to the big game twice (1981 and 89). They lost both to the Niners, with chances to pull out either (hmm, is a pattern emerging here?). In the first, a goal line stand by the Niners cost them dearly during Kenny Anderson’s fountain of youth rejuvenation. In the second, Joe Montana waved his magic wand yet again with a 92-yard, 11-play drive in the final 109 seconds of the game to win 20-16. The Bengals have had 12 playoff appearances in total, including the past four years, but have failed to win a playoff game since 1990, going one-and-down five times over that period. This year they ended that streak … by missing out altogether and one worries about the future with a quarterback who can’t seem to win a game when it really counts and an offense that is sputtering after a few quality years. Bengals fans can turn to the Reds for some solace, with three World Series crowns during their long spell in the dark, but their baseball team has fallen on hard times itself. At least the city helped elect Donald Trump … cough, cough.


#13 Tennessee Titans

Formerly the Houston Oilers. I considered plopping the Astros and Oilers/Titans together, but that seems unfair to Tennessee, particularly with the playoffs almost beckoning this season and the team that beat them to that spot that new team in Houston (the Texans, for those not paying attention). There is also the fact the Oilers moved on to Tennessee way back in 1997, after 37 years in Houston. The Oilers did win the AFL Championship in both 60 and 61, their first two years in the league (both over the hapless Chargers), and have won absolutely nothing since. They got back to the Championship game in 62, losing to the Dallas Texans, and then finally made it back to the Championship Game (called the Super Bowl by then) as the Titans in 1999, losing to the Rams 23-16 when they were stopped at the half yard line to end the game. There are plenty of playoff losses along the way, a few heartbreaking (see “the comeback” when they were still the Oilers in 1993), but the Titans have fallen on hard times since 2008, failing to win more than 9 games or make the playoffs. 55 years is a long time to go without, but splitting their time between two cities makes it hard to consider them as a top tenner (and luckily the rating system I devised put them just outside it). They have contributed to the pain of Houston over the years and to the city of Memphis since 1997, with the latter yet to win a solitary major sports title.


#10 Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks, like the Buffalo Sabres, came into the NHL in 1970 and have gone their entire expansionist existence without a championship. That does not mean they haven’t had their fair share of success. The team has advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals three times, losing to the New York Islanders in 1982 (swept by a dynasty in progress), the New York Rangers in 1994 (lost in 7 to the Messier-led Rangers) and the Boston Bruins in 2011 (blew a tire and the last 2 games to lose in 7). In the last decade, the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kessler, and Kevin Bieksa formed a good-but-never-great core that won the Presidents’ Trophy back-to-back in 2010-11 and 2011-12. They have won three division titles in the Smythe Division (between 1974 to 1993) and seven in the Northwest Division (1998 to 2013). That team peaked with the 4-3 loss to the underdog Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, capped by goalie Roberto Luongo’s whining about Tim Thomas, his Boston counterpart, not returning his love after spending “all series pumping his tires” and promptly letting in a number of soft goals while losing games 6 and 7 at home.

Since then, the Canucks have been back to the playoffs three times in five years but have failed to get out of the first round as the core of last decade’s team slowly ages away. Last season they were part of an 0-fer for the entire country of Canada eliminated before the NHL playoffs began and this season they currently have the third lowest points total in the Western Conference. Vancouver fans can turn to their much more successful Canadian football league team, the BC Lions, who have won the Grey Cup six times (most recently in 2011 – a good year for the city). Hockey is a pretty cyclical sport, so maybe the Canucks will be back in the running soon. At least they can look forward to never having Donald Trump as their president…


What’s next?

Next week, we cover the worst of the worst, the número último, the fans for which suffering isn’t just something that happens; it’s a core part of their very identity. Next up: Buffalo to Atlanta

About The Author

Richard has published over 25 academic essays, hundreds of articles in the popular press on movies, music, sports and politics, and three books, Hollywood's Exploited (Palgrave, 2010), Educating the Global Citizen (Bentham, 2011) and The Selling of Bohemia (RJV Books, 2015). He earned a PhD in cultural studies and education from UCLA and a masters in economics from SDSU. He is a rabid sports fan who roots for Arsenal, the NY Jets and Dallas Cowboys (he knows, he knows), the Yankees and the Celtics.

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