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Longest championship droughts and playoff droughts in NFL, NBA, MLB and pro sports

What is the longest championship drought ever? While there are great dynasties throughout sports history, plenty of NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB teams have gone decades without being on top of the world. Whether curses are to blame or just bad management and worse luck, fans put up with a lot.

For many of these teams, these streaks of decades without a championship extend beyond one generation. Fans growing up as children hoping desperately to see their favorite club they were raised to support one day lift the banner declaring the champions. Time flies by and those same fans are capturing their children and even grandchildren in that same feeling.

Of course, some have it worse than others. While championship droughts are the focus, some fan bases have gone more than a decade without even seeing their team in the playoffs. It’s one thing to never hoist the championship trophy and witness a parade, but not even experiencing the brief second of joy from a playoff game makes rooting for teams even more painful.

Here are the longest championship droughts in the four major American professional sports.

Longest championship drought in NFL

Syndication: Arizona Republic

The Arizona Cardinals have the longest championship drought in the NFL, with their last title coming in 1947 as the Chicago Cardinals. While the Cardinals appeared in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, their lone Super Bowl appearance, this organization has never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Some believe a curse is a reason for this title drought. Back in 1925, the Cardinals faced the Pottsville Maroons in the 1925 NFL Championship game. Pottsville won the game 21-7, a win that should have secured the championship. However, they were stripped of the title and the Maroons were suspended by the NFL for playing an exhibition game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The NFL then gave the title to the Cardinals.

Of course, the Cardinals aren’t the only franchise with a championship drought beyond 50 years. The Detroit Lions, are one of seven teams without a Super Bowl win. The last time the Lions won a championship came in 1957, when they defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game.

Longest playoff droughts in NFL

Here are the longest active playoff droughts in the NFL entering the 2022 season.

  • New York Jets – 12 seasons
  • Denver Broncos – 7 seasons
  • Detroit Lions – 6 seasons
  • Carolina Panthers – 5 seasons
  • Atlanta Falcons – 5 seasons
  • Houston Texans – 3 seasons

After being eliminated from postseason contention in Week 18, the New York Jets have the longest active NFL playoff drought at 12 seasons. The franchise will hope to find a new quarterback in 2023, someone who can finally take this team back to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos playoff drought extended to seven seasons. Projected by many as a contender entering the season, Russell Wilson regressed and Nathaniel Hackett didn’t make it a full season before he was fired.

The New York Giants ended their playoff drought after five seasons, making it in as a Wild Card team and defeating the Minnesota Vikings. While the Detroit Lions fell short of ending their six-year playoff drought in 2022, they have a great shot at ending it in 2023.

Who currently has the longest NFL playoff drought?

The New York Jets have the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, having not made the playoffs in 12 years. Right behind the Jets are the Denver Broncos.

Longest World Series drought in MLB

MLB: World Series-Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Guardians have the longest active championship drought in MLB, with their last World Series title coming in 1948. Cleveland reached the World Series multiple times (1954, ’95, ’97 and 2016). Ironically, the 2016 World Series loss to the Chicago Cubs snapped the longest championship drought ever, with the Cubs going 107 years without a title.

Longest championship droughts in MLB

  • Cleveland Guardians – 73 years
  • Milwaukee Brewers – 54 years
  • San Diego Padres – 53 years
  • Seattle Mariners – 45 years
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – 43 years

While the Seattle Mariners are far behind some others in the length of their title drought, they are in MLB history for another unfortunate reason. The Mariners had gone 20 years without reaching the MLB playoffs, it was the longest active postseason drought in the top four American men’s sports before they made the playoffs in 2022.

In 2023, the Texas Rangers won their first World Series title in franchise history. The Rangers franchise first started playing in Texas at the start of the 1972 season, so the Texas franchise did not have one of the longest championship droughts in MLB.

MLB teams with longest postseason drought

  • Los Angeles Angels – 8 years
  • Detroit Tigers – 8 years
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – 8 years
  • Kansas City Royals – 8 years

The Seattle Mariners snapped one of the longest playoff droughts ever in 2022, making it into the MLB postseason for the first time in two decades. The Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001, an unforgettable season for the team. Seattle tied the record for the most wins in an MLB season (116), but lost in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees. Seattle then went 20 years without making it back to the postseason, but that streak is now over. When the Mariners hosted the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division series in 2022, it was Seattle’s first MLB playoff game since Oct. 18, 2001.

Of course, we saw two of the longest MLB playoff droughts end this year. The Philadelphia Phillies snuck into the postseason thanks to the added No. 6 seed. It snaps a decade-long absence from October baseball, a step in the right direction for the franchise. The Game 1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals also represented the Phillies’ first playoff victory since Game 3 in the 2011 NLDS on Oct. 4, 2011.

After snapping one of the longest playoff droughts in MLB, the Phillies made it back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. However, they lost to the Houston Astros.

What is the longest MLB playoff drought?

The Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers have the longest active playoff drought in MLB, having not made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons heading into 2024.

NBA teams with the longest championship droughts

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings have the longest championship drought in the NBA and had one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports prior to last season. It’s par for the course from a team that has battled to even reach mediocrity during its best seasons in the last two decades.

Basketball fans must go all the way back to the 1951 NBA to find the last Kings’ championship. Keep in mind, that this happened when this franchise played in Rochester, New York as the Rochester Royals. The Royals beat the New York Knicks in seven games to win the 1951 NBA Finals.

The Kings also have one of the longest playoff droughts in American professional sports. Following the 2021-’22 NBA season, Sacramento has missed the playoff in 16 consecutive seasons. It is the longest playoff drought in NBA history, surpassing the Los Angeles Clippers (15, 1977-19992) and Minnesota Timberwolves (13, 2005-’18).

Longest championship droughts in NBA

  • Sacramento Kings – 72 years
  • Atlanta Hawks – 64 years
  • Phoenix Suns – 54 years
  • Los Angeles Clippers – 53 years
  • New York Knicks – 50 years
  • Indiana Pacers – 47 years
  • Brooklyn Nets – 46 years
  • Portland Trail Blazers – 46 years

The Phoenix Suns have the longest championship drought by a team without a single title. They are one of 11 teams without an NBA championship.

After losing in the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics have now gone 14 years without winning a title. While it certainly isn’t one of the longest championship droughts in sports, the 14-year stretch is one of the longest in franchise history. Boston went 21 years without winning the NBA Finals from 1986-2007. To make matters worse, a team with 17 championships in its history has just one (2008) in nearly 40 years.

Which NBA team has the longest championship drought?

The Sacramento Kings have the longest championship drought in NBA history at 72 years. When the Kings last won a championship in 1951, they were known as the Rochester Royals.

Have the Nuggets ever won a championship?

The Denver Nuggets won their first NBA title in 2023 with a win over the Miami Heat in five games. Previously, Denver was one of the NBA teams with the longest championship droughts.

Longest playoff droughts in NBA

  • Charlotte Hornets – 7 seasons
  • Detroit Pistons – 4 seasons
  • San Antonio Spurs – 4 seasons
  • Indiana Pacers – 3 seasons
  • Oklahoma City Thunder – 3 seasons
  • Houston Rockets – 3 seasons
  • Orlando Magic – 3 seasons

The Sacramento Kings ended their 16-year playoff drought in 2023, hosting a series in the Western Conference against the Golden State Warriors. Sacramento ended the longest playoff drought in the NBA as did the Cleveland Cavaliers (four years). It was also the first time the Cavaliers made the playoffs without LeBron James since 1998.

Longest Stanley Cup title drought in NHL

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest championship drought in the NHL, a massive fall for a dynasty. From 1917-’67, Toronto won the Stanley Cup finals 13 times, they still have the second-most Stanley Cup wins in NHL history.

Unfortunately, the wheels have fallen off in recent decades. The Maple Leafs have now gone 55 years without being crowned NHL champions. To make matters worse, this team isn’t even coming close to the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, the last time Toronto hosted an Eastern Conference finals game came in 2002.

At least the Maple Leafs aren’t totally alone. The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks are the other NHL teams to go 50-plus years without winning the Stanley Cup. Sadly for hockey fans in Philly, the Philadelphia Flyers aren’t far behind. Buffalo’s future is bright, but it is currently riding the longest playoff drought in NHL history with 11 consecutive seasons without an appearance in the NHL playoffs.

Longest championship droughts in NHL

  • Toronto Maple Leafs – 55 years – ACTIVE
  • New York Rangers – 53 years (1941-1994)
  • St. Louis Blues – 52 years – (1968-2019)
  • Buffalo Sabres – 51 years – ACTIVE
  • Vancouver Canucks – 51 years – ACTIVE
  • Chicago Blackhawks – 48 years – (1962-2010)
  • Philadelphia Flyers – 47 years – ACTIVE

While the 2022 Stanley Cup finals won’t wipe out one of the longest championship droughts, a streak of 20 consecutive years without hoisting of Lord Stanley’s Cup, aka The Holy Grail of Hockey, came to an end.

The Colorado Avalanche last won the Stanley Cup in 2001. To put that 21-year drought into perspective, 28-year-old Jaromir Jagr led the NHL in points (121) during the 2000-’01 regular season. The sport was also just two years removed from Wayne Gretzky retiring.

After taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, Colorado is back on top of the NHL world. Of course, the NHL playoffs weren’t as kind to others. An early exit extended Toronto’s futility with one of the longest championship droughts in sports. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers are now at a 27-year championship drought.

We have seen one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts end in recent years. The St. Louis Blues, founded in 1967, hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2019, their first championship in franchise history.

Longest playoff droughts in NHL

  • Buffalo Sabres – 11 years
  • Detroit Red Wings – 6 years
  • Ottawa Senators – 5 years
  • Anaheim Ducks – 4 years
  • New Jersey Devils – 4 years

While the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings won’t make the NHL playoffs in 2023, the New Jersey Devils are poised to snap their playoff drought after four years.