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Bacon: Root, root, rooting for the worst teams in sports history

the spirit of detroit wearing different team jerseys
Lauren / Flickr; Jim / Flickr; James Marvin Phelps / Flickr; Lauren / Flickr

In 1935 Detroit earned the title, “City of Champions” — and for good reason. That year the Tigers won the World Series, the Lions were NFL champions, and the following spring the Red Wings claimed their first Stanley Cup.

Since there was no NBA at the time, in just a few months Detroit’s teams captured every major title available – something no American city has done since.

It got even better when the Associated Press named Detroit’s famed boxer, Joe Louis, the nation’s best athlete that year.

Credit John U. Bacon

Since that historic year Detroit’s major league teams have done pretty well, all in all. Including the Pistons, Detroit’s pro squads have won 22 titles. That ranks fourth behind only New York, which has twice as many pro teams, Boston, and Chicago.

But that’s the good news. The bad news is the past 12 years.

Detroit hasn’t won a title since the Red Wings claimed the Stanley Cup in 2008. In the decade just finished, only the Tigers came close to a championship before getting swept by San Francisco in the World Series.

According to Dave Hogg, the poor guy who took it upon himself to add up all Detroit’s losses just last year, the total in 2019 came to a staggering 226 defeats.

The Red Wings finished one spot from the bottom, while the Tigers and Lions – oh my – completed the job, ending their seasons in the basement. The only saving grace, if you will, was the Pistons, who finished a hearty third place – out of five teams.

Add it all up, and you get 226 losses in one year. How bad is that? According to Hogg, that total is not only the worst in Detroit sports history, but the worst year for any North American city in the history of professional sports.

Worst ever. Anywhere. Any time. Now, that is impressive.

It harkens back to my childhood – alas. I grew up following all four of Detroit’s major league teams, plus the teams at the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Lots to choose from!

Unfortunately, I grew up in the 70s, when Detroit’s big league teams simply stunk. In the entire decade, Detroit’s four pro teams combined for exactly one division title out of 40 chances. Even the horrible decade just passed was better than that.

This left a large vacuum that only Big Ten sports could fill. Fortunately, the Wolverines’ teams were as good as Detroit’s were bad. In 1977, Michigan’s football, basketball, and hockey teams were all ranked #1 in the nation at one point, and the baseball team won its third straight Big Ten title. I can’t imagine any college athletic program has come close.

That same decade, just up the road, Michigan State won Big Ten titles in football, baseball, and basketball, where Magic Johnson led the Spartans to an NCAA title, too.

Thus, my deep-seated preference for college sports over the pros was not only an easy decision. It was necessary for my sanity.

So for all you sports fans out there who just finished rooting for the worst teams in sports history, I have some advice:

Go Blue. Go Green.

John U. Bacon is the author of seven national bestsellers, most recently Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football.

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