Why the Detroit Lions are the worst franchise in American sports

Nothing makes sports fans happier than seeing their team hoist the championship trophy after a grueling season of ups and downs. They suffered through a season of close losses, buzzer-beaters, dramatic wins and overall heartbreak.

And watching their captain, their man, lift the hardware high overhead brings about emotions that can’t be described.

That feeling was felt by diehard fans of the Ravens, Red Sox, Bruins and Heat within the past year. A feeling of elation. A feeling of satisfaction. A feeling of accomplishment.

Feelings that haven’t been felt by those that call the Detroit Lions their team in more than 55 years.Lions fans wear bags on heads

It’s true: the Lions haven’t won it all since 1957, when there were 12 teams and divisions hadn’t been invented yet.

Hell, the facemask had barely been invented (1955) during the Lions’ last championship run, and the guys on that team are so old that they have awards named after them (the Lions’ offensive MVP is named after Bobby Layne). During the ’57 season, Detroit’s leading rusher was a fullback and their leading receiver was listed as a left end.

Now that’s old school.

Since then, the Lions have been the epitome of disaster, failing to even reach the championship game again, let alone win it.

In the Super Bowl era (1967-present), the Lions have reached the playoffs ten times. That seems like a decent number until you compare that with one of the NFL’s expansion teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since entering the League in 1995, the Jags have made the playoffs six times.

Now, some may argue that the Jags are miserable and belong in the conversation of worst North American sports franchise, but I strongly disagree. Not only has Jacksonville made the postseason in 32 percent of their seasons compared to 21 percent for the Lions, but they also have won more division titles since 1995 and have only one fewer division title than Detroit in the two teams’ history.

To add fuel to the fire, the Jags have won five playoff games in their history compared to Detroit’s mark of one (post-merger).

Yes, you read that correctly. The Detroit Lions have won exactly one playoff game in the Super Bowl era.


By way of making a funny comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won 33 postseason games since the merger.

Really, all that needs to be said is 0-16. The Lions are the only team to achieve that record and one of only two professional teams that have suffered a winless, tieless season.

The other? The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in their first season of existence. They have gone on to win a Super Bowl since then, and boast more playoff victories (obviously), more division titles and a better winning percentage than Detroit.

The friendly felines of Detroit have a monstrous .380 regular season winning percentage since the merger. Throw in the playoffs and that percentage dips to .373. That is easily the worst winning percentage of any NFL team.

Need more numbers on the Lions’ inefficiency? How about the fact that they have only had one 11-win season (1991) in the Super Bowl era? They did win 11 times in ’62 and ’31, but of course failed to win the conference either time.

No other team can claim that distinguished feat, yet another way in which the Lions are just truly great.

Clearly, the Lions are the worst pro football team, but can there be a team outside the NFL with a higher propensity for losing?

Are the Cubs cursed or just plain bad?

Are the Cubs cursed or just plain bad?

The Chicago Cubs immediately come to mind, a team that hasn’t won a World Series since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Cubs fans have a legit argument when it comes to their squad being the worst of all time, as the Cubs have won just as many playoff series as the Lions have games since 1960.

The Cubs have also qualified for the postseason fewer times (six), due to the MLB playoffs being the most difficult to get into historically.

However, the Cubs have a winning record (.512) all-time, which counts for something, and they’ve won at least one game in every season unlike the Lions. Furthermore, the Cubbies haven’t had a winning percentage under Detroit’s .373 mark since the 1966 season, so I put the Cubs slightly ahead of the Lions for now.

How about the NBA? There have been some perennial bottom-dwellers there for sure, and some rival the Lions.

The Charlotte Bobcats are relatively new, but during their 10-year tenure they have been abominable, making the playoffs just once and rolling out a whopping .344 winning percentage. But after just 10 years, I’m not sold yet; the Lions have been getting dominated for 50.

More teams make the playoffs in the NBA, so it’s tough to compare, but I don’t feel as though any NBA team has a worse resume than the Lions. Every team has had a run of success, even the now-abysmal New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Charlotte Hornets). The Suns were good with Steve Nash, the 76ers had the AI and Dr. J days, and while the Sacramento Kings haven’t won a title since they were the Rochester Royals, they had a run of success with Rick Adelman at the helm that included two division titles.

With the NBA out, that leaves the NHL as the last of the four major sports. Is there a team worse than the Lions on the ice?

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The New York Islanders came right to mind- any team that can be duped into selling to a guy with no money can’t be a very prestigious one. It’s true- the Isles have been miserable for the last two decades, with their last playoff series win coming in the ’92-’93 season. But the Islanders were dominant in the 1980s, winning four straight Stanley Cups and clearly putting the Lions to shame.

He said the Lions would lose for 50 years. It's been 56 Bobby. We're still waiting

He said the Lions would lose for 50 years. It’s been 56 Bobby. We’re still waiting

There are always more losers than winners- after all, only one team takes home the ‘ship every year. But what’s remarkable is how regularly the Lions are able to avoid earning the trophy.

Is it ownership? Coaching? Bad luck? The curse of Bobby Layne?

I say all of the above, but to each their own.

Read more Lions rumors, news and opinion on our Detroit Lions page

  • drc

    1991 the Lions won 12 games and went to the NFC championship game and lost to Washington

    • ScottPeceny

      I should have said they haven’t had a 12-win regular season which is what I meant

  • JSchwartz

    I’ve read my one, and only article under your byline. Brutal effort.