- The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, and the Jaguars have only made the playoffs three times since the 2000 season. But don't forget, Vikings fans have repeatedly had their hearts ripped out during games—and they're 0–4 in the Super Bowl. And Patriots fans have an all-or-nothing mentality. So which fan base is the most tortured?
This year’s final four in the NFL consist of a team that last made the playoffs in 2007 (the Jacksonville Jaguars), a team that has not won an NFL championship in the Super Bowl era or at all since 1960 (the Philadelphia Eagles), a team that had its last significant playoff run end on a gut-wrenching missed chip shot field goal (the Minnesota Vikings) and the New England Patriots.
If you’re lucky enough to root for a team that has made it this far in the playoffs before, you know that part of the fun is regaling uninterested bystanders with stories about the struggle. How you stuck it out through thick and thin. How your pain as a fan is somehow different or more severe than another person’s (Boston, for example, has made a lucrative cottage industry out of this). It can make for quite the horrible conversation in a bar or boarding lane at the airport.
But which of this year’s teams actually has a claim to misery? Which supporters have truly weathered the trip down fan Cocytus and, eventually, Fan Hell?
Ahead of this weekend’s conference championship games, allow us to take a crack at the rankings…
1. Minnesota Vikings
When Blair Walsh missed that chip shot field goal against the Seahawks back in 2016, I remember a fan posting a video of his dad watching the final play. He was wearing a button down shirt and pajama pants and a Vikings snow beanie. When the kick sailed right, he whipped what appeared to be a cane and screamed He f------ missed it! (at this time, the man nearly slips on his area rug). He then picks up the cane and snaps it on an end table. A woman’s voice can be heard in the background saying “Oh, Troy. I am so sorry.”
It was heartbreaking. There’s Troy, screaming in front of his television and mounted fish. By the looks of his modern kitchen, he’s created a nice life for himself but it just doesn’t matter. His football team is difficult to root for.
I’ll bet Troy was old enough to remember the 1975 divisional game against the Cowboys, in which Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson on a walk off Hail Mary, or the conference championship against Washington in ’88, when they were held scoreless at the goal line. He probably remembers 1998 when Gary Anderson missed a kick that would have guaranteed a Super Bowl appearance or the late Brett Favre pick in 2009 that handed the New Orleans Saints a trip to the big game. They are 0–4 in the Super Bowl, by the way.
In terms of a fan base deserving this, the Vikings have to be damn near the top across all professional sports. This weekend, the universe can hand it all back to folks like Troy.
And if not, well, Vikings fans can use this chart to determine the level of heartbreak.
2. New England Patriots
A few years back, I remember covering a Patriots playoff game and watching as Charles Barkley entered the locker room and began to hold court.
“When Bill Belichick leaves and Tom Brady leaves, y'all team is going to (expletive) suck,” he said at the time. “You take it for granted. You do take it for granted. You’re like, ‘We have to win the Super Bowl, or our season sucks.’”
It didn’t dawn on me until 2018, Brady’s 40th year on Earth, how true Barkley’s words rang at that time.
Bill Belichick has created a Death Star of fan haughtiness that can never be properly disassembled. When the Patriots dynasty finally crumbles, it will not be a controlled demolition. It will explode in significant fashion. Fan bases of 31 other NFL teams will celebrate.
That has to create an immense pressure for current fans. Have they savored these moments? Have they truly taken the time to taste the notes and flavors of each victory, or are they crushing 13 wins a season like parking-lot Bud Lights?
In 15 years, New England fans could very well be the NFL’s equivalent of the high school athlete who never left town. There are only so many times people will be willing to listen to stories about how great it used to be before they want to talk about the future. WHAT IS YOUR FUTURE!?
3. Philadelphia Eagles
I feel like Eagles fans make a production out of their heartache, but as far as a major sports city goes, they’ve had it pretty good. The Phillies won a World Series in 2008. The Andy Reid era yielded nine playoff appearances. The Chip Kelly era—a three-season peyote trip—was weird and wild, but also produced two 10-win seasons.
The town’s pluck and grit has been cinematically solidified over and over, from Rocky in 1976, to Barney Gorman in The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon (1998), to Mark Wahlberg playing Vince Papale in Invincible (2006) to Bradley Cooper’s performance as Patrizio Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
We get it. We’re jealous of your milieu. But, spare me the heartache. The team’s most recent Super Bowl loss was a long slog through clock management school but wasn't cruel. And one of you punched a horse! And look, you’re scaring all these nice people from Minnesota.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
This isn’t a shot at Jaguars fans. But the team really didn’t have expectations until the second or third year of general manager Dave Caldwell’s massive roster overhaul. It was a big deal when the Jaguars removed the tarp over the extra seats for a playoff game. For a while after owner Shad Khan built you that beautiful swimming pool, you barely used it.
If Jaguars fans take anything out of this exercise it should be to guard yourself against the success that might be coming. This roster is young—and stacked. Think of the Patriot fans covered in blankets and old Wes Welker jerseys, shielding themselves from a rapidly dying sun. There were probably things they would have done differently over the last 18 years. Learn from them.