Every sports team dreams of winning a championship. It’s what they want, all their goals set for it and their fans are eager to celebrate if it happens. Thus, some may cite it as unfair that some teams can go years, decades (or in the case of the Chicago Cubs a century) without a championship while others seem to keep winning them over and over. Sometimes they can be centered around one player like the Jordan Bulls or the Brady Patriots. Other times it’s a true team effort to keep things going and help these guys to victory. And yes, sometimes, it’s about the money spent by the front office to push things along. Whatever the case, the results are what becomes a dynasty. They can be obvious (the Bulls winning six in eight years) or a bit more spread out (the Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons) but the fact remains than when a team wins multiple titles in a very short period of time, they have a right to that label and can be listed among the greats.
But there are those teams that aren’t lucky enough to become dynasties, despite all their talent and drive. Despite having incredible players, able to win the big trophies and such, they find themselves unable to repeat those feats again. Sometimes, it’s bad luck, the loss of a key player or two, stiffer competition or timing. Sometimes there is no compelling reason, the team just can’t replicate that same success even with the same people involved. It’s strange to see but it does happen and for some guys, one trip to the big stage holding the trophy is all they get. Here are 15 teams that should have turned their success into a long-range reign but it never happened, 15 teams who had the potential to become a dynasty, but ultimately failed in that regard.
15 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Dodgers had known success over the years, 1988 was still something rather unique. Tommy Lasorda boasted of one of the best teams he’d ever managed and for once, he wasn’t using hyperbole. The addition of Kirk Gibson was key as the outfielder provided the team with good experience and amazing power at batting. He also brought an intensity, making it clear he was out to win and that rubbed off on his teammates with Orel Hershiser setting a record of 59 scoreless innings through the year. Together, the Dodgers finished the season at 94-67 and beat the Mets in seven games of the NLCS. L.A. were heavy underdogs in the World Series against Oakland but Gibson’s now-famous Game 1 homer sparked the entire team and swung the momentum to allow the Dodgers to win in five games. But all that power couldn’t manage a repeat as the next year saw the Giants and the A’s go at it in the World Series and the Dodgers dropping hard and not winning a postseason game until 2004. This was the last World Series for this venerable franchise that seemed poised for another classic run that never materialized.
14 1968 New York Jets
Super Bowl III was a key moment in the transformation of pro football. Back then, it was still a clash of two leagues, the NFL and the AFL and when the Jets and the Colts met in the big game, the smart money was on the Colts. Joe Namath predicted victory for the Jets and was widely laughed at but ended up proving it as New York easily handled Baltimore 16-7 to win. It proved the AFL as a true league of its own and would push their merger with the NFL while also showing how the flashy pass style could beat a strong team.
It seemed set for more of a reign for the Jets but they would fail to achieve that greatness again. Namath fell into the classic trap of his own media hype, seemingly more interested in movies and commercials than the team and the rise of strong teams like the Chiefs and the Colts would take away their shine. It’s the only Super Bowl championship for the Jets and while it helped put them, and the AFL, on the map, it still seems odd the team that changed so much couldn’t hold onto the top longer.
13 1994 New York Rangers
For 54 years, Rangers fans had seasons of ups and downs but far, far too many bitter disappointments at the end to celebrate. But finally, in 1994, the drought ended as the Rangers were able to put together one of their best teams ever. Mark Messier led the squad with Sergei Zubov, Adam Graves and Brian Leetch among others, the team pulling off amazing victories with high scoring and tough defense, ending first in their division with a 52-24-8 record. In the playoffs, they played hard and fast, sweeping the Islanders, beating the Capitals in five games and the Devils in seven. The Finals were a back and forth affair but finally, the Rangers were able to beat the Canucks in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd to finally be able to hoist the Stanley Cup after five and a half decades.
It seemed the start of something magical but somehow the Rangers couldn’t quite capitalize on that success as head coach Mike Keenan left the team in a dispute with owners and without his guidance (and the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95), the Rangers fell in the second round of the playoffs. They would have a few sparks afterward but have since endured another 20 year Cup drought, making this great moment the last gasp of championship glory so far for the team.
12 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
When the NBA of the 1980s is mentioned, most think of how the Lakers and the Celtics would constantly trade championships. However, there was one major break between those two powerhouses in the form the 1982-83 76ers. Sure, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird got the press but “Dr. J” Julius Erving brought his own amazing skill and flash, backed by rebound machine Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Marc Iavaroni. Together, they amassed a stunning 65-17 regular season record, one that would stand as the greatest in the NBA until 1996. Their play relied on quick passing, excellent shooting and pushing Malone and Dr. J as the stars. They ended up sweeping the Lakers for the title, the last championship in the franchise’s history.
They did their best for more but were soon overwhelmed by the rise of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry and thus Dr. J remains arguably the greatest player with only one championship ring in NBA history but still set a fantastic path with his own great style.
11 1999 St Louis Rams
From 1999 to 2004, the Rams were known as “the Greatest Show on Turf.” The key reason was quarterback Kurt Warner who was backed by Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Kevin Carter and more to create a fantastic team that ruled the roost in the NFC. In 1999, Warner stunned the football world by throwing an amazing 41 touchdowns and sparked the Rams to a 13-3 record and winning the Super Bowl. That promised a long run but the sudden retirement of coach Dick Vermell hurt as Mike Martz put a bit too much pressure on Warner to build a pass-heavy offense that did rack up some terrific stats but couldn’t quite pay it off with more Super Bowl titles.
They only managed to go 10-6 the next season and were eliminated in the NFC Wildcard round. They did improve to 14-2 in 2001 and seemed the likely bet to win the Super Bowl only to fall to the first shot of the Patriots dynasty. They fell bad to 7-9 the next season, one last gasp in 2003 but lost the division. For a team with one of the best offenses of all time, still seems odd they only got one Super Bowl title out of it when so many more could have followed.
10 1968 Detroit Tigers
The ’68 Tigers didn’t just win the World Series. They healed a city that had nearly torn itself apart with race riots the year before, uniting black and white fans alike under their banner. Denny McClain was the star, winning a record 31 games as pitcher and a good team of Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, Don West, Willie Horton and Al Kaline. They ended the season with a 103-59 record and in one of the best World Series ever, defeated the St. Louis Cardinals.
They had all the ingredients to continue but sadly, they were victims of timing as 1969 kicked off a real dynasty in the Baltimore Orioles who would win the next three American League championships and a World Series. McClain chose to self-destruct and be out of baseball in just a few years while injuries and trades took their toll. It just shows what happens when a truly great team has the misfortune of coming along when another great team is right in the wings.
9 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
In only their third season, the Bucks took off huge in 1970-71 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar formed the core of a good team that had a 20-game winning streak to end up 66-16. Oscar Robertson brought some much needed experience while coach Larry Costello crafted excellent strategies that would lead to domination over opponents. They won the NBA title in 1971 with Kareem winning MVP and scoring awards. They would remain strong for a couple of years but lost the conference finals the next year and beaten by the Celtics in the finals a year later.
Injuries, including to Kareem, would hamper them badly in 1974 but the real nail in the coffin was when Kareem demanded a trade to Los Angeles and the Bucks were forced to agree. Milwaukee hasn’t been to the finals since and thus this early success was all they had, only one championship that could have been many more.
8 2010 Green Bay Packers
There may still be time but it still astounds that so far Aaron Rodgers has only been able to get to one Super Bowl. Even the biggest Packers hater (meaning your typical Chicago Bears fan) has to admire the man’s amazing skill and drive. So it’s baffling that the Packers team that managed to win the Super Bowl in the 2010 season were the guys who went 10-6, not the ones who went 15-1 in 2011 or 12-4 in 2014. The key factor is that while Rodgers’ talent is incredible, he’s hampered by an often poor defense not to mention some of the most idiotic coaching decisions around. More than one Green Bay writer has point-blank stated that without Rodgers, the team would have lost at least twice as many games in the last few years. Indeed, when Rodgers was out by injury in 2013, the Packers faltered badly and barely eked out a winning record, losing in the playoffs.
Rodgers may work miracles at times but even he can’t do it all and with just a bit better coaching and defense, the Packers may well have been a Patriots-style domination of the NFC rather than just one title of the last decade.
7 1982 St. Louis Cardinals
As far as Cardinals fans are concerned, the hopes of replicating the fantastic World Series championship success of 1982 died on June 15th, 1983. That was when Cardinals management, in one of the worst decisions ever, traded star first baseman Keith Hernandez to the Mets. Alongside Ozzie Smith, George Hendrick and Darrell Porter, Hernandez helped the ’82 Cardinals win the first NL East Division pennant and then through the playoffs. They would defeat the Brewers for the World Series but the loss of Hernandez was a major blow as the Cardinals became the first divisional-era World Series champs to fail to make the playoffs the next year, ending up in fourth place.
They would return to the Series in 1985, on the verge of winning until an umpire’s bad call caused them to self-destruct and lose to the Kansas City Royals, the last appearance of the Cardinals in the World Series for 19 years. Meanwhile, Hernandez would help the Mets rise from losers to World Champions just a year later. Just goes to show how losing one guy can ruin so much.
6 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
To be fair, they gave it a good try. In 1988, Lou Holtz led his Irish squad to one of their greatest years ever, going undefeated, including a fantastic victory over Miami, eventually winning the Fiesta Bowl and becoming national champions. They were on the road to replicate that the following year, lasting all the way until the final week of the season where Miami got their revenge by beating the Irish in the Orange Bowl. Despite also having lost a game that season, Miami ended up being named national champions.
The Irish would falter after that with the loss of players to graduation, making another run in 1993 before losing the final game of that year and the National Championship to Florida State (despite how the Irish beat FSU earlier in the season). It was the last National title for Notre Dame and Irish fans still believe they should have had several more in the Holtz era to add some more gold to the Dome.
5 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
After a decade of ups and down, including some turmoil among bad finances and management, the Lightning finally struck the big time in 2003-04 as they posted the second-best record in the NHL that year, first in the Eastern Conference and possessed a great line-up of young talent like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and others. Their great speed and smart play allowed them to dominate throughout the year until defeating the Calgary Flames in the finals to win the Stanley Cup.
Sadly, the hopes of a dynasty were dashed when the 2004-05 season was canceled due to the NHL lockout and by the time play resumed in 2005, the team was forced to make some key trades and the loss of players and were defeated in the first round of the 2006 playoffs. The team would sink further to last place and it took years to reach the finals again which they lost in 2015. Most fans and NHL insiders agree that the long delay was the key factor as it’s possible the Lightning could have struck much harder if that core group had been able to hang together.
4 1997 Florida Marlins
This is a fascinating case of how the exact same owner that built a fantastic championship team could be the same person to destroy it. As detailed in the book “If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame,” Wayne Huizenga opened his wallet big-time to pack the Marlins, a team that had existed for only four years, with the best players he could. Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Cliff Floyd and so many more helped build the Marlins into a fantastic team that got a wild card berth and eventually defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games to win the 1997 World Series. It was a wonderful moment for a young franchise and made baseball popular in Florida for the first time ever.
Rather than see that potential for years of success, Huizenga immediately went about selling or trading just about every star of the team, desperate to cut costs when logic said that a World Series champion would sell much better in tickets and merchandising. The result was an epic collapse as the ’98 Marlins went 54-108, one of the most amazing turnarounds for a championship team ever. They would return as World Series champs in 2003 but another fire sale ruining that and it's astounding how quickly a seemingly unbeatable force could be undone.
3 2006 Indianapolis Colts
In just about every category, Peyton is obviously the more talented of the two Manning brothers, a superstar who has easily locked in his eventual place in the Hall of Fame. However, in one regard, Eli will always have something to hold over his big brother; he’s two for two in Super Bowls (both times over the Brady Patriots no less) while Peyton is one for three. The 2006 Colts were the best of that bunch, going 12-4, squeaking by New England to reach the Super Bowl and Manning managed to get them going after the Bears scored on the opening kickoff. Their victory was top-notch, Peyton finally a champion and confident they could do it again.
Instead, they bowed out to the Chargers in the playoffs, with Peyton then having the additional embarrassment of seeing his younger brother beat the seemingly unstoppable Pats in the Super Bowl. The Colts would reach it again in 2010 only to have Peyton’s interception run back for a touchdown to cap the Saints’ victory. Peyton was soon gone for Denver where a brilliant and dominant season in 2013 ended in one of the worst Super Bowl losses ever. It still seems so off that one of the best quarterbacks ever has only one ring to his credit when he could have gotten so much more.
2 1986 New York Mets
There were a lot of reasons to hate these Mets. There was the hard-partying, the showboating, the constant grinning, the arrogance, the taunting of opponents and, worst of all, the fact they could back every single bit of it up on the field. Winning 108 games, the Mets were a fantastic team with Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez and more guided by Davey Johnson, who didn’t mind the team’s wild behavior as long as they kept winning. They dominated throughout the year, easily winning the NLCS and then to the World Series.
Yes, their victory there was majorly helped by Bill Bucker’s infamous boner but the skills the Mets boasted are what got them to the championship. However, that very same party mentality would soon cause their downfall with guys getting into trouble with the law, suspensions, injuries and trades along with poor play. They ended up in second place the next season and it just got worse afterward.
What could have been a long-reigning team instead turned into the last World Series win for the Mets and three decades of constant heartbreak that turned these “Bad Guys” into the last true winners for the franchise.
1 1985 Chicago Bears
To a man, every member of that storied Bears team agrees they should have more than one Super Bowl ring. Few teams have run roughshod over opponents as much as this Bears squad, who decimated with several shutouts and games nowhere near close contests. Even the 2007 Patriots didn’t crush teams as much as the Bears did (and they ended up losing the one game that mattered in the end). With a powerful defense, wild but skilled QB Jim McMahon, rising star William Perry and the incredible marvel that was Walter Payton, the Bears were led by Mike Ditka, who molded them into a force that only the Dolphins could slow down with a single loss that year. It culminated in Super Bowl XX as the Bears destroyed the Patriots to achieve victory.
But for some reason, this unstoppable force fell apart quickly. The exit of defense wizard Buddy Ryan hurt as did the rush of becoming media stars and the clashing of egos. The injuries affected as well as McMahon took a massive hit in 1986 that ruined the Bears in the playoffs and Payton retiring a year later. The flash was off in no time and Chicago would make only one more (losing) appearance in the Super Bowl over the next 30 years. Yes, they rank as one of the best single-season NFL teams ever but clearly they could have been a true dynasty if a few bad breaks hadn’t occurred.