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

ESPN.com Illustration

Another season ended, another first-time champion. The Washington Nationals went from never having won a postseason series in their time in the nation's capital to being the first team in American professional sports history to win four road games in a championship series. Needless to say, the Nats are nowhere near this list. But plenty of MLB teams are after the conclusion of the 2019 season.

Washington's championship caused one baseball team to rocket up this list, while another one cracked the top 25 for the first time since this list was originally released in September 2018. And with the NFL season winding down, the Buffalo Bills are primed to take a fall in the next update. How much of a fall remains to be seen, but their "lofty" position will change soon.

As for this update, 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 last season and they have a good shot to break their playoff drought in this campaign. 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. Buffalo Bills, 27.24

Movement: Up 1

The Padres fell a bit, putting the Bills in the runner-up spot for the first time. There are plenty of reasons for Buffalo fans to be miserable -- only one playoff appearance since 1999, no playoff victories since 1995, having had to watch the rival Patriots win six Super Bowls and get to four others since that last playoff win, losing four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s. You get the point -- the Bills Mafia hasn't had much to cheer about besides tailgate antics outside of New Era Field.

That could be changing, though. Thanks to a young, aggressive, suffocating defense, the Bills are set to make the playoffs for the second time in 20 seasons. That will drop them in the next batch of rankings. And if they can muster that elusive playoff win? They'll likely be the least miserable, non-Patriots team in the AFC East.

3. San Diego Padres, 26.51

Movement: Down 1

A season with high expectations, at least relative to normal Padres expectations, ended in a familiar way, as San Diego finished with a losing record for the ninth season in a row and in last place in the NL West for the third time in four years. The Padres have now missed the playoffs for the 13th season in a row and haven't won a playoff series since 1998, when they were swept in the World Series by the Yankees.

So how did the Padres move down in misery? One reason was that they watched the rival Dodgers lose in the divisional series (better than watching them advance to the World Series). The second was getting to enjoy Fernando Tatis Jr. before he got injured. A full season out of Tatis, and improvement from Manny Machado, could have the Padres in business next season. But for now, San Diego remains near the top of the list.

4. Cleveland Browns, 24.95

Movement: Even

The old familiar feeling of regret and disappointment returned in tsunami-like wave for Browns fans, as rare optimism turned into the standard amount of sadness, which should almost certainly vault Cleveland back to No. 1 in the NFL misery rankings.

A seven-win improvement from 2017 to 2018, a team with a bunch of young stars and an aggressive offseason that saw the Browns acquire superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had Cleveland fans (and many pundits) expecting big things. But a 2-6 start and regression from Baker Mayfield doomed the Browns to a 17th consecutive season without making the playoffs. That makes them 1-for-21 in making the postseason since the franchise was rebooted in 1999. They also haven't won a playoff game since 1994 and, once again, feel far away from breaking both of their futility streaks.

5. Florida Panthers, 23.97

Movement: Even

The first memory of the Panthers in the NHL was their fans throwing thousands of plastic rats onto 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 positive one and the only season the team 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 last season. In a season in which many of the most miserable NHL franchises had positive achievements, Florida did not.

Since being swept in those '96 Finals, the Panthers have not only not won a playoff series, 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

With free-agent signings such as Le'Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley and a promising young quarterback in Sam Darnold, it would have been reasonable for Jets fans to expect their team to take a step up. But any Jets fan who was expecting such a move should have known better, as this year was another awful one for New York.

Darnold contracted mononucleosis early and then saw ghosts later in the year, helping doom the Jets to a ninth consecutive year without making the playoffs. It's been over a half-century since the Jets made it to the Super Bowl and won it behind Joe Namath's guarantee. The only guarantees right now for Jets fans are dysfunction, misery and jealousy of the rival Patriots and former Jets coach (for a day) Bill Belichick. Turns out hiring a losing coach wasn't the way to advance the franchise's fortunes.

7. Miami Dolphins, 22.37

Movement: Even

The Dolphins weren't afraid of hitting bottom this year, as they went into full tank mode in an attempt to change the mojo and direction of the franchise. While that made for some ugly and terrible football this season, you can't blame Miami for venturing outside the box, as its track the past two decades has been one of despair and sullenness.

The 20 seasons post-Dan Marino have been awful in South Beach, as the Dolphins have only made the playoffs four times -- including only once in the past 11 -- and haven't won a playoff game since 2000. While the success of the Patriots hasn't helped, being unable to come close to replacing the production of Marino is the primary reason the Dolphins have gone from a consistent playoff team in the 20th century to a trainwreck in the 21st. Their fire sale has netted draft picks, but until those picks become wins, Miami fans won't be happy.

8. Baltimore Orioles, 22.23

Movement: Up 11

Having to endure 223 losses the past two seasons is more than enough misery for a fan base to endure. Having their two primary division rivals (the Yankees and Red Sox) combine for nine World Series titles since the Orioles' last title in 1983 hasn't been easy for Baltimore fans to stomach, either. But neither of those are why the O's have jumped into the top 10.

The Nationals' unlikely run to a World Series title was a bushel of salt in the already-opened wounds of Baltimore fans, as the one set of bragging rights that Orioles fans still had went up in smoke with all of the Nats' clutch plays down the stretch and into October. With a rebuild that's still far away from bearing fruit and many more losses to come, the Orioles could be very high on this list for a long while.

9. Buffalo Sabres, 21.81

Movement: Down 1

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 (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?

10. Detroit Lions, 20.7

Movement: Even

This ranking seems appropriate 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 four of the past five seasons and has made the postseason only three times since 1999. This season saw the Lions fall way short of the postseason yet again.

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 62 seasons, die-hard Detroit fans are tempted to do the same.

11. Cincinnati Reds, 20.32

Movement: Down 2

The Reds fell slightly in this installment, but things aren't exactly rosy for Cincinnati. The Reds haven't won a World Series since 1990, haven't won a playoff series since 1995 and have now missed the postseason six years in a row. 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, their rivals have been thriving, as the Cardinals have won two World Series since 2006 and are fresh off a division title while the Indians have been a postseason regular. The league's oldest franchise isn't exactly killing it, though there has been some incremental improvement lately. Cincinnati has been aggressive in free agency and trades recently and might be in line for a standings jump.

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 were by the far the worst team in the West last year and lost 58 or more games for the fourth consecutive season, though they've shown some upward signs thus far this season.

Phoenix used to be a frequent playoff participant, having made the postseason 29 times. But even good Suns teams have 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. Chicago White Sox, 19.83

Movement: Down 2

Things are slowly getting better for the White Sox, as they improved their AL Central position and have built an intriguing combination of young players and free agents. But it's still not enough to move the ChiSox off this list, even considering their relatively recent World Series title in 2005 and lack of a misery bonus.

The White Sox have had an extremely hard time making the playoffs in their history. Despite being around for the entirety of the World Series era, the Pale Hose have only made the playoffs nine times in 116 seasons and have missed the postseason 11 years in a row. And don't get a White Sox fan started about the Cubs' 2016 drought-busting championship, as the one thing that could always make a South Sider smile (the Cubbies' 108 years without a title) was taken from them in cruel fashion.

14. Seattle Mariners, 19.74

Movement: Down 1

Prior to this season, there were only two franchises that had never played in a World Series. There is only one now, and it resides in the Pacific Northwest. If that wasn't enough, the Mariners also own the longest playoff drought in professional sports, having not made the postseason 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 perpetually elusive 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. That doesn't promote misery relief, especially because Seattle is in the midst of yet another rebuilding project.

15. New York Knicks, 18.99

Movement: Down 1

After making a big splash by moving from out of the Top 25 to No. 14 in the last update, the Knicks have actually fallen. But that certainly doesn't mean that things are going well in Gotham. Madison Square Garden isn't close to the excitement level of the Knicks' last title in 1973 -- or even where it was when the Knicks were contenders in the 1990s.

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 anticipated for years turned into an absolute dud this past summer, 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.

16. Milwaukee Brewers, 18.98

Movement: Down 1

It seemed like a pretty simple proposition -- rallying for a second consecutive playoff appearance (something that only happened one other time in the franchise's 50 seasons in Milwaukee) would be enough to drop the Brewers off this list completely. Then the NL wild-card game happened.

Not only did the Brewers lose to the Nationals to stop their playoff journey, but they also blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning with one of the game's best closers (Josh Hader) on the mound. Trent Grisham's misplay of Juan Soto's single to right allowed the go-ahead run to score, unleashing Washington on a mythical run to its first-ever championship. Being that close to eliminating a team that eventually won the World Series was another in a long line of punches to the stomach and kept the Brewers on this list.

17. Texas Rangers, 18.51

Movement: Up 4

The Rangers debuted on this list in September and moved up after another unsuccessful season in which they not only finished below .500, but had to watch the cross-state rival Astros make another long playoff run. Imagine how bad they'd feel if Houston won its second World Series title in the past three years.

But even removing the Astros from the equation, being a Rangers fan isn't fun. Texas has made the playoffs only eight times since arriving in the Metroplex in 1972 and has missed the postseason the past three years. And making the playoffs has been a painful proposition for Rangers fans, as Texas lost back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011 (despite being one strike away from a title in 2011) and was subject to Jose Bautista bat-flips in 2015. But hey, at least there's a new stadium that will prevent fans from melting in the oppressive Texas summer heat.

18. Washington Redskins, 18.38

Movement: Down 2

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. And even though Washington has dropped a couple spots since the last update, it seems nowhere close to making the postseason and getting off this list after another clunker this season.

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.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves, 17.89

Movement: Down 2

The T-Wolves have fallen slightly since making their debut in September, but there are plenty of reasons for their fans to be glum. Minnesota has missed the playoffs in 14 of the 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 via a trade to win a championship in Boston) represented the only season in which the Timberwolves 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 championship team?

20. Charlotte Hornets, 17.86

Movement: Down 2

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 principal owner 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 now in 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.

21. Chicago Bears, 17.25

Movement: Down 1

It's official: Bears fans can't have nice things. After riding a dominating Khalil Mack-led defense to an NFC North title last year, the Bears were upset in the playoffs after a missed field goal, then stubbed their toe this season and will miss the playoffs yet again.

Unfortunately for Chicago fans, this is a common feeling. Ever since the Mike Ditka/Super Bowl Shuffle era officially ended in the early 1990s, the Bears have only made the playoffs six times. And forget back-to-back playoff appearances -- the Bears have only done that once since Ditka left more than a quarter century ago. Considering that fact, and that the Bears have only made the playoffs twice in 13 seasons since playing in Super Bowl XLI, their fans should have anticipated a backslide. And after Mitchell Trubisky's struggles, their never-ending search for a franchise QB might start up again.

22. Los Angeles Angels, 17.23

Movement: Up 10

The Angels are the newbie in this installment, which is hard to believe on first glance because they have Mike Trout, who recently won his third MVP in the past four seasons. But the help the Halos have provided Trout has been disgraceful, as they've become an also-ran at the same time the cross-freeway rival Dodgers have rolled off seven NL West titles in a row. Just imagine how bad it'd be for Angels fans if the Dodgers won the World Series.

That said, the days of Rally Monkeys and thunder sticks seem far away, even with the Anthony Rendon signing. The Angels have missed the playoffs five seasons in a row and nine out of the past 10. In that time, the Angels haven't won a playoff game, much less a playoff series. While watching Trout (and Shohei Ohtani) provides entertainment value, the lack of positive results in Orange County is distressing.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17.13

Movement: Down 1

The Bucs' 2002 title is the only thing keeping them from being higher on the list. Most of their 44 seasons have been terrible, making this one seem almost decent by comparison. The franchise started 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 43 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 the Jameis Winston question still has an inconclusive answer.

24. Oakland Raiders, 17.12

Movement: Down 1

The Raiders actually made a step up this season, staying in the playoff race for a while thanks to a young roster filled with several exciting young talents and a bevy of future draft picks. Of course, the Raiders are set to leave Oakland for Las Vegas as soon as they start showing signs of blossoming.

While much of the Raiders' fan base is more into the mystique and attitude of the franchise rather that its location, it's still rough for the East Bay-based fan base to be losing the team at this time, as it's been a mostly frustrating quarter century since moving back from Los Angeles. The Raiders have only made the playoffs four times since 1995 and only once since losing to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII 17 seasons ago. The Raiders haven't won a playoff game since the 2002 AFC title game, either.

25. Pittsburgh Pirates, 16.88

Movement: Down 1

It was bad enough for Pirates fans to have to watch their team finish in last in the NL Central this season, making it four years in a row without a playoff appearance. But it was even worse watching former ace Gerrit Cole lead the Astros to the World Series and seeing young prospects Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow -- whom Pittsburgh foolishly parted with last season to get Chris Archer -- tear it up for the Rays in the postseason.

A lack of proper talent evaluation is one big reason the Pirates have been mostly awful since losing Barry Bonds in free agency after the 1992 season. Pittsburgh set a major league record with 20 consecutive losing seasons after that and has only won one playoff series, the 2013 NL wild card, in the 40 years since the "We Are Family" team defeated the Orioles in the 1979 World Series. And it doesn't look like a second win is coming anytime soon.

Dropped out

Tampa Bay Rays, 11.58

Movement: Down 24 (25 to tied 49)

We mentioned the Rays in the Pirates' writeup, and for good reason. Tampa used an array of young talent and cutting-edge management to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Not only that, the Rays won the wild card and took the AL champion Astros to the brink in the division series. While fan support is an issue (which is why they've considered a timeshare with Montreal), the loyal fans will get to enjoy exciting, youthful players and a franchise that could be off this top 25 for good.

Here are teams 26-123.