Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Worst Ever?

After reflecting a bit on the recent teams that had sub 4 win seasons recently, and how much worse (relatively) the Lions were than any other teams in the group, it occurred to me that the last ten years of this franchise might be the worst of any franchise in NFL history. Back to PFR to find out!

I decided to start with teams from 1935 on. Prior to '35 the league wasn't well organized, and was more a akin to barnstorming teams than an organized league. Teams played inconsistent schedules with some play 12-14 games and others 6-8. Conferences were formed in 1933 and from 1935 onward the teams all played the same number of games. Also in 1935 the Detroit Lions won the league championship so this seems to add some karmic legitimacy to the exercise.

Okay, so unless I am overlooking someone there have been a total of six teams who have gone through 10 year stretches at sub-30% winrates. The Lions are one of them. A couple of these teams have stretched this out to 11-12 years which the Lions will also surely do. While I wish I could provide more than birdseye insight into the relative ineptitude of these franchises - I can't. But I can guess, so guess I will.

Detroit Lions 2000-2009 42-138 (.263)

Oddly we can expect them to surpass this after 2010 as their 9-7 season from 2000 will drop off. This stretch includes two 2-win season, two 3-wins seasons, and the only 0-16 season in NFL history. Over this ten year stretch the team had 7 different head coaches, including interims. Perhaps the biggest lowlight was their record in their signature games on Thanksgiving. After blowing out New England in 2000 (Tom Brady's NFL debut!) the Lions went 1-8 on Thanksgiving, losing by scores including 47-10 and 41-9.

Chicago Cardinals 1936-1945 20-83-5 (.208)

Okay, here's a team with a worse stretch than the Lions. It's hard to pretend I know anything about this team (I don't) but just picking out some things from the pile, they had back-to-back winless seasons in 1943-44 (0-10 both years) and in '44 they were outscored by 22 points per game. In a 1-10 1939 season

Denver Broncos 1960-1969 39-95-4 (.293)

As an original AFL franchise, the early years were not kind to the Broncos. This was the only AFL team not to appear in a league championship game and they didn't have their first winning season until 1973. Despite their record this team doesn't really belong in the futility category. They built their fanbase all through the decade, they had professional football's first 100 reception season by a player, they had professional football's first starting black quarterback. They were also the first AFL team to defeat an NFL team, beating the Lions (of course) in a 1967 preseason game.

Green Bay Packers 1949-1958 34-84-2 (.292)

This Packer era fits fairly neatly from the last year of Curly Lambeau's tenure through the year prior to Vince Lombardi. I haven't found a lot of information on these teams. They had some good players, Tobin Rote, among others, so it is difficult to determine why they struggled so much. The team never really survived the retirement of Don Hutson but one player doesn't account for this. The team struggled financially for much of the '50. They had their second public sale of team stock in 1954 and in '56 moved from the original Lambeau Field to City Stadium - which would be renamed Lambeau following Lambeau's death ten years later. The dramatic turnaround with the arrival of Lombardi suggests that it was scheme and not personnel that contributed the most to the lethargy of the decade.

New Orleans Saints 1967-1976, 1968-1977 36-99-5 (.275)

Daddy Manning's original Aint's, football's version of the Chicago Cubs. These teams weren't awful so much as hapless, if that makes sense. Their first ever 1st round pick was something called Les Kelly, a linebacker who never started a game in his 3 year NFL career. Their 2nd rounder also had a 3 year career. 1968, more of the same with the only regular starter a 7th round pick. The first Pro Bowler they drafted was Ken Burroughs, their 1st rounder in 1970 but he didn't make the Pro Bowl with the Saints. They promptly traded him after his rookie year to the Oilers for 3 players, 2 who never played another down in the NFL and the 3rd - Hoyle Granger - who played fullback for one season before returning to Houston. Even Hank Stram couldn't save this team. He coached the '76-'77 squads and one source blames the performance of these teams for Stram's long delayed election to the Hall of Fame. It should be noted that one of the Saints' two wins in 1970 came on Tom Dempsey's 63 yard field goal as time expired against - yes - the Detroit Lions.

Philadelphia Eagles 1935-1944 28-70-6 (.298)

There is nothing I can say about these teams that isn't already lore to Eagles fans. From Bert Bell purchasing the franchise in '33 and losing their first two games by a combined 81-0, to Davey O'Brien's record setting rookie season amidst a 1 win year, to Art Rooney effectively trading the Steelers for the Eagles and hating it so much that the next year he traded back to the war years when they merged with Pittsburgh and played as the Steagles. Perhaps the lowlight came in 1936 when Bell talked the rest of the league into instituting a draft rewarding the worst team with the highest picks. The Eagles picked Jay Berwanger #1 overall in that first draft without knowing that he had no intention of playing pro ball.

1 comment:

  1. I'm shocked the 60s-70s Eagles aren't on this list [pre-Vermeil] so I assume they came in just over the wire. They were legendarily awful after Concrete Charlie and Co retired/got old.


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