From Champions to Cellar-Dwellers

November 15, 2017

Here are some teams who defended their titles…by not defending them at all and turning almost explicably bad in the blink of an eye.


The 1998-99 Chicago Bulls

In the 1997-98 season, the Chicago Bulls amassed a record of 62-20, the best in the Eastern Conference. They cruised through the playoffs and in the NBA Finals beat the Utah Jazz in six games. That was the Bulls’ sixth championship in just eight years, all of them thanks to on-court heroics by star player Michael Jordan. But before the next season began, Jordan retired, coach Phil Jackson opted to not renew his contract, and stars like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were nearing the end of their own stellar careers. Result: The Bulls went 13-37 in that lockout-shortened season the year after winning the NBA title. It was the team’s first time missing the playoffs since before Jordan had joined the team in 1984. In April 1999, the Bulls set a modern-day record for least points scored in a game, losing 82 to 49 to the Miami Heat.

The 1982-83 San Francisco 49ers

The 1981-82 San Francisco 49ers are among the all-time best squads in NFL history. It was the first season that future legend Joe Montana was the team’s starting quarterback, and he was one of six 49ers selected to the Pro Bowl, along with standouts like Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott. With a regular season record of 13-3, the 49ers marched into the postseason and nearly missed the Super Bowl…if not for Montana’s impossible, touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the final seconds of the NFC Championship Game. They went on to win the Super Bowl over the Cincinnati Bengals in a 26 to 21 squeaker. The memorable moments didn’t quite continue when play resumed in the fall of 1982. In that strike-shortened season, the 49ers finished with a record of 3-6. They quickly recovered at least, finishing 10-6 in 1983, and at a nearly perfect 15-1 in 1984, on the way to another Super Bowl victory.

The 1997 Florida Marlins

With the Chicago Cubs finally breaking more than a century of championship-less seasons, the Cleveland Indians are now the team with the longest World Series drought—the team last won it all in 1948, nearly 70 years ago. Perhaps the closest the team came to breaking the cold snap was in 1997; they won the AL Central and made it all the way to the World Series. Representing the National League was the wild card team: the Florida Marlins, a team that had only joined the big leagues just four years earlier. The Marlins took the favored Indians to the full seven games…and dramatically won it all in the 11th inning when Edgar Renteria drove a runner home with a tricky infield single. The scrappy Marlins weren’t quite in “dynasty-building” territory quite yet, however. In 1998, the team went from the highest highs of the World Series to the lowest lows of the NL East standings. the team finished with a record of 54-108, the worst in all of baseball, and one of the worst in baseball history.

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