When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last week, fans in the City of Brotherly Love happily shed one of their more undesired designations.
With the first title by a pro team in the city in 25 years, no longer would they be considered the most long-suffering, the most hard-luck or the most anguished.
So which fan base now takes over that “crown”? Who will carry their pain like a badge of honor, pining for the day when the years of losing will make way for championship glory?
The District, in theory, could take over as the most long-suffering city with no championships among the four major sports teams since the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in 1992. In the last 16 years, only the Capitals have come close to a title, though the fans’ pain has been tempered by four titles for soccer’s D.C. United and the arrival of the Nationals to the city for the 2005 season.
Minneapolis-St. Paul has waited even longer than the District; its last title came when the Twins won the World Series in 1991.
“Thank God for the Twins,” said Ross Bernstein, the author of several books about sports in Minnesota. “They won in ‘87 and in ‘91 but other than that …”
Indeed, the NFL’s Vikings have been giving fans ulcers for years, losing in four of the first 11 Super Bowls and missing out on another trip after going 15-1 in 1998. The Timberwolves have never made it to the NBA Finals, and neither NHL‘s Wild nor their predecessors, the North Stars, have won a Stanley Cup.
“It’s been really frustrating,” Bernstein said. “You have year after year of this horrible futility. It really affects everyone’s quality of life.”
Minnesota and the District may have the longest droughts among cities with franchises in the four major sports. But what about Kansas City, where fans have faithfully supported the Chiefs despite no playoff wins since 1993 and just a single Super Bowl win almost 39 years ago? The Royals, meanwhile, last won a World Series in 1985 and have had just one winning season in the last 15 years. Efforts by the city to lure an NHL or NBA franchise with a new downtown arena have flopped.
Consider also the agony of those in Cincinnati, who have seen no titles since the Reds won the World Series in 1990. In the last 18 years, the Reds have won just a single playoff series, and the NFL’s Bengals have had one winning season and no playoff victories.
The city of Seattle also could stake a claim in the suffering sweepstakes. The Seahawks have never won the Super Bowl, and the NBA’s SuperSonics, who can boast of the city’s only title in 1979, moved to Oklahoma City this season. The Mariners, meanwhile, have never reached the World Series in their 32-year history, even after winning a record-tying 116 games in 2001.
And then there’s Buffalo, where fans watched the Bills lose four straight Super Bowls and whose hockey team, the Sabres, hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in its 38-year history.
Perhaps no other fan base, however, has suffered as much as the one in Cleveland. The Ohio city has no NHL team, but it has been 44 years since the storied Browns won the last of their NFL championships. Since then, baseball’s Indians and the NBA’s Cavaliers also have gone without titles. Browns fans will point to recent losing seasons and the absence of a team from 1996 to 1998, as well as heartbreaking losses to the Denver Broncos in the 1986 and 1987 AFC Championship games. The Indians, meanwhile, endured losses in the World Series in 1995 and 1997.
“It’s a badge of courage, but it’s not a source of pride, and we don’t revel in it,” said Mark “Munch” Bishop, a host on WKNR-AM, a sports talk radio station in Cleveland. “I am noticing now a hostility, an anger, even a downright frustration, where fans are saying, ‘Enough already.’”
Fans in Cleveland do have a reason to be excited about the Cavaliers. The emergence of local hero LeBron James has helped the team emerge as one of the best in the Eastern Conference, but there is genuine fear he will sign elsewhere before bringing home an NBA title.
“The majority of people think he’s gone, and you know why? Because it’s Cleveland,” Bishop said with resignation. “Of course he’s gone.”
Suffering, however, is not limited to those with championship droughts.
It may be difficult to sympathize with fans in Dallas, where the Cowboys have won five Super Bowls and the NHL’s Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999. But the Cowboys have not won a playoff series in 11 years, and baseball’s Texas Rangers have never won a playoff series since moving from the District in 1972. Meanwhile, the Mavericks, while perennial contenders recently, have never won an NBA title and have just one finals appearance in their 28 seasons.
Fans in Atlanta seemingly would have no right to complain after the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005. But the city has not seen a championship since the Braves’ World Series win in 1995. The NFL’s Falcons have reached just one Super Bowl in their 42-year history, and the NBA’s Hawks last won a title in 1958, when the team was in St. Louis. The NHL’s Thrashers, meanwhile, were swept in their first and only playoff appearance in 2007.
Consider also the recent suffering of fans in California’s Bay Area. It has been almost 14 years since the 49ers last won the Super Bowl, and the team is headed for its sixth consecutive losing season. The Oakland Raiders are on their way to an identical streak. On the baseball side, the Giants, who have never won the World Series since moving from New York in 1958, came agonizingly close in 2002. The Athletics reached the playoffs five times between 2000 and 2006 with just a single series win to show for it. Meanwhile, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks have never reached the Stanley Cup Finals, while the NBA’s Golden State Warriors last won a title in 1975.
So is there a point to all this suffering? For the patient and true, perhaps.
“If the Vikings were to win the Super Bowl, the reaction would be like Barack Obama becoming president,” Bernstein said. “I would weep. I really would.”