It’s the daily struggle that defines a free-spirited capitalist society. It’s a struggle defined by the subconscious mental track of a surrounding system of consumer judges. It’s the struggle to be relevant. In a sporting context, relevance is a figurative cross between historical and modern contexts.
For example, the Philadelphia 76ers are a mediocre NBA franchise. They have no front-line superstar and they’re lucky if they fill half the arena against an average opponent. But the Sixers have also left an indelible stamp on the history of the NBA. Wilt Chamberlain redefined the center position as a Sixer. Julius Erving introduced the concept of playing “above the rim” as a Sixer. Philadelphia’s two championship teams (1966-67, 1982-83) are two of the most legendary single season forces in NBA history. So even though they haven’t won a playoff series in seven years, the Sixers will never be in the bottom tier of teams that come to mind when you think of the NBA.
An even better example are the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have suffered a modern sporting record of 18 consecutive losing seasons. Postseason baseball is about as foreign to a Pirates fan as sobriety and motorcycle helmets are to Ben Roethlisberger. But their streak is so epically futile that Pittsburgh has become impossible to ignore. Sports Illustrated dedicated a five-page article last August to the current state of the franchise. That’s more pages then the eventual World Series champion Giants got all season.
As the Pirates and Sixers represent, it’s harder to stay irrelevant than to become relevant. You can be a historical juggernaut, a current champion or a talented title contender. You can have the No. 1 draft pick, get caught in a controversy or be mired in an epic title drought. Once you’re relevant, you’ll hang onto that point of relevance as a historical reference point. The challenge is pinpointing the irrelevant teams.
Even in an era where relevance can stretch as far as a gunfight in the locker room (Washington Wizards) or a century-long title drought inspired by a mythical Billy goat (Chicago Cubs), these teams are never quite important enough to push themselves to a subconscious forefront. But I’m going to do it anyway.
The rare franchise whose material shortcomings are capable of outweighing a mild semblance of historical substance.
But perpetually ugly uniforms, a perpetually boorish nickname and a perpetually irrelevant home city is too much for that glorious 1971 title team (featuring Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson) to overcome.
It’s hard to be irrelevant in a league as popular as the NFL.
But when the biggest legends in your history are Tom Coughlin and Mark Brunell...
Before their 2007 World Series run, the Rockies were known solely as the only steroid-era team where the players only needed to juice on the road (ahem, Coors Field).
They’ve switched leagues as many times (once) as they’ve won their division.
In the first seven years of Miller Park (before the team's 2008 playoff appearance), the sausage races garnered more highlights on Baseball Tonight than the actual team.
Petco Park? Seriously?
From the “Run T-M-C” days of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin to the early 90s team featuring Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell to even the early 00s bunch featuring Jason Richardson, Antwan Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, the Warriors California history is like a trash dump of unfulfilled athletic potential.
Quick. Name one thing that stands out about this franchise besides the fact that Wayne Gretzky spent five embarrassing seasons trying to prove that great players can be great coaches.
But the Great One is the only reason the Coyotes warrant their own spot…
Just a shout-out to the NHL’s failure to spread its sport to regions that never cared in the first place.
Soccer in the US? Why don’t we try democracy in the Middle East while we're at it?
Floridians won’t even sit outside to watch the Marlins.
Why would they go inside to watch a hockey game?
Would you vacation in Antarctica if you lived in Hawaii?