The reason no one has heard from me for the past 72 hours or so is I’ve been immersed in a project researching just how good or bad professional sports in Chicago has been over my lifetime.
It has been a humbling and at times depressing journey.
What got me started was writing the other day about the status of the Cubs’ and Bears’ rebuilding projects, not even considering the Blackhawks were in the same boat and may actually be the farthest from shore, how the White Sox have disappointed this season to date and uncertainty of what we can make of the Bulls’ most recent hot start before struggling down the stretch and being overmatched in the playoffs.
To select a balanced playing field, I started with 1967, universally recognized as the beginning of the modern era of the NFL, but after realizing the Bulls actually were born in 1966, I stepped back one more season to give us 56 years to study.
The good news is this is not the darkest era for pro sports in our beloved city over the last half century-plus.
The bad news is it’s one of many in the race.
Including all five teams, I recorded the number of winning and losing seasons each team has had, postseason berths, playoffs in which they’ve won at least one series (or games for the Bears) and championships.
With winning as the touchstone, I’ve determined the best and worst sports seasons in town over the past 56 years, and which franchises have been the most and least successful.
Could it be worse? Sure, but it is an even less pleasant picture than I hoped to paint.
From the 1966 through 2021 seasons, there has never been a year in which all five of our professional franchises have had winning records.
There have been only eight seasons – 1967 (Bulls), 1972 (Bears), 1977 (Blackhawks), 1990 (Cubs), 1991 (Cubs) 1993 (Bears), 1995 (White Sox) and 2012 (Cubs) – in which four of our five clubs – all but the team in parentheses – have had winning records, and, of course, the Bulls won championships in ‘91 and ‘93.
Conversely, in 1999 all five Chicago clubs did have losing records. In 1976 and 1978, four of them had losing records, while the Blackhawks were 32-30-18 and 32-29-19, respectively.
All total there have been 10 seasons – 1976, 1978, 1979 (Bears), 1980 (Blackhawks), 1981 (Bulls), 1982 (White Sox), 1987 (Bears), 1997 (Bulls), 2000 (White Sox) and 2021 (White Sox) – in which four of our five clubs – again all but the team in parentheses – have had losing records, and the Bulls did win the NBA title in ‘97.
On a positive note, each of these teams except the White Sox has assembled at least one “dynasty” of five seasons or more of dominance that included at least one championship, but none have come concurrently, making it hard to anoint a “best era,” leaving by default 1984 through 1998 as the best of times with the succession of the Bears and Bulls as dynasties.
The worst of times? Sadly, there have been many, but losing was epidemic in town from 1976 through 1983.
As for top to bottom organizationally, here are the numbers:
|Playoff wins||19 (series)||23||3||6||9 (games)|
It is of course difficult to balance the significance of playoffs and playoff success with the five sports being contested differently, but wins and losses and championships don’t lie, leaving me to rank these clubs: 1T. Bulls, 1T. Blackhawks, 3T. Cubs, 3T. White Sox, 5. Bears.
At the end of the day, I’d like to find a way to leave you with some good news, and there is this:
With complete reconstruction now fully underway in Wrigleyville, at Soldier Field and the Madhouse on Madison, with like projects possibly nearing a successful conclusion for the Sox and Bulls, and maybe even a grand new sports palace about to be conceived and developed in the near west suburbs for the Bears, perhaps next year is finally near?
One can only hope.