Dysfunction Junction


Photo by ChrisMRichards, Creative Commons

A fan attending game four of the NHL 2007 Western Conference Final Series, is seen holding up a sign showing his displeasure towards Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen, who finished the 2006-07 season with a record of 3-13.

Most know about the dynasties in professional sports such as the Detroit Red Wings, who appeared in 25 straight playoff series from 1990-2015, the New York Yankees, who have 27 World Series championships, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics who have 34 NBA titles combined, and the New England Patriots who won six Super Bowls from 2002-2019. 

These legendary teams will live in eternity for their greatness, but what about teams who haven’t fared well in their history like the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Cubs, Charlotte Hornets and Buffalo Sabres?

How does a team go 108 years without winning a World Series? How does a team go an entire season without winning a football game? How does a team finish a (shortened) season with a .106 winning percentage? Was this a result of bad management or front office? How about lack of talent? All of these are certainly possibilities. 

For the Chicago Cubs, the ownership was more focused on profits the team made instead of creating a winning culture. Due to the fact that the Cubs were one of the oldest teams in the MLB as well as being in one of the biggest cities in the United States, the possibilities of financial gain were endless.

This was true up until 1981 when William Wrigley, owner of the Cubs at the time, sold the team to the Chicago Tribune after losing well over $1.7 million dollars in years prior. From 1981-2009, the Tribune didn’t do a much better job using their money. After the Cubs organization filed for bankruptcy, the team was later sold to Tom Ricketts in 2009.

Similarly to the Cubs, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, haven’t had their fair share of luck when it comes to management. Like the Cubs, the Browns have both a long and miserable history dating back to 1950.

After starting the 1995 season 4-5, Browns owner Art Modell announced that he signed a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Modell felt the city of Cleveland did not have the funding nor political will to build a first-class stadium.

Cleveland didn’t have an NFL franchise for three seasons until the Browns returned in the 1999 season. Instead of staying in Cleveland, playing in a run-down stadium, the Browns ownership thought it was a better idea to leave the city and the fanbase in favor of Baltimore.

In 2017 the Browns added to their list of horrible achievements when they became only the second team in NFL history to finish a season with a record of 0-16. The other team? None other than the Detroit Lions in 2008. 

The interesting thing with the Lions is that they’ve had the talent with Hall of Fame players like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, but their ownership just hasn’t been able to successfully put the right pieces around these superstars. This ultimately led to early retirements from both Sanders and Johnson after finding very little success in Detroit. In 61 seasons, the Lions have only appeared in the playoffs a total of 12 times.

Both the Lions and the Browns are two of four teams to have never played in a Super Bowl, even with their long histories. With numerous first-round pick failures over the years, the Browns are finally starting to put the right pieces together after making the playoffs and winning their first playoff game since 2003. As for the Lions, they are in yet another rebuild stage after trading their greatest quarterback in franchise history, Matthew Stafford, to the Rams in 2021.

The Charlotte Hornets have also had terrible ownership throughout their franchise history. When you think of Michael Jordan, you think of his accomplishments as a player, and rightfully so. Back when the Charlotte franchise was known as the Bobcats, Jordan bought a majority share of the team in 2010, becoming a 97 percent controlling owner in the franchise. He controlled almost every aspect of the team, and the moves he has made as an owner has yet to pay off.

Over the past 11 years, the picks, trades and acquisitions Jordan has made have been some of the worst by any team. Since 2010, Charlotte has drafted players like Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over current All-Star players like Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Damian Lillard.

Not only did MJ miss on these draft picks, but he also traded away players like Tobias Harris, Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, and Emeka Okafor in the years prior to the 2011 season. These decisions are a testament as to why the Hornets have only made the playoffs 10 times out of their past 31 seasons.

The worst “accomplishment” under Michael Jordan has to be their pathetic 2012 season. In a shortened 2012 season, he had to watch his team finish with a .106 winning percentage and a 7-59 record. Yes, that’s seven wins in one NBA season.

While there aren’t many teams on the level of the Cubs, Browns, Lions and Hornets in the NHL, the team that comes the closest would have to be the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have already been eliminated from playoff contention and will miss the playoffs for the 10th straight season, tying the NHL record (Edmonton from 2006-16 and Florida from 2001-11). If the Sabers finish the season with the worst record in the NHL, it’ll be the fourth time in eight years that they’ve done so.

According to the Niagara Gazette, there are currently 10 players on the Sabers’ roster who were drafted in the top 10 of the NHL draft, which is more than any other team in the league. Buffalo has had this much young explosive talent, and they still can’t find a way to win.

The Sabers have only advanced to the Stanley Cup twice, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and the Dallas Stars in 1999. The Sabres are one of 11 teams to have never won a championship, and it doesn’t look like that’ll change any time soon. 

One last point and possible reason for why some teams were/are so consistently bad is the idea of the mysterious CURSE. 

In 1919, the Boston Red Sox made one of the worst decisions in pro sports history and sold “The Great Bambino,” Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Before this controversial decision, the Red Sox won five of the first 15 World Series in MLB history, Ruth being a part of three. After being sold to New York, the Yankees went on to win four with Ruth.

Throughout 84 seasons after the Ruth sale, the Red Sox made it to the World Series just four times (1946, 1967, 1975 & 1986), losing every single one in the seventh game of the series. This long and excruciating curse of the Bambino lasted up until 2004 when the Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the AL Championship Series and swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years.

Curses seem to be a recurring theme or excuse in the sport of baseball. Like the Red Sox, the Cubs went through a long and painful curse of their own.

The Chicago Cubs were actually once a very successful team. From 1876 to 1945, The Cubbies had a 5,475-4,324 record with 51 winning seasons, 16 first-place finishes and 16 pennants to go along with two World Series wins and six championship titles in that span.

After winning their first NL pennant in 1906, they did the exact same thing in 1907 along with winning their first World Series. They repeated in 1908 and won their second World Series title for the last time in many years to come. 

In 1945, the Cubs faced the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. After the Cubs went up 2-1 in the series, a local Chicago saloon owner, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, and his goat, Murphy tried to attend game four. Sianis purchased two tickets with the expectation that he and his good luck charm, Murphy, would be able to attend. 

After arriving at the gate, Sianis and his goat were stopped and told that no animals were allowed to enter into the stadium. After disputing with the ticket clerk, Sianis said the now infamous statement, “The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field” as the legend says. Crazy enough, the Cubs lost game four and the last few games of the World Series. 

Throughout the rest of Billy Goat’s life the Cubs would finish each season at 5th place or lower over the 20 years following the incident. From 1946 to 2003, the Cubs had a 4250-4874 record, with only 15 winning seasons, 3 first place finishes, only four postseason appearances (1984, 1989, 1998, 2003), no pennants and no World Series wins. 

After 108 years, the curse was finally lifted, when the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series during the 2016 season. 

Were these actually curses or just theories from superstitious sports fans? No one may ever know but what sports fans around the country do know is that there are only a select few teams that will forever be known as the worst team in their respective sport.