Each year, one team from each major sports league wins a championship.
While all title winners go down in history, only a handful are remembered as truly legendary. Clubs like the 1927 New York Yankees, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 1972 Miami Dolphins dominated in a way that made them iconic. Yet not every great team wins a title. Injuries, postseason inexperience or just plain bad luck can derail even the most seemingly invincible squad. Here are the greatest teams to not win the championship.
The 1906 Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant by 20 games over the New York Giants. The Cubs were dominant. They led the league in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed, by large margins. Chicago’s .763 winning percentage remains the best in major league history. Six Cubs pitchers had double-digit victories and the staff posted a miniscule team earned run average of 1.76. Their ace, Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown, won 26 games and his 1.04 ERA is still the lowest ever recorded in the NL. Led by first-year manager Frank Chance, who also played first base, the Cubbies included four future Hall of Famers. The Cubs were the best defensive team in baseball and third baseman Harry Steinfeldt led the NL in both hits and RBI. The first of several Chicago Cubs teams to choke, the 1906 squad lost the World Series to the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox – known as the Hitless Wonders after finishing with the worst batting average in the AL — in six games. It remains one of the biggest upsets in Series history.
In 2018-19, the Tampa Bay Lightning became just the second team in NHL history to win 62 games. They clinched a playoff spot in early March, then became the first President’s Trophy winner to be swept in the first round of the playoffs.
The Golden State Warriors entered the 2015-16 season as the defending NBA champions, then got better. The Dubs went 73-9 to break the mark of 72-10, set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96. Golden State broke over 25 NBA records and more than ten franchise records that season. The Warriors won their first 24 games, the best-ever start to a season by any team in any sport. They won 54 straight at home and never lost back-to-back games or to the same team twice all season. Steph Curry was named MVP for a second straight year, Steve Kerr won Coach of the Year honors, and three starters were named to the All-Star team. The Warriors breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, then overcame a 1-3 deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. The Dubs faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, winning the first two games by 15 and 33 points, respectively. After winning Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, it appeared over. But Cleveland had other ideas, sweeping the final three games of the set to win their first championship in franchise history.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners tied the MLB record with 116 wins. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 to win AL MVP and Rookie of the Year, and four pitchers won at least 15 games. The M’s lost the ALCS to the New York Yankees in five games.
The 2007 New England Patriots won all 16 of their regular season games to claim the AFC East for the sixth time in seven years. They became only the fourth team to finish a regular season undefeated, and first to do so since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. The 2007 Pats demolished teams, setting the single season record for most points scored. NFL Offensive Player of the Year Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns, 23 of them to Randy Moss, which also set a record. Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions and nine Patriots were named All-Pro. New England surpassed the 30-point mark in 12 games and twice scored over 50. The Pats bludgeoned the New York Jets in their opener, then reeled off 14 straight wins. The regular season finale came against the Giants in New York, where New England capped off a perfect regular season with a 38-35 victory. After clipping Jacksonville and San Diego in the playoffs, the Patriots and Giants squared off again in Super Bowl XLII. The heavily-favored Pats gave up a late fourth quarter touchdown – highlighted by a circus catch from Giants wideout David Tyree. New England lost, 17-14, to finish the season 19-1.
Led by Hall of Famers John Havlicek and MVP Dave Cowens, the 1972-73 Boston Celtics tied the NBA record for most wins, with 68. But the Celts lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the New York Knicks.
In the 1995-96 season, the Detroit Red Wings set an NHL record with 62 wins. Their 131 regular season points earned them the President’s Trophy, and the Red Wings were the only team in the league to score at least one goal in all 82 games. Detroit had two winning streaks of nine games and a 13-game unbeaten streak, going 12-0-1 from March 3 to March 31, 1996. In the same season the Chicago Bulls set the best regular season record in history, the Wings did the same. Coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman, Detroit was stacked with talent. They scored 325 points while giving up just 181, an unheard-of goal differential of +144. But they became the Dead Wings in the playoffs, losing two games to lowly Winnipeg in the first round and needing seven games to dispatch St. Louis in the second. Detroit’s storybook season came to an unhappy ending in the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in six games.
Winning 90 games is considered the hallmark of a good major league season. Winning 100 is superb. The 1954 Cleveland Indians went 111-43. The Tribe put together two separate 11-game winning streaks. Loaded with five future Hall of Famers, they led the league in homers, scored 746 runs and only allowed 504. Behind Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon, Cleveland’s pitching staff led the league in wins, ERA, complete games and innings pitched. They also allowed the fewest baserunners. Cleveland won their 90th game in August and collected their 100th win in early September. In the second half of the season, they only lost two games in a row once – to the Yankees, who won 103 games in 1954 [interestingly, it was New York’s highest win total in the 10 seasons from 1949 to ’58 yet the only time it didn’t win a pennant]. A heavy favorite, Cleveland faced the New York Giants in a World Series best remembered for The Catch, a sensational running grab made by Giants centerfielder Willie Mays in Game 1. The Giants would win that game, 5-2, then go on to win the next three to complete the sweep. The Indians would not return to the World Series for four decades.