When fandom goes bad: Most miserable fan bases in pro sports

ByT.J. Berka ESPN logo
Friday, September 27, 2019

Since we last updated the sports misery index in April, the NBA and NHL both crowned first-time champions. The Toronto Raptors became the first team outside the United States to win an NBA title when they dethroned the Golden State Warriors, while the St. Louis Blues overcame a 50-plus-year drought by defeating the Boston Bruins to hoist the Stanley Cup.

It's that drought that inspired an amendment to the Sports Misery rankings. While the previous formula accounts for lack of championships, it didn't fully capture the misery of possessing a championship drought. Therefore, we've decided to assign a "misery bonus" to teams that have a championship drought of 25-plus years. The longer the drought, the bigger the bonus.

Because of this, you're going to see some shuffling in the rankings. There are four new teams in the top 25, including one that rocketed into the top 15, and a topsy-turvy NHL campaign has lightened the hockey presence in this edition of the top 25.

Here are the rankings -- which include the four major U.S. pro leagues -- broken out by sport: NFL| MLB | NBA | NHL.

Teams 26-123 are at the bottom of the article.

Positive points mean higher misery, while negative points mean less, just like golf. (Full explanation of the formula can be found in the box below).

1. Sacramento Kings, 28.55 points

Movement: Even

The Kings actually have a bit of positive mojo for once, as their young roster hung around the playoff race for a while and have a good shot to break their playoff drought next season. But until they do, Sacramento remains atop a list that it has little interest in topping.

Name a trigger for misery and a Kings fan can relate, even if you ignore the fact that the franchise hasn't won a championship since moving to Sacramento in 1985. The Kings haven't made the playoffs since 2006 (the longest drought in the NBA) and haven't won a playoff series since 2004, meaning that a teenage sports fan can't remember seeing the franchise triumph in anything important.

But it gets worse. In the fleeting moment in which the Kings were really good, they lost to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals after some controversial officiating in Game 6 (the name Tim Donaghy ring a bell?) and an overtime loss at home in Game 7. And speaking of the Lakers, Kings fans have had to watch Lakers fans celebrate five championships since 2000 and had to stomach watching Warriors fans celebrate their recent three-championship dynasty.

2. San Diego Padres, 27.26

Movement: Even

It's hard to be miserable living in San Diego, but being a Padres fan is a thankless endeavor. The Padres haven't had a winning season since 2010, haven't made the playoffs since 2006 (though they did lose a play-in game to the Rockies in 2007) and haven't won a playoff series since 1998, which no one under the age of 28 remembers.

The Padres have made the World Series twice, having been swept by the Yankees in 1998 and winning one game against the Tigers in 1984. Otherwise, it's been 51 seasons of mostly terrible baseball, all while watching the Dodgers make the playoffs constantly and the Giants win three World Series championships since 2010. Heck, even the Diamondbacks have won a World Series. But Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. lead an improving squad, so maybe the Padres will fall down this list in coming years.

3. Buffalo Bills, 27.24

Movement: Even

The Bills' title drought -- their most recent championship was an AFL title in 1965 -- makes them the most miserable NFL fan base and almost put them at No. 2 overall. Buffalo predictably backslid after making the playoffs in 2017, and their fans had to deal with the horror of a sixth Patriots Super Bowl title since 2001. Buffalo has now missed the playoffs in 18 of the past 19 seasons and is a long shot to make it this season.

The rival Patriots have been to 10 Super Bowls since the Bills last won a playoff game (which came in 1995). In the meantime, the Bills have been through seven head coaches, two interim coaches and countless quarterbacks, were the victims of the "Music City Miracle" and now have to cross their fingers and pray that Josh Allen is their long-awaited franchise quarterback. It's not a fun life, and losing four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s doesn't seem so bad, nor does the surprising 3-0 start to this season.

4. Cleveland Browns, 24.95

Movement: Up 1

This is the first movement due to the misery bonus, as the Browns haven't won a championship since 1964 (two seasons before the Super Bowl started). That 54-year drought is enough to vault Cleveland past the Florida Panthers into the four spot. And even though there's a lot of excitement surrounding this team after going from zero to seven wins and an impact offseason, you can't blame Browns fans if they're a bit wary.

There's plenty of reason for that uneasiness, as the Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002 (worst streak in the NFL), haven't won a playoff game since 1994 (when Bill Belichick was their coach) and older fans still cringe remembering their playoff meltdowns of the 1980s. There's a lot of misery that needs to be dealt with, but perhaps Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Odell Beckham Jr. and friends will do that sooner rather than later.

5. Florida Panthers, 23.97

Movement: Down 1

The first memory of the Panthers in the NHL was their fans throwing thousands of plastic rats on to the ice in 1996 as the third-year franchise made an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. Problem is that the first memory is the only real positive one for the South Florida franchise and is the only season it has won a playoff series. If you're under 30, you're used to seeing the Panthers lose over and over, and they did it again this season. In a season where many of the most miserable NHL franchises had positive achievements, Florida continued to struggle.

Since being swept by the Avalanche in those '96 Finals, the Panthers have not only not won a playoff series, but they've only made it to the playoffs four times in the following 22 seasons. Meanwhile, the cross-state Lightning have a Stanley Cup and are a perennial playoff contender. South Florida is nice in the winter, but imagine how much better it'd be if the local hockey team wasn't so miserable?

6. New York Jets, 23.38

Movement: Even

Another entry in "The Patriots are ruining our lives" club, the Jets are on the cusp of the top 5 after another lost season that ended with their sworn enemy hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That makes eight consecutive non-playoff seasons for New York, the third-worst drought in the NFL behind the Browns and the Buccaneers.

What's even more painful is that the Jets had Belichick as their coach for 24 hours in January 2000, only for him to leave and go to New England. The years since have seen disappointment, heartbreak, agony with an extremely embarrassing butt fumble as the cherry on top. The Jets are now more than 50 years removed from Joe Namath's guarantee and Super Bowl victory. They were aggressive this offseason, signing high-priced players, then firing the guy who acquired those players. That, plus their starting quarterback getting mono, is so Jets.

7. Miami Dolphins, 22.37

Movement: Up 1

The "Miami Miracle" was the most exciting thing that's happened to the Dolphins in roughly 20 years, which highlights the funk this franchise has been in since Dan Marino retired. For the second consecutive year and for the ninth time in 10 seasons, the Dolphins -- who used to be a playoff staple under Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson -- failed to make the postseason. They also find themselves starting over at coach and QB again. Not even Nick Saban was able to win here.

The Dolphins have started a massive rebuild in an attempt to change the franchise's track. That track has seen the Dolphins not win a playoff game since 2000, not qualify for a Super Bowl since 1984 and not win a championship since 1973 (giving Miami a misery bonus). Adding to these grisly factoids is that the Patriots have ... yeah, you already know how that sentence is going to end. Unfortunately, Dolphins fans do, too.

8. Buffalo Sabres, 21.81

Movement: Up 2

Brett Hull might have been in the crease illegally, but Sabres fans would probably take losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final over what has happened since. Buffalo has been toward the bottom of the NHL for much of the 20 years since that Cup loss, as the Sabres haven't made the playoffs since the 2011 season (now the longest streak in the league) and haven't won a playoff series since 2007.

Sabres fans hope players like Jack Eichel can lead them back to respectability. Last season showed some promise early before Buffalo ran out of juice and finished toward the bottom again. Sabres fans not only have had to watch their team flounder, but they've also had to watch the nearby Penguins win three Stanley Cups since 2009. Can Eichel be the spark that eventually reverses that bothersome trend?

9. Cincinnati Reds, 21.42

Movement: Even

While the Reds maintained the No. 9 position overall, their misery bonus for not winning a World Series since 1990 has put them No. 2 in MLB. The World Series drought isn't even the most distressing part of Cincinnati's résumé, as the Reds haven't won a playoff series since 1995. Watching highlights of the Big Red Machine on VHS doesn't exactly make things better, either.

While the Reds have been struggling, rebuilding and having their hearts broken on the rare occasions when they contend (Cincinnati is 13th in MLB in heartbreaks despite its few playoff appearances), their rivals have been thriving, as the Cardinals have won two World Series since 2006 while the Indians have been a postseason regular. The league's oldest franchise isn't exactly thriving, though there has been some incremental improvement lately.

10. Detroit Lions, 20.7

Movement: Up 4

This ranking seems right for the Lions, who are the only NFL team that's played in every year of the Super Bowl era that's never been in the big game. This is a fan base that's used to pain, as the Lions haven't won an NFL championship since 1957, a playoff game since 1991 or a division title since 1993. Detroit has missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons and has made the postseason only three times since 1999.

Unlike the downtrodden franchises above, Lions fans have gotten to watch some entertaining, top-level players on their losing teams (Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson). Of course, those players prematurely retired in their primes instead of continuing to be part of the Lions. After only seeing one playoff win in 61 seasons, die-hard Detroit fans are tempted to do the same.

11. Chicago White Sox, 20.66

Movement: Down 4

This is the first team that didn't fall prey to the misery bonus, as the White Sox won a relatively recent title in 2005. The bragging rights from that championship (one of only three for a franchise that's been in the majors since 1901) went away when the crosstown rival Cubs won it all in 2016. That put the Pale Hose in the place that they hate being in the most -- an afterthought to the detested Cubbies.

It stinks to root for the White Sox when the Cubs are winning, but that's not the only reason it's not fun to root for the ChiSox. The White Sox haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and have only made the postseason nine times in 116 seasons. Even though they've improved this season, it could be a few years until the South Siders hit double digits. But hey, at least Sox fans can enjoy "Eight Men Out."

12. Phoenix Suns, 20.14

Movement: Even

The Suns used to be on the entertaining side of bad, as they've had star players such as Charles Barkley, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. But Phoenix is plain awful right now, as the Suns missed the playoffs for a ninth straight season and are one Kings playoff berth away from having the top misery spot in the NBA. The Suns are currently, by a huge margin, the worst team in the Western Conference and lost 58 or more games for the fourth consecutive season.

Phoenix used to be a frequent playoff participant, having made the postseason 29 times. But even good Suns teams have always been firewalled by slightly better teams, with the Bulls and Rockets blocking them in the 1990s and the Spurs and Lakers killing good Suns runs in the 2000s. Watching the rival Lakers and Warriors combine for eight championships since 2000 has also been depressing.

13. Seattle Mariners, 19.75

Movement: Down 1

There are only two major league franchises that have never played in the World Series. Not only are the Mariners one of them, they also own the longest playoff drought in baseball, having not made it since 2001. That 2001 season wasn't exactly fulfilling either, as Seattle tied a major-league record with 116 regular-season wins before being tripped up one step short of the World Series.

Like the Lions above, Mariners fans have had great players to watch in the past such as Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Ichiro, but that doesn't exactly make things better for the franchise. It's also stuck in a competitive AL West division. That doesn't promote misery relief, especially since Seattle is rebuilding once again.

14. New York Knicks, 18.99

Movement: Up 14

The first newcomer to the top 25 was a long time coming (just Google "Stephen A. Smith Knicks"), as Madison Square Garden has become a house of horrors for the home team and its fans. Forget that the Knicks haven't won an NBA championship since 1973 -- it's that they haven't been anywhere close recently that makes them a source of anger for fans in Gotham.

The Knicks have not made the playoffs since 2013 and haven't made it past the second round since 2000. One of their rare draft picks that hit big (Kristaps Porzingis) demanded to be traded away. And the quick-fix offseason that they've anticipated for years turned into an absolute dud, as New York missed out on Zion Williamson despite having the worst record in the league, then saw their top two free-agent targets -- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving -- rebuff them and go to rival Brooklyn, of all places. Things aren't good.

15. Milwaukee Brewers, 18.41

Movement: Up 4

The Brewers have volleyed all over this list since it originally came out in September 2018, starting at No. 6, moving down to 20 after making the playoffs, inching back up to 19 and now finding themselves in the top 15 due to the misery bonus.

The Brewers are here in part due to the heartbreak of losing Game 7 of last year's NLCS to the Dodgers at home, but their main misery comes from winning only three playoff series in their Milwaukee history, which dates to 1970. Since none of those wins happened in the World Series, the Brewers are nearing 50 years without a title. However, they do have one of the most exciting players in baseball in Christian Yelich and will make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the second time ever. Barring some extreme postseason heartbreak, the Brewers should drop out in the next installment.

16. Washington Redskins, 18.38

Movement: Down 1

The Redskins were once one of the NFL's marquee franchises, as they won three Super Bowls between 1982 and 1991 and played in a fourth. But if you're a fan in your early 30s or younger, all you know is pain and misery, and you probably hate Daniel Snyder with a passion. Since Joe Gibbs retired as coach after the 1992 season, the Redskins have only made the playoffs five times. They looked primed for a sixth in 2018, but in typical Washington fashion, their top two quarterbacks got injured, with Alex Smith's career in jeopardy less than a year after the Redskins traded for him.

It's not just a matter of rarely making the playoffs, though. The Redskins have only won two playoff games since Gibbs left, with one of those coming when Gibbs briefly returned to coaching. They haven't won a playoff game since 2005 and haven't advanced past the divisional round since their 1991 title. Worse yet, they've had to watch the Eagles and Giants celebrate Super Bowl championships this decade.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves, 17.89

Movement: Up 13

Another newcomer to the list, as the T-Wolves "vaulted" into the top 25 after reverting to non-playoff form this past season. Minnesota has now missed the playoffs in 14 of its past 15 seasons and hasn't won a playoff series since making it to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

That 2004 run with franchise icon Kevin Garnett (who had to leave the Twin Cities to win a championship in Boston) represented the only season in which the Timberwolves have actually won a playoff series. Minnesota has only made the postseason nine times and fell in the first round in eight of those appearances. The Wolves have another star in Karl-Anthony Towns, but will he have to do what Garnett and Kevin Love did before him -- leave town to play on a winner?

18. Charlotte Hornets, 17.86

Movement: Down 1

The first rendition of the Hornets wasn't a world-beater, as Charlotte never got out of the second round from 1988 to 2002 despite having players such as Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. But those four second-round defeats would seem like gold to the contemporary Hornets fan, as the Charlotte franchise has mostly seen misery since it was rebooted as the Bobcats in 2004 and renamed the Hornets in 2014.

Not even having arguably the greatest basketball player of all time as their GM has been enough to get the Hornets on track, as Michael Jordan has only seen the team make the playoffs three times in 15 seasons. With star player Kemba Walker leaving for Boston, there isn't much hope for a sudden resurgence. Watching the rival Heat, who joined the NBA the same year as the Hornets, win three titles since 2006 is also a sore spot for Charlotte fans.

19. Baltimore Orioles, 17.82

Movement: Up 2

The Orioles are in the top 20 despite having some recent success, as Baltimore has won two playoff series this decade and advanced to the ALCS as recently as 2014. But that success pales in comparison to their two primary AL East rivals, as the Yankees and Red Sox have combined for nine titles since the Orioles last won the World Series.

Baltimore used to be one of the top franchises in its sport but hasn't been back to the World Series since Cal Ripken & Co. ousted the Phillies in 1983 (a 36-year drought that has tacked on a misery bonus). It's been mostly miserable since, though O's fans are going through the worst of the worst right now, having seen their team lose 115 games in 2018 and on pace for similar futility this season.

20. Chicago Bears, 17.25

Movement: Up 3

Like the Brewers, the Bears emerged from their doldrums with a big 2018 season that saw them win their division to advance to the playoffs and have a decent chance to go back this season. But just like Milwaukee, the Bears had a postseason heartbreak that kept them in these rankings, as Cody Parkey's clang off the upright at the buzzer in the wild-card round gave Chicago a tough end to its best season in nearly a decade.

Parkey's clang means that we have to go over the Bears' misery lowlights again -- only two playoff appearances the last 12 seasons, only three playoff wins this millennium, a general résumé problem when compared to the rival Packers, a Super Bowl title that is relegated to 30 for 30 retro status for anyone under the age of 40 (therefore leaving the Bears subject to the misery bonus), yada yada yada.

21. Texas Rangers, 17.23

Movement: Up 6

Newcomer No. 3 to the list has pretty much hit every misery landmark possible since moving to the Metroplex from Washington in 1972. The Rangers haven't won a World Series in their 47 seasons and their fans were taunted by back-to-back World Series losses in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 loss was especially painful for Texas, as it was within an out of winning the Series multiple times in Game 6 before losing on a walk-off, then dropping Game 7.

Those two failed World Series appearances marked the only two seasons in which the Rangers won a playoff series, as they've had heartbreaking opening-round losses, too (remember Jose Bautista's bat flip?). And while the Rangers have been left at the postseason altar when they make it, which has only happened seven times prior to this season, Texas fans had to watch the cross-state rival Astros win it all two years ago.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17.13

Movement: Down 6

The Bucs are the second team on this list with a 21st-century championship, and that title in 2002 is the only thing keeping the Bucs from the misery bonus and being higher on the list. Quite frankly, most of their 43 seasons have been terrible. The franchise started out by losing 26 consecutive games and hasn't gotten much better since, as the Buccaneers haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2007 (the second-longest streak in the NFL behind the Browns) and have only made it twice since winning Super Bowl XXXVII.

That one glorious moment is also the last time the Buccaneers won a playoff game, and they combined for as many playoff wins that season (three) as they've had in the other 42 seasons of the franchise. That's bad enough, but recent Super Bowl appearances by each of their NFC South rivals (including a championship by the Saints) make things even worse. And if Jameis Winston doesn't step up, the Bucs will likely have to start over yet again.

23. Oakland Raiders, 17.12

Movement: Down 1

The Raiders will fall off this ranking soon no matter what happens, as they'll make the move to Las Vegas and see their score reset to zero. That doesn't really help the Silver & Black loyalists who still support the team in the Bay Area, though, as the Raiders have spent 20 of their 24 years since moving back to Oakland at home in the postseason. Hiring back Jon Gruden, who led the Raiders to two of those playoff berths, didn't really help a fan base that's gone from heartbroken (2001 "Tuck Rule" game) to simply beaten down.

The Raiders haven't won a playoff game since the 2002 AFC Championship Game and have only qualified for the playoffs once since then, a far cry from the franchise that was a force in Oakland during the 1970s. Of course, no fan under the age of 45 remembers any of that, but they do remember seeing the rival Broncos win the Super Bowl four years ago.

24. Pittsburgh Pirates, 17.04

Movement: Up 2

Being a Pirates fan has been pretty miserable since Sid Bream scored a walk-off run to close out Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. Since then, the Pirates lost arguably the best player in baseball history (Barry Bonds) to free agency and set a major league record with 20 consecutive losing campaigns from 1993-2012. The Bucs have only made the playoffs three times in the past 26 seasons, and two of those were one-and-done dismissals in the wild-card round.

Despite having the same colors as the Penguins and Steelers, the Pirates haven't had nearly the success of their Three Rivers brethren, as they have only won one playoff series since winning their last World Series with the "We Are Family" crew in 1979. That qualifies the Bucs for the misery bonus, and that sadness has been compounded by the rival Phillies and Cubs each winning a title since 2008.

25. Tampa Bay Rays, 16.83

Movement: Down 7

The reason the Rays have dropped this far since the last time we updated the list is simply because they aren't old enough to have a misery bonus. Therefore, the Rays were passed up by older franchises, both in their sport and outside of it. But even though Tampa has been around for only 22 seasons, there are reasons for its fans to be jaded (and we're not even factoring in the proposed time share with Montreal).

Before this season, the Rays hadn't made the playoffs since 2013 and only advanced past the divisional round once, when they lost to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series. That might not seem too bad but pales in comparison to the eight World Series titles their primary rivals, the Yankees and Red Sox, have won since the Rays' inaugural season in 1998. That said, if the Rays make it to the playoffs this season, they'll likely leave this list in the next update.

Dropped out

Arizona Coyotes, 16.7

Movement: Down 15 (11 to 26)

Like the Rays, the Coyotes fell a bit partially due to their limited time in Arizona, as they've only played 22 seasons in Phoenix and don't qualify for a misery bonus. But more than that, the Coyotes are not in the top 25 because of rival schadenfreude. For once, Arizona seems to be going up while their Southern California rivals, the Kings and Ducks, are falling. The Coyotes barely missed the playoffs last season and could be in line for their first postseason berth since 2012, while Los Angeles and Anaheim look to be in the beginning stages of a long rebuild. That's progress for Arizona fans.

Toronto Maple Leafs, 16.51

Movement: Down 3 (24 to 27)

Dropping out of the top 25 is a consolation prize for Leafs fans, who had to endure yet another Game 7 loss to the rival Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That makes three winner-take-all defeats to Boston since 2013 and extends Toronto's Stanley Cup drought to 52 years, as the Maple Leafs haven't been to the Cup Final since that 1967 championship. So how isn't Toronto in the top 25 still? Well, three playoff appearances in a row isn't quite miserable enough to be in this top 25, even if the Maple Leafs haven't won a playoff series since 2004.

LA Clippers, 15.69

Movement: Down 3 (25 to 28)

Returning to the playoffs was enough for the Clippers to graduate from the list, as LA qualified for the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. In the process, the Clips continued to stay ahead of the crosstown rival Lakers, who spent another season in the lottery despite signing LeBron James. Better yet for Clippers fans, this ranking doesn't factor in the impact of signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. With that dynamic duo joining an already talented nucleus, the Clippers won't be rejoining the top 25 anytime soon.

Carolina Hurricanes, 10.38

Movement: Down 34 (20 to 54)

While the three teams above are in the "also receiving votes" category, the Hurricanes find themselves way out of top-25 consideration after a huge season. The "Bunch of Jerks" captivated the Research Triangle in a season where Carolina not only made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Not only that, but the Hurricanes knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champion (and rival) Capitals in double overtime in Game 7, giving Hurricanes fans their best memory since Carolina took home the Cup in 2006. No misery bonus here.

Here are teams 26-123.