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How cursed is Houston as a sports city?

What curse?

So another Super Bowl is history, and as you might have noticed the Houston Texans were not be playing in the game. This continues an unbroken streak of Houston football teams not making it to the Super Bowl, some in particularly heartbreaking fashion. The Astros have never won a World Series, having only won one pennant in fifty-plus years of existence. Were it not for two NBA titles by the Rockets in the 90s, the city of Houston would be completely championship-free for the major sports. You may be wondering how Houston compares to other big league sports cities in this department. I was, so I did a little research to find out. I limited myself to the last 40 years, mostly because ancient history is only of so much comfort to most fans. (For what it’s worth, Bill Simmons uses a 35-year period for assessing true wretchedness.) With that in mind, here’s what I found. Let’s start with the cities that have had nothing to celebrate in that time span.

Cleveland

Franchises – Browns (two versions, NFL); Indians (MLB); Cavaliers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Buffalo

Franchises – Bills (NFL); Sabres (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

San Diego

Franchises – Chargers (NFL); Padres (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Seattle

Franchises – Seahawks (NFL); Mariners (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – SuperSonics (NBA), 1979

Any discussion of cursed sports cities has to start with Cleveland. Their last title of any kind was a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship by the Browns in 1964. Since then, they’ve had The Drive, The Fumble, the relocation of their team to another city where it then went on to win a Super Bowl a few years later plus another this year, and all that is before we discuss the Indians (last World Series win 1948) or the Cavaliers. See here, here, here, and here for more. Really, there’s no question about it. No other city is in Cleveland’s class when it comes to sheer sports misery.

Buffalo is first runnerup, though I doubt anyone in Houston will offer much sympathy to them. Besides the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls, not to mention the Music City Miracle, the Sabres are oh-for-two in Stanley Cup finals, with the most recent loss being as controversial as it was gut-wrenching for their fans. They’re not quite in Cleveland territory, but they’re closer than anyone else. San Diego has lost two World Series, both times getting swept by teams of the ages (1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees), and one Super Bowl, but it’s hard to think of anyone in San Diego as being cursed. Seattle managed to never win a pennant despite fielding teams that featured as many as four future Hall of Famers plus Jay Buhner; I include them here since their one title was won by a franchise that has since relocated.

And here are the teams that have won one or two titles, thus putting themselves in a similar class as Houston:

Atlanta

Franchises – Braves (MLB); Falcons (NFL); Hawks (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Braves, 1995

Phoenix

Franchises – Cardinals (NFL); Suns (NBA); Diamondbacks (MLB); Coyotes (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Diamondbacks, 2001

Kansas City

Franchises – Royals (MLB); Chiefs (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Royals, 1985

Indianapolis

Franchises – Colts (NFL); Pacers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Colts, 2007

New Orleans

Franchises – Saints (NFL); Pelicans (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Saints, 2010

Minneapolis

Franchises – Twins (MLB); Vikings (NFL); Timberwolves (NBA); Wild (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Twins, 1987 and 1991

Tampa

Franchises – Rays (MLB); Buccaneers (NFL); Lightning (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Buccaneers, 2003, and Lightning, 2004

Milwaukee

Franchises – Bucks (NBA); Brewers (MLB); Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Packers, 1997 and 2011

Houston

Franchises – Astros (MLB); Texans (NFL); Rockets (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Rockets, 1994 and 1995

Out of that group, I’d probably rank Minneapolis and Kansas City as more cursed than Houston. The Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls, with several other heartbreaking playoff losses, the Twins can’t get past the Yankees, the North Stars won the Stanley Cup after relocating to Dallas, and the Timberwolves watched Kevin Garnett win two NBA titles with the Celtics. Both Kansas City teams have been poorly run for years, though the Royals are a little better these days. New Orleans would have had a decent claim to superior cursedness before their Super Bowl win; as long as Drew Brees can play at his level, they’ll have a chance. The other cities for the most part don’t inspire much sympathy. Atlanta may have the hapless Hawks and the feckless Falcons, but they also had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Indianapolis replaced Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck and rebuilt a contender after one season. Tampa and Phoenix haven’t been big league long enough to inspire real misery. No city that roots for the Packers can truly be cursed.

So, putting it all together, I’d probably rank Houston as the sixth most cursed city, following Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see it. How would you rank the losers?

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4 Comments

  1. Brad M. says:

    I found an egregious error in your article.

    You omitted the fifth major league sport in the USA…Major League Soccer. Our local Houston Dynamo have appeared in four of the last seven MLS Cup championship games. And won the first two MLS Cups in their first two year’s of their seven year franchise history here in Houston.

    Your statistical research of futility for the four most historically aged major sports in America is good, but to purposely or inadvertantly dismiss the MLS’ facts is faulty. These facts let the air out of your argument entirely.

  2. Brad, I thought about including MLS in this tally, and you’re right that if you do that leaves Houston out of the most-cursed group, since the Dynamo won those two Cups. I don’t think MLS has the same reach as the other sports in these cities, and the fact that the Dynamo won in their first two years here means that there wasn’t a shared sense of history for them at the time they won. Had they won this year, after being a part of the scene for some time and having their own stadium built and all, or if they win next year, then I’d give your argument more weight. But at the time I don’t think those two MLS Cups did much to alleviate whatever suffering that Astros or Texans/Oilers fans had felt. It’s all of course totally subjective and your mileage may vary, but that’s how I saw it.

  3. Brad M. says:

    Thanks for the reply. I do appreciate the subjectivity and difficulty to compare apples to apples.

    More Food for thought.
    1) The Dynamo, I think, outdrew the Astros in attendance last season.
    2) MLS Soccer outdrew the NHL in average attendance last year.
    3) The Houston Oilers franchise won the first two AFL championships and went to four of the first eight AFL championship games. The AFL was a rival major football league to the NFL and as we know merged with them in 1970.
    4) The Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association won 2 AVCO Trophies and went to the finals 3 of the 6 years of the WHA. WHA was a rival major hockey league to the NHL and as we know merged with them in 1979.

  4. Robert Wayne says:

    All of this depends on what sports the fans really follow. I can’t think of anything more boring than soccer. And although I consider the NHL and NBA major sports, sports in Houston has really centered on the Astros, Oilers and Texans. And all three of these teams have been dreadful, especially in clutch or playoff situations. When the Oilers did have some success back in the early ’60s, the AFL was little more than a minor league for the NFL. Same thing when the Houston Aeros were in the WHA. The WHA was the NHL’s inferior competition. The Astros nowadays are so lousy that they really can’t be considered a major league team. They play against major league teams, but in reality the team is made up of players who would be in the minor leagues with any other franchise. As for the Texans, they always look good….until they come up against a real contender and then they promptly fall apart like a cheap accordion. Houston is definitely a cursed city when it comes to sports teams.

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