What are qualities of a successful sports franchise? A proud history. Strong leadership. Great players. Loyal fans. A shrewd owner. A bright future. Well, the teams on this list lack almost all of them. Here are our picks for the 10 worst franchises in the four major North American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL).
In 43 years of existence, the Bengals have enjoyed just 12 winning seasons, including two in the past 20 years. They've never won the Super Bowl, falling twice to the 49ers in the '80s. The Bengals clawed their way to a playoff appearance last season but it'll take a lot more than that to turn this franchise around for good.
When the struggling Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996, they changed their name but didn't escape their troubles. Like the Jets, the Coyotes have been playoff failures, never advancing past the first round. And just like small-market Winnipeg, Phoenix hasn't been able to support the team financially. The NHL secretly took over the team's operations in 2008 and bought the franchise the next year from its bankrupt owner. Any takers?
If an organization is only as good as its leader, the Raiders are an interesting case study. Their legendary owner Al Davis — who died in 2011 — spent decades instilling a rebellious, hard-charging, "Just Win, Baby" mentality into a franchise that won 13 division championships and three Super Bowls from 1967-85. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. But as Davis grew more imperious and impatient, the team reflected his personality. In the last decade, Oakland has lost almost twice as many games as they've won.
Like the Raiders, the Pirates can hang their hats on history. They've won five World Series titles thanks to Pittsburgh legends like Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. But try telling that to the members of the next high school graduating class in Pittsburgh, who have spent their entire lives watching a bad hometown team.
When the Cardinals won three playoff games en route to the NFC title in 2008, that surpassed their total number of postseason wins in the six previous decades combined. Under their longtime owners, the Bidwell family, ineptitude has followed the franchise from Chicago to St. Louis to the Phoenix suburbs. They've had three winning seasons since moving to Arizona in 1988, two with Kurt Warner at quarterback in 2008 and 2009. Fast forward a few years and the Cardinals are still struggling to find their long-term answer at quarterback.
The T-Wolves have been around 23 years and have had exactly one great player. Kevin Garnett's prodigious talents propped up the franchise for a decade, but even with him they only got past the first round of the playoffs once, in 2004. After trading Garnett to the Celtics for a lot of nothing, Minnesota has done a fair amount of losing over the past five seasons. The arrival of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio teased fans with the hope of what could be, but the two young talents have been hampered by injuries and haven't been able to play extended stretches together.
Fans of a certain age can remember the glory years of the Lions, who were once an NFL powerhouse. Unfortunately, that age is around 80. Detroit hasn't been any good since winning its fourth NFL title in 1957, thanks to thrifty owners, bad drafts and dumb trades. They've never made the Super Bowl but they did make history in 2008 by becoming the first NFL team to finish a season 0-16.
New Orleans Hornets
Not even a name change to the New Orleans Pelicans can disguise the fact that the former Hornets have an abysmal record when it comes to just about anything. The franchise relocated to New Orleans after a number of unproductive years in Charlotte (and don't worry, we will get to the current Charlotte-based NBA team), wasted Chris Paul's Hornets' tenure and now have 2012's No. 1 pick Anthony Davis (pictured) in their clutches. If history repeats itself, the future doesn't look too good for the Pelicans.
Every team is entitled to a bad century and the Cubs have had theirs — and then some. They haven't won a championship in 102 years, the longest title drought of any major North American professional sports team. The Cubs and Boston Red Sox used to be lumped together as baseball's lovable losers, but the Sox have found it's a lot more fun to win. And it's not so cute when you spend a ton of money on players and still fail miserably, as Chicago has done lately.
The Charlotte Bobcats have become synonymous with futility. Since being founded in 2004 the Bobcats have managed to become a perennial disappointment in every significant NBA category despite drafting in the lottery 8 out of 9 possible years.