Football’s back! Here at Yahoo Sports, we’re dissecting every element of every team, from QBs to coaching staffs to front offices. Every element, that is, except for one: the fans.
Look, it’s easy to be a fan of the Patriots. If you’re pulling for the Steelers or Cowboys, you’ve got plenty of company. Fans of the Eagles, Ravens, Broncos and Saints get rewarded with regular playoff visits and, every so often, a big win. Chiefs fans today find themselves with premium seats on the slickest new bandwagon in the NFL.
So they’re all doing fine. But what about the fans of less-than-successful teams? What about fans who’ve had to eat, uh, junk from their teams, season after season? Which have had decades of loyal fandom rewarded with tanking, missed drafts, blundering coaching decisions, and generational incompetence? The higher the expectations, the richer the history, the more painful it is when a team trips over its own facemask.
So, for the third season in a row (here’s 2017, here’s 2018), let’s run down our Most Tortured Fan Base contenders. If you know a fan of one of these teams, show ‘em some love. They’re going through a rough patch.
Have you ever fallen in love with someone, helped them through tough times, encouraged them as they pulled themselves together … and then watched in horror as they ditched you and ran off with someone else? My friend, I sure hope you haven’t, but if you have, there’s a lucrative therapy business waiting for you in Oakland in 2020. If there are any Raiders fans left in Oakland, there won’t be there much longer. You know the story here: The Raiders are pulling up stakes after this year and heading to Vegas. This, after they’ve gone all-in on Jon Gruden as the face and master of their franchise. The Gruden Gambit might work, it might not, but here’s how it’ll shake out — Oakland’s getting the shaft while Vegas gets whatever might blossom. Is that fair to Oakland’s fans? Hell no.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 8
Green Bay’s fans are among the greatest in the NFL, loyal through some of the most bitter cold and non-premium stadium conditions in the league. They’ve also had two of the greatest quarterbacks in history on their roster over the last quarter-century, and they’ve won exactly two Super Bowl championships. Now they’re starting over fresh, yet again, with Aaron Rodgers running the show … sorry, capitulating to a new head coach. Granted, Green Bay is the only team on this list that could realistically vault itself to a Super Bowl win this year, but if that doesn’t happen, well, there aren’t too many Wait ’til next year!s left in Rodgers’ career. When they’ve got some CFL-level QB bumbling to five-win seasons a few years from now, spare a kind thought for the Lambeau faithful. Plus, if they ever visited another stadium and see what the NFL fan experience is like in 2019 outside of Wisconsin, hoo boy, would they be ticked.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 10
Man, has a window ever opened so wide and slammed shut so hard as it has for the Vikings? Just 18 months ago, Stefon Diggs was eluding the Saints and bringing salvation to an entire chunk of the country. Now, after a just-barely-over-.500 season and an uncertain future with Kirk Cousins under center, the Vikings are sliding into that also-ran status. Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Vikings fans can tell you right about now. Between the still-pretty-new stadium, the SKOL chant, and the afterglow from that Saints Miracle, Vikings fans are still in denial about the real trouble they’re in, like a guy happily ice fishing in July.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 1
And now we get to one of those teams where the past casts such a long, dark shadow over the present that nothing can grow on the barren ground of Levi’s Stadium. Yeah, yeah, Jimmy Garoppolo was injured last year, blah blah. This is a team that could combine its win total of the last three years and still have trouble catching the Rams. The fans that have made the pilgrimage down from San Francisco to watch this strange little team can at least take comfort that they once had a truly great dynasty … once. And it’s probably best if they don’t think about the fact that front-office spats cost the team a shot at another back in the Harbaugh/Kaepernick Super Bowl days. Garoppolo might be the savior of this franchise, but if he’s not ... well, they can always replay The Catch on video boards a few dozen times each game.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: N/A
There’s a whole coterie of also-ran teams that we can’t really put on this list because, well, they haven’t really had much of a taste of sustained success — the Titans, the Cardinals, the Jaguars, and so on. The Bengals don’t get to hide in the weeds with that crew. Their last seven visits to the playoffs have been one-and-done. Their last victory in the postseason came against a team that no longer exists in the same town or by the same name, the Houston Oilers. Fans have tuned out — Cincinnati had the lowest average attendance last year of the 31 teams that don’t play in soccer stadiums — but they deserve better than this orange clown show.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 9
We recently passed the 20th anniversary of Barry Sanders’ shocking and surprising retirement, which remains shocking but gets less surprising with every passing year that we watch Detroit vomit all over itself. In the revolving door that is the top of the NFC North, somehow Detroit manages to get its ... let’s say “fingers” caught in the doors while Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay take turns at playoff runs. And hey, here’s a wild thought: it’s theoretically possible that Matthew Stafford, if he stays healthy, could end up with the career passing yardage mark, which means that Detroit could have had arguably the greatest running back, greatest wide receiver and statistically greatest quarterback in history on its roster and done absolutely jack with it. Sorry, Lions fans. Hey, at least your coach had a good view of a bunch of Patriots Super Bowl wins.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 6
If for no other reason than the catastrophic effects of 28-3, the Falcons will be on this list in perpetuity. But they’re also careening toward being a modern, compressed version of the Lions: an MVP quarterback, a best-in-class wide receiver, and a top-five running back and a narrowing championship window. The Falcons invested big in defense this year, but they’ll need to figure out how to score — or run the ball — to bring it all home. Yes, the Falcons do a fine job with the fan experience, literally blowing the roof off their stadium and pricing hot dogs and beer at coins-found-in-the-dryer levels. But all the two-dollar pizza in the world can’t heal a broken heart, and Falcons fans are gonna carry scars from the Super Bowl until they win one.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 2
Do we really need to justify this one? The Redskins have had the most dysfunctional front office this side of the New York Mets for a quarter-century running. They continue to trade on Super Bowls that fade farther into the distance as the present looks like a grim slog though the land of Fivewinistan. The only reason they’re not higher on this list is that their fans have come to expect boundless, soul-shriveling incompetence. They have accepted they’re broken, and so we’ll give them the spontaneous Stockholm Syndrome cheers that erupt every time Joe Theismann or John Riggins shows up in local TV ads.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 3
The Jets are the closest thing the NFL has to golf — an institution that reveres the half-century-ago past to such a degree that it loses sight of the present. Joe Namath gets trotted out regularly to comment on the state of the franchise, and his verdict’s always the same: Please stop asking me what I think about this grim green sewage pile. Every player on this team feels like they’re either not ready or past their prime. If Sam Darnold turns out to be the franchise QB the Jets so desperately need, they’ll bounce right out of this list … and they’ll twist the knife on the one team ahead of them on it, the team that passed on Darnold last year. That would be a win-win, which doesn’t happen often in Jets Country.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: N/A
This franchise seems to be spinning like a toy boat in a toilet, determined to hang onto Eli Manning until they wring every bit of talent out of him … and then cast him aside by saying he’s useless. “Trust me, we’ve got a plan,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman said in March, which feels a whole lot like the line I used to use to my landlord when the rent on my first apartment out of college was due. Are they in rebuild or win-now mode? Who knows? Least of all the fans, who aren’t sure whether to boo with love or boo with venom. It all almost feels like piling on New York fans at this point; there’s surely a huge crossover between Giants fans, Mets fans and Knicks fans. But don’t feel too bad about hammering New York fans because, let’s be honest ... they’re New York fans. They’ll survive just fine.
Last year’s Most Tortured rank: 5
So there you have it. Confess your own tortured fandom in the comments below. If you know a fan of one of these teams, give ‘em a hug. And if you yourself happen to be a fan of one of these teams, take pride in the fact that at least you’re high on one power-ranking list this year.
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