Lots of cities complain about how long it’s been since their hometown heroes last clinched a championship in baseball, basketball, or football. Most have waited a decade or two in between winning teams (except for Yankees fans, who grumble bitterly after even a single season without a trophy), but some cities and teams are indisputably on a serious losing streak. Until November 2010, San Francisco had never hosted a World Series–winning baseball team. The Giants had won the Series many times before—as the New York Giants—but since moving to the City by the Bay in 1958, they had never gone all the way.
Whether it’s because of foul balls, blown calls, or just plain incompetence, some teams have endured droughts lasting far beyond recent memory. These memorable ones persisted—and, in some cases, continue to persist—entire generations.
The Chicago Cubs: 102 Years
For the losing-est team in Major League Baseball, the last championship predates radio news, World War I, and the admission to U.S. statehood of New Mexico and Arizona. The Cubbies’ drought is so well known, in fact, that the team has been given the nickname Lovable Losers. Despite having been the first team to win back-to-back titles (in 1907 and 1908), having won the National League pennant three times in the ’30s, and having hosted some of the most famous players in the history of baseball, the Cubs haven’t even appeared in a World Series since 1945. Their drought is so long that even if they had won that Series, they would still have gone longer without a win than any other team. Many people attribute their persistent losses to that fateful 1945 matchup between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, at which one unruly fan was forced to leave the game because the odor of his pet goat was offensive to other patrons (true story). Upon being ejected from the stands, the fan is said to have muttered, “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more”—a prescient statement that has become known as the “curse of the billy goat.”
The Chicago White Sox: 88 Years
The Chicago White Sox of 1917 won the World Series, but the Sox of 1919 became much more famous for losing. Eight members of that year’s team were eventually barred from baseball for life after it was discovered that they had colluded with gamblers and organized crime to lose on purpose and make a quick buck. After that scandal and the federal inquiry that followed, the infamous team became known as the Black Sox for their misdeeds and, with the exception of one National League pennant in 1959, would have to wait until 2005 to make it back to the Series and win.
The Boston Red Sox: 86 Years
Although the Red Sox’s drought was shorter than that of both Chicago teams, it has been the subject of many more lamentations, due to the supposed “curse of the Bambino.” The team won the World Series in 1918, beating the Cubs with the help of a young hitter named Babe Ruth, who had played for the team for six seasons and had just set a record for most home runs hit in a single season. After the 1918 series, the Red Sox traded Ruth to the New York Yankees. After the trade, and thanks to Ruth’s star power, the Yankees quickly became the dominant team in baseball, while the Red Sox dwindled into mediocrity, igniting one of the most vicious and vitriolic rivalries in American sports. Even though the rosters of the next decades would feature legendary players, such as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, and Roger Clemens, the Sox never managed a World Series win until 2004. The last American League team they beat before advancing to the championship? The Yankees.
Arizona Cardinals: 63 Years
Droughts aren’t quite as long in the NFL, because the Super Bowl as a championship game has been played only since 1967. Although several current NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals have the dubious distinction of being the team that has gone the longest without winning a championship of any kind. The Cardinals’ last league victory happened in the pre–Super Bowl era, when they won the league championship in 1947. At that time, the team’s home city was Chicago. The Cardinals then moved to St. Louis, to no avail, and eventually tried playing in Phoenix before finally settling in the suburb of Glendale, Arizona. Despite their losing record, the Cardinals are the oldest active franchise in the entire NFL.
The City of Cleveland: 46 Years
Although there are no mythical “curses” to explain its losses, Cleveland, Ohio, is the most sports drought–prone city in the nation. Although Cleveland has three professional sports franchises—the Browns in the NFL, the Indians in MLB, and the Cavaliers in the NBA—none of them has won a championship in its respective sport since 1964, when the Browns won the American Football League championship (in the pre–Super Bowl days). The Indians last won the World Series in 1948, and, despite the best efforts of LeBron James, the Cavs have never won a championship ring. And with James moving to Miami in 2010, Cleveland’s drought has no end in sight.
Some fans get all the luck. Some get all the pain. But fans of teams from Chicago and Cleveland get a little more than their fair share. Sports dynasties rise and fall, players come and go, and every team is said to be one season away from greatness. For most sports fans, it’ll be only a few years before their favorite team is on top again, but, as these cases prove, some fans had better be ready to wait a little bit longer.