Since big-time pro sports came to Seattle in 1967, the opportunities for championships have been fairly plentiful. The NBA Sonics made the playoffs 22 times before leaving town in 2008, a run that included six trips to the Western Conference finals and three to the NBA finals. Football's Seahawks have made it to the postseason 11 times since their 1976 birth, reaching the conference championship game twice and the Super Bowl in 2006. And the Mariners, an American League expansion team in 1977, managed to reach the American League Championship Series three times between 1995 and 2001.
But through a cumulative 111 seasons and 37 playoff appearances, Seattle boasts only one champion: the 1979 Sonics of Gus Williams, Jack Sikma and Dennis Johnson. The list of playoff busts includes some real gut-wrenchers: The 1978 Sonics blew a championship by dropping a Game 7 at home to Washington in the finals, while the top-seeded 1994 club lost a first-round series to the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets.
And the 2001 Mariners went down in the playoffs to the New York Yankees after posting a 116-46 record during the regular season. Add it all up, and Seattle's history lands it at the top of our list of the Most Miserable Sports Cities.
We're not defining sports misery as sheer futility. The Chicago Cubs going over a century without a championship; the Los Angeles Clippers turning in two winning seasons since 1985 — everyone knows about that stuff. We're going for something else.
Sports lore is filled with tales of the near-miss: the Brooklyn Dodgers' reaching the World Series six times between 1947 and 1956 only to lose to the Yankees in five of them; the Buffalo Bills' losing four straight Super Bowls in the '90s; the New York Rangers' and Atlanta Braves' coming close countless times before falling short of a championship. We decided to add it all up and create a sports heartbreak index to identify where fans have been exposed to teams good enough to get their hopes up, only to let them down in the end.
We scored each city on the number of times one of its teams has lost in the postseason, adjusting the misery points to give the most weight to losing in the final round (World Series, Super Bowl, NBA finals, Stanley Cup finals) and doling out progressively fewer points for losing earlier playoff rounds. We also factored in the number of years since each city's last title (31 for Seattle), and the ratio of each city's cumulative seasons to championships won (Atlanta, for instance, has compiled 153 MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL seasons while winning one championship, the 1995 Braves). And to keep the playing field even, we limited the contenders to cities with at least 75 cumulative seasons in the four major sports leagues.
We also tacked on a bonus point whenever a city loses a team to greener pastures. The loss of its NBA club was just enough to nudge Seattle past Atlanta, a city with one sports title in 153 cumulative seasons, to the top of the misery list. Atlanta's postseason misery is legendary, led by the Braves' failure to take home a world championship in 13 of 14 playoff appearances from 1991 to 2004. Throw in a Falcons loss in their lone Super Bowl appearance (1999) and a pair of losses by the NBA Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals, and Atlanta rides neck-and-neck with Seattle on the disappointment meter.
Rounding out the top five on the sports misery list: Phoenix, where the 2001 Diamondbacks took the city's only championship in 92 cumulative seasons; Buffalo, where the NFL Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s and the NHL Sabres are still looking for their first Stanley Cup; and San Diego, home to teams that have lost six of seven championship round matchups over the years, the Chargers American Football League crown in 1963 standing as the city's only championship.