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.)


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


Los Angeles Clippers
303-461 (.397), one playoff appearance
The Clippers had one winning season during the decade. One. It was in 2005-06 back when Elton Brand was an All-Star and Sam Cassell could still lead a team. Otherwise, the franchise has been completely pathetic. Elgin Baylor proved to be a far better player than general manager. He struggled in the draft, picking Darius Miles, Chris Wilcox, Melvin Ely, Shaun Livingston, and Yaroslav Korolev in the first round. Mike Dunleavy utilized that ’06 run to the Western Conference Semis to (somehow) convince owner Donald Sterling that he deserved an extension and a promotion, eventually replacing Baylor as a GM. Last summer, when it looked like the Clippers were on the verge of putting together an Elton Brand/Baron Davis duo, Brand pulled a 180 and signed with the Sixers. Then they win the #1 pick and the right to draft Blake Griffin, and the rookie goes down with a knee injury. For a multitude of reasons – ineptitude and bad luck, first and foremost – the Clippers just couldn’t win in the ‘00s. — John Paulsen

DIShonorable Mention:

New York Knicks
308-457 (.402), two playoff appearances
The Knicks actually had a pretty good team early in the decade; Jeff Van Gundy led the 2000-01 Knicks to their 14th-straight playoff appearance, but over the next eight seasons, the franchise would only make the postseason once (in 2003-04), in part because it made the disastrous mistake of hiring Isiah Thomas as its general manager. Zeke could draft, but he had zero trade sense and was routinely abused by other GMs. Given the fact that the Knicks had by far the biggest payroll during the ‘00s, their propensity for losing is inexcusable. Inexcusable. — John Paulsen


New York Mets
815-803 (.504), two postseason appearances
No team in baseball has given its fans so much hope, only to let them down. The organization is the consummate tease, leaving its fans with a Major League case of blue balls season after unsatisfied season. Even with one of the largest payrolls in the game and numerous All Stars on their roster, lesser teams consistently spoil their efforts. To think, their decade started out on a relatively high note. After capturing the NL wild card in 2000, they beat the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals en route to the World Series against the New York Yankees. Although the Mets lost in five games, fans anticipated good things down the line. Nope. The Mets failed to make the playoffs the next five seasons, dealing with the uninspired play of acquired players (Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar), the toll on their farm system, a battle over team ownership, and the decline of franchise player Mike Piazza. Undeterred, the Mets had a marvelous 2006 under new GM Omar Minaya and new manager Willie Randolph. Nevertheless, despite boasting six All Stars (Carlos Beltran, Paul Lo Duca, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and newcomers David Wright and Jose Reyes), they once again cracked under pressure in the playoffs, surrendering Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals. In both 2008 and 2009, they would be eliminated from playoff contention by the Florida Marlins in the season’s final game. This last season, 20 of their players were injured, combining for 1,480 days on the disabled list. The home opener at their new, beautiful ballpark must have been a sign of things to come. In front of a packed house filled with diehard fans, the Mets lost to the San Diego Padres. Now that is truly sad. – Christopher Glotfelty

DIShonorable Mention:

Pittsburgh Pirates
681-936 (.421), zero postseason appearances
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a 17-year losing streak, a record in professional sports. That’s the only record they broke this past decade. If Robert Nutting isn’t one of the most selfish owners in baseball, then he is undoubtedly one of the most incompetent. Of course, he’s simply following the protocol established by previous owner Kevin McClatchy: ship out your young players coming up on big contracts. Aramis Ramirez, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, and Nyjer Morgan all spent time and excelled in Pittsburgh. Yet, none completed more than five seasons before being traded. Under McClatchy and Nutting, the Pirates have become a glorified farm team instead of the decorated champions they once were. Pirates enthusiasts can’t attend a home game and expect to watch their favorite players – they might be gone. Instead, they arrive at PNC Park to either take in some sun, admire the opposition, or grab a Primanti Brothers sandwich. These are the fans that came up with the idea of having no expectations. That commands respect. If you see a person on the street wearing Pittsburgh Pirates paraphernalia, give them a hug. They are humility personified. — Christopher Glotfelty

Photos from fOTOGLIF

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