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

longest championship droughts, longest playoff droughts
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY 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 – 13 seasons
  • Denver Broncos – 7 seasons
  • Carolina Panthers – 4 seasons
  • Atlanta Falcons – 5 seasons
  • Houston Texans – 3 seasons

The New York Jets were eliminated from 2023 NFL playoff contention in Week 15, extending the longest active playoff drought in the NFL at 13 seasons. New York is the only NFL franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason in the last decade and the gap between the Jets (13) and the next closest team (seven) is equal to the fifth-longest NFL playoff drought right now.

On Dec. 24, 2023, the Detroit Lions officially won the NFC North for the first time in franchise history. The Lions had a six-year playoff drought entering the 2023 season, with many believing the streak would end this year. Sure enough, a streak of 29 consecutive seasons without a division title has drawn to a close.

The New York Giants ended their playoff drought after five seasons, making it in as a Wild Card team and defeating the Minnesota Vikings.

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 13 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 – 73 years
  • Atlanta Hawks – 66 years
  • Phoenix Suns – 56 years
  • Los Angeles Clippers – 54 years
  • New York Knicks – 51 years
  • Utah Jazz – 50 years
  • Indiana Pacers – 48 years
  • Brooklyn Nets – 48 years
  • Portland Trail Blazers – 47 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.

The Boston Celtics currently have a 16-year championship drought, which they have a shot to end if they reach and win the NBA Finals.

The New York Knicks have a 51-year championship drought, but the 2024 Knicks give the franchise its best shot at a title in decades.

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 – 8 seasons
  • Detroit Pistons – 5 seasons
  • San Antonio Spurs – 5 seasons
  • Houston Rockets – 4 seasons
  • Portland Trail Blazers – 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 – 56 years – ACTIVE
  • New York Rangers53 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 – 48 years – ACTIVE

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history. After being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the 2024 NHL Playoff, the Maple Leafs now haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 56 years. The last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup was in 1967.

Longest playoff droughts in NHL

  • Buffalo Sabres – 13 years
  • Detroit Red Wings – 8 years
  • Ottawa Senators – 7 years
  • Anaheim Ducks – 6 years
  • San Jose Sharks – 5 seasons

The Buffalo Sabres have the longest active playoff drought in the NHL at 13 seasons. The Sabres last played in the NHL playoff in 2011. The Sabres hold the record for the longest playoff drought in NHL history.

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