Top 20 ‘Eras Of Frustration,’ Part One

I don’t normally have an interest in top 10 or top 20 lists, because most of them are just based on opinion, without any factual backing. However, here is a top 20 list I worked on that I found very interesting, on a topic that is not often discussed. It is a list of teams that were very good, some were great, some should have won it all–but didn’t. But the one thing they all had in common, is that they kept making it to the post season, only to lose.

As a fan, I know how frustrating it can be to see your favorite team make it to the post season year after year, only to lose when it counted most. Sure, everyone remembers the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both lost four Superbowls and never won one, ( and yes, their both on this list). However, there are 18 other teams on this list, that at some point, have known the frustration of not being able to get over the hump. Some might surprise you.

Many of these teams have gone on to win Championships and Superbowls, and see some great seasons. However, this is to show that even the greatest teams went through periods of not being able to win the big one. When a team is good enough to keep making it to the post season year after year, you expect that at some point they are going win it all–but as this list will show, it doesn’t always work out that way.

You will not find any bad teams on this list. Bad teams don’t make it to the post season year after year. And I’m not talking about teams that had just one or two good seasons either. I’m talking about teams that were good year after year.

I will do this in two parts. Part one is 11 through 20, in reverse order.

#20 – The San Francisco 49ers (1970-1972)

True, it was only a three year span, but it had to be very frustrating to lose to the same team three years in a row. In 1970, after finishing 10-3-1 in the regular season, the 49ers defeated the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings in round one, but lost the following week to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game. They got a rematch with Dallas the following season, but again lost in the NFC title game. In 1972 the 49ers got some revenge against the Cowboys, beating them easily 31-10 on Thanksgiving day. Yet, as history has shown us, they would meet again in the playoffs. The 49ers had a 28-13 lead with just minutes left in the game, but still managed to lose 30-28.

The 49ers would finally defeat the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC title game, and go on to win five Superbowls.

#19 – The Kansas City Chiefs (1990-1997)

This team made it to the post season 7 out of 8 years. They lost in the playoffs three straight years (1990-1992), yet they made it to the AFC title game in 1993. It was the first time they played in a title game since winning Superbowl IV, but they were easily beaten by the Buffalo Bills 30-13.

In 1995 they posted their best regular season record in team history, going 13-3. Chiefs fans had high hopes that they would finally get back to the Superbowl after a 25 year absence, yet their hopes were quickly dashed when they were upset in the playoffs by a 9-7 Colts team. After losing in the playoffs yet again in 1996, the Chiefs made it back in ’97 with another 13-3 record. It may have been their best team ever–but Chiefs fans hopes were dashed again, as they lost to the Broncos 14-10.

The Chiefs won the AFL title in 1962,1966 & 1969. They defeated the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings in Superbowl IV, but have had little to celebrate since.

#18 – The Los Angeles Rams (1983-1989)

This team reached the post season six times in a seven year span. They lost in the early rounds of the playoffs in four of those years (1983,1984,1986,1988). However they reached the NFC title game in 1985, only to be shutout by the Chicago Bears 24-0. They reached the NFC title game again in 1989, but they were beaten badly by the San Francisco 49ers, 30-3.

The Rams did win the NFL title in 1945 & 1951, and after many years of frustration, the Rams finally won the Vince Lombardi trophy in 1999.

#17 – The Minnesota Vikings (1992-2000)

During this 9 year span, the only season the Vikings missed the post season was 1995. Losing in the earlier rounds in six of their Superbowl attempts, they finally made it to the NFC title game in 2000. However, they were humiliated by the NY Giants, losing 41-0.

Yet perhaps their most frustrating season ever came in 1998. They rode into the NFC title game with a 16-1 record, becoming only the 3rd team in NFL history to win 15 games in the regular season. They scored an amazing 597 points in their 17 games. In perhaps the Vikings most heart breaking loss ever, they were defeated 30-27 in overtime by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game.

#16 – The Indianapolis Colts (2007-2014)

This team reached the post season seven times in this eight year span. They lost in the playoffs in 2007 & 2008, yet in 2009 they rode into the Superbowl with an impressive 16-2 record. They had high hopes of winning their second Vince Lombardi trophy as the Indianapolis Colts, but lost to the New Orleans Saints.

They lost in the playoffs in 2010, and after a nightmare 2-14 season in 2011, they bounced back to reach the playoffs in 2012 & 2013, but lost. In 2014, they reached the AFC title game, but were trounced by the New England Patriots 45-7.

Between 2003-2014, the Colts and Patriots would meet each other five times in the post season–the Colts winning only one out of the five games. That win came in the 2006 AFC title game, where after trailing 21-3, the Colts came back to win 38-34. They then went on to win the Superbowl with a 29-17 victory over the Bears.

#15 – The Dallas Cowboys (1979-1983)

To start off this five year span, the Cowboys would lose to the Rams in the 1979 playoffs. The following year they would lose the NFC title game to the Eagles 20-7.

In the 1981 NFC title game, they were leading the San Francisco 49ers 27-21 with just minutes left in the game. They appeared to be on their way to a record sixth Superbowl appearance, yet with just under a minute left in the game, they gave up the winning touchdown, on a play that would forever be known as “the catch”. The following season they lost the 1982 NFC title game to the Redskins. They would lose again to the Rams in the 1983 playoffs.

After some lean years, the Cowboys would bounce back in the 1990’s, winning three Superbowls.

#14 – The Miami Dolphins (1978-1985)

During this eight year stretch the Dolphins missed the post season only once, in 1980. In the 1981 playoffs, they lost a heart-breaker in double overtime to the San Diego Chargers, 41-38. Trying to bounce back just a year later, the Dolphins reached the Superbowl in ’82, but lost to the Washington Redskins 27-17. In 1984 they had their best team since their last Superbowl victory in 1973. They coasted into the Superbowl with a 16-2 record, but lost to a stronger 49ers team 38-14.

In 1985 they appeared to be on a crash course to meet the Chicago Bears in the Superbowl. The Dolphins were the only team to defeat the Bears that season, and football fans everywhere looked forward to a Dolphins vs Bears rematch in the Superbowl. However, the Dolphins were upset by the New England Patriots in the playoffs, and their Superbowl dreams were over.

The Dolphins did have their glory years, of course. In 1972 they won the Superbowl and remain the only undefeated team in NFL history. In 1973 they won the Superbowl again. Their combined record of the 1972 & 1973 team was a staggering 32 wins, with only 2 losses.

#13 – The Cleveland Browns (1985-1989)

The Browns reached the post season five years in a row, including three trips to the AFC title game. All three of those AFC title games were against the Denver Broncos.

They lost in the playoffs in 1985, but bounced back in 1986 with one of their best seasons in many, many years. They defeated the NY Jets in overtime in the playoff game, and in the AFC title game they were leading the Broncos 20-13 with just minutes remaining. They appeared to be on their way to their first ever Superbowl appearance. But the Broncos tied the game, marching 98 yards down-field on what would forever be known as “the drive”. The Browns lost in overtime 23-20.

They reached the AFC title game again the following year, but lost another heart-breaker to the Broncos, on a play that will forever be known as “the fumble”. In 1988 they lost in the playoffs, and in 1989 they once again played the Broncos in the AFC title game. This time it was not even close. The Browns lost 37-21.

The Browns are one of the few teams that have never reached the Superbowl, but they have had some great teams, especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s. They won the AAFC title four years in a row, 1946-1949, and have won the NFL title four times (1950,1954,1955 & 1964).

#12 – The Baltimore Colts (1964-1968)

During this five year stretch, the Colts had six future hall of famers on the team. On offense they had Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker, and John Mackey. On defense they had Gino Marchetti, although he only played on the 1964 & 1966 teams.

In 1964 the Colts lost the NFL title game. They went 12-2 that season, and were heavily favored to defeat the Cleveland Browns for the title. Instead they were shutout by the Browns in a crushing 27-0 defeat. In 1965 they lost a heart-breaker in a playoff game to the GB Packers 13-10, on a last second field goal.

In 1966 they finished with a disappointing 9-5 record, but they came back strong in 1967 with a 11-1-2 record. It was their best record in team history. But believe it or not, even though they were tied for the best record in the league, the Colts were not eligible for any post season play–Here’s why: There were four divisions in the NFL at that time. The Cowboys won the Capitol division with a 9-5 record. The Browns won the Century division with a 9-5 record, and the Packers won the Central division with a 9-4-1 record, making all three eligible for the playoffs. The Colts were in the more competitive Coastal division, and they went into the final game of the season with an 11-0-2 record.

Their opponent was the second place Los Angeles Rams, who sported a 10-1-2 record. The two best teams in the league just happened to be in the same division. Whoever lost this game would not be eligible for the post season. Fair or not, that’s the way it was. The Rams won easily 34-10, and just like that–the Colts were out.
They bounced back strong in 1968 with what was thought to be perhaps the best team in NFL history. They finished the regular season at 13-1, their only loss coming at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. They avenged that loss by humiliating the Browns in the NFL title game 34-0. They went into the Superbowl with a 15-1 record, and had outscored their opponents 460-158. This included four shutouts.

Their opponent in the Superbowl would be the NY Jets. The Jets had a 13-3 record and were a very good team, but no one gave them a chance against this powerful Colts team. In one of the biggest upsets in sports history, the Jets defeated the Colts 16-7.

The Colts won the NFL title in 1958,1959 & 1968. They won the Superbowl in 1970.

#11 – The Dallas Cowboys (1966-1970)

During this five year span, the Cowboys lost to the Packers in the NFL title game two years in a row, 1966 & 1967. The next two years, they lost to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs. They finally made it to the Superbowl the following year, only to lose to the Baltimore Colts on a last second field goal.

Perhaps their most disappointing season during this 5 year span was 1968. They had breezed through the regular season with a 12-2 record, outscoring their opponents 431-186. They would face the 10-4 Cleveland Browns in the playoffs. The Browns were a good team, but the Cowboys had easily defeated them during the regular season 28-7. They had also handed the Browns a humiliating 52-14 beating in the playoffs the year before. Football fans everywhere looked forward to seeing the 12-2 Cowboys face the 13-1 Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game. But instead, the Cowboys played their worst game of the season and were defeated by the Browns 31-20.

The Cowboys went on to great success in the 1970’s. They defeated the Miami Dolphins in Superbowl VI, and would play in three more Superbowls, winning again in Superbowl XII.

Stay tuned for the second half of my list, and find out who will take the top spot on my list!


I've always had a passion for sports. My favorite sport is football. I played and watched a lot of football during the 1970's (my favorite era) After graduating high school I began to compete in Olympic weightlifting. I competed from 1981-1989. I began competing in powerlifting in 2011 and currently hold some New Jersey and New York State records for my age group (50-54) This year I will be competing in the 55-59 age group and hope to break some more State records. I enjoy writing about weightlifting and football.

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