When the Cardinals won it all Friday night with their 83-78 record, I immediately wondered if they were in fact the most mediocre champion ever. I decided to take a tour through the championship histories of the major sports and have compiled a top 10 list of the worst champions in the last 30 years, as it seemed a pretty modern sample. Of course, for some reason, I don’t think guys like David Eckstein or Jerome Bettis on fairly average championship teams really care how they won, but that they won. This list isn’t meant to denigrate any of these teams of course; they’re all champions, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say since 5th grade pee-wee football. Legendary teams or dynasties, like the ’72 Dolphins or 1960s Celtics, however, these teams ain’t. Enjoy and comment:
10. 1977 Portland Trail Blazers. This team, led by Big Red himself, Bill Walton, and Dr. Jack Ramsay as coach represented the Blazers 1st trip to the playoffs and only championship. The Blazers had a record of 49-33, good enough for 2nd in the division, and had an even better 1977-78 season, but were a dynasty by no stretch of the imagination, not reaching the Western Conference Finals again until 1989-90. In fact, they didn’t even win a playoff series again until 1983. Walton and Ramsay represent the only hall of famers on this team.
1978 New York Yankees. The 100-63 record is surely nothing to sneeze at, and this team featured vast array of Hall of Famers, but the reason for inclusion here is that if the Red Sox had not collapsed in an epic way, this victory never would’ve happened. Simple as that. Mike Torrez and a steady wind are what really got the Yankees title # 22.
8. 1984 BYU football. Robbie Bosco led the Stormin’ Mormons to a 13-0 season, and he and coach Lavell Edwards won the school’s only national title by defeating Michigan (6-5 record) by a touchdown, 24-17. BYU, the WAC champ, was the only undefeated team going into that bowl season, and as WAC champ, was tied into the Holiday Bowl, which, at the time, was like Boise St. winning the title after winning the MPC Computer Bowl over some average ACC team like Virginia. Long story short, by running through a crap conference, BYU won it all.
7. 1997 Florida Marlins. This was obviously a star-studded team. But it somehow only won 92 games to get the wild card behind one of those Braves teams that soon enough folded in the playoffs (to the Marlins). But, this team is on the list more so because it was the ultimate one hit wonder, as the entire core of it was gone by 1999 and had no success in the years from inclusion in baseball 1993 through 1996 (80-82 record).
6. 1988 Kansas basketball. Danny Manning fans of the world are up in arms because of this, I know. But, this was a 6 seed that really frankly barely won. Some of the more egregious stats surrounding this team: beat 14th seeded Murray St. in the 2nd round by 3 points, never faced a seed higher than 4th until the final 4, won the title over conference foe Oklahoma in the championship…in Kansas City, team came in unranked, and due to violations, Jayhawks weren’t allowed in the 1989 tournament. This wasn’t exactly a “One Shining Moment” team.
5. 2000 New York Yankees. I guess when you win 26 championships, some of your teams are better than others. In this case, the Yankees most recent championship team was an 87-75 group that lost 15 of its last 18 before rallying to win its third straight championship and fourth in five years. Luckily, this fairly mediocre season came in a year when the AL East was down, and that consecutive division title streak the Yanks have going would’ve been halved.
4. 1990 Colorado football. Arguably the most controversial of all pre-BCS shenanigans, this 11-1-1 team split with Georgia Tech, who finished the year 11-0-1. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of those 11 wins was the infamous “five down game” where against Missouri the refs awarded the Buffs a fifth down at the goal line accidentally and Colorado capitalized and won. The Buffaloes refused to give up the game despite knowing they’d obviously won on human error.
3. 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers. This may be a bit of a projection, but when you lose to a team as bad as the Raiders the next season, well, it kind of goes to show maybe you just weren’t all that great to begin with. Add in the facts that along their run last year Carson Palmer got injured in his first pass, Nick Harper inexplicably cut towards the middle of the field, and the refs may have played a role against the Seahawks, and this 11-5 #6 seed seems to be the worst Super Bowl champ of all time. Any one of those things not happening and perhaps Coach Cowher is still in search of that 1st title.
2. 1985 Villanova Wildcats. This list isn’t meant to diminish Cinderella runs, much as it seems that way. But, anyway you slice it, ‘Nova was one of the worst champions ever. I mean, Ed Pinckney led the team, after all. It also won its first three games by a TOTAL of 9 points before hanging a 12-point victory over UNC in the elite 8, and a 7-point victory over Memphis St. in the Final 4. Then, despite shooting 78% from the field against conference foe Georgetown in the final, the Wildcats still only won by two points against a Hoya team that had already beat them twice that season. Plus I think I heard half the team was on coke or something.
And now, the worst champion of all time…your 2006 St. Louis Cardinals!!! First of all, thank you to the Wildcats, you have been a great champion for the last 21 years, but your reign of mediocre championship dominance is now over. When you finish a season of 162 games (or 161 in this case) a mere five games over .500, you’re likely not even getting to the playoffs. This season, teams with better records than the cards to not make the playoffs were: Toronto, Boston, the Chi Sox, Angels, and Phillies. Yet, because of how bad the NL Central was, the Cards slid into the playoffs despite three runs of losing more than five games in a row down the stretch. Like the Steelers a few months before them, the Cards fit the mold of a consistent winner that in the season it looks like they’re down, they catch fire in the postseason, and, when combined with experience, win it all. But really, they still kinda aren’t THAT great. Congrats to them though.