Thursday, July 16, 2009

Five Teams to Head Bang By

From True/Slant on July 16, 2009:

Five Teams that make fans want to smash their heads on their desks

There are teams whose fans throw up their hands in disgust, wallow in despair and watch through paper bags. There are franchises with nothing to celebrate in the rear-view nor any promise of success on the horizon.

Then there are the Pittsburgh Pirates, a franchise in pursuit of a record breaking 17th consecutive losing season. Somehow, the locals remain invested enough to smack their faces off their desks in frustration. Trust me, I know.

It’s particularly bad because Pittsburgh fans can always point to the other local franchises, and few hold up well against the standard set by the Super Bowl champ Steelers and Stanley Cup champ Penguins. Of course, the Pirates don’t help themselves much by (a) losing a lot, (b) trading away nearly every player with any talent, spark or connection to the fans, and (c) losing a lot. (The losing. It bothers folks.)

Still, I suppose there are worse things than being a Pirates fan. Like having your eyelashes tweezed out one by one. Or being questioned by a knuckleheaded pissant like Jeff Sessions. But keeping in the world of sports, as the Pirates complete their annual crawl of shame, here’s my very unscientific short list of fans who have it worse than I do as a Buccos fan:

New York Knicks. Only the Knicks would amass a payroll larger than the GNP of Papua New Guinea and fail so miserably on court. Only the Knicks could allow Isiah Thomas to run the team into the ground from the front office, then add head coach to his job description. To add whipped cream and cherries to it, he was paid to stick around but kinda go away. There is failure, there is incompetence, there is malfeasance. And then there is Isaiah Thomas. It may get better for Knicks fans, but to hoops fans all over New York, particularly those who grew up with Frazier or Ewing, it must feel like James Dolan purchased the team specifically for the purpose of torturing them. Commence head banging.

Buffalo Bills. Remember back in the 1990’s when the Bills lost the first of their four consecutive Super Bowl losses on an errant, last-minute field goal try? Yeah, well those were the good old days for Bills fans. Ownership is financially strapped and there has been talk of moving the team. Since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, the fans have witnessed such luminary quarterbacks as Drew Bledsoe (past his expiration date), Kelly Holcomb, Alex Van Pelt (I am not making that up), J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards. The Bills wear some of the busiest, most hideous uniforms in all of the NFL. And, as though Buffalo fans haven’t suffered enough, enter Terrell Owens (and his shadow, Drew Rosenass.) Good times.

Cleveland. You cannot look at any one single Cleveland franchise without recognizing the sorry state of affairs all over. Context, like timing, is everything. Cleveland fans haven’t enjoyed a championship of any kind since the 1964 Browns. In the 1980’s the Browns lost to the Broncos in back to back AFC Championship games, dubbed “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” but they would be more appropriately titled, “Kill Me, I’m A Browns Fan,” and “Please Kill Me, I’m a Browns Fan.” Did I mention the hijacking, um, relocation of the franchise a decade later? Yeah, that, too.

The Indians came close to a title, but lost in the 1995 World Series to the Braves. And for a super-special encore, they followed that up with the 1997 soul-crushing loss to the Marlins. Do not say the name Jose Mesa in northern Ohio unless you want a fist to the throat.

Those kinds of things take a toll on the collective sports psyche of a town, so much so that ESPN conferred the title of most tortured sports fans on Cleveland a few years back.

But, you say, the Cavaliers have King James! They just got Shaq! This is the year, baby. Except I can’t hear you over the constant, ear-ringing din about Lebron leaving for a bigger market as soon as this contract is up. Every media outlet from Boardman, Oh. to Bristol, Ct. insists he’s already gone, ready to trot off to some bigger market to make more money and become more famous. (I wonder, how much more famous could the guy even be?) Lebron’s assumed departure must hang over Cleveland fans like the sword of Damocles. It’s no way for the city to enjoy what might be the last best chance it has at a title.

Detroit Lions. No list of of futility can skip the team which drives fans to the streets with torches and pitch forks while burning the general manger in effigy. The dome? Football indoors is depressing all by itself. Add the Lions to the equation and I can actually feel my body decaying while I watch them. The Lions draft record was once read at a comedy club. It killed.

Some fans have their hopes dashed every year, but at least they have hope. Despair, thy name is Detroit.

Chicago Cubs. When I was a younger, I thought Cubs fans were reinvigorated each spring. They seemed excited when pitchers and catchers reported for spring training and the tingle of a new start mingled with the spring chill that typically remains on opening day at Wrigley. They kept their hopes for a championship just barely under wraps, but they were there. Oh, they were there. Cubs fans meant it when they said get ‘em next year.

In more recent years, in the post-Bartman era, I get the feeling that a century without a title has gotten the best of them. Cubs faithful are tighter, crankier, and just barely teetering on the edge of sanity. Misery loves company. Maybe it all turned sour after the Boston Red Sox fans and crosstown Chi-White Sox fans got to celebrate in 2004 and 2005. With those historic wins, Cubs fans stood alone as the loneliest long-suffering franchise. It doesn’t seem fun for fans anymore, which is a bummer even for me. Every loss carries the weight of 100 years, every missed opportunity seems inevitable. The Cubs are the face of disappointment. Goats optional.

Honorable mention: L.A. Clippers, Ottawa Senators, N.Y. Jets, Hartford Whalers (I interviewed some locals a couple of years ago for a story on Ron Francis; they’re still bitter).

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