Wait 'til next year.
That sports mantra was first made famous a generation ago by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a powerful baseball team that nonetheless lost five of six World Series matchups to rival New York Yankees between 1947 and 1956.
With each excruciating loss, the tortured Brooklyn faithful immediately turned their attention to the next spring, when, they figured, a championship season would at last hatch. One finally did, when "next year" arrived in 1955. But that was just a respite. Dodger fans had their hearts broken again the next year by a seven-game Series loss to the Yankees. After just one more season came the ultimate heartbreak: The team left Brooklyn for the sunshine of southern California.
There are really two types of misery in sports. There's the well-chronicled misery that comes with futility, like the New Orleans Saints losing 60 percent of their games and qualifying for just six postseasons (and no Super Bowls) since their birth in 1967.
Then there's the true misery that comes with repeated heartbreak. Even after celebrating two recent World Series titles, fans of the Boston Red Sox haven't forgotten the pain associated with an 86-year championship drought, complete with near misses and names like Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner. They'd argue the gut-wrenching losses by teams good enough to win makes for an even worse experience than following a perennial loser that can't get you excited in the first place.
It's the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos (all from cities on our top 10 list) losing four Super Bowls. It's the fans of Atlanta seeing their teams reach a combined six World Series and Super Bowls and win one of them (the Braves have also lost in the National League Championship Series six times).
Meanwhile, Atlanta's local basketball and hockey teams have earned a combined 30 playoff appearances with just two conference finals appearances to show for. That's why Atlanta tops our list of sports heartbreak cities, followed closely by Seattle, Buffalo, Phoenix and San Diego.
Since joining the ranks of big league sports in 1966, Atlanta has produced 56 playoff teams, of which 15 moved on to at least the final four of the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball postseason (neither of its two hockey teams, the Flames and Thrashers, have gotten there). Just one club, the 1995 Braves, won a championship. It adds up to one title in 142 cumulative seasons of sports.
The results haven't been much better in Seattle, home to one championship (the 1979 Sonics) in 105 seasons and 11 final-four appearances (their Stanley Cup win was pre-NHL). Recent disappointments include the Seahawks' 2006 Super Bowl defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Mariners' 2001 playoff loss to the Yankees following a historic 116-46 regular season.
How to figure which fans have endured the most pain? To start, we checked the records of those teams that have performed worst in the World Series, Super Bowl (or NFL and AFL title games before the Super Sunday era), NBA (and ABA) finals and NHL Stanley Cup finals.
Next, we looked at records of teams one round earlier, compiling a list of ball clubs with the worst success rate in each sport's semifinal rounds over the years, followed by those performing the poorest in earlier playoff rounds. Second-place finishes in baseball count in this round, given the sport's low number of playoff teams. Who can forget the those tough pennant races like the Red Sox's 1978 loss to the Yankees on Bucky Dent's homer in a one-game tiebreaker, or the Phillies' famous 1964 collapse, when they blew a 6½-game National League lead with 12 games to play?.
To give the pure championship drought factor a voice, we gave some weight to each city's ratio of total seasons (all four sports combined) to championships. And since few things can break fans' hearts more than seeing their team pack up and move – just ask former rooters of the Dodgers, original Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Colts – cities whose fans were abandoned were awarded heartbreak bonus points.
We limited the study to cities with at least 75 cumulative football, basketball, baseball and hockey seasons, including older franchises that have since moved on, like the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors and Cleveland (now St. Louis, via Los Angeles) Rams. And figuring no fan who has seen his team win a championship in the past five years could be too heart broken, we eliminated those cities that have produced at least one title since 2003.
With the 2008 baseball season under way, many sports pundits are picking the Braves to make it back to the postseason after a two-year absence. Poor Atlanta.
The top five: