No team can be a champion every year.
As fans, most of us learn to temper our expectations. We know that every title should be cherished because some fans never get the opportunity to see the team they love win a single one.
Most likely, those fans support the teams listed on the next 20 slides.
Even the best teams fall down sometimes, but these teams fall down every time. It's hard to watch. It may be a combination of bad drafting, bad instincts or just a general lack of intelligence, but whatever the case, these franchises seemed destined to be the laughingstocks of the sports world forevermore.
Once upon a time, they may have been champions; now, they are just the butt of jokes. Here are the biggest offenders.
So close, yet so, so far.
A couple of years ago, it seemed like the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson combo was going to lead Detroit to salvation, a land it hadn't seen in far too long. Prior to 2011, Detroit hadn't finished with a winning record since 1997. Five times in that 1997-2010 span, it won three games or fewer.
And then there was, of course, that terribly embarrassing 0-16 season that led to them earning the right to draft Stafford.
Two years ago, there was progress. The Lions went 10-6, Stafford established himself as a young QB with potential and Johnson made it clear he was one of the biggest threats in the game. But then, last year happened. It was the same old story: injuries, inconsistencies and too many losses.
Is there hope for this team? Will it ever advance in the playoffs? Will it ever catch a break?
Winning the division is an accomplishment. Making the playoffs is a bigger accomplishment.
But when you fail to advance in the playoffs—when you fail to bring home the Stanley Cup—that's all anyone cares about. Especially when you're supposed to be among the fiercest teams of all.
This year's final four teams standing did not include a single Canadian team. A Canadian team hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1993. It's hard to believe that the mighty Canadiens, Canucks, Maple Leafs and the others have fallen short so many times for so many years—most recently, Vancouver took Boston to seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals before blowing it—but this is our reality.
Aren't these teams supposed to be the gold standard for the NHL? How much longer are we going to have to wait before one of them—just one—finally lives up to that standard?
The Cavaliers seem to have been cursed ever since The Decision.
They didn't think there was any way one of their native sons would ditch them in their moment of need, but it happened. It was a nightmare come true, and unfortunately, the nightmare didn't stop there. It has continued to get worse and worse ever since.
During LeBron's last season in Cleveland, the Cavs went to the Eastern Conference semis. The year before that, they went to the conference finals. In the three seasons since the Chosen One's departure, they have never won more than 24 games, compiling an overall winning percentage of 28.1. Ouch.
And to top it all off, their new Chosen One—2011-12 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving—can't seem to stay healthy.
The Blue Jays are that team that is perpetually on the brink of being good, but it never quite gets there.
Most of the time, the Jays have all of the necessary pieces. They have the power hitters. They have the ace pitchers. They even, as of last year, had a competent manager. But when September rolls around, it's never them that are hauling in the AL East crown, or even a wild card spot.
And it's not even because it's perpetually the Red Sox and/or the Yankees that are hogging the spotlight. Last year, even the Orioles got the job done. The Tampa Bay Rays have managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in recent years.
It's about time the Blue Jays figured out a way to start winning in the second half of the season and do the same.
The Dodgers made the biggest blockbuster trade of the season last year. They play in one of the biggest markets in baseball and often boast some of the biggest superstars.
So why are they the one team in L.A. that can't seem to get the job done anymore?
Mostly, it's the McCourt Saga and all of the distractions that accompany it. When your team, until very recently, was being run by an insane couple in the midst of an incredibly acrimonious divorce, you can't really expect to get anything done, can you?
While Frank and Jamie McCourt continue to embark on their own smear campaigns against one another, the Dodgers are trying to start anew under the ownership of Mark Walter, Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and more, and they're forking over a lot of money to do so. Their $216.3 million payroll is the second-biggest in baseball, behind only the Yankees.
And despite that enormous payroll, it's not going well so far: L.A. is in dead last in the NL West and, as far as early projections go, is in danger of missing the postseason for the fourth straight year.
The Titans have been this close—so recently—to being one of the best teams in the AFC.
But those days are long gone, as are their aspirations of ever having another competent quarterback.
It's safe to say that the Titans' Vince Young experiment failed miserably, and they have been reeling ever since. The Texas product got off to a good start in Tennessee, outperforming all other rookie QBs in his first year.
But just a couple of years later, a knee injury would lead to his semi-permanent demotion. He'd spend 2008 backing up Kerry Collins, but when Collins started to become awful in 2009, the job was Young's once again.
And once again, he couldn't hold on to it. Amid a slew of personal, off-the-field problems, he was released from Tennessee and hasn't been able to find a permanent job since.
Meanwhile, the Titans have fared equally poorly since Young's departure, particularly last year, when they went 6-10.
In their defense, it's hard to bounce back when the league suspends pretty much everyone of importance because of an alleged bounty scandal.
Bountygate, as it is called, came to a head in March 2012, when the NFL announced that it had discovered the Saints were paying performance bonuses to players who injured opposing players with vicious hits. As a result, coaches including Sean Payton and Gregg Williams were suspended, as well as four current and former players.
In 2012—just one season removed from winning 13 games and three seasons removed from a championship—the team had to scramble to fill the voids left by the disciplined coaches and, of course, to recover from the enormous PR scandal. And it didn't really succeed. 2012 was not kind to the Saints.
They lost their first four games of the season before rebounding somewhat to go 7-9, but of course, they missed the postseason—not acceptable when you're supposed to boast one of the best offenses in football.
The good news is, PR disasters involving other teams have overshadowed the Saints at this stage, and Payton is back, so 2013 should be far more enjoyable than the disaster that was last year.
Even Anthony Davis couldn't save this team. But in fairness, its problems were so severe that nobody really expected one player to solve them all.
In 25 seasons, the Charlotte-turned-New Orleans Hornets-turned New Orleans Pelicans don't boast as checkered a past as some of their fellow NBA embarrassments, but still—things have been rough, especially of late.
As soon as Chris Paul defected to Los Angeles, life became difficult for this franchise, which has struggled mightily to replace him and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, until it stocks up enough talent to become the next Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Paul, the Hornets were moderately successful: They made it to the postseason in three of his final four seasons with the team, but they lost in the first round in two of those years.
Without him, it's been bad. The team won a combined 48 games in the last two years for a whopping .323 winning percentage, and it's still too young and too inexperienced to compete.
Perhaps this year's weak draft will help.
Like many of the other teams on this list, the Marlins hoped that a change in either name or location would bring good fortune.
And like many of the other teams on this list, they were wrong.
Since becoming the unlikely world champions in 2003, they have failed to reach the postseason a single time, and things have been generally ugly. That's partly due to the fact that almost all of the talent that accounted for that World Series—including Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Dontrelle Willis, Juan Pierre and Ivan Rodriguez—is now either elsewhere, retired or bad.
It's also partly due to the fact that the team trusted Ozzie Guillen to usher in the transition from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins.
And after a controversial season that included some incredibly offensive remarks about Fidel Castro and a last-place 69-93 finish, they have moved on. Unfortunately, though—after a 16-44 start in 2013—they seem to be right back where they were a year ago at this time.
All hail the venerable Donald Sterling. He's the one we're blaming for putting together a team that lays claim to two of the best players in the entire league and yet still completely flops when the playoffs roll around, right?
The Clippers are making progress. Serious progress. They have finally managed to usurp the Lakers as The Good Team in L.A.—which is something many of us thought would never, ever happen in a million years—and in the past two years, they have finished either first or second in the division and advanced to the postseason.
But that is where the story has ended for them, despite the fact that they have both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, despite the fact that they look stellar in the regular season, until the pressure hits.
Sterling is blamed for much of the team's inadequacies, mostly because he's easy to blame. He's a billionaire with a host of PR issues to his name, including a slew of racial discrimination scandals and a reputation for heckling his own players from his courtside seats.
Doesn't take much more than that.
USC fans are going to have a stroke over this, so it's important to start off by acknowledging that as far as college football programs go, USC has been perpetually competitive. Which is good.
But the last few years have been a problem, at least by USC standards.
Head coach Lane Kiffin gets a lot of flak, and perhaps that's because he deserves it. He did, after all, give USC its only first-place vote in last year's preseason polls, and his team failed to live up to his early faith by going 7-5 in the regular season before losing decisively in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech.
It also lost a slew of crucial games in the second half of the season to the likes of Notre Dame, Oregon and crosstown rival UCLA.
Then, of course, there were the infamous Reggie Bush Sanctions in 2010 that resulted in a two-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships and a roster limit of 75 scholarship players. Obviously nothing to do with Kiffin, but still—huge problem.
Again, bad by general college football standards? No. But bad for a team that was projected—by its own coach!—to be No. 1, a team that generally views itself as being on the same level as the best of the SEC? You can answer that.
That historic September collapse—when the Mets blew a seven-game lead in the division with 17 games left to play—was almost six years ago, and yet it still doesn't seem like the team has recovered.
But that's because it sort of hasn't. The Mets haven't made the playoffs since the season before that epic collapse, and it hasn't been because they've been starved for talent. This is a team that calls David Wright its captain. This is a team that boasted last year's NL Cy Young award winner.
Yet in 2012, the Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East. In fact, this is a team that has finished in fourth place for five consecutive years.
The Braves and the Red Sox have taken some of the heat off the Mets with their own embarrassing collapses, but how longer until the tide turns and it gets better for these guys?
It's like every time we think the Eagles are on the upswing, they plummet right back down again.
You never know what you're going to get from the Eagles. One season, Donovan McNabb will lead them to a stellar 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl; the next, they'll go 6-10. One season, a reformed and rejuvenated Michael Vick looks like the best quarterback in the NFL; the next, he fights injuries for the entire year and the team goes 4-12.
2012, in fact, was a microcosm for the inconsistencies that have plagued the Eagles for the last several years. They started off with two consecutive one-point wins over the Browns and the Ravens, dropped a doozy to the Cardinals and then came back with a big statement win over the defending-champion Giants.
But from then on, it was dagger after dagger. They finished the season with losses in 11 of their final 12 games—some of the damage was inflicted by backup QB Nick Foles—and yet that uncertainty still wasn't enough for them to bid farewell to Michael Vick.
It was a tough campaign for the voracious Philly fans to watch, but the good news with this team is, you never know—they could come back and go 14-2 next season.
We know. Cleveland fans have it rough. More often than not, the Browns, the Cavaliers and the Indians all suck. Life is bleak.
But it's definitely bleakest for the Browns.
Before the Jets came along to offer a helping hand, the Browns had firmly established themselves as the laughingstock of the NFL. Only twice since 1995 have they won more than seven games in a single season (but they didn't exist from 1996-98, so perhaps there's some solace in that).
They are the cupcake game on every other team's calendar. When you see you have the Browns on Sunday, you most likely breathe a sigh of relief.
The quarterback situation has essentially been up in the air since 2002. Some thought that Colt McCoy would change that, but he didn't, so Cleveland moved on to controversial 2012 draft pick Brandon Weeden, who was not projected to be a first-rounder by anybody except psychics. For the last five consecutive years, the Browns have registered double-digit losses.
Maybe they should've just stuck with Derek Anderson.
No matter how many top-five draft selections they stock up on, the Charlotte Bobcats just cannot seem to put together a winning season.
Well, once they did. But nobody really looks at a 1-for-8 mark and is all that thrilled about it.
In their nine seasons of existence in the NBA, the Bobcats have won more games than they have lost a single time and made their only trip to the postseason that year. In the eight other seasons, they haven't won more than 35 games.
Things were at their worst during the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, when they won a record-low seven games and lost every single one of their last 23, earning them the distinguished honor of posting the worst season in the history of the NBA.
Perhaps when they take on a new identity and become the Charlotte Hornets in a couple of years, they can forge a whole new fate.
Like the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland Raiders were once the cream of the crop in the NFL. But those days came to a crashing halt with one fateful play in a snowstorm in 2002.
For the most part, ever since the infamous Snow Bowl loss, the Raiders have been bad. Painfully bad. The last time they had a winning record was the season after that controversial loss to the Patriots.
From 2003 on, they have gone a combined 49-111. Clearly, they haven't made a single trip to the postseason. They can't find a quarterback who will stick and, in some ways, are still paying for the horrific draft selection that was JaMarcus Russell.
Now, their fans are bitter, hoping that at some point, the team makes an informed personnel decision or just gets lucky. Either one would be great.
Some thought that when Theo Epstein came aboard, it meant there was hope on the horizon for the Chicago Cubs.
Those five people now understand they were incredibly naive.
It seems that there can be nothing done to save the Cubs. No matter whom they hire, whom they draft or whom they sign, the story largely remains the same: under-.500 record, or on the off-chance that they do win more games than they lose, they bow out in the first round of the playoffs.
It's not that the Cubs don't have talent. They rank in the top half of baseball in terms of ERA, and they have a good amount of young talent with potential. But they just can't win—or at least win enough.
They haven't made it past the first round since the Steve Bartman Catastrophe of 2003. Plus, with so much money invested in aging veterans like Alfonso Soriano—who, with the exception of last season, has largely underperformed—their hands are sort of tied.
Someday, things will change for the Cubs. They have to. This ineptitude can't last forever.
It seems like so long ago that the Cowboys were the golden boys of the NFL.
Actually, that's because it was so long ago.
Once upon a time, Tony Romo seemed like the knight in shining armor that was going to restore Dallas to glory. But it's been seven years. For (the better part of) those seven years, Romo has been taking the snaps, and the Cowboys have been unable to live up to their division rivals. They've made the playoffs just three times since 2004 and haven't finished over .500 since 2009.
On top of the on-the-field inadequacies, Jerry Jones continues to terrorize the entire region with his dictatorial ways. The latest: He completely undermined head coach Jason Garrett by declaring publicly that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan will assume all play-calling duties, something that Garrett himself still has yet to confirm.
This seems like a franchise that really has its act together.
They made a nice little run at the end of the season, but it still wasn't good enough—especially considering this team entered the 2012-13 season as the Western Conference's most formidable challenger to the Miami Heat beast.
When Dwight Howard and Steve Nash both agreed to take their talents to L.A., everyone expected the Lakers to be a shoo-in for the conference title. They certainly didn't expect this perennially dominant team to limp to its worst finish since 2006-07, given the upgrades it made to its roster.
They didn't expect to see head coach Mike Brown fired after a mere five games. They didn't expect to see Steve Nash miss considerable time due to injury, and they didn't expect to see Howard and Kobe Bryant use the media to take constant jabs at each other.
They definitely didn't expect to see Bryant go down with a season-ending injury in mid-April before the Lakers got swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs.
Somewhere, Andrew Bynum is laughing.
No team screwed things up worse than the Jets did in 2012.
Somehow—despite the fact that starting QB Mark Sanchez already seemed to be struggling at the tail end of 2011—the front office thought it would be a good idea to bring in Tim Tebow, who, at that time, appeared to be a starting-caliber quarterback.
The Jets couldn't have guessed that by season's end, they would have zero quarterbacks capable of holding the starting job.
As they enter 2013 on the heels of a comically terrible 6-10 season that landed them in the AFC East cellar, the Jets are once again branded with uncertainty. Tebow is no longer around and is, at this stage, unemployed, but the team is still unwilling to guarantee Sanchez the starting job.
Geno Smith, the 2013 NFL Draft's biggest PR disaster, is now fittingly in the mix. Unless this team pulls off a miracle in the upcoming season, Rex Ryan could be on the chopping block.
Should make for an interesting 2013.