No matter how much amazing talent a team can claim or how many wins they have under their belt, in the end, there can only be one titleholder. Even though some pro teams experienced what might have seemed like their best season yet, many fell short in the championships (or didn’t quite make it there).
Discover fascinating and sometimes painful facts about powerhouse football, baseball and basketball teams that missed out on the big prize.
1906 Chicago Cubs
The Cubs were founded (as the White Stockings) back in 1870, so by 1906, the Chicago team had more than two decades of experience. Pitcher Mordechai “Three Finger” Brown, shortstop Joe Tinker, first basemen Frank Chance and second baseman Johnny Evers were the star players.
Big Wins: The team won an MLB record 116 games. They finished 20 games ahead of the New York Giants.
Big Loss: They made it to the 1906 World Series, only to lose to the rival Chicago White Sox.
1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
Known as the “Boys of Summer,” the team was comprised of baseball greats such as Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella, who became the 1953 National League MVP.
Big Wins: The Dodgers became the champs thanks to their 105-49 record. To date, this is the best winning percentage in the team’s history.
Big Loss: Although they made it to the World Series, they were no match for the Yankees. The Dodgers lost in six games, allowing the Yankees to claim their fifth consecutive championship title.
1954 Cleveland Indians
The year after the Brooklyn Dodger’s disappointing loss, an unassuming team stepped up to the plate in more ways than one. The Cleveland Indians was a team rife with future Hall of Fame inductees, including Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Hal Newhouser, Larry Doby and even manager Al Lopez. The team began racking up winning streaks.
Big Wins: The Indians set a new record with two 11-game winning streaks in one season. They made it to the World Series, thwarting the Yankees. The Indians were favored to win.
Big Loss: Even though the Indians stopped the Yankees from winning another consecutive championship, the Giants crushed them inside of four games.
1961 Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings made their debut in 1961. They had lost both preseason games. Then came the regular season.
Big Wins: The Vikings blew away the crowd when they beat the Chicago Bears in their inaugural game. Plays included a 12-yard field goal and Fran Tarkenton successfully making 17 of 23 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. The final score was 37-13.
Big Loss: The season that began with such promise ended with the Vikings winning only three games.
1967 Oakland Raiders
Future Hall-of-Famer Willie Brown and other defensive players, including Tom Keating, Kent McCloughan and 6-foot-8 end Ben Davidson made the ’67 Raiders a force to be reckoned with. Quarterback Daryle Lamonica invigorated the team’s passing game.
Big Wins: The Raiders set an AFL record when they went 13-1 for the season, resulting in their first Western Division title. They dominated the Houston Oilers in the playoffs and made it to Super Bowl II.
Big Loss: With all of their victories that season, the Raiders could not overcome the Packers. Green Bay won the Super Bowl 33-14.
1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers
Five years after moving to Philly from Syracuse, the 76ers had the best record in the NBA for the second year running. MVPs and Hall-of-Famers made up the team, which included players such as Wilt Chamberlain, Alex Hannum, Billy Cunningham and Larry Costello.
Big Wins: The team ended the regular season with a record of 68-13. Chamberlain had a 20-point, 20-rebound season.
Big Loss: Cunningham broke his wrist during double overtime in the semi-finals. They never made it past the division finals.
1968 Baltimore Colts
Big Wins: The team finished the season 13-1, made their way through the playoffs and were expected to make it big in the Super Bowl.
Big Loss: Joe Namath and the Jets proved to be too strong for the Colts. The Jets won the championship 16-7.
1968 Dallas Cowboys
Another team making waves in 1968 was the Cowboys, led by coach Tom Landry. The roster included Don Meredith, Don Perkins and Bob Hayes.
Big Wins: The ‘Boys margin of victory was an impressive 17.5 points. They averaged 30.8 points per game during the regular season and set the record for most points scored through the first three games of a season.
Big Loss: The team never made it past the playoffs, where Cleveland shut them down 31-20.
1969-1970 Los Angeles Lakers
Following the retirement of Butch van Breda Kolff, Joe Mullaney began his run as coach of the L.A. Lakers. The team, which included Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, had come close to winning the NBA title the previous season and had high hopes for the fresh start.
Big Wins: West led the NBA with 31.2 points per game, and the Lakers made it to the playoffs.
Big Loss: Although the Lakers evened the series by the fourth game, the Knicks came back strong and won the finals 4-3.
1972-1973 Boston Celtics
The Celtics’ season roster included Jo Jo White, Don Chaney, John “Hondo” Havlicek and Dave Cowens, who was named NBA Most Valuable Player over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tiny Archibald.
Big Wins: The team finished the season with the best record in the league at 68-14, which remains their best.
Big Loss: The Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were shut down by the New York Knicks, who ultimately won the championship.
1973 Cincinnati Reds
The team’s star catcher had lung surgery in the off-season, and the Reds were still reeling from losing the World Series the prior year. Still, with a lineup that included Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and the recovered Johnny Bench, Cincinnati held promise.
Big Wins: The Reds ended the season at 99-63. They faced the New York Mets in the playoffs and won the NL Eastern Division.
Big Loss: The team was plagued by injury. Dave Concepción had broken his ankle; Gary Nolan had torn a ligament in his right elbow. Centerfielder Bobby Tolan was still dealing with an earlier injury as well. Then there was Rose’s fight with New York’s shortstop, which resulted in a brawl. The Reds lost the playoffs, 2-3.
1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh started the season with Terry Bradshaw as their quarterback but lost him in an injury at week five. The defense took over, with “Mean” Joe Greene at the forefront.
Big Wins: The “Steel Curtain” D-line turned the season around and finished 10-4, placing first in the AFC Central division.
Big Loss: Playoff injuries sidelined running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. The Steelers lost the AFC Championship to the Raiders, 24-7.
1983 Washington Redskins
The team began the season hoping they would win the Super Bowl, as they had the previous season. Quarterback Joe Theismann played alongside Reggie Evans, Charles Mann and Darrell Green in his first season.
Big Wins: Washington finished the season with a 14-2 record, which was the best in the NFL. The Redskins won their second consecutive NFC Championship.
Big Loss: The Redskins met the Raiders in the Super Bowl and lost, 9-38.
1984 Miami Dolphins
In 1984, Don Shula was in his 15th season coaching the Dolphins, with a roster that included rookie quarterback Dan Marino, Dwight Stephenson, Nat Moore and Tony Nathan. Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 passing yards.
Big Wins: The Dolphins ended the season with a 14-2 record. They won the AFC Championship and made it to Super Bowl XIX.
Big Loss: The 49ers defeated the Dolphins with a score of 38–16 and became the first team in the NFL to win 18 games in a season.
1993 Atlanta Braves
In 1993, the Braves were playing their 123rd season. The roster included favorites such as Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The Braves hoped to win the National League pennant for the third year in a row.
Big Wins: The team completed the season with a 104-58 record. After trailing the San Francisco Giants, they won the National League Western Division.
Big Loss: The Braves faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. The underdog Phillies surprised many and won the series in six games.
1994 Montreal Expos
In their 26th season, the Expos had the best record in Major League Baseball, at 74 – 40. Manager Felipe Alou led the team, which included third baseman Sean Berry, centerfielder Marquis Grissom and the manager’s own son, Moises Alou, who finished third in MVP voting.
Big Wins: The team lost to the Dodgers following five straight wins. They came back, winning six more games consecutively. They had a winning percentage of .649.
Big Loss: The Expos were at their peak in August 1994, but the union and the players were unable to come to an agreement, so the 1994 baseball strike began and the season was canceled. The strike had lasting effects, including a dismantling of the team.
1995-96 Orlando Magic
In their seventh season in the NBA, the Orlando Magic was missing Shaquille O’Neal. The player was out for the first 22 games of the season due to a thumb injury. The team signed Jon Koncak. Dennis Scott and Anfernee Hardaway stepped up in O’Neal’s absence.
Big Wins: Scott set a season record for three-point field goals with 267. The Magic clinched the Atlantic Division title with a 60-22 record.
Big Loss: The Chicago Bulls were too strong for the magic and completed a four-game sweep that ousted the Magic.
1997-98 Utah Jazz
Karl Malone led the Salt Lake City-based team, which had made it to the finals the previous year. However, John Stockton missed the first 18 games of the season because of a knee injury, giving the team a slow start. Still, the Jazz closed the season with a 62-20 record.
Big Wins: Utah won 31 of their final 36 games after the All-Star break. The team finished first place in the Midwest Division, went on to win the West First Round playoff series and made it to the finals.
Big Loss: Although the Jazz played strong, the Bulls pulled ahead and won the championship in the final minutes of game six.
2001 Seattle Mariners
The Mariners never lost more than two consecutive games in 2001. The team’s roster included catcher Dan Wilson, All-Star Bret Boon and Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who was named both Rookie of the Year and the MVP.
Big Wins: The Mariners set the record for wins by an American League team, finishing with a 116-46 record.
Big Loss: Although they beat the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series, they lost to the Yankees in five games in the American League Championship Series.
2001 St. Louis Rams
The 1999 MVP, Quarterback Kurt Warner, led the team that included running back Marshall Faulk, defensive end Deacon Jones and wide receiver Isaac Bruce. The Rams had earned the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Big Wins: With 14 wins, the team set a franchise record for wins in a season. They were the first team to score 500 or more points in three consecutive seasons as well.
Big Loss: The Rams plowed their way to Super Bowl XXXVI, where they played the New England Patriots and lost a close game of 17-20.
2001-2002 Sacramento Kings
Big Wins: The team finished the season with a 61-21 record, which included a 12-game winning streak, the longest in the team’s Sacramento era.
Big Loss: The Kings made it to the Western Conference Finals but lost to the Lakers in a controversial game.
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
The prior season had been a disappointment for the Steelers, who finished with a 6-10-0 record, and they faced 2004 with intensity and focus. The team’s veteran quarterback, Tommy Maddox, was injured and rookie Ben Roethlisberger stepped in. The Steelers started setting records and winning games.
Big Wins: Following a loss in the second game of the season, the Steelers experienced a winning streak lasting nearly four months. With a 15-1 record, the team defeated the Jets in overtime during the AFC Divisional playoffs.
Big Loss: The Steelers met their match in the AFC Championship playoff against the New England Patriots, who defeated them 41-27.
2005-06 Detroit Pistons
In the hopes of improving upon their prior season’s record of 54-28, the Pistons were strong from the start of the season. The team, including Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, had eight wins in the first eight games and continued to stay healthy and play hard.
Big Wins: After finishing the season with a 64-18 record, the Pistons placed first in both the East First Round and the East Conference Semifinals.
Big Loss: In the East Conference Finals, Detroit lost to the Miami Heat.
2006 Chicago Bears
The Bears won the division championship in the previous season and had high hopes for 2006. The team (almost) had a dream year, resulting in Olin Kreutz, Tommie Harris, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and eight other players playing in the 2007 Pro Bowl.
Big Wins: The team achieved a record of 13-3 for the regular season. They defeated Seattle and New Orleans in the playoffs before heading to the Super Bowl.
Big Loss: The Bears faced the Indianapolis Colts at Dolphin Stadium for Super Bowl XLI. Although the Bears started strong, with a score of 14-6 in the first quarter, the Colts fought back and won the game 29-17.
2006-07 Dallas Mavericks
After losing the 2006 semi-finals to the Miami Heat, the Mavs started the 2006-2007 season hoping to improve. The team, which included team captain Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Michael Finley, finished the season with a 67-15 record.
Big Wins: Dallas came in first place in the Southwest Division Playoffs. In addition, Nowitzki was named MVP.
Big Loss: The Mavericks were matched up with the Golden State Warriors in the final. The Warriors defeated the Mavs three times in the regular season and followed suit in the playoffs, winning 4-2.
2007 New England Patriots
Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker led the 2007 Patriots under coach Bill Belichick. The team likely hoped to win the AFC East for the sixth time in seven years and go even further.
Big Wins: The Patriots had a perfect regular season, finishing 16-0. They won multiple games by 40 points or more, scoring the most points in NFL history up to that time. Brady threw 50 touchdowns, winning MVP.
Big Loss: New England made it to the Super Bowl and played against the New York Giants. In a stunning upset, the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14.
2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
With LeBron James as team captain, the Cavaliers team included players such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson and Ben Wallace. Although they started with a loss in both the pre-season and the regular season, the team followed up with an 11-game winning streak.
Big Wins: The Cavs ended the season with a 66-16 record, which was the best record in the league. They defeated the Pistons in four games to advance to the second round of the playoffs and earned a spot in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals by defeating the Atlanta Hawks.
Big Loss: Cleveland’s amazing season came to a screeching halt when the Orlando Magic defeated them, 103-90, in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder
The team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics moved to OKC in 2008. In their fifth season as the Thunder, the team roster included James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who were all chosen for the USA Olympic basketball team.
Big Wins: The Thunder finished the season with a 60-22 record. Although Westbrook endured a season-ending injury in game two of the Western Conference playoffs, the team had no problem defeating the Rockets in six games.
Big Loss: After moving on to the next round, the Thunder faced the Memphis Grizzlies and lost in the fifth game.
2015-16 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors began the season as the defending champs. They had won the NBA Championship in 2015 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team, which included Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, started strong, winning the first 24 games of the season.
Big Wins: The Warriors finished the season with a 73-9 record. Steve Kerr was named Coach of the Year. The team made it to the 2016 NBA Finals.
Big Loss: Once again, the Warriors faced the Cavaliers. However, this series had a different outcome. After seven games, Cleveland was named the new NBA Championship winning team.
2015-16 San Antonio Spurs
NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard led his teammates, including newly acquired players David West and LaMarcus Aldridge, in the team’s 49th season. The team tied the Celtics for the best home record in league history at 40-1.
Big Wins: The Spurs finished the season with a franchise-best record of 67-15. They swept the Grizzlies in the playoffs in four games.
Big Loss: In the Western Conference semi-finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated San Antonio 4-2.