It is believed that the great Frank Robinson first said, “Close doesn’t count in baseball. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Now the latter sentence of his famous quote is used as a proverb. The proverb is used to express being nearly successful or accurate is not the same as being successful or accurate.
Although it was initially a quote referring to baseball, the proverb rings true throughout the world of sports. It is apparent in multiple moments throughout a game or over the course of the season. It especially rings true for teams that make it to a championship but falls just short. Second place is nothing to be ashamed of, but teams around the NFL, NBA, or MLB are not satisfied by merely getting to the championship. The goal each season is to win a ring, not to get close.
The Denver Nuggets First NBA Finals
The Denver Nuggets are four wins away from the first NBA Championship in franchise history. But as the players remind the reporters after each game, the job is incomplete until they win the NBA Finals.
The current Denver players could care less that the franchise has not been to any sort of finals since the last year of the ABA in 1976. Getting to the ‘Big Dance’ is not enough. Second place is just the first loser, and no one cares about the small consolation prize for winning the conference.
The Nuggets are a perfect example of an organization that has had a lot of success throughout the years but could never get over the hump. Denver qualified for the NBA playoffs nine consecutive times in the 1980s and 10 consecutive times from 2004-13. Although the team has had a lot of success, the Nuggets had never been to the NBA Finals.
In the franchise’s 47th season, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the rest of the 2023 Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers to advance to their first NBA Finals. Coach Michael Malone and Denver’s front office have done a great job finding and using role players around their two stars. Ultimately their depth and skill were too much for LeBron and the Lakers.
Unlike many teams in the NBA, the Nuggets do not go out and chase stars and trade away future draft capital to try to bring them to Denver. They have nailed a few of their drafts, which has led them to be semi-successful. They picked the newly retired Carmelo Anthony with the third choice of the 2003 draft, and he became the key piece on 9 of the 10 consecutive playoff runs in the 2000s.
The Nuggets may have found the biggest steal in the NBA draft when they drafted Jokic with the 41st pick in 2014.
Jokic has won two MVP awards and just took home the Western Conference Finals MVP award.
“The Joker” is one of the best passing big men the league has seen, and on Monday, he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s 55-year record of most triple-doubles in a single postseason. Jokic’s vintage game is proof that even though uber athleticism gets all the hype, it is not what makes a basketball player effective. Having a high basketball IQ and good ball skills is much more important than being able to jump out of the gym.
Close, But No Cigar
With the Nuggets on the brink of ending their championship drought, we at OSDBsports.com were talking about other franchises that have never won a title. 12 organizations in the NBA and 12 more in the NFL (in the Super Bowl era) have never won a title and six in the MLB. Some of these teams, including the Nuggets until this year, have never made it to the championship game, but others have been close multiple times. So, let's start with the organizations that have played in multiple title games but never got over the hump.
When reading this article, you will notice that many of the all-time greats are why these organizations never won a title. Players like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Derek Jeter are considered greats because the franchises below couldn’t overcome their greatness. It’s crazy to think how different the history of sports would be if some of these teams would have won a championship.
NBA Teams With More Than One Finals Loss
The Phoenix Suns – Three Finals Appearances
The Phoenix Suns joined the NBA at the start of the 1968-69 season. They were the first major sports team in the state of Arizona. Led by Paul Westphal, the Suns made it to their first NBA Finals in 1976. They ran into the dominant Boston Celtics, who were led by three eventual Hall of Famers Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jo Jo White. The favored Celtics won the series in six games to win their 12th NBA title.
Nearly thirty years later, rookie Coach Westphal led the Suns to the 1992–93 NBA Finals. The Suns traded for Charles Barkley before the season, and he went on to win the MVP of the league and led the Suns to a franchise record 62 wins. But once again, they ran into a dynasty in the Finals. This time it was the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Two years ago, the Suns found themselves back in the Finals. This time they were led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Suns won the first two games of the Finals but ultimately lost the series 4–2 to the Milwaukee Bucks, led by two-time regular season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Orlando Magic – Two Finals Appearances
In the 1994–95 season, the Magic's sixth season, All-Star forward Horace Grant was acquired to play alongside young stars Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway.They made it to the Finals that year but were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the more experienced Houston Rockets.
The Magic, led by Dwight Howard, made it back to the Finals in the 2008-09 season. They took down the MVP of the league, LeBron James, in the ECF to advance to their second Finals. In game three against Kobe’s Lakers, the undermanned Magic won the franchise's first and only Finals game.
The New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets – Two Finals Appearances
The Nets, who were led by Jason Kidd, made it to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and ‘03. The Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaq, swept them in the 2002 Finals. Then the next year, the Nets completed two sweeps in the Eastern Conference playoffs to advance to play the San Antonio Spurs for the championship. The Nets won two of the first four games but went on to lose the series 4-2. Tim Duncan, the ‘02 regular season MVP, won his second Finals MVP that year.
Teams with One Finals Appearance
Teams With No Finals Appearances
NFL Teams With More Than One Super Bowl Loss
The Buffalo Bills – Four Super Bowl Appearances
When we first started thinking about this list, the Buffalo Bills were the first team to come to mind. The Bills made it to four straight Super Bowls between 1990-93 and lost all four. The Bills were led by some all-time greats – QB Jim Kelly, WR Andre Reed, RB Thurman Thomas, and DE Bruce Smith. They lost to the Giants, the Redskins, and the Cowboys twice.
The closest the Bills came to a ring was in Super Bowl XXV in 1990. The game featured many lead changes and ended with a score of 20-19 in favor of the Giants. With eight seconds left, Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood attempted a 47-yard field goal to take the lead. His kick sailed wide right, less than a yard outside of the upright. They had three more chances at a ring but were never close in each of the three following Super Bowls.
The Minnesota Vikings – Four Super Bowl Appearances
The Vikings were one of the most dominant teams at the beginning of the Super Bowl era. They were favored heavily in Super Bowl IV in 1969 but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7. They then made three Super Bowls in four years from 1973-1976.
The Vikings' outstanding teams of the early 1970s were led by the "Purple People Eaters," one of the greatest defensive lines assembled. In 1973, the Vikings lost Super Bowl VIII vs. the Miami Dolphins, 24-7. The closest they came was the next year in Super Bowl IX, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-6.
The Cincinnati Bengals – Three Super Bowl Appearances
The Bengals reached the Super Bowl twice during the 1980s. They lost both Super Bowl XVI and Super Bowl XXIII to the San Francisco 49ers. The Bengals trailed all game in Super Bowl XVI. The 49ers led all game after QB Joe Montana’s 1-yard TD run in the first quarter, but the Bengals mounted a second-half comeback to lose 26-21.
Super Bowl XXIII was a different story. The game was back and forth, but the Bengals had a 16-13 lead with 3:20 left in the game. Montana led an 11-play, 92-yard drive to score the winning touchdown. This was one of Montana’s defining moments for his nickname “Joe Cool.”
In 2021 the new “Joe Cool” had his defining moment, but this time the QB played for the Bengals. In the 2021-22 AFC Championship game, Joe Burrow completed a comeback from being down 21-3 to shock the No. 2 seed Chiefs, 27-24. The Bengals would go on to lose a heartbreaker, 23-20, to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. WR Cooper Kupp, the game’s MVP, scored a game-sealing touchdown to take the lead with under two minutes to play.
The Carolina Panthers – Two Super Bowl Appearances
The Panthers were an expansion team that entered the NFL alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 NFL season. Surprisingly, it took the Panthers less than 10 years to reach their first Super Bowl. The 2003 Panthers were led by QB Jake Delhomme and nicknamed the “Cardiac Cats” after winning multiple overtime games and games by a slim margin. They lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to Brady and the Patriots on a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with four seconds left on the clock.
Then in 2015, Cam Newton put together an MVP season and led the Panthers back to the Super Bowl. The Panthers were 5.5-point favorites in the game but lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos. The Broncos had an aging Peyton Manning at QB and the Super Bowl MVP Von Miller anchoring their stellar defense.
The Atlanta Falcons – Two Super Bowl Appearances
The Falcons joined the NFL in 1966 and made it to their first Super Bowl in 1999. The 1998-99 season was when the Falcons created the infamous “Dirty Bird” celebration on their way to a franchise-best 14-2 regular season record. They completed the best season in franchise history by being blown out 34-19 by John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.
The 2016-17 Falcons were the other team that quickly came to mind when thinking about who has come close but fell just short. Regular season MVP Matt Ryan and All-Pro WR Julio Jones led coach Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered offense. The Falcons started hot and held a 28-3 midway through the third quarter. But Brady and the Patriots would score 25 unanswered points to force overtime. After winning the coin toss in overtime, New England received the kickoff and scored a touchdown to claim the title.
Teams with One Super Bowl Appearance
Teams without a Super Bowl Appearance
MLB Teams With More Than One World Series Loss
Tampa Bay Rays – Two World Series Appearances
Tampa Bay was awarded a team in 1995, and the Devil Rays joined the MLB in 1998. They were horrible until a switch up in controlling interest and a name switch to the Rays in 2008. That year also marked their first AL Pennant and a trip to the World Series. They lost the 2008 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.
They had continued success after the name change, and the Rays made it back to the World Series in the shortened 2020 season. They lost the series 4-2 to a loaded Dodgers team that featured Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and World Series MVP Corey Seager.
The Texas Rangers – Two World Series Appearances
In 1961, The Texas Rangers were established as the Washington Senators, who then moved to Arlington, Texas, where they became the Texas Rangers in 1972. It took the team 36 seasons to finally make the playoffs and 50 years to become the final team of the 30 active clubs to win a first-round series.
SP Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero led the 2010 Rangers to the franchise's first playoff series win, which was also the year they advanced to the World Series. They lost the 2010 Fall Classic to the San Francisco Giants in five games. Even though Lee and Guerrero left in the offseason, the Rangers put together another great season and returned to the World Series in 2011. They lost a heart-wrenching series in seven games to Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals.
San Diego Padres – Two World Series Appearances
In 1969, the Padres joined the ranks of Major League Baseball as one of four new expansion teams. The Padres won their first NL Pennant in 1984, advancing to the organization's first World Series. The team won its first and only World Series game in game two behind the pitching of Andy Hawkins, eventually losing the series in five games.
The great Tony Gwynn would lead the Padres to their second World Series in 1998. This version of the Padres ran into one of the best teams ever – the ‘98 Yankees, who won 114 regular season games. The Yankees, who were led by Derek Jeter, Tim Raines, and Mariano Rivera, swept the Padres.
MLB Teams with One World Series Appearances
MLB Teams with No World Series Appearances