Longest Losing Streaks In Sporting History
Elsewhere on this site you can read about the impressive feat of winning streaks that has been achieved by both teams and individuals during various sports over the years. Here we’re looking at the opposite, concentrating on the moments that either teams or sportspeople have been unable to buy a win, losing match after match or final after final and going down in history as a result.
Losing is never fun, with most people and organisations doing whatever they can to stop it from happening. Even so, sometimes you just can’t stop the rot once it has set in and records will soon follow. Whether it be a matter of being unlucky in losing record numbers of finals or simply not being able to win a game, we’ll explore the big losers here.
What Makes It A Losing Streak?
In every sport, there are a certain number of games that people can lose and it not make the headlines. A football club that gets beaten for five matches in a row, for example, might be described as being in ‘crisis’ by the press, but in reality that is just a fraction of the number of games needed to be acknowledged as a losing streak in the sport.
What we’re talking about is an above average number of times that a person or team has lost; something that can’t just be explained by having a difficult run of fixtures or a brief period of bad luck. It differs from sport to sport, of course, which is why each one has to be explained on its own merits, as we will do on this page.
Famous Losing Streaks
Here’s a look at the longest losing streaks in various different sports, as well as explanations of why they happened where it’s possible to over them. These streaks are in no particular order.
Not many people would put eSports high on their list of professional sports, whether it is one whether they like it or not. So it is that we’re able to talk about the Shanghai Dragons, who set a record in May of 2018 for the longest losing streak in professional sports history. They lost their 29th Overwatch League game in a row to the New York Excelsior and entered the record books.
Overwatch Manager Kate Mitchell revealed the unwelcome record that the Dragons had set, admitting that some thought they were going to turn a corner as they entered Stage 3 of the league campaign. A major roster overhaul wasn’t enough to save them from ignominy however, with the team eventually going on to lose 40 matches in a row to cement their record as massive losers.
During the 2002-2003 season, Sunderland went twenty matches without a win, losing 15 times in a row. It set a record for consecutive losses in the Premier League, with the Black Cats coming last in most stat columns with the exception being attendance. It’s hard to imagine being such gluttons for punishment, but Sunderland fans didn’t abandon their team even as they lost so consistently.
Unsurprisingly, Sunderland were relegated at the end of the campaign and have been used as something of a touchstone to avoid for promoted teams in the seasons that followed. In fact, the next closest club in terms of consecutive defeats is Sunderland, with the Black Cats losing nine times in a row during the 2005-2006 campaign.
Seven consecutive losses might not seem like all that many, but when you consider that B.J. Penn was on the losing end of those matches as a UFC fight you can understand why it’s so noteworthy. Penn certainly wasn’t helped by losing in so many different ways, losing four of his matches by decision, two courtesy of a knockout and one thanks to his own submission.
What makes Penn’s defeats even more cursing was that they came across three different weight division, losing bouts as a welterweight, a featherweight and a lightweight. It’s not even as if he was a terrible fighter, being the only one to be champion as both a welterweight and a lightweight. In the end, he just carried on fighting for too long and should have retired before setting the record.
When the Shanghai Dragons set a new record for consecutive losses in a professional sport, it was the Philadelphia 76ers that they overtook. Their record was set in the 2015-2016 season, with the NBA side losing 27 games across two campaigns. It was the longest losing streak in any professional sport at the time, with the team’s manager resigning near the end of the season.
The season-only record was held by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers side that lost 26 times in a row after the departure of LeBron James, meaning that the 76ers joined them on the board when they cousin’t stop their losing streak. They make it in ahead of the Cavaliers on account of the loss that came the season before, adding up to 27 in total.
Deep down inside, terrible losers must have to ask themselves whether it’s better or worse to share the record with someone else. That’s the situation that the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals have to ask themselves, given that the two teams shared the record of consecutive losses in the National Hockey League, having 17 defeats in a row each.
They were overtaken in 2004 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, when the Penguins lost 18 games in a row. They eventually broke the losing streak when the defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in OverTime at the end of February. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Penguins finished last with 58 points and a record that read 23–47–8–4.
Chicago Black Hawks
Whilst the Pittsburgh Penguins hold the overall record for NHL losses, the Chicago Black Hawks have a record of their own that makes for unpleasant reading. No team has last more play-off games in a row than the Hawks, who were defeated 16 times in succession across a five year period. They didn’t win a single play-off game that they played in between April 1975 and April 1979.
It tells you something that the next closest team in terms of a play-off losing streak lost 14 times between 1993 and 2001, giving the Hawks a two-game lead that will take some beating. It’s also not a great look for the club that in a list of the top five longest play-off losing streaks they appear three times, with only the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leaves also on the list.
Most tennis fans won’t know the name of Vince Spadea, but they’ll have heard of Greg Rusedski. The latter was the man that Spadea finally managed to beat on the tennis court, ending the longest losing streak in the history of the sport. Spadea went 21 matches without winning, eventually finding a win on his least favourite surface in front of a partisan Wimbledon crowd.
His previous win had come in October of 1999 when he defeated Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the Lyon Open, but he then had to wait until the 26th of June 2000 to notch up another victory. It’s not even as if he was playing top-class players during the losing streak, plus he was World Number 19 when he started losing without being able to stop.
It’s slightly misleading to refer to the 108 years that the Chicago Cubs failed to win a World Series in as a ‘losing streak’, given that they weren’t always on to win the World Series every year. Yet it is the longest period of time that a club has gone within winning it, with the Cubs losing seven World Series appearances along the way, which is an MLB record.
Many thought that the club had been cursed by a fan back in 1945, with William Sianis issuing the decree after he and his pet billy goat had been kicked out of a game. He reportedly sent a letter to the own of the Cubs at the time stating, “You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”
Whilst Sunderland might never live down the ignominy of being the Premier League’s least successful side, they can at least take heart in the fact that they’re not the worst football club in the country. That honour goes to New Mills, a non-league side that earned the moniker when they lost 26 games in a row, losing every single league and cup game in a season.
The curse finally came to an end for the Northern Premier League Division One North side when they drew with Witton Albion. 218 people turned up to Wincham Park expecting to see the home side win against the ‘worst team in the country’, only for the 2-2 score line to leave them disappointed. They finished the season on 3 points, 23 points away from their nearest rival.
When you’re a journeyman in the NBA, an average of 45.8% from the line isn’t terrible. Even at his worst during his 16-year career Chris Dudley’s average only dropped to 30.5%. Not amazing, but not as bad as it could be, all things considered. Had he been told at the start of his career that he’d make it into the NBA record books he’d probably have been delighted, but in the end he wasn’t.
That’s because the record that Dudley set was for consecutive free-throw misses, racking up 13 in a match against the Indiana Pacers. That was in 1990 and Dudley will at least have claimed that it was never his specialisation, given that he was a rebounder and shot blocker. He can at least take heart in the fact that he didn’t miss the most overall in a match, with Andre Drummond missing 23.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL season was only 14 games long in 1976, which is when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began playing the game. It also helps to explain just how miserable the side’s start to their footballing life was, given that the went more than two seasons without picking up a win. Loss after loss heralded the arrival of the franchise into the league, failing to win over many new supporters.
It is the longest streak of losses ever in the NFL, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing 26 times in a row. It wasn’t until a 33-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints that they finally managed to get some points on the board. The lost to the likes of the Rams, the Bengals and Bills during the streak, coming closest to getting something when they were defeated 13-10 by the Seahawks.
Breaking A Losing Streak
When a team or a player enters a losing streak, it is remarkably difficult for them to get out of it. Just as winning streaks take a combination of fortune, skill and determination, so too does a losing streak see all of those disappear. It’s not as though the teams and players on this list were actively trying to lose, but sometimes you just can’t do anything about it.
The more that a team or person tries to win, the more that pressure builds on them and they can’t seem to catch a break. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and there’s seemingly nothing that can be done about it. The end of a streak can be just as much about fortune as the lack of luck will have been in stopping them from winning in the first place.
It’s easier for a team to break out of a losing streak than an individual because they can at least depend on each other psychologically, but equally that can be just as unhelpful if a feeling grows that one or two individuals are letting everyone down. Ultimately, losing is a habit that it can be hard to break and losses simply lead to heads going down and more losses following.