The 10 Most Relevant Teams in Sports
When I first started here at Bleacher Report, I wrote an article about whom, in my very humble opinion, were the 10 most irrelevant teams in sports today. I explained how, unless your name begins with “Milwaukee” (the most irrelevant sports town in America) or you play in the NHL, it’s actually more difficult to stay irrelevant than to become relevant.
This is because relevance is anything that places a team in the public eye. Take the LA Clippers for example. Sure, in Los Angeles, they’re the four other Jacksons to the Lakers' Michael. But they still play in Los Angeles. And there abused-sibling juxtaposition next to the Lakers makes for an unmistakable national identity.
So the real question becomes: how would such rankings work from the opposite end, or the Lakers' end, of the irrelevant spectrum? With so many teams clinging to multiple points of relevance, which ones top the field?
It would be easy to just rattle off the 10 most iconic franchises in sports history. Everyone knows about Red Auerbach’s victory cigars or Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech and the rest of the famed stories, legends, and championships that checker the histories of teams like the Celtics, Canadiens, and Yankees.
But relevance is a figurative cross between historical success and flavors of the moment. Take a team like the Canadiens for example. They're a hockey franchise that hasn’t sniffed the Stanley Cup in almost two decades (1993). So are they really more relevant at this point in time than a recent power like the Phillies?
Historically, it’s a no-brainer. Only the Yankees (26) have won more championships than the Canadiens (23) among professional North American franchises. While the Phillies, with over 10,000 losses since 1883, are the losingest team in the history of sports.
But relevance is an ever-revolving pendulum that swings back and forth more often than Joe Lieberman’s political affiliations. History does go a long way towards defining it. But history can also have trouble competing with the flavor of the moment.
This is what makes it possible for a perennial loser like the Phillies to matter more than a team with 11 times as many championships (like the Canadiens). By current standards, the Phillies are an all-encompassing powerhouse in the National League with an all-world pitching staff. The Canadiens are a mediocre hockey franchise content on reaching the second round of the playoffs.
So when defining relevance, put yourself in this scenario: you’re a die-hard sports fan in the middle of New Mexico. You have no local professional teams to sway your opinion. Drop everything and tell me the first 10 that come to mind at this very moment. With history as my influence and modern flavor breaking the ties, here’s how the scenario plays out…
10. Pittsburgh Penguins/Washington Capitols
In the wake of the most devastating lockout in sports history, hockey needed a savior the same way basketball needed a savior in the early ‘80’s.
The NBA got Magic and Bird. The NHL got Crosby and Ovechkin.
Their mainstream status far outweighs that of any hockey franchise; thus sneaking the two teams lucky enough to draft them into a realm where they otherwise wouldn’t belong.
9. Boston Celtics
The Montreal Canadiens of basketball fell under the same irrelevant spell in the 22 years between their 16th (1986) and 17th (2008) championship runs.
But Boston’s resurgence under Doc Rivers proves that the most decorated franchises are always just a few contending steps away from regaining the identity that made them iconic in the first place.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
You’d be hard-pressed to find another franchise that’s reversed its fortunes in such 360-degree fashion.
10 years ago, fans got a free pair of tickets with every purchase of team-sponsored “Phillies Franks.”
Now, only the Oscars and Obama’s State of the Union address are tougher tickets than a Phillies game.
7. New England Patriots
Incredibly, the Pats are still the fourth banana in perhaps the most passionate all-around sports town in America.
But no coach-star tandem in recent history gets more respect and man-love (looking at you Peter King) from the national media than Belichick and Brady.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
No other franchise has ever personified it’s home city on such a consistent year by year, era by era basis.
Dan Rooney’s family-owned operation also happens to be the NFL’s most successful franchise during its Super Bowl era ascension as the new national pastime.
5. Boston Red Sox
Spearheaded by their obsessive fan base, the Sawx spent eight plus decades making superstitions cool and hip.
To their credit, the “Curse of the Great Bambino” was the sexiest excuse for failure in sports history.
After 86 years, 2004 was an ideal time to flip the script. Come on, not even the "Simpsons" or "American Idol" could stay fresh for that long.
4. Dallas Cowboys
From "Hard Knocks" to hobnobbing with George Bush in his box to building his team a spaceship to play their home games in, Jerry Jones garners more headlines than Rex Ryan and Brittney Spears combined.
Only five NFL teams (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, and Detroit) have won fewer playoff games than Dallas since 1996.
Yet “America’s Team” remains more relevant after a 6-10 season than most teams are after they win the Super Bowl.
3. LA Lakers
As the epicenter of a celebrity obsessed culture, the front row at the Staples Center is a living, breathing wax museum of Hollywood Walk-of-Famers.
It also helps when the product on the court is more entertaining than the figureheads who sit close enough to smell Kobe’s armpits.
2. NY Yankees
The Yankees are the richest, most successful, and most recognizable franchise in the history of anything.They’ve kept up that success to, missing the playoffs just once since 1995.
So how could they possibly be second on this list? Well, they fell short of the World Series last year and missed out on Cliff Lee in the off-season. Heck, the Yanks noisiest free agent signing last off-season was Russell Martin.
In a flavor of the moment culture, the Bombers are clearly getting out-Yankeed by one gimmicky franchise…
1. Miami Heat
Even before it ransacked the Eastern Conference all-star squad last summer; Miami had actually experienced a pretty relevant history marked by a 90’s rivalry with the Knicks and a 2006 championship run.
But then Pat Riley added LeBron and Bosh to the mix. And suddenly this cozy little South Florida franchise became the most scrutinized object of cynicism in the ESPN era of fabricated storytelling.
If Erik Spoelstra sneezes during a press conference, then LeBron is the guy who planted the feather in his nostril.