A brief history of the NFL's biggest losers
That was a fine show this week on "Monday Night Football," was it not? The only thing missing from that swamp in Pittsburgh was an alligator and an escaped chain-gang convict being chased by baying hounds. In the end, though, all that matters is that the Miami Dolphins still have a shot at a completely imperfect 0-16 record. So this is as good a time as any to mention the other teams in NFL history that have gone through an entire season losing every game, starting with the most recent and going nearly all the way back to the league's Big Bang.
1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14): True story: The Bucs' owners thought they were starting a dinner theater company. It wasn't until the first exhibition game that they realized they'd been recruiting personnel for all the wrong reasons. While certainly coordinated, and very clear on the concept of teamwork, the actors, singers and dancers that comprised the Bucs' roster lacked the other skills necessary to win football games. It wasn't until Week 13 of the following season that the Bucs finally rid themselves of the last vestiges of their artsy roster and scored a victory.
1944: Chicago Cardinals/Pittsburgh Steelers (0-10): Why did they lose every game? Because the decision to combine the franchises for the season confused the hell out of the players. They weren't always sure where the home games were going to be played and which uniforms they were supposed to be wearing. Sometimes half the team would be in Chicago wearing Pittsburgh uniforms while the other half showed up in Pittsburgh wearing Chicago uniforms. Other times they'd show up in the same place, but wearing different uniforms, leading to confusion on the field -- especially on offense. There were also two head coaches, who -- to add to the confusion -- were sharing the same whistle to cut costs.
1944 Brooklyn Tigers (0-10): Another one of those wartime economic measures that didn't work out so well. These were actually baseball's Detroit Tigers, being paid $25 per game to fill out an NFL roster. Their natural athleticism kept it from being a complete disaster -- they had a few close games, and only got blown out once. What's more, they stayed in shape for the coming baseball season and won the World Series in 1945.
1943 Chicago Cardinals (0-10): "After Pearl Harbor, Americans can't stand too many more shocks," President Franklin D. Roosevelt allegedly said to Cardinals owner Charles Bidwill, "so it would be in the national interest if you just keep right on going with your losing streak so as to maintain the status quo." If nothing else a patriot, Bidwill ensured an eighth consecutive nonwinning campaign by filling out his 1943 roster with players recruited from the neutral nations of the world: Switzerland, Sweden, Andorra, Paraguay and Turkey, as well as those Americans deemed mentally unfit for military service. The result was a Babel-like gathering of the uninitiated and the insane who took 10 straight losses on the chin.
1942 Detroit Lions (0-11): What was the Lions' problem in the '42 season? Well, for one thing, they weren't Lions. For another, they weren't even Americans. Strapped for players and cash, Detroit's owners siphoned off the biggest, fastest Germans they could find in POW camps in England, threw pads on 'em, and sent 'em out to play the likes of the Bears, Packers and Redskins. Result? They didn't crack double figures once.
1928-29 Dayton Triangles (0-13): The people of Dayton hated the Triangles, and the Triangles hated the people of Dayton. Why? Was it because the players refused to shower after games, thinking it unmanly? The reasons are obscured by time. Things were fine in the first three years of the franchise, when the Tris played 16 of their 25 games at home. But during the next seven seasons, they played only five of their 50 games in Dayton. By the fourth week of the 1927 season they were told never to come back again. So, out of spite, they stopped winning games completely -- going 0-7 in 1928 and 0-6 in 1929, and bringing a brand of shame to Dayton that lingers to this day.
1925 Columbus Tigers (0-9): At the start of the 1925 season, the Tigers demanded that the NFL split into two divisions: one for the teams with animal names, and one for the teams without. They tried to schedule games against only the former -- playing the Panthers, Cardinals, Yellow Jackets, Bisons, Bears and two different teams called the Bulldogs -- while playing nonanimal teams only twice (the Giants and Maroons). It didn't matter in the end, as they lost to all comers -- although what few points they did manage to score came against their fauna-themed brethren. (There is no photographic evidence to support this claim, but some researchers insist the Tigers actually dressed as the animals for which they were named, which might help explain their immobility.)
1924 Rochester Jeffersons (0-8): There were many teams in the 1920s that lost every game (more than 20, actually) -- the ones you see listed here are merely the most prolific. The NFL of yore bears little resemblance to today's sophisticated league. For instance, you'll never find the likes of the Rochester Jeffersons again. The brainchild of Augustus V. Jefferson, the concept behind the team was this: For a flat fee (anywhere from $250 to $600), a group or organization could become the Jeffersons for one game. Let's say the National Alliance of Optometrists was going to be in town for a convention -- as a treat to the attendees, they would head out to the football grounds and take on the Frankford Yellow Jackets. The next week it might be the Men's Glee Club of Syracuse lining up against Akron. And so it went, for five-plus years, with Jefferson pocketing a nice profit (he didn't even supply uniforms), and the other NFL teams ran up a 25-2-2 record against his pay-to-play teams.
1922 Columbus Panhandles (0-8): History has recorded this team's name incorrectly. They were actually the Panhandlers, a motley collection of drifters, hobos, street urchins and saloon scum. Mostly a road team, they were, more often than not, culled from the human refuse in the seedier parts of Akron, Chicago, Racine, Green Bay, or wherever they happened to be playing that day. What few regular players they had traveled to town in boxcars or, weather permitting, gondolas. "They took to the hitting well, but seemed more occupied with asking for change from the spectators than mounting an offensive action," states one contemporary account.
Will Miami join this illustrious list by losing its remaining five games in 2007? The Tate family fortune will be riding on the Dolphins to beat the Jets on Sunday to break the string, but one thing is certain: The Fins have none of the excuses these other teams can conjure.
Scribbly Tate is a veteran sportswriter. He can be reached at ScribblyTate@yahoo.com.