The Jury Talks Back


No champagne for Tampa Bay as Detroit marches toward infamy

Filed under: Uncategorized — aunursa @ 12:59 pm

The 1972 Miami Dolphins compiled a 17-0 record en route to victory in Super Bowl VII — becoming the only team in NFL history to go undefeated, including post-season games.  In later years, the Miami teammates developed what has become a well-known tradition during each NFL season.  They celebrate with champagne when the last undefeated team loses, thus preserving their unique status.  In most years, the bottles are opened by October, although sometimes they have to wait until early November.

The 72ers received special attention during New England‘s Super Bowl run last year.  The Patriots threatened to break Miami’s singular hold on perfection, posting a 16-0 record in the regular season, and adding two more victories during the playoffs.  Only the Super Bowl stood between New England and an historic mark of 19-0.  Alas, the drive toward a perfect season fell tantalizingly short.  The New York Giants defeated the Pats in Super Bowl XLII by a score of 17-14, scoring the winning touchdown with just 35 seconds left in the game.  Their record still intact, members of the 1972 Miami team breathed a collective sigh of relief — and then uncorked their champagne bottles.

This NFL season features another team with a shot at a ‘perfect season.’  However it’s not the type of achievement about which anybody would boast.  The 2008 Detroit Lions have lost their first 15 games.  Only a contest against Green Bay stands between Detroit and the first winless (and tie-less) NFL season since the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The shame on Detroit would be even worse than it was for Tampa Bay — for two reasons.  First, the season is two games longer than it was in 1976.  Just as no NFL team ever won 19 games, no NFL team has lost 16 games.  A record of 0-16 would eclipse Tampa Bay’s 0-14 mark of misery.  Second, the Bucs’ ineptitude was mitigated by the fact that Tampa was an expansion team playing its first season.  By contrast the Detroit Lions have been playing football since the beginning of time.

As the Lions march toward their date with infamy, obvious comparisons are being made.  While the ’76 Bucs have kept a low profile, one member of the team offered his perspective.

“It really doesn’t make any difference to me.  We will always be known as the first one.  That they will never take away from us, said [offensive lineman Tom] Alward, laughing.  “If this were to happen to them, they won’t have to worry about being alone.  We’ve been alone for a long time.”


  1. I expect another Packers’ 4th quarter collapse. If the Lions lose, it may well be a miracle.

    Comment by PCD — 12/24/2008 @ 5:54 am

  2. Remembering John McKay, the coach of those ’76 Bucs:

    His team lost its first 26 games — 14 the first season and the first 12 the next. After one of those losses, when he was asked what he thought of his team’s execution, he replied, ”I think it’s a good idea.”

    Comment by Pablo — 12/24/2008 @ 6:22 am

  3. Pablo,

    I remember the whole saga as I was born and raised in Green Bay. I also remember that it was Hank Stram’s New Orleans Saints that lost to the Bucs for the 1st time.

    Comment by PCD — 12/24/2008 @ 7:08 am

  4. CORRECTION: I originally misquoted Alward as, “We’ve been around for a long time.”

    Comment by aunursa — 12/24/2008 @ 11:15 am

  5. The Bucs lost 26 STRAIGHT. Regardless if the Lions lose 16, the bigger record is 26 in a row. Almost 2 full years of futility. As an aside, Steve Spurrier was a quarterback on that hapless Buc team.

    Comment by FLBuckeye — 12/25/2008 @ 8:12 am

  6. The Bucs achieved their epic fail as an expansion team. Their 27th game was their first win ever. The Lions have been hapless forever, and this may be the crown jewel of futility.

    Can you imagine if Barry Sanders had been on a team that wasn’t so thoroughly awful?

    Comment by Pablo — 12/25/2008 @ 8:31 am

  7. The Lions have been hapless forever

    Not quite forever. The Lions won NFL championships in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957. However…

    The team has qualified for the playoffs only nine times in the 50-plus years since winning the 1957 championship and has won only one playoff game in that span.

    Interestingly, they aren’t the gold standard in championship drought (or even all-time regular-season team) futility…that belongs to the Morgan Athletic Club/Racine Normals/Racine Cardinals/Chicago Cardinals/St. Louis Cardinals/Phoenix Cardinals/Arizona Cardinals Football Team, in existence since 1898 (that’s right, 110 years):

    The Cardinals have never made a Super Bowl appearance; they are currently one of six NFL teams never to have done so (the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New Orleans Saints being the others). The team’s lone NFL championship game victory, in 1947, while based in Chicago, came two decades before the first Super Bowl Game was played. The club’s other NFL championship, in 1925, occurred eight years before the league began holding a championship game. In the six-plus decades since winning the championship in 1947, the team has qualified for the playoffs only five times and has won but a single playoff game.

    The Cardinals were NFL Champions in 1925 and 1947 and last played for the NFL title in 1948. However, the team has not won a league title nor played in the championship game since then, and thus currently holds the NFL record for the longest championship drought and along with the Houston Texans (founded in 2002) are the only team not to appear in a conference championship game. The team has also won only three division titles (1974, 1975, and 2008) since their 1947 NFL championship. Despite being the oldest existing professional football franchise in the United States, the Cardinals have a remarkably lean postseason history, with an all-time record of 2-5 (not counting the 1964 Bert Bell Benefit Bowl). They did win a Wild Card game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1998.

    Adding insult to injury, the 1925 NFL championship, earned without a title game, was won by default:

    In a controversial ruling by the league, the Pottsville Maroons, the team with the best record, had their franchise revoked for violating the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

    That controversy, which has been revisited by the NFL several times (last in 2003) is supposedly the drivng force for a sports curse placed on the franchise:

    The Cardinals NFL franchise is allegedly suffering a curse by the citizens of Pottsville, Pennsylvania for undeservedly claiming the 1925 NFL championship from the Pottsville Maroons who were stripped of their title by the NFL in one of the greatest controversies in sports history. The curse will supposedly only be lifted when the championship is returned to Pottsville and to the correct shade of red team.

    That would explain most of the franchise’s history, if you believe in such, but how does that explain 1947?

    Curse or not, further proving the Gold Standard of Futility point: as I write this, the Lions could join a futility list only three teams in NFL history are on. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14)…and yes, the Cardinals. Twice. Back-to-back!

    1943: 0-10
    1944: 0-10 (a Cardinals-Steelers one-year wartime merger called Carr-Pitt, or as some derisively put it, The Carpets.)

    Followed up by

    1945: 1-9

    Yes, it was the then Chicago Cardinals’ win drought record that the 1976-1977 Tamps Bay Buccaneers broke.

    Also notable: while the Lions were winning three championships during the 1950s, the Cardinals (still in Chicago) only won 33 games the entire decade, which, contrasted with the slew of championships won by the crosstown Bears up to that time, forced a move to St. Louis.

    As for today, a very strong argument can be made that the current Arizona Cardinals squad might be The Worst Playoff Team Ever.

    and this may be the crown jewel of futility.

    Now that, I will agree with, although I would replace ‘may’ with ‘is’ in the sentence fragment. At least in Lions history.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/25/2008 @ 8:38 pm

  8. Dang, and I thought the Dolphins were pretty bad (up until this year, and we’ll see after the Jets game.)
    Paul, that was wasted in a comment–you should make that into a whole blog post in its own right.

    Comment by kishnevi — 12/26/2008 @ 12:33 pm

  9. I thought that too, kishnevi, and if I had posting privileges, I would rewrite and edit it as a post: All-Time Futility in NFL History.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/26/2008 @ 12:54 pm

  10. FWIW: Here’s the perspective of Detroit’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers:

    Who says there’s no such thing as a must-win game for a team with a 5-10 record? … [M]ake no mistake, the Packers have to win Sunday’s final game at home against the 0-15 Detroit Lions.

    The alternative is almost unfathomable.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/26/2008 @ 2:17 pm

  11. That’s right: nobody wants to be known as the team that lost to a team coming into a game 0-15.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/26/2008 @ 2:42 pm

  12. Reminds me of a 1980 game between San Francisco and New Orleans. In the season opener, the 49ers beat the Saints 26-23. New Orleans then went on to lose the next 12 games. In the rematch, the 0-13 Saints (referred to sarcastically as the ‘Aints) jumped out to a 35-7 halftime lead, the San Francisco fans roundly booing their team as they left for halftime.

    The fans who stayed for the 2nd half were treated to a memorable finish. Joe Montana, then in his 2nd season, led the 49ers to four second half touchdowns, and San Francisco won in overtime 38-35, avoiding the shame of losing to an 0-13 team. The 28 point deficit still stands as the most points ever overcome to win a regular season game. (The 1992 Buffalo Bills overcame a 32 point deficit to win a playoff game.)

    The following week, the New York Jets bore the shame of losing to an 0-14 team.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/26/2008 @ 4:15 pm

  13. This discussion reminds me of just last year–starting when the 0-10 Miami Dolphins faced the 7-3 first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in the infamous bad weather/lousy Heinz Field game, won by the Steelers 3-0 on a field goal with 17 seconds left in regulation.

    After that near miss, the next two opponents ran up the score: the 2-9 Jets won 40-13, and the 6-6 Bills scored 24 points in the first quarter en route to a 38-17 victory.

    Alas, the Ravens, mired in a seven-game losing streak after a 4-2 start, had insult added to injury when they lost their eighth straight to a 0-13 team.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/26/2008 @ 5:12 pm

  14. “If this were to happen to them, they won’t have to worry about being alone. We’ve been alone for a long time.”

    And now, with a 31-21 loss in Green Bay, Detroit joins them.

    What about the Bucs’ all-time longest losing streak of 26 straight, pointed out by FLBuckeye?


    The last time the Lions won a regular-season game was November 4th, 2007, beating the Denver broncos 44-7 at Ford Field. They then dropped all eight remining games of the 2007 season.

    Yes, the Lions are mired in a 0-22 losing streak over two seasons, only four games away from tying the Bucs.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/28/2008 @ 1:59 pm

  15. Paul: While the 2007 Lions lost 7 of their last 8 games, they did manage to defeat Kansas City in their 15th game. So their current losing streak began with their final game of 2007 and stands at 17 games … and counting.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/28/2008 @ 7:41 pm

  16. Well…somebody messed up at, which on the page I looked at, the Lions were listed as losing that game.

    Comment by Paul (creator of "Staunch Brayer") — 12/28/2008 @ 8:00 pm

  17. fDKwt2VMQ8Rd9

    Comment by Kade — 1/7/2009 @ 12:45 am

  18. […] line comes courtesy of this June 2001 story about the death of coach John McKay, noted by commenter Pablo: His team lost its first 26 games — 14 the first season and the first 12 the next. After one […]

    Pingback by Patterico’s Pontifications » Dallas Cowboys Lose 44-6 — 7/21/2009 @ 10:57 pm

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