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From heartache to headscratchers, the most tortured fan bases in sports

October 20, 2017
Cleveland Browns v Jacksonville Jaguars 12-1-2013

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There are two months until Christmas but probably many, many, many more days, weeks, months, years and perhaps decades (but hopefully not centuries) before fans of certain teams will be able to celebrate a championship.

There are several pro sports played during late autumn and winter and for fans of some teams, those seasons can be as cold and dreary as the weather because their clubs seem to subsist on a steady diet of disappointment. So with the autumn and upcoming winter in mind, here are the unlucky NFL, NBA and NHL fan bases that have been tortured the most by never winning a championship, and sometimes never even reaching the championship game over the past 50 or more years.

Buffalo Bills: After starting out in 1960 and winning two AFL titles, the Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991-94 – the only team to ever do so -- yet lost them all, including SB XXV when they missed a last-second 47-yard field goal that would have won the game (which right now might be best recalled for Whitney Houston’s national anthem). Not only have the Bills not been back to the Super Bowl since those four losses, the Bills haven’t even reached the playoffs this century.

And if that isn’t rough enough on Buffalo fans, they also have to shovel a lot of snow each winter.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Yes, Toronto has won 13 Stanley Cups but those all were way back in the day when there were only six NHL teams. The NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967-68, which is when the Leafs stopped raising the Cup. Toronto hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup final for 50 years, the longest drought of the now 31 NHL teams. They also have reached the playoffs only twice in the past 12 years. But at least Maple Leaf fans can go to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where they can see the Stanley Cup — and wonder when their players will lift it on the ice again.

Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Joel Auerbach

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings played in four of the first 11 Super Bowls – the most of any team at that time -- but lost them all. And they haven’t been back in 40 years. They even missed it after going 15-1 in 1998 only to lose the NFC championship game to the Falcons in January 1999, a defeat which echoed some of the lyrics from Prince’s hit song “1999’’:

The sky was all purple

There were people runnin’ everywhere

Tryin’ to run from the destruction

You know I didn’t even care

Well, other Minnesotans cared. Not that it has made any difference considering their painful playoff losses with the Brett Favre interception in 2010 and the missed, last-second 27-yard field goal in a 2016 game played in below-zero temperatures.

Detroit Lions: Sure, the Lions won four NFL championships but those titles were way before the league started the Super Bowl. The Lions haven’t won a conference championship in 60 years, have never played in a Super Bowl and also are 1-12 in postseason games the past six decades. Also, the Detroit metro area has hosted two Super Bowls so they’ve been forced to watch other fans celebrate a title.

Philadelphia Eagles: Like the Lions and Browns, the Eagles won championships before the Super Bowl era started, with the last one in 1960. They haven’t won a title since then and have lost two Super Bowls. How bad has it been for Philly fans? They infamously booed Santa Claus and pelted him with more than 100 snowballs in 1968. So Santa may not have a championship on their Christmas wish list.

St. Louis Blues: St. Louis joined the NHL in the 1967-68 expansion and amazingly, reached the Stanley Cup final that same season. And the next season as well. And the season after that. But the Blues did not win any of those three. And they haven’t been back to the Finals since for a drought of 47 years. So perhaps it was a good choice naming them the Blues.

Sacramento Kings: They started out in Rochester as the Royals, winning the NBA title in 1951. Then they moved to Cincinnati in 1957. Then they moved to Kansas City/Omaha in 1972 and became the Kings. And finally they moved to Sacramento in 1985. Not that it’s been fun for those Sacramento fans. The Kings have never been to the finals – that 1951 title was the last for the franchise -- and have had 11 consecutive losing seasons.

Here’s hoping they don’t move again. Like these other teams have.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are one of the NFL’s oldest teams, dating back to 1920 when they played in Chicago, where they won two championships. Then they moved to St. Louis in 1960 but never played in the Super Bowl there. They moved to Phoenix in 1988 – this will be their 30th season in Arizona – and made the Super Bowl in the 2008 season but lost. Not that Phoenix hasn’t gone through longer droughts.

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Phoenix Suns: The Suns is a good name since Phoenix is a great place in the winter with much warmer temperatures than, say, Buffalo or Minnesota. But while they have reached the playoffs 29 times, the team hasn’t won a championship yet, losing in the finals in 1976 and 1993. They also haven’t reached the playoffs the past seven years (can Steve Nash – or Charles Barkley -- come out of retirement?). Oh well, if the Suns don’t win it in this, their 50th season, at least during the winter their fans won’t have to shovel snow off their driveway.

Oh, and Atlanta fans know what these droughts are like as well.

Atlanta Falcons: After 51 seasons without a championship, it looked as if the Falcons were going to finally win a Super Bowl last February. Hey, they led the Patriots 28-3 in the third quarter! And then they gave up 31 unanswered points, including six in overtime, to lose and extend their championship drought. OK, rather than dwell on that game, here is another Atlanta drought.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks started out in Buffalo in 1946 but quickly departed for Moline, Illinois where they joined the NBA in 1949. They moved to Milwaukee in 1951 and then St. Louis in 1955, where they won a championship in 1961. They moved to Atlanta in 1968 and have not made the finals there yet. But perhaps the Hawks will get there in this, their 50th season in Atlanta. And if so, hopefully they won’t blow a 25-point lead in Game 7 and lose the championship in overtime.

Cincinnati Bengals: Another team entering its 50th season without a championship, the Bengals not only have lost the only two Super Bowls they played – both to the 49ers and both in the 1980s -- they have lost their past eight playoff games. But at least they have been in the playoffs five of the past six seasons, which is more than their Ohio rivals can say.

Cleveland Browns: While the Browns won several championships in the NFL’s pre-Super Bowl days, they have never reached the Super Bowl since it started. They lost the conference championship a heartbreaking five times, including twice to Denver thanks to “The Drive” in 1986 and “The Fumble” in 1987. The Owner Who Shall Not Be Named took the players to Baltimore in 1996, leaving Cleveland fans without a team for three years, making this technically their 50th season since a title. They got an expansion club in 1999 but those Browns haven’t even been to the playoffs in the past 15 years.

Hmmm. Is it possible to have LeBron James quarterback this team?

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers

Rob Tringali/Sportschrome

(San Diego) now Los Angeles Chargers: San Diego fans welcomed the Chargers way back in 1960. They watched them for over 56 seasons but saw them reach the Super Bowl only once -- in SB XXIX, when they got whipped 49-26. And then the team moved to Los Angeles this year. So, yes, officially, San Diego is no longer a city with an NFL team. But LA is just 121 miles from San Diego, so fans can still go to their games. Given how clogged and slow Southern Cal traffic can be, driving up to see them play might take as much time as winning a championship.

As other fan bases know all too well how long that can be.

(Note: The Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers have gone 56 years without winning a championship but since they have only been in Tennessee 20 years and actually made it to the Super Bowl their third season there -- but lost -- they aren’t on the list yet.)