"Who was the worst ever football team ever to..."
was the question I started with. This season, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks became the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record. Before that, rumors were already circulating about something similar happening with college teams in the near future, given the ever-expanding number of Bowl games. But it got me thinking: What other wacky accomplishments have been managed by record-wise "worst" football teams? A little (read: a lot) research, and we were on our way.
...make it to a College Bowl GameThe 1945 South Carolina Gamecocks (2-4-3)
And yes, I'm talking about end-of-season bowls for which you have to actually qualify, not rivalry bowls where 0-10 Alabama can play in the 1955 Iron Bowl against Auburn.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the BCS being ruined by the orgy of new bowl games, sponsored by every corporation from websites to pizza companies. This year, a record-high 35 bowl games brought in more than a few 6-6 teams (not to mention the slew of 7-5 teams who got that way by beating up on cupcakes in the pre-season, including my own beloved Northwestern). These teams played in such prestigious contests as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the god-forbid Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg. There's a possibility that next year, teams with losing records may qualify for bowl games. "It's tarnishing the sanctity of the bowl system!" cry the naysayers. Perhaps. But this isn't the first time it has happened.
In 1945, the United States flew out of World War II ready to party, and the baby boomer bliss also birthed several new bowls, bringing the total to eight games for the first time. All these new games needed teams, and apparently they weren't all that picky about which ones.
We wins, we tackles, we gots sweet leather helmets
The first Gator Bowl, played January 1st, 1946, featured the Wake Forest Demon Deacons beating the South Carolina Gamecocks 26-14. This was not the greatest year for South Carolina - they finished the regular season with a .389 Win-Loss percentage that ranked 79th out of 101 teams that year. The Gamecocks had not win a single conference game that season, racking up their only two victories against Presbyterian and someplace called Camp Blanding, which may very well have been a Girl Scout camp. Oh, and this was after losing their opener 60-0 at Duke. But here they were in the Gator Bowl.
Even the Wake Forest team that beat them was only 5-3-1, illustrating the beginning of an early "let-em-all play" phase that climaxed with 13 bowl games in 1948 before the number dropped back down to 6 in 1952. But not before admitting sub-.500 teams from TCU, Virginia Tech, and Denver (who lost 20-0 against Harding-Simmons in 1946's Alamo Bowl I). And not before thousands of mediocre schools' excited fans, like myself, got to see their first bowl game.
...be on a Wheaties BoxThe 2001 Dallas Cowboys (5-11)
Ah, the Cowboys. Apparently, Wheaties is the breakfast of southerners and hot cheerleaders,because nobody has been featured more on Wheaties boxes than the NFL team from Dallas. Except maybe Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and this little boy:
In 2001, Wheaties decided to return the Dallas team to their famous box, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Cowboy's first championship, in 1966. This wasn't an out-of-nowhere move - after all, the Cowboys had been on the box three times in the previous ten years, because they kept winning Superbowls in the '90's. The problem was... 2001 wasn't the Cowboys' year, and Dallas finished in last place in their division. But that didn't stop many confused kids from staring up at this
and wondering what "Championship performance" had to do with going 5-11 and having the second worst offense in the NFL. I found the above box, by the way, selling online for $1. Not even on Ebay, either. On FastAutos.net. Seriously.
...win the SuperbowlThe 1988 San Francisco 49ers & the 2007 New York Giants (10-6)
It seems harsh to include on a "Worst Teams" list two squads that went on to win the championship that season, but a crazy feat is a crazy feat. Only in the 'Any Given Sunday' world of football can a team squeak out of the regular season with barely ten wins and go on to take it all. "We're the greatest team in the world!" they can proudly proclaim. "Except for those six other teams that beat us."
The '88 49ers came out of their division in a three-way tie for first place, decent in everything, top five in nothing. And the Giants didn't even come close to winning the NFC East, finishing three games behind the 13-3 Cowboys, and six games behind the AFC's 16-0 New England. But all those 17-0 Perfect Patriot Superbowl t-shirts are now being worn in Bangladesh, because although the Giants took more than a few Sundays off that year... they showed up the Sunday it mattered.
...lose the SuperbowlThe 1979 LA Rams & the 2008 Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Another tie, from two teams who finished barely above .500, yet turned it on in the playoffs, only to get to the Big Game and remember, oh yeah, we're not really that good.
In 1979 (back when Los Angeles had a football team, besides USC), the LA Rams led the NFL in interceptions, with four different QBs pitching in to help the effort. But they didn't throw as many in the play-offs, at least until losing 31-19 to the Steelers. And in 2008, while the Lions were busy crapping the bed in the most epic way imaginable (which we'll get to in a minute), the Arizona Cardinals were stinking it up in a more winning way, somehow taking their division while allowing 426 points, the fifth most in the NFL. Against, the Steelers proved the spoiler, apparently realizing, somewhere in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl, that Wait a minute! These guys lost SEVEN games this year!
...win a BCS ChampionshipThe 2007 LSU Tigers (12-2)
The Bowl Championship Series is not nearly as old as the NFL, and therefore not as prone to wacky history and statistical aberrations. But still, being named the very best college football team in the country after losing twice?
Certainly, LSU was pretty good in 2007, beating a number of ranked teams, and only losing to No. 18 Kentucky in triple overtime. Oh wait, and losing to unranked Arkansas.
The other powerful, inconsistent thing to come out of LSU
Bottom line: LSU smacked around Ohio State in the BCS Championship game, but only got there because of a bunch of last-minute other-team losses that catapulted them up from No. 7 to No. 2.
Other bottom line: College football is screwy.
...have an NFL MVPThe 1965 Philidelphia Eagles (5-9)
Back before the NFL got all mushy about only giving MVPs to the quarterback of whichever team wins the Superbowl, a sixth-place-out-of-seven Eagles team had a tight end named "Pistol" Pete Retzlaff.
No, the football-playing one.
Five-time Pro Bowler Retzlaff was a pretty sold player, catching 66 passes and 10 touchdowns that season, winning one of two MVP Awards given that year, and helping his team by... well, they didn't come in last place.
Retzlaff also served as president of the NFL Players Association.
I smell politics.
...be the worst again the next yearThe 1972 and '73 Houston Oilers (1-13) And here the list takes a turn. In the rise and fall game of football, teams are usually only the worst temporarily (I used to get made fun of for being Mike Rozier and the Atlanta Falcons in Techmo Super bowl, and look at the them lately!). But sometimes bad teams... just stay bad.
The AFL-NFL merger was rough for the early '70's Houston Oilers, who spent their first season in the new league in the toilet, winning only one game in 1972. Other bad teams pulled it together after worst-ever seasons: the '76 Bucs tied the Chiefs at 2-14 the next year and then became actually decent, and the 2008 Lions pulled a couple wins together and beat out the terrible 1-15 Rams in 2009, and almost made the playoffs in 20010. But the early '70's Houston Oilers? Well...
Something smells in Texas...
The 1973 Oilers were even worse, giving up 447 points, the most in the NFL, and scored only 199. The only thing good going on in Houston that year was the invention of the first flak jacket for football, to protect Quarterback Dan Pastorini's ribs. Pastorini set an NFL record for being sacked the most times in 1971, broke it in 1972, and broke it again in 1973.
But hey, a record is a record.
...debut in the NFLThe 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14)
Can injuries be blamed for the worst inaugural season in NFL history? Possibly - lord knows Dr. Health wasn't kind to a bedraggled Bucs squad that was shut out five times and averaged less than nine points a game. At one point during the season, 18 players had had knee surgery, the two tackle positions were being played by a construction worker and a truck driver, and the outside linebacker was a 180-point safely who'd been recruited off the streets of Watts.
Injuries or no injuries, 14 losses is still tough to take. QB Stever Spurrier threw only seven touchdown passes all season, and the coach John McKay stopped talking to the players after the third game.
Though improved, the Bucs' next year was pretty awful, too. The team carried their losing momentum on into the 1977, losing another 12 games in a row, to start their franchise history 0-26.
...existThe 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
Of course, this was coming. It's sad to kick Detroit while it's down, but I heard GM is making a comeback.
Do we explore the thought that Detroit should have won several of these games, and their historical record was less a product of sheer terribleness and more a product of statistical eventualities of a competitive game, coupled with only moderate terribleness? Do we marvel at the league-leading 517 points allowed, which really sounds more like a basketball statistic? No, I prefer to dwell on the positive, that the 2008 Lions actually went a perfect 4-0 in the pre-season, before going a perfect 0-16 in the regular season.
Because that's the mark of a true worst team: they show when it doesn't count.
...win an NFL Playoff GameThe 2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
And finally, to bring this list current. During the 2010 season, the Seahawks became the worst team to ever show up at a playoff game... and also the first to ever win one. The humble 7-9 Powerhawks showed up just happy be to be there against the returning Superbowl Champion New Orleans Saints, led by the whimsical arm of Matt Hasselbeck and the vast NFL experience and rugged good looks of Pete Carroll. True, their playoff run petered out soon after, but the Seahawks proved one very important football lesson: that milquetoast team aren't always so milquetoast.
Special thanks to http://www.pro-football-reference.com
for keeping every stat imaginable.
for keeping every stat imaginable.