As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup. I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.
As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs. Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s. The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.
This got me to thinking. Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?
The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart. Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently. The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty. The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984. Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.
After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began. With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports. They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years. They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round. They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round. They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.
In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.
Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then. They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years. The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.
The Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies. The “Big Red Machine” included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years. Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years. The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees). The Reds would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.
Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones. They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series. Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away. Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.
Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged. The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets). While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title. That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.
The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either. Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.
The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence. They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games. New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.
The NBA has not been kind to this franchise. After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey. The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium. They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.
They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks. The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.
The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003. They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).
After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn . With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again. That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.
In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the Islanders, Reds, and Nets. The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four. However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then. The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.
Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots. When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders? Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come? Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.