Friday’s column about Level 1 losses and tortured fan bases generated a ton of feedback. In this installment, readers weigh in with reasons why their teams should NOT have been omitted from the “15 Most Tortured” list. For more letters about the top 15 teams, click here.
THE CASE FOR THE SAINTS
The Saints are like a guy playing blackjack in Vegas. He’s playing $20 a hand, and he’s down to his final $40. He’s already been to the ATM and withdrawn the max $200, and it’s 4 a.m. so he can’t get there for another 20 hours. And this guy has had the crap kicked out of him. He is dealt 8-8 with the dealer showing 9, so he splits. On the first hand he hits an 8. Frantically, he gets his buddy to cover him to split. Another 8 comes out, so his buddy covers him again. A fourth 8 comes out, so now the wife, who is wondering why her husband is at the table at 4 a.m. with a flight in four hours isn’t in bed, covers, albeit very angrily. A 3 comes out, so the wife covers the double down. Then a 9, a 10, and a 3. Wife is out of money, so in desperation, the guy gets another player to stake him, with the watch his kids gave him for Christmas as collateral, which is worth more than the $20 bet but it’s 4 a.m. After the two double-downs play out the guy is sitting on hands of 17, 17, 18, 18 against a dealer’s 9. If the down card is a face, he’s watch-less, into his friend for $40, and has a wife who is more than peeved. That’s NOLA this year.
They’ve been hit by Katrina, they’ve been screwed by FEMA, they have put all their hopes and eggs and stars onto the one thing in their city that represented goodness, the Saints, a team that never has won, never made a Super Bowl, had a coach who traded a boatload of picks for a rookie running back, had fans who
wore paper bags for years, and whose best player is a Manning. They’re suddenly in it for $120, a marriage, and a watch, on a single hand. If the Saints win, I don’t think that the city of New Orleans will return to its former self. But everyone will walk a little taller and be a little happier. A sports team can inspire people. If they lose and this magic wagon they hitched a ride on crashes, well, you’ll have your tortured city. And then some.
— Bob Oei, Pasadena, Calif.
THE CASE FOR THE PIRATES
Yes, I recognize that it has been only 30 years since our last championship, not 35, and the recent success of the Steelers and Penguins may lessen the empathy that others have, but please consider this: Prior to 1980 the Pirates were unquestionably one of the greatest baseball franchises. They played in the first World Series, have won five titles, and have more Hall of Famers than 27 other teams. Since the 1979 title, we went through the drug years of the early and mid-’80s, before reaching the NLCS three years in a row — losing all three.
In the ’91 NLCS the Pirates held a 3-2 series lead before getting shut out the final two games at home. The ’92 NLCS was the infamous Francisco Cabrera Game 7, which effectively murdered the franchise. That game, and that inning, does not get enough respect. In addition to blowing a two-run lead, it included an error by our second baseman (who won the Gold Glove that year), the final run scored by a former member of the team (who was a paraplegic at the time), the final hit made by a man who went into the witness protection program soon after, and the weak throw made by Barry Bonds (who would never wear a Pirates uniform again). Since that day we have endured 17 consecutive losing seasons — a PROFESSIONAL SPORTS FRANCHISE RECORD. What makes it worse is that, in baseball’s current economic climate we will never be good. I would trade places with any of the 15 franchises on your list.
I sympathize with Vikings fans who have been kicked in the groin. But Pirates fans were castrated 17 years ago.
— Colin White, Pittsburgh
THE CASE FOR THE CANUCKS
You forgot to mention the 1993-94 Canucks. Having grown up in Vancouver, the city has always been about the Canucks (just ask the Grizzlies). On a deeply, deeply personal level, that Game 7 loss against the Rangers in the most epic Stanley Cup Finals EVER meant more to this city than anything else, even amongst the memories of broken windows and flag-burning on Robson Street. Using your criteria, here’s why:
1. The Canucks have been in existence since 1970, making 2010 their 40th anniversary. In that sense they qualify, even though they lack any sort of unifying identity. My Crayola box has fewer colors than the ones the Canucks have used in their history.
2. The Canucks have never relocated and never will. The fan base here is as good as any.
3. If that ’94 finals wasn’t bad enough (in Pat Quinn’s words, “We played seven games and were better in four of them”), how about the complete decimation of the roster in the late ’90s and 2000s? Trevor Linden, the city’s most popular figure, was traded. Brian Burke drove Pavel Bure out of town. Mike Keenan destroyed the franchise and signed arch-nemesis Mark Messier, who did absolutely nothing to solidify his status as a franchise player. Then the WCE line toyed with our hearts a couple times before constantly choking (up 3-1 in the series before falling to Minnesota then losing last year against Chicago).
4. Vancouver. It rains.
5. Hockey doesn’t get any respect, but for those who understand the game the 1994 Cup finals was probably the best ever. Even today, guys on that team don’t ever talk about that series. Pat Quinn was on the verge of tears when local media member Barry Davidson asked him about it. Trevor Linden still hasn’t opened up about it. Neither has Kirk McLean. The heart and souls of all Vancouverites (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) were all crushed and what better photo than the Linden/McLean one to describe the whole ordeal? And the worst part? Always having to hear about how great the series was, how the Rangers ended their Cup drought, that smirk on Ironhead Keenan’s face with that Cup, how it was great for hockey in Manhattan.
Wow, this got my blood boiling.
— Jason, Antigonish, Nova Scotia
THE CASE FOR THE CHARGERS
Last Title: 1963 AFL Championship.
Last Truly Devastating Defeat: 2010 AFC playoffs to the Jets.
Rock Bottom: Ryan Leaf.
Mitigating Factor: The Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984.
Additional Thoughts: The Holy Roller, The Freezer Bowl, Super Bowl XXIX, ’04 playoff loss to the Jets (Kaeding misses 40-yarder in OT after Marty runs LT into the line three times after effortlessly getting to the 22-yard line), ’06 playoff loss to the Pats (Kaeding misses again, Drayton Florence unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Marlon McCree fumbles after interception, the corpse of Reche Caldwell has a big game for the Pats).
The weather’s good, but not that good.
— Taek Chang, Culver City, Calif.
THE CASE FOR THE BREWERS
Last title: Never.
Last truly devastating defeat: Game 2, 2008 NLDS versus Phillies. CC Sabathia, the guy who carried the Brewers on his gigantic back (and gut) in August and September, gives up a grand slam to Shane Victorino and only goes 3 2/3 innings in his last start before going to the Yankees.
Rock Bottom 1: In the mid-’90s to the early ’00s, small-market teams such as the Brewers get worse and worse. The guy making the rules was Bud Selig THE BREWERS’ OWNER!!!!!!!
Rock Bottom 2: In the height of the steroids era, how many Brewers were listed? Zero!!! Nobody has been implicated. The Brewers thought that the being honest in the steroids era would win them something. OUR OWNER WAS THE COMMISSIONER!!!!! WHY DIDN’T HE GIVE THE TEAM POINTERS ON HOW TO BEND THE RULES?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
— Brian, Milwaukee
THE CASE FOR THE SACRAMENTO KINGS
I would like to formally petition for an exception to the Relocation Rule when it comes to the 2002 Western Conference playoffs, because anyone from the Sacramento area can tell you that was a total Level 1 situation. Come on, it’s SACRAMENTO! That city practically screams mediocrity! It’s a valley full of generic cow towns where the most exciting event is a new Costco opening. Even our own governor won’t live here! The Kings are all we have, and we love them despite the fact that it’s damn hard to love them 90 percent of the time.
To make matters worse, we’re constantly surrounded by Lakers fans for no other reason than the fact that the bandwagon makes its way up here. And these Lakers fans aren’t real Lakers fans; they just think the Lakers are cool and trendy, and they see Leonardo DiCaprio sitting courtside so they want to be cool and trendy because let’s face it, Sacramento is anything but. They constantly harass us and taunt Kings fans yet seem to know shockingly little about their own team. It’s also worth mentioning that these are usually the same people who claim they’re going to move to L.A. soon to become an actor/model/whatever and never make it past delivering pizzas.
I was 16 during the 2002 playoffs. I heard my boyfriend from then is now unemployed and trying to become a white rapper and start a record label out of his parent’s garage in the upper-middle class suburb next to Folsom Prison. I would marry him in exchange for a Kings title!
— Abby, San Diego
THE CASE FOR THE JAZZ
The Jazz moved to Utah six years before the Kings moved to Sacramento. I’ve never been to Sacramento, but I can’t imagine that’s a cold-weather location. Utah is cold! The Jazz have also had more close calls and had more pain than the Kings. Jordan pushing Bryon Russell continues to haunt my dreams. We loved Karl Malone, but he always got our hopes up only to give us the sucker punch in the gut. Have you seen Karl Malone? He’s huge! Getting punched in the gut by Karl Malone is painful. We had to watch Greg Ostertag. I’d like to petition you to put us on the list. And those five years in New Orleans should be inherited somehow. We deserve it. We kept the name after all.
— Steve, Salt Lake City
THE CASE FOR THE BLUES
The Blues are snakebitten: 43 years, no championships. We’ve had gut-punch games, including this Game 7, 2OT goal by Steve Yzerman that has been a staple of highlight reels for the last 14 years. After the series, Wayne Gretzky, who wanted to play out his career with Brett Hull, left because Mike Keenan thought badmouthing the greatest player of all time would motivate him. Hull, the best and most popular player in team history, won two championships — including one with hated Detroit — after leaving because management wouldn’t give him a no-trade clause. And the Wal-Mart heirs who owned the team in the Aughts traded Chris Pronger, the best defenseman of a generation, for a bag of hockey pucks when they stripped and sold the franchise.
I understand les Blues don’t rank because approximately 18 people follow them, but as one of them, I’ll tell you it’s been a tortured ride.
— Will, Philadelphia
THE CASE FOR THE EXPOS
You wrote: “Yes, the misery and despair will be worth it some day. Keep the faith.”
There weren’t many of us and we’ve been all but forgotten, but even our Hall of Famers don’t want to be associated with us. The only legacy the Expos left was providing transcendent talent to the rest of the league. Out of curiosity, where would the Expos’ 1994 season rank on the Levels of Losing? Where’s the “Season That Never Happened” Level?
— Jesse, Montreal
THE CASE FOR THE ASTROS
I get it. The Astros are irrelevant to the rest of the country: Stuck in a division with the popular Cubs, a traditional team like the Cards, and even old-school teams like the Reds and Pirates. Not East Coast, not L.A., irrelevant. But consider this: It’s been 48 years since the ‘Stros entered the league and we’ve got zero titles and one pennant to show for it. There was the brutal loss in the 16-inning game against the Mets in the ’86 NLCS (maybe you don’t have to suffer through Buckner if we win that series), the Albert Pujols 700-foot homer off Brad Lidge in ’05 (even though Oswalt bailed us out the next night), and getting swept by the White Sox in the ’05 World Series (I chose better seats in Game 5 instead of crappy ones in Game 4). Sure, we don’t play in cold weather and we may not have had a Level 1 loss (yet), but I feel like we’re primed for one and definitely feel tortured. My dad was 10 in 1962 and feels bad for the stink he’s put on me. And on top of all that, we don’t even crack the top 15 of tortured teams. Brutal.
— Brett, Dallas
THE CASE FOR HOUSTON FOOTBALL
We had Earl Campbell, the best player in the NFL, who killed himself for us and we get nothing. We have the biggest lead blown ever in a playoff game on our record. We had an owner who forced us to destroy our beloved Astrodome scoreboard for more seats, then promptly moved the team anyway and have them go to the Super Bowl a mere three years later (and the poor saps who let their allegiance follow the team to Tennessee got to watch them finish a yard short of forcing overtime).
Do you realize we don’t even get a Wikipedia page? If we want to read about Oilers history we have to go to the Titans’ page. I wanted to buy a friend of mine an Oilers hat for Christmas, and shamefully had to buy it from the Titans Web site as well. How sad is it that we still love a team that moved! It’s like Houston is Favreau in “Swingers” still pining for the girl that left him. Of course the Texans are no Heather Graham, they’re more like the girl at the bar eating olives. We do our best to impress her, but in the end she craps on us.
— Halstead, Frost, Texas
Maybe my team doesn’t count since it involves a relocation and then expansion but in your list of tortured teams you have to include the Houston Oilers/Texans:
The Mike Renfro no-catch call in the 1980 AFC Championship Game.
The choke in Buffalo.
Having our team stripped away but not getting the Cleveland Browns deal.
Post-NFL Earl Campbell.
Our offensive coordinator being attacked by our defensive coordinator in a nationally televised game.
Joe Montana winning a playoff game in Houston as a Chief.
The tease that has become the Houston Texans.
Spending a lifetime living in the shadow of the Cowboys and having to listen to their T-shirt fans.
— Rod McMahan, Houston
THE CASE FOR THE PACERS
Last Title: 1973 (ABA).
Most Recent Devastating Loss: Finals Game 4 (2000) when Bird unconscionably pulled Rik Smits in OT, meaning Shaq didn’t foul out (he had five for awhile), meaning the Lakers won in OT to go up 3-1, making the Pacers’ loss inevitable. That was the year they FINALLY got over the Knicks and into the Finals and they blew a winnable series. Honorable mention: Game 7, Eastern Conference finals, 1998, gut-wrenching series with Reggie heroics outdone only (slightly) by Jordan/Pippen heroics.
Rock Bottom: The brawl, obviously.
Additional Thoughts: How long until the Pacers are good again? Ten years? If we’re lucky.
— Chad Gerson, Indy
THE CASE FOR THE CAPITALS
Last Title: Never.
Last Devastating Defeat: Some might want to list the Pens/Caps Game 7 from last year here (liver punch?), but I would offer for consideration the four-overtime 1987 Game 7 loss against the Islanders as a classic “Guillotine/Stomach” combo. I still wince when I think about that.
Rock Bottom: Pens/Caps 1996. History repeats itself and the Caps go down in 4 OTs to the Pens, blowing a 2-0 series lead in the process.
Additional Thoughts: Google “Bobby Carpenter”, “Save the Caps”, and “Dale Hunter/Pierre Turgeon.”
I rest my case.
— Zach Furness, Vienna, Va.
THE CASE FOR THE FALCONS
The Atlanta Falcons can’t be a Level 1 team?
Know any other teams who had their franchise QB sent to prison for DOG FIGHTING???
Know any other teams who had their HEAD COACH leave like a coward in the night to take the NINTH-best head coaching job in the SEC???
Oh yeah, no other franchise has ever gone longer without back-to-back winning seasons, either.
The Falcons ARE a Level 1 franchise.
The weather in Atlanta, which by the way is cold in the winter, has nothing to do with it.
— Matthew Cafaro, Atlanta
THE CASE FOR THE CHIEFS
Last Title: 1969 (also their last AFL Championship Game appearance, call this one the curse of the merger if you like).
Last Truly Devastating Defeat: The Lin Elliott Game. In 1995, the 13-3 Chiefs hosted the Colts in a cold, damp night game at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City lost the game 10?7 against the underdog Colts. The Chiefs were 8-0 at home that season and led 7-0. Kansas City then turned the ball over four times and Lin Elliott missed field goals from 35, 39 and 42 yards — the last one coming inside the final minute. This loss so crushed the city that every office in the city received a fax the next day of a drawing of Elliott taking a leak and missing the toilet.
Rock Bottom: “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!” Either that or being demoted to the Kansas City West Patriots minor league team in the last year.
Additional Thoughts: 13-3 is the unluckiest number for Chiefs fans (1993, 1995, 2003). We always lose in the playoffs when we have that record.
— Brad, Kansas City
I’ll put the Griefs “officially tortured” pedigree up against just about anyone. We’re not talking about the Saints or Lions here — this is a franchise that from the early ’90s through the mid-aughts put together numerous winning seasons, including three 13-3 seasons and a nine-year run (from ’89-’97) of consecutive winning seasons. Playoff record over that time? 3-9. This is a team that, for the better part of two decades, gave you hope and reason to cheer nearly ever year but once playoff time rolled around failed to deliver time after time and seemed to take a certain macabre joy in repeatedly kicking its fans in the plums.
Since 1969 season: AFC championships: Broncos 6, Raiders 4, Chiefs 0. Super Bowls titles: Raiders 3, Broncos 2, Chiefs 0.
If you don’t understand how painful this 40-year run is for Chiefs fans, you haven’t been paying attention. Knowing that Al Davis and Pat Bowlen hoisted the trophy with Lamar Hunt’s name on it a total of 10 times (to ZERO for the Chiefs) was painful then and still makes me want to paint my face and break car windows with my head Lattimer-style.
— Shane, Portland
THE CASE FOR THE LIONS
What do we have to do? Seriously, what do you want from Lions fans? I’m tired of this. I am literally in tears right now. I’m sick of being the league’s punchline. You have no idea how much it hurts when you dismiss our collective pain by saying “we expect it.” So that makes our suffering OK?
What more do we have to endure? We haven’t won more than one playoff game in a season since the merger. Most Lions fans would KILL to lose four Super Bowls, or even make it back to the NFC Championship Game. We’re jealous of Vikings fans. Mike Utley was paralyzed in the field in front of us. Eric Andolsek was run over by a truck and killed while working in his yard. Corey Smith drowned. We routinely fail to draft even usable players in the first round — Andre Ware, Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Stockar McDougle, Aaron Gibson, Terry Fair, Bryant Westbrook. Sure, the Lions don’t have a definitive stomach-punch loss. We don’t need one; we have a stomach punch SEASON (0-16).
— Thom, Granville, Ohio
I’m a lifelong Lions fan (27 years). At least Vikings fans had 30 seconds where they thought they were going to do it. I dream about the day the Lions are good enough to give me 30 seconds of hope.
— Matt, Detroit
THE CASE FOR THE BENGALS
Last Title: Never.
Last Truly Devastating Defeat: Carson’s Knee Game. First play from scrimmage completes a 66-yard bomb to Chris Henry only to be felled like a redwood by Kimo von Oelhoffen. Followed by a two-pronged gut shot: our inevitable tailspin loss to our bitter rivals in that game and yet-to-be-answered-four-years-later question of whether Carson will ever be the same.
Rock Bottom: Watching the Disney “I’m Going to Disneyland” camera crew sneak away from Boomer Esiason to go to the 49ers sideline with 1:27 left in the Super Bowl as Montana continued his game-winning 92-yard march down the field.
Additional Thoughts: We are owned by Mike Brown and the Brown family. Mike Brown hired himself as our general manager. Jim Lippincott, our director of football operations, was a high school athletic director before taking his current position. Our assistant coaches double as scouts and select players based on watching ESPN highlights and attending the Senior Bowl. Our stadium deal was brokered by Mike Brown and a city official who is now on staff. Oh, and when not getting national press for multiple player arrests we are busy not winning a single playoff game since 1990.
— Brad W., Cincy
Carson Palmer’s knee explodes courtesy of Pittsburgh. Two Super Bowl losses to the 49ers, one being The Goal-Line Stand game where they were stopped from scoring the go-ahead TD three times from the 1 and the other being Montana to Taylor after a 90-yard drive! Gut-wrenching losses. Cold weather. Akili Smith. David Klingler. Dave Shula. Chris Henry’s death. Ickey Woods’ knees and Ki-Jana Carter’s knees, 437 DUIs. Should I keep going?
— Donan Whelan, Culver City, Calif. (via Cincy)
THE CASE FOR THE WARRIORS
I am a bit bothered that you did not include or even mention the Warriors on your list. Every year, we are built up with optimism then smacked in the face with reality. I no longer have faith, I no longer believe, and I actually get mad when people go to games now. The only thing we root for nowadays is for Cohan to sell the team to someone who actually cares.
— Ray, Oakland
THE CASE FOR THE BLACKHAWKS
I’m 48, and they’ll put “NOT IN MY LIFETIME” next to the Cubs and Hawks logos on my tombstone. Finals losses in ’62, ’65, ’71, 73 and ’92 — ’71 being the worst, losing Game 7 at home to the Habs on a dump-in/shot from the blue line. Second-worst being ’92 — up 4-1 to a loaded Pens team in Game 1, then watching Jaromir Jagr skate through the whole team like they were pylons.
An entire fan base waiting for their last-of-the-Stone-Age owner to die, so they could join the rest of the league in the 21st century. A team that (until last year) didn’t put home games on TV. A team that let Bobby Hull go. A team that perfected the 40 cents on the dollar trade for its stars: Roenick, Belfour, Hasek, Larmer, Wilson, Chelios (the worst — trading their captain to their arch-rival for a bag of pucks?).
Now that the Hawks are good again, we know the heartbreak is coming, and likely in craptacular fashion.
— Mark, Bay Area
THE CASE FOR THE FLYERS
Last Championship: 1975 (so they are eligible this year).
Last Truly Devastating Defeat: 2000 Eastern Conference final versus the Devils. Up 3-1 in the series, Eric Lindros returns in Game 6. New Jersey pushes the series to a Game 7 in Philly. In the first 10 minutes of the game the Devils score a power-play goal and a minute after that Scott Stevens knocks out Lindros. The Flyers tie the game in the second period but with a little over two minutes to go in the game Patrik Elias scores for the Devils to give them the win. The Flyers become the team since 1967 to blow a 3-1 series lead past the second round, and Eric Lindros never plays for the team again. All of this happening against a chief rival.
Rock Bottom: 2006-07 season, After losing out on the division title on the last day the previous season they finish in dead last in the league. Chicago wins the lottery, however, so the Flyers don’t even get the first pick (Patrick Kane).
Other Notes: The missed offsides call that eventually leads to the Islanders winning the Cup in OT in 1980 over the Flyers. Pelle Lindbergh dying in a car crash after winning the Vezina and leading to Flyers to the Cup finals in 1985. Rallying from 3-1 down but losing Game 7 to the Oilers in ’87. Claude Lemieux scoring from the blueline with less than a minute to go in Game 5 of the ’95 Conference finals. Swept by Detroit in the 1997 Finals. Losing Game 7 to Tampa Bay in the 2004 conference finals.
— James, College Park, Md.
THE CASE FOR THE SUNS
To whatever extent life goes on and does so smoothly in warm-weather climates during winter, you probably don’t have the pleasure of experiencing the heat of a 110-plus degree day after watching Mario Elie, John Paxson, Robert Horry, or anyone else gouge your heart out in the middle of a June title chase. Hot wind steaming from hot asphalt doesn’t really lend itself well to the c’est la vie attitude. On another personal front, listing the Cubs is a joke. Paramount in your ranking should be “persistence of disappointment.” The Suns have the highest winning percentage of any major sports franchise that has not ever won a title, and the fourth-best percentage overall in the NBA. Add in a dash of the worst-timed change of ownership possible to all of the other anecdotal evidence you listed. Reliving all of these horrible memories again to find out that agonizing heat is actually pleasant, and thus disqualifies us, is truly awful. Please, don’t stop twisting the knife.
— Zach Thomas, Phoenix
Summer in Phoenix is just as bad, if not worse, as winter in the Midwest. Don’t believe me? Three years ago on July 4th it was 124 degrees. I wanted to go out that day and have fun like everyone else. I got 10 steps out my door, turned around, and hung out in my bathroom all day because it was the only room where the AC wasn’t overpowered by the heat. I don’t see the essential difference between having to [scrape] ice off your windshield and sweating off three pounds waiting for the AC in your car to kick in on your way home from work.
— David, Tempe, Ariz.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy’s World. His new book, “The Book of Basketball,” is now available.