Friday, July 18, 2008

Cursed Cities

In an effort to fill up programming, ESPN has come up with a “Titletown” segment on SportsCenter. (This would be a follow-up to the groundbreaking feature, “What is the greatest highlight of all time?”) Look, maybe these segments are well-produced, maybe they are entertaining for local fans, maybe they’ll settle some long-standing argument, but my immediate reaction to these segments is to change the channel.

Of course, we have to assume these types of segments will continue since ESPN always has a void of programming at certain times of the year. What features will we see in the future?

Vote for the greatest SportsCenter catchphrase of all time.
Vote for the player with the greatest mustache of all time.
Vote for what ESPN should have done with its NHL commentators after ESPN stopped carrying NHL games.

And inevitably all the “Vote for the Best” contests will be flipped to “Vote for the Worst” contests. And the logical conclusion is that instead of “Titletown”, in three summers people will be asked to choose the most “Cursed” sports city. So what is the most cursed sports town in America? Let’s look at the contenders:

Side Notes
1) I’m only counting NBA, MLB, and NFL titles. (Sorry to fans of the NHL, Arena Football League, Major League Soccer, WNBA, ect.)

2) I’m grouping all the LA teams, all the New York/New Jersey teams, all the SF/Oakland teams, all the Wisconsin teams, Memphis and Nashville, Tampa Bay and Orlando, and all the teams in the North Carolina triangle into various conglomerations. Obviously, this may not fully represent how some set of fans are scorned, but that’s life. I have to make some simplifications. So if you live in LA and have chosen to be a Clippers fan instead of a Lakers fan, well that’s your own fault.

3) I’m only going to count NFL titles since the first Super Bowl.

4) If a team left your city permanently, you vacate the joy of winning that title. I.e., Seattle can now claim that they’ve never had a world champion in a pro sport. Why does this make sense? Of course it doesn’t, but it makes my life easier. Also, I figure the pain of losing the team outweighs any past joy.

5) But if a team only leaves for a few years (See Cleveland Browns, Charlotte Bobcats, Oakland Raiders), I give the city credit for suffering in those intervening years.

So who are the most “Cursed” fans of all time?

Well, of the 92 franchises in the three pro sports, 40 have never won a world championship in their current city. In fact, 10 cities have never won a world championship. These are:

Two Pro Teams
San Diego
New Orleans
NC Triangle (aka Charlotte)

One Pro Team
Salt Lake City
Oklahoma City

This list is a little misleading, because it includes a lot of cities that have only had teams for a short time. (Oklahoma City is about to have a team for the first time.) A better metric might be the average number of years without a title for each team in a city:

1) Cleveland: The Cavs, Browns, and Indians have each spent over 3 decades without winning a title.
2) Buffalo: They’ve had an NFL team since the early days, and yet they have never won a Super Bowl with 4 straight painful defeats in the 90’s.
3) San Diego: Whether it is because of poor hitting (Padres) or Norv Turner (Chargers), the San Diego teams always have an excuse.
4) Chicago: The Cubs 100 year drought raises the average for the city. The other three teams have had plenty of success.
5) Philadelphia: The Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers have had plenty of good teams in the last 25 years, but no titles.
6) Atlanta: When expansion teams win titles, the Hawks and Falcons must curse. In basically 4 decades, they’ve done nothing. Thank goodness for the Braves title in the 90s or this city would really be cursed.
7) Seattle: With the Sonics leaving, the city is faced with the reality that the Mariners and Seahawks have failed for three decades.
8) Portland: Hey does everyone remember when Portland won the title in 1977?
9) Kansas City: At least the Royals and Chiefs have each won a world championship. Too bad they were 22 and 38 years ago.
10) Cincinnati narrowly edges the Wisconsin teams for the final spot in my top 10.

Of course, this average may not be an adequate reflection of suffering. Yes, Cubs fans haven’t seen a pennant in 100 years, but at least college graduates in Chicago were able to enjoy the Bulls run when they were young. And they could have chosen to enjoy the White Sox World Series title too. The real question is when has a city last won a world championship title of any kind? (Now I’m going to exclude cities with only one pro team and cities that have never won a title of any kind.)

1) Cleveland hasn’t won a title since the Indians won in 1948. The end. Case closed. Imagine if you were born in 1949. Imagine you’ve purchased season tickets to the Cavs, Browns, and Indians since the 70s. You probably hate everyone.

2) Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since the 76ers won in 1983. You could be graduating from graduate school and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

3) Kansas City hasn’t won a title since the Royals won in 1985. You could be graduating from college and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

4) Cincinnati hasn’t won a title since the Reds won in 1990. You could be graduating from high school and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

5) Minnesota hasn’t won a title since the Twins won in 1991. And unlike Kansas City and Cincinnati, Minnesota has had a pro team in all three major sports for that whole time.

Of course, if you grew up in Cleveland and Cincinnati, there’s a good chance you started rooting for the Ohio St. Buckeyes and have celebrated a BCS football title as recently as 2003. Similarly, a substantial number of people who live in Kansas City are Jayhawks fans and just saw their team win the Final Four. How would this list look if we exclude teams that have recent college titles for local teams?

1) Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since Villanova won in 1985. And Temple got dropped from the Big East in football.

2) Minnesota hasn’t won a title since the Twins won in 1991.

3) Seattle hasn’t won a title since the University of Washington won in 1992.

4) Toronto hasn’t won a title since the Blue Jays won in 1993. (I’m not sure if I should count a Canadian team because there aren’t any NCAA college teams for comparison, but I’ll list them for now.)

5) The San Francisco / Oakland area hasn’t won a title since the 49ers won in 1995.

Of course if you want to try to split the area into the SF side of the bay and the Oakland side, the Oakland side hasn’t won a title since the A’s won in 1989. I don’t quite buy that though because the Raiders moved to LA in the 80’s. Thus I’m guessing if you grew up on the Oakland side of the bay in the 1990’s, there’s a substantial chance you became a fan of Jerry Rice and the 49ers during this time period, and you would have been cheering for the 49ers in 1995. But, if you grew up a Raider fan, always hated the 49ers, then I guess you can move yourself up to second on this list.

Of course, this really leads to the obvious conclusion that any fan may have suffered even more than a city may suggest. Let’s say you hate baseball and live in Atlanta. Or let’s say you hate the White Sox, love the Cubs, hate the NBA and NFL, and have a strange rooting interest in Northwestern basketball. Well, then you’ve suffered a lot. The moral of the story is that a lot of fans are cursed.

And as for the people in Boston (recent titles for all 3 teams), St. Louis (Rams and Cardinals titles), and San Antonio residents who are University of Texas alumni, excuse me if the rest of us change the channel during your obnoxious “Titletown” segment.