Anti-Dynasty Rankings 51-58 Featuring The Barry Sanders Lions
Welcome to our rankings of every stretch of terrible football in the history of the NFL: our first ever Anti-Dynasty rankings. Over this series of articles, we're going to run down every team to ever have a sustained run of failure, compare them with their peers, and find out who comes out on top. I mean, someone had to do it.
If you haven't yet, you should check out our methodology for defining an anti-dynasty. There, we defined what a team needed to do in order to earn anti-dynasty points, and listed every team in NFL history to ever compile at least 30. You can rank those 58 teams by dynasty points to find out which team had the biggest anti-dynasties—the most sustained stretches of losing football.
But not all losing teams are created equal. If we were just interested in the quantity of a dynasty, we would just take their win-loss records, adjust them some for the era in which they played, and call it a day. But we can make better distinctions than that—there's a significant difference between plucky underdogs who come up short at the end of the day, and the utterly terrible teams who put the sport back 40 years. No, we want to evaluate the quality of each anti-dynasty—to delve in a little deeper than win-loss records and find the teams that have had the most pathetic runs in NFL history. To do that, we're re-ranking all 58 teams, incorporating DVOA into the system to crown an overall champion.
To do that, we're turning to Z-scores; comparing how many standard deviations above or below average each qualifying team is compared to their peers. We use eight inputs, and combine them all at the end to get to one final score:
- Peak Dynasty Points: This is the bread-and-butter of the rankings. How far under .500 were you? How few winning seasons did you sprinkle in?
- Length of Run: How long did it take for you to get out of the gutter? Was it a half-decade-long blip, or a multi-decade-long stagnation?
- Last-Place Finishes: Losing is easier to take if you have someone else to point and laugh at. How often were you the worst team in the league? The worst team in your conference? The worst team in your division?
- Terrible Seasons: Going 6-10 over and over again is no fun, for sure, but it doesn't pack the same psychic punch of two-, one-, or zero-win seasons. Any season were you lost twice as many games as you won counts.
- Average DVOA: How much below average was a team throughout the length of their run? We use DVOA from 1983 to 2019; Andreas Shepard's estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1982; and Football Perspective's Simple Rating System (converted to an estimate of DVOA) from 1920 to 1949. This is double-counted in the system; team quality is very important!
- Bottom-Five DVOA: We remember an anti-dynasty for their worst years, not their mediocre ones in the middle. This is the average of the five worst DVOAs a team put up in their run. If a run lasted less than five seasons, we add extra 0.0% years as a penalty. This is also double-counted.
Add up the standard deviations from the average of all teams on the table, and you get one final score we can use to rank each squad.
We start with the teams that, frankly, shouldn't be here. If we opened the doors a little wider and let teams with 25, 26, 27 anti-dynasty points in, they'd waltz right past these non-losers. But we must draw a line somewhere, and these teams, when all is said and done, find themselves on the wrong side of the velvet rope. So, here they are—the best worst teams of all time.
And remember, half the fun of ranking teams is arguing about the ranking.
THE FULL SERIES
- Defining an Anti-Dynasty (June 2)
- Part I: No. 51-58 (June 2)
- Part II: No. 41-50 (June 8)
- Part III: No. 31-40 (June 10)
- Part IV: No. 21-30 (June 15)
- Part V: No. 11-20 (June 17)
- Part VI: No. 1-10 (June 22)
No. 58: 1983-1991 San Diego Chargers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 55-88 (.385)
Average DVOA: -5.1%.
Bottom-Five DVOA: -11.5%
Five last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Don Coryell, Al Saunders, Dan Henning
Key Players: QB Dan Fouts, RB Marion Butts, WR Wes Chandler, WR Anthony Miller, TE Kellen Winslow, G Dennis McKnight, C Don Macek, DE Lee Williams, LB Leslie O'Neal, LB Billy Ray Smith, DB Gill Byrd, S Vencie Glenn, S Martin Bayless
Wait, Dan Fouts? Kellen Winslow? Don Coryell? These names are the backbone of the San Diego Super Chargers squads that made four playoff appearances in a row in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the teams that made back-to-back AFC Championship Games and are one of the greatest "What Ifs?" of that era of football. With names like that, it's not surprising that the Chargers are the lowest team on the list, but the 1980s in San Diego were a case study in what happens when Air Coryell is grounded. After coming so close to bringing a title to San Diego, the Chargers wouldn't win more than eight games in a season nor finish higher than third in the AFC West throughout this run.
Part of the reason was natural decline. The Air Coryell Chargers were always an offense-first team—they led the league in passing yards for six straight years from 1978 to 1983, still an NFL record—but were at least competent on defense throughout the 1970s. That defense started falling apart in the 1980s, however. The 1975 draft class brought in Fred Dean, Gary Johnson, and Louie Kelcher, who provided the backbone for Coryell's good defenses, but all were gone by 1984—Dean was traded to the 49ers in 1981, and Kelcher and Johnson joined him in 1984. Add in the retirement of Leroy Jones and the Bruise Brothers were no more. From 1983 to 1985, the Chargers finished 25th, 26th, and 25th in defensive DVOA; all three seasons are in the top 10 most points allowed in franchise history, even in a lesser offensive age. Fouts and the offense were still effective through the mid-1980s, but by the time defensive reinforcements arrived, the offensive stars were retired. It was a little like the Falcons of today; all the offensive fireworks in the world couldn't make up for the defensive void.
Why were all those defenders being shipped up the coast to San Francisco? Because the Chargers were being sold. Longtime owner Gene Klein had always been somewhat notorious for refusing to renegotiate contracts, and he was even less inclined to do so when actively trying to sell the franchise; adding payroll would make the team less enticing for Alex Spanos. That's not the end of the world when you're replacing players with equivalent, cheaper talent, but the 1980s Chargers simply weren't.
The Chargers managed to have three first-round picks in the loaded 1983 draft and came away with no superstars. While Billy Ray Smith, Gill Byrd, and Gary Anderson were alright, the Chargers passed up on Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews, Jimbo Covert, and Darrell Green to take them, as well as 1980s stars such as Joey Browner and Don Mosebar. They lost 1984's first-round pick, Mossy Cade, to the USFL. 1986's first-round pick, guard James FitzPatrick, was poor enough that management made a point of going to the L.A. Times to say that the team would be better once he was cut. Spanos, a self-made billionaire, thought he could run the team like one of his construction businesses, constantly second-guessing and overruling his staff. Most notably, he ordered disgruntled Jim Lachey to be traded to Washington, where he became one of the Hogs and helped Joe Gibbs win a title. Spanos promised a title within five years of taking over the team, but eventually he did figure out he was in over his head.
That realization is what ended up turning the Chargers around. In 1990, Spanos hired Bobby Beathard as general manager and gave him full reign. Beathard had already helped turn Miami and Washington into Super Bowl champs. He was responsible for drafting players such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, and for trading for Stan Humphries to replace the revolving door at quarterback post-Fouts. In 1992, Bobby Ross took over as head coach and the Chargers won their first division title since 1981. Two years later, they were in the Super Bowl. Sometimes, you just have to get out of your own way.
No. 57: 1920-1926 Hammond Pros
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 7-28-4 (.231)
Average DVOA: -9.2%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -16.3%
Two last-place finishes in the AFPA/NFL
Head Coaches: Hank Gillo, Max Hicks, Wally Hess, Fritz Pollard, Doc Young
Key Players: B Wally Hess, E Inky Williams, OL Russ Oltz, OL Frank Rydzewski, OL Dave Tallant
The Hammond Pros were the least accurately named team in NFL history.
For the first part, they weren't really pros. This was the 1920s, the infancy of the professional game, and the Hammond Pros were a glorified sandlot team. Their players almost all had full-time jobs elsewhere, and they didn't have time to practice or train. Even in the 1920s, a team that barely worked together wasn't going to do anything against average NFL competition. For the second part, they didn't really play in Hammond. Only two of the Pros' 39 NFL games were at home, as Hammond, Indiana (a Chicago suburb) didn't have a field with enough stands to make games financially viable. Hammond became a travelling team, playing some games in Cubs Park, but mostly going from city to city to fill out the schedule for the new league and generally getting pasted; they bookended their time in the league with estimated DVOAs of -38.1% and -38.6%.
Ah, the 1920s; they make doing this sort of historical analysis a real mess. The league was filled with fly-by-night teams that would play for one year, get blown out by two or three established clubs, put up crazy estimated DVOA numbers, and fold. That's why this list devalues seasons where teams played only a handful of games. Otherwise, the top of the list would be filled with the Tonawanda Kardex and the Muncie Flyers and the Kenosha Maroons; teams that were happy to be there and soon enough happy to have left. By the standards of those kinds of teams, the Pros weren't that bad. They make the bottom of the list by sheer tenacity. Most owners would have gotten bored or run out of money, but Doc Young stuck it out.
See, the Pros had a history. In 1919, the year before the AFPA started, Hammond and the Canton Bulldogs played a game in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, drawing a crowd of 12,000—an unofficial world championship game, with Jim Thorpe's Bulldogs going up against George Halas' Pros. The reception to that game was one of the final straws that convinced team owners that a professional football league would be viable. Halas left to start something called the Decatur Staleys after the game, and most of the Pros' other key players left for other, better-paying clubs, but the Pros persisted.
The NFL version of the Pros wasn't without its notable moments. They employed future Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard and 1923 All-Pro (and later pioneering record producer) Inky Williams; both men were African-American. In fact, six of the nine Black players from the early wilderness years of the league played for the Pros. This was less about a progressive hiring mindset and more about "we need warm bodies and no one else will pay you," but it at least gives the Pros a level of notoriety above and beyond other traveling teams. For the most part, however, the Pros were notable for being terrible. They went the entire 1922 season without scoring and would regularly be blown out by amateur teams with names like the Chicago Morris Supremes. In 1927, the NFL dropped from 22 to 12 teams as they cut financially unviable clubs, and Indiana was left without a football team until the 1980s.
— Dan Daly (@dandalyonsports) April 18, 2016
No. 56: 1959-1965 Los Angeles Rams
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 49
Record: 25-65-4 (.287)
Average DVOA: -8.4%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -11.5%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL; Three last-place finishes in the NFL West
Head Coaches: Sid Gillman, Bob Waterfield, Harland Svare
Key Players: HB John Arnett, FB Dick Bass, TE Red Phillips, DE Deacon Jones, DE Lamar Lundy, DT Merlin Olsen, LB Les Richter, LB Jack Pardee, DB Eddie Meador
The story of the 1960s Rams starts with the Fearsome Foursome. Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen and stars Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier comprised arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history; a hard-hitting, aggressive-tackling squad that blew up offensive game plans before they began. They, and their eventual replacements, were the driving force behind the Rams' three straight double-digit-win seasons in the late 1960s. And yet, Lundy came to Los Angeles in 1957, and the entire foursome was in place by 1963. You'd think that assembling the line that early would lead to instant success, but the early 1960s Rams couldn't buy a win.
Blame it on the quarterback situation. Sid Gillman and his vertical passing game were out, and Norm Van Brocklin had been traded to Philadelphia in 1958, in part over issues of offensive control. That left the Rams in need of a new passer and passing philosophy. You can't say owner Dan Reeves (no, not that one) didn't do his damnedest to try to fix the problem. Strap yourselves in, because the Reeves and the Rams are going quarterback-huntin'.
Post-Van Brocklin, the Rams started with Billy Wade, a 1958 Pro Bowler and future NFL champion with the Bears. By 1960, he was platooning with Frank Ryan, a passer with lesser stats but a better win-loss record. In 1961, Reeves traded Wade to Chicago in exchange for their platoon quarterback, Zeke Bratkowski. Neither Ryan nor Bratkowski lit the field on fire, so the Rams traded Ryan away and used the second pick in the 1962 draft to take future MVP Roman Gabriel. Gabriel spent much of the season on the bench behind Bratkowski, with the rumors being that coach Bob Waterfield was not happy with the handsome young quarterback being overly friendly with his wife. Whether it was for refusing to play Gabriel or starting the year 1-7 (or both!), Waterfield was fired, and yet replacement coach Harland Savre turned to career nobody Ron Miller when he needed a new passer.
In 1963, the Rams used their first-round pick on quarterback Terry Baker. In 1964, the Rams used their first-round pick on quarterback Bill Munson. With three first-round passers on the roster … the Rams still turned to Bratkowski, with him and Gabriel even alternating plays from time to time. Platoon quarterbacks were more common in the 1960s, but by any modern standards, this is lunacy. Bratkowski had 4.49 adjusted yards per attempt in his time with the Rams; even the young, not-yet-great Gabriel was at 6.82. Imagine if a team kept starting Mike Glennon over Matt Ryan and you'll have a rough era-adjusted idea of what the Rams were doing. The Rams had estimated offensive DVOAs of -16.3% and -16.5% in 1963 and 1964, with the answer sitting right there. Between 1962 and 1965, the Rams were 11-11-1 with Gabriel under center and 4-27-2 with anyone else. This is not hindsight saying the Rams were crazy; there was plenty of evidence with the tools at the time that they were stubbornly making the wrong decision.
In 1966, George Allen came in and brought actual competent coaching, a welcome relief after Waterfield's disorganization and Svare's macho act. Allen convinced Gabriel to not jump to the Raiders and the AFL, promising him the starting job, and the Rams took off from there. This really is the tier of teams that just needed to get out of their own dang way.
No. 55: 1973-1980 San Francisco 49ers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 41
Record: 39-79 (.331)
Average DVOA: -7.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -15.7%
Two last-place finishes in the NFL; Three last-place finishes in the NFC West
Head Coaches: Dick Nolan, Monte Clark, Ken Meyer, Fred O'Conner, Pete McCulley, Bill Walsh
Key Players: FB Wilbur Jackson, T Keith Fahnhorst, G Randy Cross, C Forrest Blue, DE Cedrick Hardman, DE Tommy Hart, DT Cleveland Elam, CB Bruce Taylor, CB Jimmy Johnson, S Mel Phillips
The 1970s 49ers managed to pack four distinct eras into a decade; an impressive rate of turnover. They were NFC West champions from 1970 to 1972, twice reaching the NFC Championship Game in the first extended run of success the franchise experienced in the NFL. We're not here to talk about that.
From 1973 to 1976, the story of the 49ers is of a team slowly crumbling. This is a fairly typical end to a run of success—key players from those divisional championship teams were getting old, injured, or old and injured. Former MVP quarterback John Brodie was 38 and his arm was shot; he was gone by 1974, and a number of key contributors from those 1970s squads joined him—Charlie Kreuger, Dick Witcher, Ken Willard, Vic Washington, all important players, all gone by the mid-1970s. They didn't exactly have a run of replacements, either, thanks to years of poor drafting; Steve Spurrier was supposed to be the answer at the quarterback position, but he dislocated his shoulder in the 1974 preseason and never could put together a run of quality starts even when he was healthy. That's not enough to make the anti-dynasty list, mind you, and the 1976 49ers nearly climbed their way back into contention, clawing back to 8-6 behind new coach Monte Clark and new quarterback Jim Plunkett.
And then the team was sold, and new owner Eddie DeBartolo brought in Joe Thomas to run the team. The 1977-1978 49ers would go 7-23 as Thomas quickly became the worst executive in franchise history.
The arrival of Thomas caused the immediate resignation of Clark as Thomas wanted full control over personnel matters. Thomas replaced Clark with a series of lackies and yes-men who would do his own bidding in the locker room. By "do his own bidding," I mean that by the fifth week of his first season, the 49ers were swapping starters on a weekly basis as if they were shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic—not exactly a recipe for developing rhythm and cohesion. That caused a highly discontented locker room, but don't worry—Thomas had the solution! Before 1978, Thomas traded away or released nearly every veteran player the 49ers had, performing a hatchet job on the roster. He gave Buffalo five draft picks for a 31-year-old, washed up O.J. Simpson; the former rushing champ managed just over 1,000 yards in two seasons with the 49ers. Thomas released Plunkett just before the start of the season, leaving the team without an experienced starter; Scott Bull and Steve DeBerg had a combined 72 career pass attempts coming into the year.
You'll be stunned to learn that this didn't work, as the 49ers struggled their way to a 2-14 season. Things were so bad by midseason that Thomas was confiscating fans' signs demanding he be fired, getting into physical fights with beat reporters, and trying to cancel a Thanksgiving week game as he believed there was a conspiracy that would lead to his own assassination. So, you know, at least things weren't boring.
The DeBartolos had had enough. They had been hands-off owners, still living on the East Coast, but the only thing that can remove the luster from owning a professional football team is owning an embarrassing football team. Thomas was fired after the 1978 season, replaced by Stanford head coach Bill Walsh. It took a couple years for Walsh to dig the 49ers out of the hole Thomas had left behind, but I believe you could say that Walsh's reign eventually was moderately successful.
No. 54: 1920-1922 Columbus Panhandles
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 30
Record: 3-22-2 (.148)
Average DVOA: -22.2%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -13.3%
Head Coaches: Ted Nesser, Herb Dell
Key Players: B Hal Gaulke, FB Frank Nesser, E Homer Ruh, T Joe Mulbarger, G Oscar Wolford
The Panhandles squeak into eligibility due to playing 10 games in 1920, and thus getting their stats fully counted and prorated out to 16 games. At 2-6-2, with all four non-losses coming to non-league sides, this was the best season the Panhandles managed in their short history. The Panhandles went 1-8 and 0-8 in their next two seasons, with the lowest estimated DVOAs of any team that played more than five games at -31.6% and -31.1%. Trying to judge what counts as an "average" football team in the 1920s is iffy, at best, but the Panhandles were truly terrible and deserve to be mentioned here, albeit very low on the list.
The Panhandles do have a Hall of Famer to boast, but not for anything on the field. Joe Carr ran the team from 1907 to 1922 when it was a successful travelling sandlot team. The "Panhandles" in the name refers to the Panhandle shops of the Pennsylvania Railroads, and Carr exploited the fact that the team was made up of "big hardy railroad men," using lunch breaks to practice and getting the team to ride the train free of charge to take on opponents as a travelling team.
The team was built around the Nesser Brothers, with six of them forming the backbone of the Panhandles from 1907 until the mid-1920s. The Nesser boys were huge, averaging more than 210 pounds apiece in an era where your linemen generally clocked in at about 180. The Panhandles quickly gained a reputation for being a big, nasty, dirty team, bullying their opponents. That, coupled with Ted Nesser's creativity as a playcaller for the era (he's credited with inventing the triple-pass and the criss-cross, staples of college teams in the 1920s) led to a team that dominated opponents in Columbus and drew large crowds wherever they went.
Well, if your team is based around a bunch of young players in 1907, you can imagine why they would have less success in the 1920s. By the time the AFPA formed, the Nessers were all in their mid- to late 30s, and that's not going to be ideal when you're trying to compete. Also, they weren't competitive in signing players, as the cost of running an actual team and not a railroad-adjacent sideshow became too much for Carr. He discontinued the team after 1922, focusing instead on his role as the NFL's first (active) president. The Panhandles became the Tigers and saw some early success. Carr was instrumental in transitioning the league from a ragtag group of local teams into a professional, national institution, and the Panhandles were more-or-less forgotten.
No. 53: 1974-1979 Kansas City Chiefs
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 28-60 (.318)
Average DVOA: -13.1%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -15.2%
One last-place finish in the NFL; Two last-place finishes in the AFC, Four last-place finishes in the AFC West
Head Coaches: Hank Stram, Paul Wiggin, Tom Bettis, Marv Levy
Key Players: QB Mike Livingston, T Charlie Getty, T Jim Nicholson, G Tom Condon, C Jack Rudnay, LB Willie Lanier, CB Emmitt Thomas
By the 1970 merger, the Chiefs were arguably the best team from the AFL—two league championships and a win in Super Bowl IV give them the nod over the Oakland Raiders' superior record over the last half of the AFL's existence. However, to go from a great team to a perennial powerhouse requires finding and developing new talent, and the 1970s Chiefs fell far short in that category.
Those Super Bowl-era Chiefs had five Hall of Famers—Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan and Jan Stenerud, plus coach Hank Stram. The last time all five players were on the field together was the final game of 1974, and the Chiefs basically lost one every year throughout this down period. Even Municipal Stadium, where the Chiefs had played in the AFL, was dismantled in 1976, a relic from the 1920s no longer fit for purpose. The stadium, at least, was replaced. The Hall of Famers, not so much.
In 1973 and 1975, the Chiefs had no first-round draft pick thanks to trades for George Seals and John Matuszak (24 combined starts for Kansas City), and frankly, the picks they did make weren't much better. From 1970 to 1976, the Chiefs took Sid Smith, Elmo Wright, Jeff Kinney, Woody Green, and Rod Walters; all of them under 16 career Approximate Value. The Chiefs made 11 picks in the 1975 draft; only one ever saw an NFL field, where running back Morris LaGrand picked up a career 37 yards. A team can survive a bad draft or two, but general manager Jack Steadman's run would be crippling for any franchise. He took 91 players between 1970 and 1975; only 11 started a single game for Kansas City, and none ever made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. You could make an argument that the four worst drafts in franchise history all fell in that six-year span. That's bad.
The remaining Chiefs legends kept things from falling apart entirely for years; a series of 5-9 seasons in the mid-1970s were bad, but not in and of themselves enough to qualify for this list. By the late 1970s, however, there was just nothing left, to the point where new head coach Marv Levy installed the old Wing-T in 1978 to try to produce something on offense. In the dawn of the modern passing age, Levy's Chiefs set NFL rushing records, including running the ball 69 times on opening day while holding the ball for more than 40 minutes of clock time. They were still terrible, don't get me wrong, but at least they were an interesting, novel sort of terrible. Levy's work eventually brought the Chiefs to mediocrity, where they would stay until Marty Schottenheimer came to town .
No. 52: 1984-1990 Detroit Lions
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 37-73-1 (.338)
Average DVOA: -13.9%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -16.9%
Three last-place finishes in the NFC Central
Head Coaches: Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers, Wayne Fontes
Key Players: RB Barry Sanders, FB James Jones, T Lomas Brown, C Steve Mott, DT Jerry Ball, LB Chris Spielman, LB Jimmy Williams, LB Mike Cofer, CB Bruce McNorton
The Detroit Lions started the 1980s with a game-altering running back wearing No. 20. The Detroit Lions ended the 1980s with a game-altering running back wearing No. 20. It's the period in between that didn't go so well.
The first runner was Billy Sims, the Heisman Trophy-winner from Oklahoma. The top pick in the 1980 draft, Sims hit the ground running—he's one of only 11 players to have at least 30 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He ran for over 1,000 yards in three of his first four seasons and would have done it in all four had 1982 not been curtailed by the strike. The Lions regularly put up top-10 rushing seasons in DVOA with Sims in the backfield, which was enough to propel Detroit to their first back-to-back postseasons since the 1950s.
And then, in 1984, Sims catastrophically blew his knee out midway through the season. And, as it turns out, an offense led by the likes of Gary Danielson and Eric Hipple is not going to strike fear in the hearts of, say, the Super Bowl Shufflin' Bears. While the extent of the dropoff is bigger in conventional stats than in DVOA, the Lions finished the year 1-6-1 and well out of contention.
With their biggest offensive star gone, the Lions decided to bring in a new coach, an offensive guru to scheme up something new offensively. That was Darryl Rogers, an accomplished college coach who had a reputation as an ahead-of-his-time passing expert from Michigan State. With passing taking the league by storm in the 1980s, Rogers was going to be a perfect fit. He was going to bring a modern, exciting offense to Detroit. All you had to do was listen to him praise the Lions' roster in his opening press conference where he said, uh, "I cannot tell you one thing about the Lions. We have not talked about anything except the contract."
Under Rogers, the Lions produced their worst seasons in the back half of the 20th century. It nadired in 1988, with the Lions ranking dead last with a -25.2% offensive DVOA. They gained just 3,405 offensive yards, the second-lowest total in the 16-game era (RIP), and only hit 20 points three times. "What does a coach have to do to get fired around here?" Rogers quipped to the media, and it turns out, uh, it was that. That was enough. He was gone midway through the 1988 season.
In 1989, Lions added Barry Sanders, the Heisman Trophy-winner from Oklahoma State. The third overall pick in the 1989 draft, Sanders hit the ground running—he's one of only 11 players to have at least 30 touchdowns in his first two seasons. History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
New head coach Wayne Fontes—who had been quietly keeping the defense working while Rogers' offense was floundering—was the one pounding the table to draft Sanders, and that wasn't his only savvy draft move. He gradually built up quite a collection of talent through the draft, with Bennie Blades, Chris Spielman, and Jerry Ball all drafted between 1987 and 1989. That culminated in the 1991 team that went 12-4 and ended a game short of the Super Bowl. The 1990s Lions never could put together much success in the postseason, but at least they were significantly less depressing to watch than their 1980s counterparts.
No. 51: 1973-1980 Green Bay Packers
Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 33
Record: 42-72-4 (.373)
Average DVOA: -13.3%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -19.4%
Three last-place finishes in the NFC Central
Head Coaches: Dan Devine, Bart Starr
Key Players: WR James Lofton, T Dick Himes, G Gale Gillingham, C Larry McCarren, LB Fred Carr, LB Jim Carter, CB Willie Buchanon, CB Ken Ellis, S Johnnie Gray, S Steve Luke
When we did the dynasty project last offseason, the Packers were all over it. They had five separate entries from five different decades. They had two separate teams in the top 10. No other franchise in NFL history had had as much success, and as much distributed success, as the Packers. Almost everyone, no matter their age, can remember a classic Packers team while they were growing up. Green Bay simply has had an unparalleled record of success.
And that makes the generation between Vince Lombardi's Packers and Mike Holmgren's Packers so interesting; it's this massive gap in the history of Titletown USA. The Packers had experienced periods of failure before—astute readers will note that they had two teams on our initial list—but this is their only slump in the modern era, with only four winning seasons in 24 years. The 1980s Packers just thrived in mediocrity, going 8-8 four times and generally being forgettable. The 1970s Packers were certainly not that.
Dan Devine was the first Green Bay coach to follow Vince Lombardi and his disciples, and he had some immediate success in the early 1970s. Green Bay reached the 1972 postseason, which may have ended up doing more harm than good. See, Devine's Packers lost to Washington in a very particular way. With no passing game to speak of, Washington just loaded the box and shut down 1,000-yard rusher John Brockington entirely—he had just 9 yards. That loss really ate away at Devine, and when the quarterback platoon of Scott Hunter and Jerry Tagge did nothing of note in 1973, Devine made his move, trading two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a third-round pick to the Rams for quarterback John Hadl.
OK, a couple things…
First, Hadl wasn't the Packers' first choice. They wanted Archie Manning, who had just been benched in New Orleans. An injury to Bobby Scott forced Manning back into the lineup for the Saints, and the Packers panicked a little before settling on Hadl. Manning made the Pro Bowl multiple times in the late 1970s; seeing him go to Green Bay would have been fascinating.
Secondly, Hadl was beyond washed up. While Hadl is historically underrated, he was 34 years old in 1974 and was dealing with a dead arm. Hadl was later quoted as saying he "didn't think anyone would be that desperate" to trade for him, especially not for such value. Hadl had even thrown two interceptions against the Packers eight days before the trade. I suppose his 59 passing yards looked fantastic compared to Tagge's 17 in that game, but still. This was the run-first 1970s; if there was ever a time to devalue the passing game, this was it.
Hadl played just a year and a half for the Packers and had basically nothing left; he threw 21 interceptions in 1975. Not that Devine cared—he left after the 1974 season to take the Notre Dame job, meaning he never had to deal with the results of the trade. His replacement was Bart Starr, a beloved legend and a throwback to the Lombardi days, but someone by his own admission entirely unprepared to be a professional coach. By the end of the 1970s, the Rams had turned the Hadl trade into a mini-dynasty of their own, while the Packers were the laughingstock of the league, somewhere teams could threaten to trade players in order to enforce good behavior. Moral of the story: don't sell the future over the promise of a quick fix. Or, if you do, at least have an escape plan back to the college ranks.
The Fabulous Five
Before we go, there are five active franchises which did not make the main table, because they have never had a run of even 30 anti-dynasty points. The rest of us are all here moaning about the worst years for our favorite teams, while these jokers get to dance on by as if they'd never had a painful season. Well, I'm not having it! We have to at least have a chance to acknowledge their worst stretches of football. Here are the five never-failures, ranked from most to least impressive:
- The 1996-1998 Baltimore Ravens struggled some to get off the ground, inheriting, as they did, the baggage from the ex-Cleveland Browns. The Ravens don't get to 30 anti-dynasty points even if you include the final Browns years, but those first three Ted Marchibroda seasons were rough. Baltimore went just 16-31-1 while playing at the old Memorial Stadium, waiting for their new home to be completed. That's good for 15 anti-dynasty points, the lowest total for any franchise. Brian Billick arrived in 1999; the next year, the Ravens were Super Bowl champions.
- The 1997-2002 Carolina Panthers just miss our countdown with 28 anti-dynasty points. While Carolina shockingly made the NFC Championship Game in their second year of existence, that was very much an outlier compared to the rest of the team's early years. Carolina went 34-62 in the six-year stretch between that championship game and their Super Bowl XXXVIII appearance, including a pitiful 1-15 season. These are the teams which knocked George Seifert down from his perch as winningest coach in modern NFL history; it turns out, it's a lot harder to win games without Joe Montana or Steve Young under center! Had the Panthers lost one more game in any of these six seasons, they would have hit 30 points and qualified for the main table.
- The 1991-1996 Seattle Seahawks had no offense. In fact, there were times when it felt like no offense would have been better than what Seattle actually managed to trot out; the 1992 Seahawks, led by Stan Gelbaugh had a passing DVOA of -61.2%, worst in history (or at least, history since 1950). They were somewhat bailed out by a top-five defense led by Cortez Kennedy, which helped keep them … "respectable" may be the wrong word, but at least somewhat competitive. Outside of 1992, this was a six- or seven-win team. They went 36-60 over this six-year stretch, resulting in 24 anti-dynasty points.
- The 1966-1969 Miami Dolphins struggled as an expansion team in the AFL, going 15-39-2 before the merger, with two seasons below an estimated -30.0% DVOA. Many of the ingredients for the great early 1970s teams were there, though—Bob Griese, Jim Kiick, Dick Anderson, Norm Evans, Howard Twilley, and so on and so forth. What they didn't have was Don Shula, who joined the team as they merged into the NFL in 1970. Shula's teams immediately became 10-win playoff contenders, capping this era off at 27 anti-dynasty points.
- But it's the 1961-1963 Minnesota Vikings who take the crown as the most impressive of the five; the franchise that has existed the longest without ever being truly terrible. It took just four seasons for Minnesota to rack up its first winning season, and its record of 10-29-2 early on only nets them 22 anti-dynasty points. More so than any other franchise, the Vikings have just never been very bad for very long. They have only had five seasons with more than 10 losses in their history. They're not terrible—they're heartbreaking, or disappointing, or underachieving, however you want to think about it. If this were a list of the most agonizing teams in history (note to self, possible list for next year), the Vikings would be at or near the very top. But if you don't care much for postseason success, and just want your team to win more often than they lose, year-in and year-out, the Vikings are the team for you. My God have mercy on your soul.