Regional honor. Civic pride. You take this to heart: You know the colloquial slang. You can name the famous people from your town. You know each neighborhood’s personality. You eat the food. You own the t-shirts. And yes, when the topic of cities comes up, you know how to boast…
“Portland has hipsters and brewpubs.”
“Boston has colleges.”
“San Fran has tolerance and bridges.”
“New Orleans has jazz and Mardi Gras.”
“Houston has the multi-cultural flair. “
“Chicago has skyscrapers, The Obamas and Michael Jordan.”
“Seattle has (had) grunge.”
“Austin is Weird.” (shh, that’s actually Portland)
And don’t get me started on everything a New Yorker might tell you.
Maybe nothing puts that infatuation with our hometown better into focus than collectively putting our unwavering faith in people running around in a stadium with matching jerseys with our city’s name on it. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a city to win a sports championship. And that city will (riot and) take credit when it’s been won. If we didn’t know that before, Seattle’s 12th man this past year taught us as much.
There is a great TheOnion article from 2001 that puts this concept into sobering perspective. It’s headlined: You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area. As if no matter where our head hit the pillow, not only would our allegiance there follow but so would our unaffected opinion of that team’s competence.
Along that same line is a funny VectorBelly cartoon that subtly highlights the absurdity of putting our hopes and dreams in sports teams… but that is probably another debate for another day.
So, okay, we all think our city is the best. But if our sports teams are our best city ambassadors, and those teams measure success with championships, then who is right?
Who has won the most titles across all sports? Which towns see a trophy parade as a regular occurrence? Who’s won the most per capita? And maybe more fun to call out is what cities are the worst, er, I mean, have won the least?
Let’s take a look.
Combining the titles of the five men’s sports leagues in the US that play at the highest level: the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, MLB and MLS, here are the best of all time.
The Most Championships won:
1 New York 45 (incl. the Giants and Jets who actually play in East Rutherford)
2 Boston 34
3 LA/Anaheim 26
4 Chicago 18
5 Detroit 18
6 Pittsburgh 14
7 San Francisco 12
7 St Louis 12
9 Oakland 9
10 Baltimore 8
10 Minneapolis 8
12 Washington DC 7
12 Miami 7
12 Dallas 7
15 Philadelphia 6
Sure, NYC is the runaway winner but they also have twice the people and twice the teams! (I do love that when the Nets moved they took on a borough name)
Let’s look at it “Pound for pound”. The most titles per capita (including all adjacent suburbs whose residents surely love the teams) is Pittsburgh, with 14 titles (ranked 6th) representing just 2.35 million people (ranked 22nd).
However… if you combine total titles rank with per capita points and also include credit for championships across all sports the dial points toward Boston who have won titles in football, baseball, hockey and basketball in the last 10 years. Even the Revolution, while never taking home the big one, earned a US Open Cup in ’07 and a Superliga #1 in ’08. Then there’s the whole Boston marathon legacy and now “Boston Strong”; these guys seem to live and breathe sport excellence.
Now what about the other end of the list? Those cities with lots of hope and little hardware? Some might call these cities ‘desperate’. Or ‘pathetic’. You can argue they’re ‘deprived’. Political correctness might dictate, “in a dry spell”:
My beloved Portland is in the ‘bad’ category, with nothing on the mantle but the Blazers’ title in 1977. We cling to the memory of that sole championship like a toddler to his blanket. In fact, our best sports bar is named The Spirit of ’77!
Worse still is Milwaukee, with only the Bucks’ 1971 NBA championship to boast. And man, if you saw the Bucks play this year, that trophy seems like many lifetimes ago.
The longest title drought actually belongs to none other than Cleveland, who have not seen a final #1 ranking since 1948, a 66 year and counting wait for the Cavaliers, Browns or Indians to bring home the bacon. Come to think of it, I can’t remember that last time any of those three were even in the playoffs, so good luck with that, guys. Maybe with a couple more #1 picks, eh Cavs?
The per capita loser turns out to be Houston, with a massive 4.7 million-person metropolis but just 2 titles to show for their sporting efforts.
But surely there must be cities that have never even won one you might say? You’d be right.
El Paso and Austin in Texas are big but don’t have any major league teams. Too busy wrangling to care? Memphis and Nashville also have the size AND have teams …but no titles. Too busy playing music? Or perhaps horse racing and NASCAR are higher priorities? But most conspicuous on the list is… drumroll, please….
San Diego, our biggest loser, the 17th biggest metropolis and home to the Padres and Chargers but a big fat goose egg in the glass case. At least they can blow off steam with some surfing.
A few assorted thoughts and notes on the topic:
• Much was made of the 2004 World Series title won by the Boston Red Sox. It was a special moment in time to finally break the supposed Babe Ruth curse and give Red Sox fans their first title since 1918, 86 years in the making (and remarkably captured in ending of the Jimmy Fallon movie, Fever Pitch). But don’t feel sorry for Boston. The city of Boston has regularly delighted in sports championships as noted above, especially their beloved Celtics (who are the most decorated franchise in NBA history). During the baseball drought, 16 NBA titles were won by the men in green not to mention the many Bruins’ Stanley cups for Boston’s hockey fans and several early 2000s Patriots Super Bowls.
• The creation of MLS, a top league in the global world of soccer gave a lot of cities their very first taste of a title including San Jose, Salt Lake City and Columbus. And Kansas City took home the Cup in 2013, breaking that city’s drought dating to George Brett’s Royals’ victory of 1985.
• God bless Drew Brees and his Saints, who brought hurricane-riddled New Orleans their first and only championship in 2009.
• Baltimore, who seem to consistently have teams taken away from them, came up big with a Ravens’ SuperBowl win in 2000 and book-ended the Ray Lewis era with another in 2012.
• Atlanta thanks its lucky stars for the 1995 Braves because they don’t have a single other championship in any first tier men’s sport despite having long-standing franchises in the MLB, the NBA, the NFL and an NHL team from 1999 to 2011.
*Editor’s note: For simplicity, I chose to ignore Canadian Cities in American leagues who have most of their championships in hockey anyway. But no offense meant to our lovely neighbors to the North.