Lions and Tigers and Red Wings, Oh My! There’s No Place Like Detroit
The four major sports teams in the Motor City struggled mightily this past year. But where does this stretch rank among the all-time worst professional sports years for a metro area?
It has been another tough season for the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers currently sit at 27-39, well on their way to a fifth consecutive losing season. The team was in win-now mode for several years but ultimately fell short of capturing its first World Series crown since 1984 after winning the American League in 2006 and 2012. Now, the team is in rebuilding mode and well out of playoff contention in early June.
Unfortunately for Detroit fans, this is nothing new. The four major (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) sports teams in the Motor City have all been toward the bottom of the standings recently: The Tigers, Pistons and Lions all finished in last in their divisions in their last full season and the Red Wings ended up next to last.
With how poorly Detroit has performed in the past year, it’s fair to wonder whether this is the worst year-long stretch for a metro area of all time in the Big Four sports.
First, let’s outline the parameters of a sports year. We ignored this year’s baseball season (since it is not complete) and grouped the MLB and NFL seasons with the NBA and NHL seasons that followed. So, the 2020 MLB and NFL seasons are grouped with the 2020-21 NBA and NHL seasons. We used points percentage to determine the NHL winning percentage and added up winning percentages and divided them by the number of teams so baseball wasn’t weighted more heavily.
Also, the teams are grouped by metro areas, so teams could be in different cities but the same metro area, such as Los Angeles and Anaheim, and be included in the same group. And only metro areas with at least four teams were considered.
Here are the sixth- to 10th-worst years for a metro area before we move on to the top five:
The good news for Detroit fans is that 2020-21 was only the seventh-worst season on record by a metro area. The bad news? Well, keep reading. Here’s the top five:
5. 1953-54 Chicago .317
Rounding out the top five is Chicago in 1953-54. The Cardinals were the biggest culprit here, going a league-worst 1-10-1. The team was in the midst of an abysmal decade and would move to St. Louis within a decade. The Bears were the better NFL team, but managed to go just 3-8-1, while the Blackhawks were easily the worst of a six-team NHL with just 31 points in a 70-game season. The New York Rangers, who finished fifth, had 68 points.
4. 1979-80 Detroit .310
Detroit finds itself on this unfortunate list again at No.4 for its 1979-80 season. The Pistons had the worst record in the NBA and the Lions tied for the worst record in the NFL. The Tigers finished a respectable 85-76, but it was only good for fifth in a loaded AL East.
3. 1972-73 Philadelphia .303
The 1972-73 76ers had the second-worst record in NBA history, and the Eagles went 2-11-1 that year to tie for the worst record in the NFC. The Philadelphia fanbase, though, had one team to cheer for as the Hall-of-Famer Bobby Clarke-led Flyers made the semifinals before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiens.
2. 2007-08 Miami .300
Miami had the 1-15 Dolphins and a Heat team that went 15-67 for its only losing season between 2003-04 and 2013-14 as Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Shawn Marion all missed significant time. The three All-Stars missed so many games that Ricky Davis finished second behind Wade in total points on the season. But Miami was saved from the dubious top spot on the list by a decent Panthers team.
1. 2019-20 Detroit .272
The 2019-20 Detroit season comfortably beats out the 2007-08 Miami season for the worst combined winning percentage. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Detroit is how the horrible seasons have been from every single team in the city. Every other metro area with a year that ranked in the bottom 10 seasons had at least one team with a .494 winning percentage. But the Red Wings’ .429 points percentage was Detroit’s best in 2020-21.
The record-worst 2019-20 season was even worse, as the Pistons were the best team in the city while amassing a mere 20-46 record, good for a .303 winning percentage. It’s easier to ignore several bad seasons from local teams if at least one is playing competitively. That hasn’t been the case for two years in Detroit.
But all is not lost. Phoenix had the eighth-worst year for a metro area three years ago, and a rebuilt Suns team has already advanced to the Western Conference finals. The other metro area on the list since 2010 was Minneapolis in 2011-12, and both the Wild and Vikings found themselves in the playoffs the following year. And there are reasons for optimism that Detroit will be the next turnaround.
The Tigers have one of the best farm systems in baseball and seem to be slowly working their way out of a rebuild. The Lions have finally recognized the need for a rebuild and acquired extra draft capital for taking Jared Goff in a Matthew Stafford deal. The five players with the most points for the Red Wings this season are all 26 or younger. Saddiq Bey looked like a draft steal in his rookie season with the Pistons and fellow first-rounder Killian Hayes flashed some playmaking potential after he returned from a hip injury that kept him on the sidelines for part of his rookie season.
With some growth and fortune, Detroit fans might have some good times ahead. And with the way the last two years have gone, no one deserves it more than them.
Research support provided by Sam Hovland. Design by Matt Sisneros.
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