The worst thing that can happen to a devoted fan of a professional sports team isn’t an abysmal season or a heartbreaking loss in the championship round, but rather having their team yanked away from them altogether. Fans of the Sacramento Kings, for instance, are less than a decade removed from being recognized as the most fervent in the NBA, and as the financial situation of the team and its owners, the Maloofs, stands now, their city will be lucky to have a team in the near future. Of course, practically speaking, teams don’t relocate unless they’re hemorrhaging money or seeking an opportunity to make more money. After all, the owners are capitalists — they aren’t interested in transforming their teams into nonprofit organizations to merely serve the communities in which they reside. Reason aside, the following teams never should have moved because each one became ingrained in the culture of its city, garnering countless loyal, adoring fans through the years. Some citizens were placated with new teams and some weren’t, but all were scarred by the unfortunate sequences of events that are now a part of sports infamy.
- Cleveland Browns (Baltimore Ravens): Since the Browns’ departure for Baltimore in 1996, owner Art Modell’s name, to Clevelanders, has become synonymous with several nasty curse words. Home of the Dawg Pound and perhaps the most rabid fans in the NFL, the city never failed to support its team, doing everything it could keep it in its rightful home — the day after Modell announced the move, the city approved a referendum to remodel the old, formerly multi-purpose Cleveland Stadium. The media covered the episode as if the city were dying, prompting fans from other NFL franchises to show their support, including fans of the rival Steelers on Monday Night Football. Fortunately for Browns fans, it was determined the franchise’s history would remain in the city and the team would resume play in 1999 as an expansion team or relocated team. The Browns have had just two winning seasons since their rebirth, and the Ravens, who soothed the anger of former Colts fans, won the Super Bowl in 2000. Cleveland, as most sports fans know, hasn’t won a professional sports championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
- Baltimore Colts (Indianapolis Colts): After a decade of haggling over a new stadium and several years of relocation threats, owner Robert Irsay infamously dispatched a team of 15 Mayflower trucks to the Colts’ Owing Mills, Maryland training complex to move the team to its new home, Indianapolis. The shady maneuver was done on a snowy night in 1984 to avoid the seizure of the franchise the next morning by the city of Baltimore, which had been given the right to do so by the Maryland legislature through eminent domain. Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and numerous Colts fans were left in tears, and former Colts greats such as Johnny Unitas disassociated themselves from the team completely. Baltimore failed in its bid for an expansion franchise in 1993, but landed the expansion version of the Browns in 1995.
- Brooklyn Dodgers (Los Angeles Dodgers): The storied history of the Brooklyn Dodgers rests in baseball lore, now buried more than a half-century in the past. With it also rests historic Ebbets Field, the site of numerous pennant winners and the 1955 World Series champions. By the ’50s, the ballpark had become antiquated, failing to sell out even during a pennant race. Owner Walter O’Malley wanted a new venue in Brooklyn, but New York City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses wanted to build it Fleshing Meadows, Queens, where the Mets currently play. Meanwhile, Los Angeles was actively looking to bring professional baseball to the thriving West Coast, and thus offered O’Malley an attractive package for a ballpark, including suitable land on which to put it. The 1957 season was the Dodgers’ last in Brooklyn and the Giants’ last in the Polo Grounds, as the teams simultaneously moved westward and maintained their rivalry. Regardless of the franchise’s association with LA, guys such as Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Leo Durocher will always be Brooklyn Dodgers.
- Seattle Supersonics (Oklahoma City Thunder): “Save our Sonics” became the rallying cry of disheartened Seattle fans during the 2007-08 NBA season, as they watched the franchise’s Oklahoma City ownership group, headed by Clay Bennett — who currently is the chairman of the NBA’s relocation committee — successfully break its Key Arena lease. Prior to the Sonics swan song, Bennett “attempted” to persuade local government to fund a new arena — city officials later accused him of failing to negotiate in good faith because he intended to move the team from the beginning. Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer eventually promised to pay half of the $300 million needed for the renovations of Key Arena, but it was too little, too late. Now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are Western Conference contenders, featuring stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and Sonics fans are merely wishing to get their team back someday.
- Houston Oilers (Tennessee Titans): Football is king in Texas. Houston is Texas’s biggest city. Sure, the Oilers weren’t the Cowboys, but the locals loved their boys in blue. The problem, however, was a micromanaging owner, Bud Adams, and a mayor, Bob Lanier, who refused to give in to his demands for a new stadium just a few years after the city had renovated the Astrodome. As the two haggled, the Oilers were capping off a string of seven consecutive playoff appearances that ended in disappointment, resulting in Adams’ dismantling of the team. Already disillusioned fans witnessed their team falter to 2-14 as the Houston Rockets won two consecutive NBA championships, singlehandedly transforming the city from “Choke City” to “Clutch City.” During the 1995 season, Adams announced the Oilers would move to Tennessee. Support of the team dwindled, and after the 1996 season, it was allowed out of its Astrodome lease early. The Titans proceeded to reach the Super Bowl in 1999, and Houston beat out Los Angeles for a franchise the same year. The Texans have sold out every game since their first season in 2002, but have yet to reach the playoffs.
- Minnesota North Stars (Dallas Stars): In the same way Modell is detested in Cleveland and O’Malley is detested in Brooklyn, former North Stars owner Norman Green is detested in Minnesota. Julie Hammond, the president of the team’s booster club when the team announced its move to Dallas in 1993, said it best when referring to Green: “When he came here, he said, ‘Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.’ Well, I guess he proved that point.” Several reasons were cited for relocation by Brown — he wanted a new arena with ample luxury boxes, he thought the city was too small to support four major pro sports franchises and major college sports, and he cited weak ticket sells despite the team’s usually lackluster performances. He was also sued for sexual harassment by his former executive assistant. The franchise’s final season in The North Star State was 1992-93, two seasons after it had reached the Stanley Cup Finals. The Dallas Stars won the Cup in 1999, two years before the Minnesota Wild’s inaugural season.
- Charlotte Hornets (New Orleans Hornets): North Carolina, home of the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wolfpack, has always had a healthy obsession with basketball. Naturally, when fast-growing Charlotte received its first professional franchise from the four major sports, it was from the NBA. The investment initially paid off for owner George Shinn. Playing in a brand new arena, Charlotte Coliseum, which affectionately became known as “The Hive,” the Hornets sold out their first 358 games, leading the league in attendance for its first seven seasons. They became somewhat of a national darling in the mid-’90s, when the team was led by 5’3 point guard Muggsy Bogues, and former college basketball superstars “Grandmama” Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. With different casts of characters, the team continued its success into the new millennium. But ticket sales decreased as Shinn’s reputation took a hit. In 1997, he was accused of rape by a local woman, causing him to withdraw from the public and alienate fans. He also became unhappy with the Coliseum because of its lack of luxury boxes. After a couple of failed attempts to build a new arena, he moved the team to New Orleans, a smaller market that had a new arena already waiting. Interestingly, he’s never returned to Charlotte. In 2010, the NBA bought Hornets from Shinn because he was financially unable to run the team, leaving its future in the Big Easy is in question.
- Winnipeg Jets (Phoenix Coyotes): As founding members of the WHA, the Jets were one of the first hockey clubs to search for talent in Europe, which enabled them to win three Avco Cups. When the WHA folded in 1979, they found a new home in the NHL, but the team was decimated and forced to rebuild. They didn’t dominate in the same manner as before, but they managed to reach the playoffs in 11 of 17 seasons in Winnipeg, where the “Winnipeg Whiteout” — in which every fan wore white during playoff games in Winnipeg Arena — became one of hockey’s coolest traditions. By the 1990s, though, loyal fan support wasn’t enough, and Winnipeg, the smallest market in the NHL after the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver, couldn’t afford to keep the team. The Jets joined the hockey’s mass movement southward, becoming the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. April 28, 2011 marked the 15th anniversary of the move, and with the financial troubles currently suffered by teams such as the Coyotes and Thrashers, Jets fans, who never ceased to exist, are hopeful the team will soon reemerge in Manitoba’s capital city.
- Old Washington Senators (Minnesota Twins): The first edition of the Senators (1901-1960) appropriately spent its first few season toward the bottom of the AL standings, three times losing more than 100 games before its ascent to the top with Walter Johnson, Sam Rice and Goose Goslin. They won the World Series in 1924 and two more AL pennants, one the following year and the other in 1933. Even with a decade of success, attendance dropped drastically as the Senators plummeted back to the bottom the standings, where they spent most of their remaining time in Washington. Calvin Griffin took over the team in 1955 after his father died, and he began looking for a new home. Minneapolis-St. Paul became the suitor, the Senators moved in 1961, becoming the Twins, and Washington was immediately awarded a new franchise, the new Senators (1961-1971). With Harmon Killebrew, the Twins reached the World Series in 1965, and the new Senators had only one winning season before they moved to Texas in 1972, leaving Washington, our nation’s capital, without the national pastime until 2005.
- Hartford Whalers (Carolina Hurricanes): Absorbed into the NHL along with Winnipeg, the Whalers were unable to duplicate the success they sustained in the WHA. A perennial .500 club during the ’80s, they garnered a small but devoted group of fans in the league’s smallest American market, where corporate support was difficult to secure. Peter Karmanos purchased the Whalers in 1994, and after an aggressive campaign from civic leaders and fans to buy season tickets, the team announced it would stay through 1997. Talks pertaining to a new arena fell through, however, and the team announced it would move even before it had found a new home, which eventually became Raleigh. The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, the franchise’s first title since it won the first Avco Cup in 1973. Today, like in Winnipeg, there’s a movement in Hartford to bring back its old team. Nostalgia still runs thick among Whalers fans, as evidenced by the packed fan convention held last summer featuring former Whalers stars Ron Francis, Larry Pleau, Kevin Dineen and Dana Murzyn.
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