Is Oregon the Most Tortured Sports State in America?
Chip Kelly left town Wednesday morning, and a fan base mourned. His teams had been perennial national title contenders, going into November with a shot at a national championship in five of his six seasons in Eugene. Oregon never won it all during that time, but Chip Kelly had Duck fans believing that the law of averages would eventually prevail, resulting in a crystal football one day residing in the trophy cases of the Casanova Center. Instead, his departure signals a return to an uncertain future of when the state of Oregon’s next championship might come.
It’s been 35 years since the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA title; the last time Oregonians celebrated a championship in any major sport. (Major sports defined here as NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, and college basketball.) Fans in Oregon are starved for a title – not just a BCS National Championship, but a national title of any kind. Fan bases that go that long, who have seen so many near-misses without reaching the top get their own designation: tortured.
We read lists about tortured franchises and tortured cities, but how tortured are those fans? The most (in)famous example of a tortured franchise are the Chicago Cubs, a team that has waited 105 years (and counting) for a championship. As difficult as that drought may be, many Cubs fans are also Bulls fans, Bears fans, and Blackhawks fans- all of whom have won championships in the last thirty years.
Another “tortured franchise” of similar infamy were the Boston Red Sox, who waited 86 years between World Series championships. Yet many Bostonians were also fans of the city’s Celtics and Bruins, who won a combined 34 championships in between Red Sox titles. Those fans weren’t exactly sitting around waiting for a championship parade to roll through downtown Boston.
Even Cleveland, a “long-tortured” city who hasn’t won a championship since 1964, is filled with Ohio State fans who have enjoyed three national championships since the city’s last pro title, most recently in 2002. The fans in those cities aren’t tortured; just the scope of their misery is too myopic.
Many sports fans don’t root for a single team in a single sport, but multiple teams in different sports. While there are many fans that have a diverse array of teams in different parts of the country they root for, it is most common that fans of a particular team in a city or geographic area will root for the other teams that share that geographical vicinity.
Numerous fans throughout the state of Oregon love their Ducks, but they don’t love just the Ducks. The aforementioned Blazers are the state’s only professional team in one of the four major sports leagues, and the Seahawks, Mariners, and even the Canucks (if you are one of the nine people who still care about hockey) all share a geographic and cultural proximity to Oregon, as well as being the only teams in their respective leagues in the Pacific Northwest; making them the teams the majority of fans in Oregon identify with.
The only problem with Oregonians rooting for those other Pacific Northwest teams is that each of them has a similarly tortured history of excruciatingly painful losses that mirrors those of teams from Oregon. That tortured history has left each of those franchises yearning for a title that remains ever elusive. The Mariners remain only one of two teams (Nationals) to have never played in a World Series, despite holding the major league record for wins in a season (116). The Seahawks have made only one Super Bowl, which is widely regarded as the most poorly officiated Super Bowl ever. Yet the Northwest teams with the most recent championships – the 1979 Sonics and the 1991 Washington Huskies – aren’t teams shared with fans in Oregon. (Nor would we want them to be.)
With all this discussion of tortured history, it’s easy to wonder: Is there any state whose fans are more tortured than Oregon’s? Is there any state whose fortunes of their four major league teams and colleges has resulted in a longer championship drought?
Below is the list of the most recent championships for each state as well as Washington D.C. The middle column is a list of the closest pro team in each major sport. If the state or closest major city has franchises in all four sports, just the city is listed. If a state has franchises in all four leagues in multiple cities, all that state’s cities are listed. Only college teams within in that state are considered in this criteria.
|State||Closest Pro Teams (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL)||Last Title (by season, not year)|
|Alabama||Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Predators||2012 (CFB)|
|Alaska||Seahawks, Mariners, Sonics (’67- ’08)/Blazers (’08-), Canucks||1979 (NBA)|
|Arkansas||Cowboys, Rangers, Mavericks, Stars||1994 (CBB)|
|California||Sacramento/Bay Area/Los Angeles Area/San Diego||2012 (MLB)|
|Connecticut||Boston or New York||2011 (CBB)|
|District of Columbia||Washington D.C.||1991 (NFL)|
|Georgia||Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Predators||1995 (MLB)|
|Hawaii||Chargers, Dodgers, Lakers/Clippers, Kings||2010 (NBA)|
|Idaho||Seahawks, Mariners, Blazers, Canucks||1981 (FCS)|
|Indiana||Colts, Reds, Pacers, Blue Jackets||2007 (NFL)|
|Iowa||Chiefs, Royals, Bulls, Blackhawks||1985 (MLB)|
|Kansas||Chiefs, Royals, Thunder, Blues||2008 (CBB)|
|Kentucky||Bengals, Reds, Pacers, Blue Jackets||2012 (CBB)|
|Louisiana||Saints, Astros, Hornets, Stars||2009 (NFL)|
|Maryland||Ravens, Orioles, Wizards, Capitals||2002 (CBB)|
|Mississippi||Saints, Braves, Hornets, Stars||2009 (NFL)|
|Missouri||Chiefs/Rams, Royals/Cardinals, Grizzlies, Blues||2011 (MLB)|
|Montana||Seahawks, Mariners, Sonics (’67- ’08)/Blazers (’08-), Flames||1995 (FCS)|
|Nebraska||Chiefs, Royals, Thunder, Wild||1997 (FBS)|
|Nevada||Bay Area or Southern California||1991 (CBB)|
|New Hampshire||Boston||2011 (NHL)|
|New Jersey||Giants/Jets, Yankees/Mets, Knicks/Nets, Devils||2011 (NFL)|
|New Mexico||Denver||2001 (NHL)|
|New York||Buffalo/New York City||2011 (NFL)|
|North Carolina||Panthers, Braves, Bobcats, Hurricanes||2010 (CBB)|
|North Dakota||Minneapolis||2012 (FCS)|
|Oklahoma||Cowboys, Rangers, Thunder, Stars||2000 (FBS)|
|Oregon||Seahawks, Mariners, Blazers, Canucks||1977 (NBA)|
|Rhode Island||Boston||2011 (NHL)|
|South Carolina||Panthers, Braves, Bobcats, Hurricanes||1981 (FBS)|
|South Dakota||Minneapolis||1991 (MLB)|
|Tennessee||Titans, Braves, Grizzlies, Predators||1998 (FBS)|
|Texas||Dallas, Houston, San Antonio||2005 (FBS)|
|Utah||Broncos, Rockies, Jazz, Avalanche||1984 (FBS)|
|Virginia||Washington D.C.||1991 (NFL)|
|Washington||Seahawks, Mariners, Sonics (’67- ’08)/Blazers (’08-), Canucks||1991 (FBS)|
|West Virginia||Bengals, Reds, Cavaliers, Blue Jackets||1990 (MLB)|
|Wisconsin||Packers, Brewers, Bucks, Blackhawks||2010 (NFL)|
Some points on this:
- The state of Oregon last won a title in 1977, making them the most tortured state with a 35-year championship drought.
- If a state had a college program win a title, but a geographically-aligned, out-of-state pro team won a title more recently, the college title was used for the criteria instead – as its title would likely be more valued by the residents of that state. (Ex. Arkansas won a college basketball title in 1994, but its closest NFL team, the Cowboys, won a title in 1995, but the Arkansas title was used for these purposes.)
- The pro teams aligned with each state are those geographically closest to that state’s capitol. While some states have their population centers closer to another major city than its capitol, in each case (like Nevada or West Virginia) any major city that state’s fans could have been aligned with still had experienced a championship more recently than 1977.
- Of the United States’ four northwestern-most states, three of them are the most tortured (Oregon, Alaska, Idaho), largely due to their association with Seattle’s pro franchises. Oregon trumps Alaska, since the Sonics won a title two years more recently (1979) than the Blazers. Idaho is third, having won back-to-back Division I-AA (now FCS) titles by Boise State and Idaho State in 1980 and 1981.
- To that end, Idaho has only had top-level football since 1996, when Idaho and Boise State moved up to FBS, with Idaho now one of 41 states that have FBS football programs. The remaining nine (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware, Alaska), along with Idaho pre-1996, had their college championships determined at the highest level program in their state.
- Three of those nine states won FCS titles since 1977, all in the last twenty years.
- Alaska is the only state without a Division I program in football or basketball.
- When looking at states like Wyoming and New Mexico and seeing the listing of “Colorado Avalanche, 2001” as the most recent championship, the likely instinct is to say, “no one in those states cares about hockey!” But in the same city are the Denver Broncos, who last won a title in January 1999. And if someone in Wyoming or New Mexico doesn’t care about football or hockey, there is a high likelihood they don’t care about sports at all.
- Pro franchises totals by state:
- 13 states have pro franchises in all four leagues
- 5 states have three franchises
- 5 states have two franchises
- 3 states have one franchise, and all three (Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah) have an NBA team
- 24 states have no pro franchises
- Of those 24, half of those states have produced a champion in college football or basketball in the past 35 years.
No championships since 1977 – 35 years. Factor in that a fan would likely have to be at least five years old to have any memory of a championship, and you realize that no Oregonian under the age of 40 has any memory of a championship team in the state of Oregon.
That drought is why Kelly’s departure matters so much, that a title that once seemed so inevitable now returns to uncertainty. Yet there would be no better person to help break the streak than one of those under-40 Oregonians, potential successor Mark Helfrich. He has a stocked cupboard and a great coaching staff, and may yet lead the team to the top. However, as a head coach he is an unknown entity, which by definition, is not a certainty. As long as that uncertainty remains, it gives fans in the State of Oregon one title they can’t wait to lose: The Most Tortured Fans in America.