The Cleveland Cavaliers have finally conquered the ghosts of 1964. Which city takes up the mantle of longest suffering?

A look at the top ten longest combined-season sports droughts in North America.

Last Sunday LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers capped off the greatest postseason comeback in NBA history and simultaneously lifted Northeast Ohio into a state of joy from which they have yet to descend. Finally, the narrative changed: 52-year championship drought? Old news. Longest run without a title? Not us. Of course then the logical question is, which city/region now holds the unfortunate distinction of the longest running streak of sports misery? More importantly, what’s the best way to measure it?

The topic of a drought is surprisingly difficult to define. On the one hand, you could argue that Cincinnati has been waiting 26 years since the Reds last won the World Series in 1990. While true, I feel it is unfair to only count cities that have previously won a championship. The Jazz have called Salt Lake City home since 1979 and never hoisted Larry O’Brien’s trophy. I would therefore argue they have a 37-year drought that dates back to their relocation from New Orleans. The best way to judge, the true equalizer, is how many seasons have passed since a club’s most recent championship or inaugural season in a city. I emphasize the last point because relocation muddies the waters.

For example, Montreal has not won a championship since the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993. While the hockey club has seen 23 seasons pass since that glorious moment, the city also endured twelve years of championship-less play from the Montreal Expos who left in 2005. While Nos Amours no longer call Quebec home, since the title-less seasons took place since the most recent parade we are going to count them; the sum brings Montreal’s drought to 35 seasons.

Notes: We are only talking about the Big Four North American leagues – Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, and National Hockey League. I love soccer and college sports are fun, but they are in different strata. I am going to count the 1994 Major League Baseball season in all calculations. Even though the players’ strike canceled the World Series that year, more than half of the season was played and we are talking about seasons without a championship. I will also count the 2005-06 NHL season even though a lockout canceled the entire season; the stupidity and headaches surrounding that lost season buttress every long-suffering hockey town’s angst. Lastly, we are talking about completed seasons since the last title. So even though the Broncos won the Super Bowl four months ago, Denver’s count is two because the Nuggets and Avalanche did not win a title in 2016. Can you dig it? Let’s begin.

#10 Vancouver – 52

(Grizzlies – 6 seasons, Canucks – 46)

We begin our list north of the border. Vancouver is a beautiful city full of wonderful people, great food, and a bridge that you have to see to believe. The town's sporting scene is not so bright. On the hardwood the Grizzlies called the Rain City home from 1995-96 to 2000-01. The club failed to qualify for the playoffs, and money troubles forced a relocation to Memphis at the turn of the century. The city’s true passion is hockey. The Canucks regularly sell out their games and the fanbase is nothing short of rabid. The Vancouver Canucks have never won an NHL title, but reached the Cup Finals in 1982, 1994, and 2011. The third time appeared to be the charm as the ’11 Canucks led the Stanley Cup Finals 3-2, but dropped Games 6 and 7 to the Boston Bruins, the latter of which came at home. Vancouver needs to work on handling its emotions as fans rioted after elimination in 1994 and 2011. The city continues waiting for that first elusive title.

#9 Houston – 58

(Astros – 21 seasons, Rockets – 21, Oilers/Texans – 16)

The Energy City has had a rough go since the Houston Rockets won the 1995 NBA title. The Oilers left the city for Tennessee in 1997. The new football club, the Houston Texans, has not been able to get past the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Astros managed a World Series appearance in 2005, but received a curse-breaking smack down from the Chicago White Sox in the Fall Classic. After that success they began rebuilding to the point they challenged the question, “How little can you spend on a professional baseball team?” The ‘Stros made the playoffs last season, but have struggled a bit in 2016. Those same Rockets reached the 2015 Western Conference Finals, but barely managed an eight seed this past season. Also, the city seems plagued by bad timing and worse luck between a World Series sweep, Yao Ming’s injuries, Dwight Howard’s apathy, and Derek Carr’s unprecedented sackability. The clubs have been competitive, but none have done enough to host a parade.

#8 Phoenix – 59

(Diamondbacks – 14 seasons, Suns – 15, Coyotes – 15, Cardinals – 15)

In 2001, the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks rode dominant starting pitching and timely hitting to the desert’s first championship. Since then the D-Backs have toiled away in NL West obscurity, overlooked in the San Francisco Giants’ formidable shadow. The Suns’ fabulous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense created a wildly entertaining on-court presentation, but the Suns could not escape the Western Conference Finals during Steve Nash’s tenure. For some reason Arizona’s capitol has a hockey team which reached the Western Conference Finals in 2012, but could advance no further. The Arizona Cardinals, led by 79-year-old Kurt Warner, reached the Super Bowl in 2008, but fell to a toe-dragging Pittsburgh Steelers team. The Cards advanced to the NFC Championship in 2015, but fell victim to an overwhelming Panther attack. No one can dispute that Phoenix has enjoyed contending seasons in the heat, but still a second title escapes them.

#7 Toronto – 66

(Blue Jays – 22 seasons, Raptors – 21, Maple Leafs – 23)

Oh, Canada. The biggest city in our lovable neighbor to The North experienced a beautiful sports moment in 1993 when Joe Carter hit a World Series winning home run. Joe touched them all, surely not realizing it might be the last title for a while. The Blue Jays immediately fell into obscurity in a comedically competitive AL East. A full twenty-two years passed between Carter’s bomb and the Jays' next playoff appearance in 2015. They fell victim to a Kansas City Royals club who were clearly on a mission from God. In 1995 the NBA added the Toronto Raptors to the scene which proves dinosaurs were, are, and always will be cool. The Raps’ best playoff run recently ended at the hands of the team who would later become WORLD BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD. *cough* Those two clubs, however, are mere psalms in light of the full-scale religion which is Maple Leafs hockey. The Leafs, an Original Six member, have not hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since 1966-67 which, you may notice, was a long time ago. In 2013 Toronto choked away an unforgivable game to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals giving up a 4-1 third period advantage before losing in overtime. The Leafs missed the playoffs the three subsequent years, bottoming out in 2016. There is hope in T-Dot, but not a trophy in sight.

#6 Atlanta – 74

(Braves – 20 seasons, Hawks – 21, Falcons – 21, Thrashers – 12)

Atlanta’s clubs have not tasted champagne since 1995 when the Atlanta Braves won the World Series over the [REDACTED]. The Bravos regularly made the playoffs in the 1990s, winning NL pennants in 1996 and 1999 as part of a fourteen-season playoff streak. Times have changed in Turner Field, where the tenants are now by the far the worst team in the National League. On the court, the Hawks endured years of poor play before a recent Budenholzer Renaissance. ATL reached the Conference Finals in 2015, but the Cleveland Cavaliers promptly swept them away. A rematch in 2016 showed the Hawks to be equally ineffectual in the face of a team so beloved by the basketball gods. The Atlanta Falcons did their best to pick up the torch in 1998, when they secured a Super Bowl berth only to faceplant in the presence of John Elway’s uncomfortably large teeth. Michael Vick offered hope to a longing fanbase, but a dogfighting scandal ended his run as Atlanta’s football favorite. Lastly, the city hosted the Thrashers Hockey Club for twelve seasons after the ’95 Series. Due to dwindling attendance the team left for Winnipeg, where hockey is popular. There is great uncertainty in Atlanta as to who might host a parade next, though I’m willing to bet it won’t be the Braves.

#5 Washington DC - 87

(Nationals – 11 seasons, Wizards – 26, football – 24, Capitals – 26)

In recent memory the District’s sports teams have been as ineffectual as the elected officials who work there (Topical burn! (Pun!)). You would have to go back to 1991 for the city’s last Big Win, when the DC enjoyed a Super Bowl victory. Since then bad trades, bad ownership, bad games, and bad luck have kept the Burgundy and Gold in the football doghouse. The basketball scene has not been much better. The Washington Wizards (nee Bullets) have not reached the conference finals since 1979, though the club did employ Michael Jordan for two seasons around the turn of the century. Remember how weird that was? The Capitals make a habit of remarkable regular season play followed by devastating playoff losses, the worst of which may have been in 2010 when the top-seeded Caps blew a 3-1 series lead to the eight-seed Montreal Canadiens. Not even a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998 could save the city’s hopes. The best news on the DC beat may have come in 2005 when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington. Early struggles led to strong rosters and postseason appearances. With a loaded team, including reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, the Nats likely represent the Capital’s best bet.  

#4 Milwaukee – 90

(Brewers – 45 seasons, Bucks – 45)

Milwaukee is one of the most overlooked cities in the country. Not as large as Chicago or prestigious as Cleveland it is often lost in the Midwest shuffle. There is no mistaking their place on this list - right near the top. You would have to turn the clock back to 1971 for the last Milwaukee winner – Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks. That year the club earned its only NBA title. While they returned to the mountaintop in 1974, it was nothing doing against the Boston Celtics. The Deer have not won a playoff series since 2001. The Brewers enjoy one of the best ballparks in the country and get to listen to a top ten all-time broadcaster in Bob Eucker. That is generally where their accolades end. The Brew Crew won the AL Pennant in 1982, but dropped a brutal seven-game series to the St. Louis Cardinals. Since that year Milwaukee has qualified for the playoffs only twice – 2008 (an NLDS exit) and 2011 (an NLCS departure). Both teams are in a full-scale rebuild so the trudge through the sports desert shows no signs of stopping. Note: I appreciate that the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 title renders most of this illogical for Wisconsinites, but as it is a separate city I will not allow the Green and Gold triumph to pick up the slack for Milwaukee.

#3 Minneapolis-St. Paul - 92

(Twins – 24 seasons, Timberwolves – 25, Vikings – 25, North Stars/Wild – 18)

Twin City residents are some of the hardiest and most dedicated fans in the country. That makes their ninety-two season championship drought an especially bitter pill to swallow. There was once joy in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The 1991 Minnesota Twins won a classic series over the Braves, and proved that pitching wins trophies. Since that triumph the returns have been disappointing in the Metrodome/Target Field. The Twinkies made six postseason trips from 2002-10, but could not get past the ALCS. Un-fun fact: the ballclub has not won a playoff game since 2004 despite qualifying in 2006, 2009, and 2010. Basketball has offered little solace. Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves reached the Western Conference Finals in 2004, but could not overcome the juggernaut Lakers (formerly located in Minneapolis). The team has not even qualified for the postseason since that loss, though with their crop of young talent it is a safe bet that will change soon. Minnesotans love hockey, and were devastated to see the North Stars relocate to Dallas after the 1993 season. In 2000, MSP re-entered the NHL scene with the Wild. Despite expansion struggles, the Wild made a handful of playoff cameos in the past few years, winning their first round series in 2014 and 2015. Then there’s the Minnesota Vikings. In a crowded sports landscape the Norsemen reign supreme. Their torment is the stuff of legend – Gary Anderson’s missed kick in 1998, Brett Favre’s interception in 2009, Blair Walsh’s shank this season. A moment of silence for all the missed opportunities.

#2 Buffalo – 104

(Braves – 8 seasons, Bills – 50, Sabres – 46)

The pain is getting real. Buffalo, Cleveland’s Great Lakes neighbor, now holds the torch as the Midwest’s most tortured and longest suffering sports city. As always, it begins with the Buffalo Bills. In the American Football League days, Buffalo was a powerhouse, winning the 1964 and ’65 AFL Championships. The merger brought struggles, but those gave way to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl berths between 1990-1993. The club would come one Wide Right kick away from a league title in the first appearance followed by a triad of less competitive contests. At the moment the Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999, when they were on the wrong end of the Music City Miracle. Buffalo received a hockey club in 1970, and the Sabres have appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals, most recently in 1999, when a controversial non-call allowed the Dallas Stars to win the Cup in Western New York. Adding to these lost seasons, the NBA also called Buffalo home from 1970-1978. The Braves failed to win the title in those eight years before relocating to the west coast. When you add it all up, it paints the portrait of a city that is more than deserving of a celebration. Maybe Cardale Jones is the answer?

#1 San Diego – 109

(Padres – 47 seasons, Rockets/Clippers – 10, Chargers 52)

We have reached the top of the list, the city that has waited the most seasons to win a championship. Our “winner” is … San Diego? Sports fans might not picture San Diego when they think “longest maligned sports town,” but America’s Finest City makes a compelling case. We begin with the Chargers. Charter members of the AFL, the Bolts won the 1963 league championship, and have not been able to duplicate the feat in the NFL. San Diego appeared in the 1994 Super Bowl, but got trounced by San Francisco 49-26. The Chargers reached the Division Round of the 2013 playoffs, but the bottom fell out last year when they finished with a 4-12 record. To make matters worse, the specter of relocation hangs over the club with stadium uncertainties threatening an exodus to Los Angeles. The scene is not very pleasant at Petco Park either. Major League Baseball expanded to San Diego in 1969 when the Padres joined the NL West.  The Friars reached the 1984 and 1998 World Series, but lost both and are 1-8 in the Fall Classic. The club has not won a playoff series since the ’98 NLCS, and has not even qualified for the playoffs since 2006. The NBA’s Rockets called San Diego home from 1967-71 before jetting east to Houston. Basketball gave it a second try when the Clippers relocated to SD from 1978-84. They would eventually abandon San Diego for Los Angeles. Expectations are subdued for the Chargers in 2016, and the Padres are currently in dead last in the NL West. While there is little athletic hope in San Diego, it’s likely that the high today is 75 and sunny so that’s something.

The best thing about this list? Cleveland is not on it. Schadenfreude aside, it’s easy for Ohioans to feel for the cities and fans on this list. We know all too well the feeling of having the universe actively conspiring against your favorite team. As James and the Cavs proved recently, however, every drought ends eventually, and some day one of these teams will see themselves fall off the ignominious list. Until then at least the miserable are in good company. 

Rank City MLB NBA/ABA NFL/AFL NHL Seasons Established Most Recent   Departed Clubs
1 San Diego 47 10 52   109   1963 Chargers *** Rockets 1967-71
Clippers 1978-84
2 Buffalo   8 50 46 104   1965 Bills *** Braves 1970-78
3 MSP 24 25 25 18 92   1991 Twins    
4 Milwaukee 45 45     90   1971 Bucks    
5 Washington DC 11 26 24 26 87   1991 Football    
6 Atlanta 20 21 21 12 74   1995 Braves *** Thrashers 1999-2011
7 Toronto 22 21   23 66   1993 Blue Jays    
8 Phoenix 14 15 15 15 59   2001 Diamondbacks    
9 Houston 21 21 16   58   1995 Rockets    
10 Vancouver   6   46 52 1970-71 Canucks   *** Grizzlies 1995-2001
11 Cincinnati 25   26   51   1990 Reds    
12 New York City 10 12 8 18 48   2011 Giants    
13 Charlotte   26 21   47 1988-89 Hornets      
14 Portland   39     39   1977 Trail Blazers    
15 Salt Lake City   37     37 1979-80 Jazz      
16 Nashville     19 18 37 1997 Titans      
17 Tampa Bay 12   12 12 36   2004 Lightning    
18 Montreal 12     23 35   1993 Canadiens *** Expos 1993-2004
19 Detroit 8 8 8 8 32   2008 Red Wings    
20 Sacramento   31     31 1985-86 Kings      
21 Ottawa       31 31 1992-93 Senators 1927 Stanley Cup *** Senators 1928-34
22 Philadelphia 7 8 8 8 31   2008 Phillies    
23 Indianapolis   21 9   30   2006 Colts    
24 Calgary        27 27   1989 Flames    
25 Orlando   27     27 1989-90 Magic      
26 Edmonton       26 26   1990 Oilers    
27 Winnipeg       22 22 2011-12 Jets 1979 Jets *** Jets 1979-1996
28 Jacksonville     21   21 1995 Jaguars      
29 Dallas 5 5 5 5 20   2011 Mavericks    
30 Columbus       16 16 2000-01 Blue Jackets      
31 Memphis   15     15 2001-02 Grizzlies      
32 New Orleans   8 6   14   2009 Saints    
33 St. Louis 4   5 5 14   2011 Cardinals    
34 Miami 3 3 3 3 12   2013 Heat    
35 Los Angeles 4 4 0 4 12   2014 Kings    
36 Raleigh       10 10   2006 Hurricanes    
37 Boston 2 3 1 3 9   2014 Patriots    
38 Oklahoma City   8     8 2008-09 Thunder      
39 Baltimore 4   3   7   2012 Ravens    
40 Bay Area 2 1 2 1 6   2015 Warriors    
41 Green Bay     5   5   2010 Packers    
42 Chicago 2 1 1 1 5   2015 Blackhawks    
43 Seattle 2   2   4   2013 Seahawks    
44 San Antonio   2     2   2014 Spurs    
45 Denver 0 1 0 1 2   2015 Broncos    
46 Kansas City 0   1   1   2015 Royals    
47 Pittsburgh 0   0 0 0   2016 Penguins    
48 Cleveland 0 0 0   0   2016 Cavaliers    

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