The drought continues for the Cardinals … and so many other NFL teams
Another NFL season is in the books. Another champion has been crowned. Yet another year of frustration for the Arizona Cardinals.
No franchise has gone longer without a title. It’s now 71 years and counting for the Cardinals, whose drought began in Chicago and has since carried through St. Louis and now Phoenix. The Cardinals fired Steve Wilks after just one season as head coach in 2018 (finishing a disappointing 3-13) and replaced him with Kliff Kingsbury. He’s the 21st coach hired by the Cardinals since last winning it all in 1947.
That was back when it was a 12-team league with two divisions. Now there are 32 teams and eight divisions. Two teams qualified for the playoffs in 1947. Twelve teams now qualify each season. So much has changed since the Cardinals last unfurled a championship banner. But the frustration remains. And the Cardinals are not alone.
Here’s a rundown of the 32 franchises and their championship droughts:
Arizona Cardinals. Last champion: 1947. Drought: 71 years. The Cardinals were Chicago’s team when they won that NFL title in 1947 and returned to the championship game in 1948. The Cards had a Hall of Fame coach (Jimmy Conzelman) and Hall of Fame running back (Charley Trippi) on their last champion. The Cardinals have played one championship game since then – the 2009 Super Bowl – but lost to the Steelers, 27-23, on a late Pittsburgh touchdown.
Atlanta Falcons. Last champion: Never. Drought: 53 years. Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise in 1966, the year of the AFL-NFL merger, and has reached two Super Bowls. The Falcons were smoked in the first one by the Broncos in 1999, 34-19, then blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead in losing in overtime to the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens. Last champion: 2012. Drought: 6 years. The Ravens have won two Super Bowls since leaving Cleveland in 1996 as the Browns for a makeover in Baltimore as the Ravens. They left coach Bill Belichick behind but new GM Ozzie Newsome drafted Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in his first draft in 1996 and the championships followed.
Buffalo Bills. Last champion: 1965. Drought: 53 years. The Bills won the AFL title in 1965 with Jack Kemp at quarterback, Daryle Lamonica on the bench and a stout defense led by DT Tom Sestak and S George Saimes, who were both named to the all-time All-AFL team. The Bills shut out the Chargers in that title game, 23-0, and returned to the championship game in 1966 with a chance to represent the AFL in the first Super Bowl. But the Bills were upset at home by the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo has gone to four Super Bowls since and lost them all.
Carolina Panthers. Last champion: Never. Drought: 23 years. The Panthers reached the NFC championship game in their second season in 1996 and have since been to two Super Bowls. But they lost to the Patriots in 2004, 32-29, on a field goal by Adam Vinatieri as time expired, then lost to the Broncos, 24-10, in 2016.
Chicago Bears. Last champion: 1985. Drought: 33 years. It’s hard to believe the defense for the ages that the Bears built in the mid-1980s with Hall of Famers Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Dan Hampton would reach only one Super Bowl. They crushed the Patriots, 46-10, in that one and made it back to a Super Bowl just one more time, losing to Peyton Manning and the Colts, 29-17, in 2007.
Cincinnati Bengals. Last champion: Never. Drought: 50 years. The Bengals have reached two Super Bowls and had the misfortune of facing the Bill Walsh San Francisco 49ers in both of them. Cincinnati was competitive in both games but lost both, 26-21 in 1982 and 20-16 in 1990. Joe Montana led a game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes of that second game. The Bengals have gone 28 seasons without winning a playoff game, the longest such drought in the league.
Cleveland Browns. Last champion: 1964. Drought: 51 years. The last time the Browns were king was when Hall of Famer Jim Brown was in the backfield. He’s been retired now for 53 years. Cleveland, which went without a franchise for three seasons in the late 1990s, is one of only four teams that has never been to a Super Bowl along with Detroit, Jacksonville and the Houston Texans. The Browns haven’t won a division title since 1989, the longest such drought in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys. Last champion: 1995. Drought: 23 years. The Cowboys had the NFL’s all-time leading rusher (Emmitt Smith) and two other Hall of Fame skill players (QB Troy Aikman and WR Michael Irvin) the last time they won it all. They haven’t been back to a Super Bowl since and have won only four playoff games in the 23 seasons since then.
Denver Broncos. Last champion: 2015. Drought: 3 years. The Broncos have won three Lombardi Trophies with legendary quarterbacks, John Elway in 1997-98 and Peyton Manning in 2015. Denver has been to three other Super Bowls and 10 AFC championship games.
Detroit Lions. Last champion: 1957. Drought: 61 years. The last time the Lions won Tobin Rote was their quarterback, filling in for injured Hall of Famer Bobby Layne. Detroit traded Layne the following offseason to the Steelers and has been to only one NFC championship game since then, a 41-10 blowout loss to the Redskins in 1992. The drought has been attributed to “The Curse of Bobby Layne,” who took the Lions to three consecutive titles games in the 1950s (1952-54) and won two of them. When Layne left, so did the chance to win championships.
Green Bay Packers. Last champion: 2010. Drought: 8 years. The Packers won the first two Super Bowls with Hall of Famer Bart Starr at quarterback, then won Lombardi Trophies with Hall of Famer Brett Favre and seven-time Pro Bowler Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
Houston Texans: Last champion: Never. Drought: 16 years. The Texans are the NFL’s youngest franchise and have qualified for the playoffs in five of their 22 seasons but have never reached an AFC title game.
Indianapolis Colts. Last champion: 2006. Drought: 12 years. The Colts suffered that crushing defeat to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III that put the AFL on the map. They were the Baltimore Colts then and rebounded two years later to win a Lombardi Trophy as an AFC franchise. The Colts then went 36 years before winning again, this time as the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning taking the snaps.
Jacksonville Jaguars. Last champion: Never. Drought: 23 years. The Jaguars have reached three AFC title games but had the misfortune of drawing the Patriots in two of them, most recently in 2018. The Jaguars were the AFC’s top seed in 1999 with a 14-2 record but fell at home to the Tennessee Titans in the title game, 33-14.
Kansas City Chiefs. Last champion: 1969. Drought: 49 years. The Chiefs won the final game ever played by an AFL team – the 1970 Super Bowl when they shocked the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. Kansas City got as far as the AFC title game only twice since then, once with Marty Schottenheimer as coach and Hall of Famer Joe Montana at quarterback in 1994 and the other with Andy Reid as coach and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback last January.
Los Angeles Chargers. Last champion: 1963. Drought: 55 years. Tobin Rote was the last quarterback to win a championship for the Lions. He’s also the last quarterback to win a title for the Chargers. That was an AFL crown – an emphatic one, in fact, a 51-10 thrashing of the Bills. The Chargers returned to AFC title games with Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, Stan Humphries and Philip Rivers at quarterback and it was Humphries who delivered the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in 1995 (a blowout loss to the 49ers).
Los Angeles Rams. Last champion: 1999. Drought: 19 years. The Rams won their only Super Bowl with Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. The franchise has reached two Super Bowls since then -- once representing St. Louis (2002) and the other representing Los Angeles (2019) – and both times lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Miami Dolphins. Last champion: 1973. Drought: 45 years. The Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972-73 with Hall of Famer Don Shula as coach and Hall of Fame offensive skill in Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield. It’s hard to believe the Dolphins couldn’t win another Lombardi Trophy during the 17-year career of Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino. Miami reached the Super Bowl only once with Marino, losing to Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the 1984 49ers.
Minnesota Vikings. Last champion: Never. Drought: 57 years. The Vikings have gone to four Super Bowls and lost them all – the first one as an NFL champion with Joe Kapp at quarterback in 1970 and the other three with Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton in the 1970s. The Vikings also are 0-6 in NFC title games since that last Super Bowl appearance.
New England Patriots. Last champion: 2018. Drought: none. The Patriots have been to a record 11 Super Bowls and won a record-tying six of them. They went to Super Bowls with Raymond Berry as coach in the 1980s and Bill Parcells as coach in the 1990s. But since the arrival of Bill Belichick in 2000, a Super Bowl appearance has become an annual expectation. Belichick has taken the Pats to nine Super Bowls since 2001 and won six of them.
New Orleans Saints. Last champion: 2009. Drought: 9 years. The Saints became an expansion franchise in 1967 and it took 21 years before they even managed a winning season – and only after adding USFL champion coach Jim Mora and several of his former Philadelphia Stars. The Saints reached their first NFC title game in 2006, losing to the Bears, and finally won a Super Bowl with Drew Brees flinging away from the pocket in an upset of the Colts.
New York Giants. Last champion: 2011. Drought: 7 years. The Giants have won four Super Bowls, two with Bill Parcells as coach and two with Tom Coughlin. Eli Manning quarterbacked the two Coughlin upsets of the Patriots, earning game MVP honors with late game-winning drives each time. In 2007, Manning heroics denied the Patriots a perfect season. New York was a 10-6 wild-card that season in upsetting the 18-0 Patriots, 17-14.
New York Jets. Last champion: 1968. Drought: 50 years. Joe Namath guaranteed that victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. But there hasn’t been a guarantee since then because there hasn’t been a Super Bowl appearance since then. The Jets are 0-4 in AFC title games since then and have churned through 13 head coaches.
Oakland Raiders. Last champion: 1983. Drought: 35 years. Al Davis gave the Raiders their “Commitment to Excellence” mantra during his Hall of Fame tenure as owner. But that commitment has become an afterthought since winning their third and final Lombardi Trophy in 1984. The Raiders returned to play in only one Super Bowl since then with the NFL’s highest scoring offense in 2003. But they were crushed by the NFL’s best defense in a 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Philadelphia Eagles. Last champion: 2017. Drought: 1 year. When the Eagles upset the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl, that ended a 57-year championship drought dating back to Hall of Fame QB Norm Van Brocklin and the only post-season loss ever suffered by Vince Lombardi. Hall of Fame Chuck Bednarik went both ways in that 1960 victory over the Packers – the last player to do so in a championship game. The Eagles ended their championship drought with another peculiarity – a touchdown reception by their quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Last champion: 2008. Drought: 10 years. The Steelers have had three coaches since 1969 and a record-tying six Lombardi Trophies. Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll won four and Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin one apiece. Pittsburgh’s eight Super Bowl appearances rank second only to the Patriots. When the Steelers rebuild, they don’t rebuild for long.
San Francisco 49ers. Last champion: 1994. Drought: 24 years. The 49ers have been to one Super Bowl since Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice were playing pitch-and-catch in San Francisco – and Colin Kaepernick took them to that one in 2014, a 34-31 loss to the Ravens. Remember him? The 49ers are having as difficult a time resurrecting a dynasty as their 1990s rival Cowboys have.
Seattle Seahawks. Last champion: 2013. Drought: 5 years. The Seahawks hired Pete Carroll in 2010 and he promptly ended the franchise’s 37-year championship drought with a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos in 2014. Mike Holmgren also took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl in 2006 and Carroll took them back in 2015 but a second Lombardi Trophy continues to elude the franchise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last champion: 2002. Drought: 16 years. Both the Buccaneers and the Seahawks arrived in the NFL the same time as expansion franchises in 1976. The Bucs had a much slower start than the Seahawks, failing to win a game in their inaugural season, but wound up hoisting a Lombardi Trophy sooner. Jon Gruden coached the team that whipped Oakland in 2003 but he did it with a defense built by Tony Dungy.
Tennessee Titans. Last champion: 1961. Drought: 57 years. The last quarterback to win a championship for this franchise was Hall of Famer George Blanda – and he won back-to-back titles in the AFL’s first two seasons. That was 18 coaches and three cities ago. The Houston Oilers went to a third consecutive AFL title game in 1962 but lost to the Dallas Texans in the longest game in pro football history. The Oilers got back to one more AFL title game in 1967, then reached one Super Bowl after moving to Tennessee in 1997 – the 2000 game against the Rams. That’s been it for the 59-year history.
Washington Redskins. Last champion: 1991. Drought: 27 years. Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks in a span of 10 seasons (1982-91). The Redskins haven’t been back since. Owner Dan Snyder even tried to resurrect the Gibbs magic by re-hiring the Hall of Fame coach in 2004 after a 12-year absence from the game. But in four seasons Gibbs could win only one playoff game. Snyder bought the team in 1999 and has already gone through seven coaches, including proven winners Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Mike Shanahan in addition to Gibbs.