Sunday, 16 December 2012

Hamilton's Place Among Sports' Most Futile

The Ti-Cats have been one of the least successful franchises in pro sports over the past four decades.
As we all wait breathlessly for the Ti-Cats to announce Kent Austin as their new general manager and head coach, I figured we could touch on the reason why Austin will be the sixth different head coach to lead the Ti-Cats since the turn of the century: Hamilton's Grey Cup drought.

While not the longest in the league – Winnipeg hasn't hoisted the Cup since 1990 – it is one of the longest in team history and the Ti-Cats have won the Grey Cup just three times since the 1972, have played for the championship just five more times during that span and have missed the playoffs 12 times during that time.

So in the last 40 years, Tiger-Cat fans have been able to cheer for their team in a championship game, on average, once every eight years, would get to witness a parade once every 13 years, but would not get to enjoy playoff football once every three years. So where does that put the Ti-Cats in the pantheon of the truly futile franchises? Here is a list of some of the most futile teams in the five major North American sports leagues.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Championship: 1990)
Might as well start with the aforementioned Blue Bombers since their success and failure can be measure equally with the Ti-Cats. Tiger-Cat fans often point out that no matter how bad they are, at least people in their mid-teens can remember when the Ti-Cats last won a championship. The same cannot be said of Bomber fans. It's been 22 long seasons since the Blue Bombers last one the Cup, so one would think that they would be the hardest done-by team in the league. But since the win in 1990, Winnipeg has played in five Grey Cups and missed the playoffs eight times. Going back further than that and stretching things to the 1972 date I used as the cutoff for the Cats, Winnipeg has won three Grey Cups (just like the Cats), appeared in five more (just like the Cats) and have missed the playoffs 11 times (one fewer than the Cats). So aside from Cup drought of nine extra years, the Cats and Bombers are actually pretty even when it comes to futility.

Chicago Cubs (Last Championship: 1908)
The poster boys for championship droughts, the Cubs have not won a World Series, as everyone knows, since 1908. They haven't made the World Series since 1945 (yes, the same year World War II ended) and have made the playoffs just six times since then. It was, and is, much harder to make the playoffs in Major League Baseball than the CFL, but to make the playoffs just six times in over 60 years is tough for anyone to handle.

Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Championship: 1967)
The poster boys in Canada for championship droughts, the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since Canada celebrated their centennial in 1967. They haven't played for one since then either and have missed the playoffs 16 times since Hamilton last won the Grey Cup won the Grey Cup in 1972. The Leafs are in the midst of their longest playoff-less drought in team history, at seven years (they haven't made the playoffs since the season before the previous NHL lockout), so that skews things a tad bit.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Last Championship: 1979)
The Pirates, who haven't won a championship in over three decades, are also currently in the midst of the longest under-.500 stretch in professional sports history. The Pirates have not have a .500 or better record since they last made the playoffs in 1992. Do the math; that's 18 consecutive seasons of under-.500 baseball for the Bucs. The Pirates haven't played in a World Series since they last won one and have just seven playoff appearances since 1972. The Pirates nearly broke both their under-.500 streak and their playoff-less streak this year, but they fell short of both goals as they trailed off at the end of the season after a hot start. Pirate fans must be wondering if they'll ever see playoff baseball in the steel city ever again.

Detroit Lions (Last Championship: 1957)
It's tough cheering for the Detroit Lions. The Lions have made the playoffs just 15 times in their existence, and a mere nine times over the past 40 years. They are one of just four current teams to have never played in a Super Bowl and have won just one playoff game in the Super Bowl era (1991). The Lions also have the ignominy of being the only 0-16 team in NFL history. They wasted the talents of one of the best running backs to ever play the game (Barry Sanders) and just last year the team snapped an 11-year playoff-less drought. The Curse of Bobby Layne remains.

Cincinnati Bengals (Last Championship: Never)
Ah, the Bengals. A team so bad that fans took to calling them the Bungles. After a decent run in the 1980s that saw them make two Super Bowl appearances, losing both times to the San Francisco 49ers, the Bengals went without a playoff appearance for a decade and a half. They were a wild card team in 1990 and then didn't return to the playoffs again until they won their division in 2005. The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl nor did they win any championships prior to the Super Bowl era. Nine playoff appearances and the aforementioned two Super Bowl appearances since 1972 is hardly anything to write home about.

Los Angeles Clippers (Last Championship: Never)
The Clippers, who were formed in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, have zero championships, zero championship appearances, have made the playoffs just eight times in franchise history and have been unfathomably bad over the course of their existence. They have been so bad that you wouldn't believe it if you didn't see it. They have been out of the first round of the playoffs just three times in their history. Three series wins in 42 seasons of basketball. I guess lucky for those Angelenos, they have the Lakers and their 16 championships to console them. And let's be honest, no one is a Clippers fan. They are currently building a very good team around youngsters Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but we all know this team will bengal bungle it up at some point. It's the Clipper way.

Cleveland (Cavaliers, Browns, Indians) (Last Championship: 1964)
It seems as if the the teams in the city of Cleveland are almost deathly allergic to winning. There have been spurts of greatness in Cleveland, most recently when LeBron James played for the Cavs, but it has been 144 combined seasons between the Cavs, Browns and Indians since the Browns won Cleveland's last title in 1964. That number will stretch to 146 after the Browns and Cavs fail to make the postseason in their current seasons. The Browns have made the playoffs just once since their 1999 rebirth and have just 10 playoff appearances in the last 40 years. The Indians haven't won a championship since 1948, have made the World Series just twice since then and have a mere seven playoff appearances since 1972 (all of them since 1995). Then we have the Cavs, whose high-water mark was their lone NBA Finals appearance in 2007. They have 12 playoff series wins, with eight of them coming during the LeBron James era (2003-2010), and 22 playoff-less seasons since 1972. There can't be any worse place to be a sports fan than in Cleveland.

So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, naming your city's team after a jungle cat doesn't work out all too well. But seriously, it is hard to judge from sport to sport and league to league – for instance, 75 per cent of CFL teams make the playoffs, whereas now just 33 per cent of MLB teams make the postseason – but Tiger-Cat fans are not the only fans out there that have dealt with failure and mediocrity more often than not over the last four decades.

The last 40 years of mostly no glory have been tough for Tiger-Cat fans to swallow, but they aren't alone. In the CFL itself, the Cats have some company in the form of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The two team have almost identical success rates over the past 40 years. The Bombers have had better luck recently, but over the last four decades, the two teams have been remarkably similar. Draw your own conclusions about the other teams, but Winnipeg fans and Hamilton fans have a lot in common when it comes to their respective teams.

Maybe the probable hiring of Kent Austin will reverse Hamilton's fortunes, but even if it doesn't, Tiger-Cat fans have plenty of company aboard the misery train.


  1. Chicago Cubs Goat16 December 2012 at 10:04

    Don't make it any tougher on Leaf fans than it already is.

    Missing the playoffs 16 times in the last 13 years is pretty rough!!!

    1. Oops! Thanks for spotting that. My bad.