The misery fandex: Who’s got it worst?

  1. The misery fandex: Who’s got it worst?
  2. Misery fandex: Not even the best at losing
  3. Misery fandex: Who suffers most?

By: Richard Van Heertum

Since the turn of the new century, a host of long suffering fans have finally found salvation. Cleveland, of course, led the list of cities without a title, going 52 long years sans a crown until LeBron’s Cavaliers pulled off a startling come-from-behind victory over one of the best basketball teams in history. A few months later, the Cubs gave a long overdue gift to their maligned fans, winning a World Series after a mere 108 years in the abyss. A couple of weeks ago, Seattle fans finally got a title for their beloved MLS Sounders, though that might not quite make up for the loss of the Supersonics and the (many, many, many) losses of the Mariners. Of course, they do have the Seahawks to fall back on. In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 49-year streak of early fishing trips, and have since won two more. And going back to the early post-Y2K days, we can add the Boston Red Sox finally banishing the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, only 14 years short of their own century of shame. In many cases, the teams had to come back from big deficits either in the championship series (Cavaliers down 3-1 to the Warriors; the Cubs down 3-1 to the Indians) or the division championship (Boston came back from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees – the only time that deficit has been overcome in the history of baseball).

The question

So, given the end of two long streaks of ineptitude this year, an interesting question emerges – who takes over the title of Most Miserable Sports Fans in America?

The misery fandex

ESPN decided a few years ago to try to quantify the suffering of particular cities with the Sports Misery Index, and I see no reason to try to reinvent that wheel, but I would like to look at fans of specific teams and their level of pain. Rather than simply calculating years without a title, however, I’d like to dig a little deeper, considering variables like the number of times they have gotten to the big game and failed, whether they are perennial losers nowhere near the playoffs, the number of “curse like” plays the fans can point to, a weather factor and whether those fans can root for another team in their city who do succeed on a more regular basis.

While it’s more complex than just years without a title, any measure of fan suffering has to start from that base, so let’s look at a short table of the teams with the longest current streaks without a title:

Team League Last Title Slump
Arizona Cardinals+ NFL 1947 69 Years
Cleveland Indians MLB 1948 68 Years
Sacramento Kings+ NBA 1951 65 Years
Detroit Lions NFL 1957 59 Years
Atlanta Hawks+ NBA 1958 58 Years
Philadelphia Eagles NFL 1960 56 Years
Texas Rangers MLB Never 55 Years
Tennessee TitansA+ NFL 1961 55 Years
Houston Astros MLB Never 55 Years
Minnesota Vikings NFL Never 55 Years
San Diego ChargersA NFL 1963 53 Years
Buffalo BillsA NFL 1965 51 Years
Atlanta Falcons NFL Never 50 Years
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 1967 49 Years
St. Louis Blues NHL Never 48 Years
Cleveland Browns* NFL 1964 48 Years
Cincinnati Bengals NFL Never 47 Years
Milwaukee Brewers MLB Never 47 Years
New York Jets NFL 1969 47 Years
Phoenix Suns NBA Never 47 Years
Washington Nationals MLB Never 47 Years
Kansas City Chiefs NFL 1970 46 Years
Los Angeles Clippers NBA Never 47 Years
Vancouver Canucks NHL Never 45 Years
Buffalo Sabres NBA Never 45 Years

* Did not exist between 1996 and 1999 (when Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore as the Ravens), so those years are deducted from the total.
+ 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 main problem with a simple ranking like this is that it does not take into account the degree of suffering; not all title-less seasons are equally painful. Thus, I decided to include a few more variables that provide more detail. These are, of course, subjective choices and do encompass the same danger as any attempt to quantify the quality of suffering. At least the stakes aren’t nearly as high as in the cases of trying to create moral equivalencies or measure who has suffered more in very real traumatic circumstances. In any case, though many will disagree, I am going to weigh years where the team is better as more negative than those where fans quickly realize that their hopes are dashed for that season. One could argue consistent mediocrity is more painful than quashed hope, but I think the shock of failure after hope has been ignited hurts more. Repeated failure, even more so.

The math of misery

Given this, I am going to credit every title-less season with one point in the rankings as our baseline. On top of that, making it to the final game of the season (the championship game or series) will be awarded 5 additional points, bowing out in the penultimate series will be awarded 3, losing in the playoffs earlier than that 2 additional points, and just missing out on the playoffs gets 1 extra point (each season is only credited for the furthest advance to avoid double-counting). I am also going to add 3 points for every heartbreak of note – the bad calls or chokes that most fans can and do remember with relative ease. To take the Cubs as an example, one can look at the Bartmann game, the three blown leads in the NLCS, and the like. I am going to subtract 2 points for every year that one of the other major sports teams in that city wins a title – realizing that this might not salve fans who in fact hate rival teams or are indifferent to that other sport. And, finally, I’m going to include a weather factor of +10 to -10, figuring it is more painful to sit in a frozen stadium and watch your team lose (domes and arena sports are counted as a neutral 0). To give the formula some robustness, I am going to include all these variables, though I imagine there will be plenty of debate on my formula.

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

Given the time-consuming nature of going through this for any given team, I’m simply going to rate the 25 teams who have the longest streaks, though anyone can obviously spend the time to use the same formula for any other team to add them to the debate. The Sabres and Canucks entered the NHL the same year, so I ended up with 26 teams in total. I have also decided, after calculating my results, to provide a short narrative analysis for each of the teams on the list, combining teams when they are in close proximity geographically.

Up next: Miserable fanbases 26-14

Or: San Diego through Vancouver

Editor’s note: The original version of this article included 18 teams rather than the expanded 26. This egregious wrong has been righted.

Note: Photo credit John, on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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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