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Decade Debate: Saddest Franchises

The “informal” defnition of sad is “pathetically inadequate or unfashionable.” In sports, a sad franchise is one that has failed repeatedly to have any type of sustainable success. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, we chose the saddest franchise for the NFL, NBA and MLB, along with a DIShonorable mention. The criteria is simple: perennial failure. (Bonus points if the team has an out of control payroll and still loses.)

NFL

Detroit Lions
42-116 (.269), zero playoff apperances
Lion fans have been suffering a slow death since 2001. That was the year that William Clay Ford, Sr. made the worst hire in the history of mankind, appointing Matt Millen as the team’s GM and president. With Millen steering the ship, the franchise sank to the bottom of NFL purgatory and hasn’t been seen since. The misery started early in the decade when they became the only team in NFL history not to win on the road for three consecutive seasons (2001-2003). The streak of 24 games finally ended with a 20-16 win over the Bears in September of 2004, but by that time the Lions already had ownership of the horrendous record. Of course, the road steak would have been fine if it were the worst thing that the Lions owned this decade. But in 2008, the team did the unthinkable by becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL history. The only good thing that came out of their 0-16 losing streak was that Millen was finally fired, but the damage was already done. Over Millen’s seven seasons as the team’s GM and president, the Lions owned the NFL’s worst winning percentage at 31-81 (.277). They had just one winning season this decade (2001, one year before Millen’s tenure), have had seven different head coaches and one 0-16 season. Perhaps what’s worse than the 0-16 season, the road streak and all the head coaching changes, is that Millen left the team so devoid of talent that they once again had to rebuild from nothing this past offseason. A monkey could have crapped in his hand and threw it against a wall and picked out better prospects this past decade than Millen did. (Let’s hold a moment of silence for fans that actually bought Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Kevin Jones and Mike Williams jerseys over the years.) Good luck pointing out a group of fans that have suffered more this decade than Lions fans. It’s shocking they’re not extinct by now. – Anthony Stalter

DIShonorable Mention:

Cleveland Browns
55-103 (.348), one playoff appearance
When it comes to the NFL, nobody touches the Lions as the saddest franchise this past decade, but the Browns come damn close. In 2000, Cleveland finished with a 3-13 record, but that’s not what infuriated fans the most. It was the fact that the Baltimore Ravens (the former Cleveland Browns) won the Super Bowl that year. Imagine rooting for a team for several years and seeing it get to the Super Bowl, yet as a completely different franchise. Talk about a kick to the marbles. Two years later in 2002, the Browns finished with a 9-7 record and made the postseason under head coach Butch Davis. But in the first round, they blew a 33-21 lead in under six minutes to lose to the Steelers, 36-33. It would be the last time the Browns would make the playoffs this decade, even though they finished with a 10-6 record in 2007 (they missed the postseason because of tie breakers). What’s worse, being a Lion fan and having zero expectations year after year, or being a Browns fan and seeing whatever little expectations you have crushed like a bug under a boot? – Anthony Stalter

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Decade Debate: 10 Biggest Betrayals

To betray is to “be disloyal to one’s country, organization, or ideology by acting in the interests of an enemy.” In the world of sports, a betrayal can refer to any number of things: a beloved star choosing to play for a bitter rival, someone who breaks the public’s trust or even a head coach who lies to his boss about where his loyalties lie. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, we chose the ten biggest betrayals of the last ten years. (By the way, we’re focused on sports business related betrayals only, so Tiger Woods, Mike Vick and Roger Clemens are safe. For now.)

10. NHL cancels the 2004-05 season.

After failing for months to come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL finally canceled the 2004-05 season in February of ’05. The dispute between the owners and the NHLPA covered a number of issues, but the biggest was the owners’ proposal of a salary cap that was tied to league revenues, similar to the NBA salary cap. The NHLPA rejected every offer that included a salary cap and the season had to be canceled. A majority of fans blamed the players due to their out-of-control salaries and unwillingness to accept a cap, which is something that both the NBA and NFL – two very successful leagues — have in different forms. Finally, in the summer of 2005, the players association ratified an agreement (which – surprise, surprise — included a salary cap tied to league revenue) and the lockout ended after 310 days. It marks the only time that a North American professional sports league ever canceled and entire season over a labor dispute. In the end, the NHLPA’s stubbornness was fruitless; the owners got their salary cap and the fans got screwed out of year of hockey. Way to go, guys. – John Paulsen

9. Damon skips Bean Town for the Big Apple.

There are some things in life that are just wrong. One is watching any of the “Twilight” movies alone as a single man. Another is flossing in public. Wearing sandals with a nice pair of slacks is also a terrible idea. Regardless of your opinion of these faux pas, we can all agree that a player jumping ship from the Red Sox to the Yankees (or vice versa) is a huge no-no. Babe Ruth never wanted to leave – he was sold. But guys like former Red Sox manger Ed Barrow (took over as Yankees GM), Wade Boggs, and Johnny Damon – they had a choice. Only one season removed from helping the BoSox capture their first World Series since 1918, Damon signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Bronx Bombers. The Red Sox Nation cried “foul,” but Damon claimed his former team didn’t push further than their initial four-year, $40 million offer. Nevertheless, the fans felt slighted. Damon had flourished in Boston, racking up career numbers and gaining celebrity status. He hit the memorable leadoff homerun in Game 4 of the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The blast was all the Red Sox needed to extinguish the curse. (They would go on to win the game 3-0 and the World Series in a sweep.) But he was gone, ready to face the chorus of boos from former fans, and prepped to win a championship in pinstripes four years later. In the end, a t-shirt I saw at a Fenway Park merchant’s booth said it all. A crude picture of Damon adorned the front: “Looks like Jesus, throws like Mary.” – Christopher Glotfelty

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Decade Debate: 10 Pivotal MLB Trades

There have been countless trades this past decade in the MLB, with some obviously more significant than others. But what were the most pivotal deals of the past 10 years? As part of our Decade Debate series, here are 10 trades in the past decade that turned out to be pivotal for one or both of the clubs involved. Keep in mind that the trades didn’t have to be blockbuster in order to be pivotal. So if you’re wondering why you see the Mets’ acquisition of Johan Santana in the honorable mention section, don’t forget that New York has yet to even make a playoff appearance since that trade.

10. Red Sox trade “No-mah.”

While many Boston fans were sad to see Nomar Garciaparra traded to the Cubs as part of a four-team deal that sent Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to the BoSox, they can’t deny that the deal worked out in the end. Thanks to the contributions of Cabrera and Mientkiewicz during the year, the Red Sox went on to win the 2004 World Series – their first in 86 years. A groin injury derailed Nomar’s days in Chicago, although he did wind up getting a World Series ring for his half season in Boston. It was well-deserved recognition for a player that had meant a lot to the Red Sox organization.

9. Brewers land CC.

Did the Brewers win a World Series after unloading prospects Matt LaPorta, Zach Johnson, Rob Bryson and Michael Brantley for CC Sabathia in 2008? No, but that hardly takes away from Sabathia’s value that season. He virtually lifted Milwaukee into the postseason almost single-handily that year by posting an 11-2 record with a 2.70 EA. Granted, he was rocked for five runs in only 3.2 innings by the Phillies in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS, but the fact that he finished sixth in the NL MVP award voting that year proves how much he meant to Milwaukee.

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Decade Debate: 10 Biggest Upsets

The term upset is simply defined as “an unexpected defeat,” but in sports it can mean so much more. For the favorite, it’s about the pressure that comes with heightened expectations. For the underdog, it’s about using those expectations as motivation. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here is a list of the ten biggest upsets of the last ten years. Remember, the magnitude of the stage is just as important as the perceived disparity between the two parties involved, so extra points are given to upsets that occurred in the postseason or in a title game.

10. Federer beats Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon

By 2001, the sports world had begun to question Pete Sampras’ ability as a dominant tennis player. The man was just 29 years old and the owner of 13 Grand Slam titles, but critics predicted an oncoming collapse. Since winning the Australian Open in 1997, Pistol Pete’s Grand Slam championships curiously only came at Wimbledon. In fact, Sampras had captured all but one Wimbledon championship since his first appearance in 1993. Naturally, if he was a sure bet anywhere, it was at the All England Club. While most will remember this time period as the declining stage of Sampras’ career, it also marked the beginning of Roger Federer’s success as a professional. After winning the Wimbledon juniors in 1998, Federer was often viewed as the likely heir to Sampras’ throne. Still, nobody expected the 19 year-old and the Grand Slam record holder to clash at Wimbledon in 2001. Furthermore, if they did happen to meet, Federer wasn’t supposed to win. Making his Centre Court debut, Federer defeated Sampras 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, thereby snapping Sampras’ 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon. Sure, it was only a fourth round match, but it symbolized so much more. This is one of the greatest upsets of the decade not simply because Sampras was favored, but because of everything that followed. Sampras would retire in two years and Federer would eventually live up to those wild expectations. And forget about Sampras getting any revenge – the two would never again face each other on the professional level. – Christopher Glotfelty

9. Edmonton upsets Detroit in 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Detroit was a heavy favorite in the quarterfinals, as the top-seeded Red Wings were coming off a terrific 124-point regular season in which they captured the President’s Trophy. Meanwhile, the Oilers squeaked into the playoffs as an #8-seed after a 95-point regular season. The Red Wings won Game 1 in Detroit, but dropped Game 2. The two teams also split the next two games in Edmonton. The Oilers then closed out the series winning Game 5 in Detroit and Game 6 at home, both by one-goal margins. The series featured two double-overtime games (Game 1 & Game 6) and all six games were decided by two goals or less. – John Paulsen

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Decade Debate: 8 Greatest Comebacks

The word comeback is defined as “a return to a former position or condition (as of success or prosperity).” In the world of sports it refers to the act of wrenching victory from the jaws of defeat. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here are the top eight comebacks of the last ten years. Keep in mind that, to us, the actual size of the comeback isn’t quite as important as the size of the stage. In other words, the “greatest” comebacks happened in big games.

8. Capriati over Hingis at 2002 Australian Open

Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis led very similar careers. Both set several “youngest-ever” records before a combination of drug charges and nagging injuries challenged their potential. While Hingis chose to bow out at the height of her turmoil, Capriati soldiered onward. In 1994, Capriati was busted for marijuana possession. After a feeble return to the game, she retreated for 15 months. But never say die. By February of 1996, she finally meant business. Over the next two years, Capriati would earn three Grand Slam championships, blossoming into a dominant player during a particularly competitive era in women’s tennis. Of those wins, her match against Martina Hingis in the 2002 Australian Open final is a shoe-in for any list of ultimate comebacks. Down 6-4, 4-0, Capriati miraculously saved four match points, a Grand Slam record. The merciless sun blaring, Capriati kept fighting and fighting. As her opponent wavered, Capriati capitalized, eventually winning the match 4–6, 7–6, 6–2. – Christopher Glotfelty

7. Kings over Red Wings in 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs

This was a great series comeback as well (Detroit led, 2-0), but the Kings’ rally in Game 4 was one for the ages. Trailing in the series, 2-1, and down 3-0 with just six minutes to play in the third period, the 7th-seeded Kings didn’t look long for the playoffs. But goals by Scott Thomas and Jozef Stumpel trimmed the Red Wings’ lead to one, and Bryan Smolinski’s game-tying goal with 0:53 remaining sent the Staples Center into a frenzy and the game into overtime. There, the rookie Eric Belanger capped off the “Stunner at Staples” with the game-winning goal. The Kings went on to win the series, 4-2. – John Paulsen

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