Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tormented Fans: the Bad Luck Number

Sometimes when I tell people I fear I'll never see the Vikings win a Super Bowl, they try to assure me that I will. I'm young, and there are a lot of years left--chances are they'll win a title sometime. But "Why?" I say. The Cubs haven't won a championship in 100 years--I'm sure some Cubs fans in the last century were assured by friends that the odds are they'll see a Cub World Series win, but most assuredly some of those Cubs fans are now dead.

So I've considered what I simply call a "Bad Luck Number." It's simple: if championships are simply random, and there are 32 teams in the league, then you'd think that in 32 years, your favorite team should win a championship. So, look at each franchise in the league, and note the number of years since:

a. it last won a championship.
b. it entered the league through expansion.
c. it relocated to its current location (because what do residents of Phoenix care about how bad the Cardinals were in St. Louis?).

If the number of years since either a., b., or c. occured is greater than the number of teams in the league at the time, then that franchise has a Bad Luck Number. Fans of those teams are tormented and unlucky.

Now, of course championships aren't just randomly selected from a hat. But assuming I've used this website correctly, over the course of 32 years in which each team has a 1 in 32 chance of winning, a particular team has a 63.8% chance of winning one or more championships. I'm just trying to look for a simple number to show fan suffering. If you root for a franchise that has had a longer championship drought (in its current location) than the number of teams in the league, you've certainly been miserable.

Here is a list of each franchise from the NFL, NBA, and MLB that has a Bad Luck Number. I am including AFL and ABA championships, which doesn't change the list but does change the number in the parentheses (which is the year of the team's relocation, expansion season, or last championship).

NFL (32 teams, 14 with no championships since 1976)
Atlanta Falcons (1966)
Buffalo Bills (1965)
Cincinnati Bengals (1968)
Cleveland Browns (1964)
Detroit Lions (1957)
Houston Texans (1961)*
Kansas City Chiefs (1969)
Miami Dolphins (1973)
Minnesota Vikings (1961)
New Orleans Saints (1967)
New York Jets (1968)
Philadelphia Eagles (1960)
San Diego Chargers (1963)
Seattle Seahawks (1976)

*Cleveland lost a team and then gained an expansion team, but I'm including that entire history. It seems fair that Houston, which lost a team then gained an expansion team during a similar time period, gets the same consideration, so the Oilers are considered. In each case, you could subtract the years they didn't have franchises (since they obviously had no chance of winning those years), but they would still have a Bad Luck Number.

MLB (30 teams, 8 teams with no championships since 1978)
Chicago Cubs (1908)
Cleveland Indians (1948)
Houston Astros (1962)
Milwaukee Brewers (1970)
San Diego Padres (1969)
San Francisco Giants (1958)
Seattle Mariners (1977)
Texas Rangers (1972)

NBA (30 teams, 11 with no championships since 1978)
Atlanta Hawks (1969)
Cleveland Cavaliers (1971)
Denver Nuggets (1968)
Golden State Warriors (1975)
Indiana Pacers (1973)
Milwaukee Bucks (1971)
New Jersey Nets (1978)*
New York Knicks (1973)
Phoenix Suns (1969)
Portland Trailblazers (1977)
Utah Jazz (1975)

*They were the New York Nets when they won an ABA title in 1976; I don't really know if the fanbase changed fundamentally when they became the New Jersey Nets.

The following cities/regions that have two teams with Bad Luck Numbers:

Atlanta (Falcons and Hawks)
Seattle (Seahawks and Mariners)
San Diego (Chargers and Padres)
Houston (Oilers/Texans and Astros)
Milwaukee (Bucks and Brewers)

Seattle will also add the Supersonics to their teams with Bad Luck Numbers in 2009--just before the Sonics move to Oklahoma, probably. There would likely be other cities listed here if I had included hockey teams.

But one city has THREE teams with Bad Luck Numbers:

Cleveland (Indians, Browns, Cavaliers)

Yes, Cleveland sports fans are the most tortured of all, rooting for a baseball team that last won a championship in 1948, a football team that last won a title in 1964, and a basketball team that began playing in 1970-71 and has never won a championship.

Each year, only one team in each league can win a championship, and of course nobody is entitled to championships. But if you root for a team that hasn't won a championship in as many years as there are teams in the league, then you can certainly whine about your lot.

(This data was incredibly easy to access using the sites. These sites are brilliant. Their hockey reference site isn't ready yet, though, and the other sites I considered using for hockey franchises weren't organized in useful way for this post; I didn't feel like doing the work, so I skipped hockey for now. Stanley Cup championships may come up in possible future posts on the subject).


  1. Anonymous12:38 PM

    T-wolves won a title and I missed it!

  2. PV, this isn't completely on topic, but I hope this is an OK place to ask it anyway (I tried email, but no answer :-().

    I notice you do not list the Vikings' 1969 NFL Championship in the newly-added Minnesota Championships portion of your site.

    In your opinion, do Minnesota football fans view it as being any more meaningful than, say, the 1976 NFC Championship? Do you think that depends critically on the age of the Minnesota football fan in question?

    Just curious.

  3. doug: I'm sorry I missed the email--sometimes I completely forget to check my email for weeks at a time--especially after fantasy football season is over!

    In my experience, Viking fans don't treat the '69 championship as anything more special than an NFC championship. It's just another year when the Vikings got beat badly in the Super Bowl.

    I don't think it's a case where we've retroactively applied significance to the Super Bowl, either. I know my dad disliked Hank Stram because the Chiefs beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl when he was a kid. When I've talked to the generation of Viking fans that saw all the Super Bowls, not even once have I heard anybody say, "But we did win an NFL championship." The four Super Bowl losses are pretty lumped together.

    If the leagues would have just waited a few more years before playing each other, a lot of the Viking fans probably wouldn't be so neurotic or pessimistic.

  4. Anonymous2:50 PM


    The Timberwolves franchise hasn't been around long enough to have a bad luck number yet. Don't fret I am sure they will reach the bad luck club before they ever win a championship.

  5. Anonymous1:30 PM

    NHL (10 teams with no championships since 1978)

    Chicago (1961)
    Toronto (1967)
    Minnesota (1967)
    Los Angeles (1967)
    St. Louis (1967)
    Buffalo (1970)
    Vancouver (1970)
    Boston (1972)
    Washington (1974)
    Philadelphia (1976)