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The most hopeless causes in sports?

By Mike Downey
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
The San Francisco Giants celebrate after Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, October 29, in Kansas City, Missouri. The Giants won 3-2 to win the series. The San Francisco Giants celebrate after Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, October 29, in Kansas City, Missouri. The Giants won 3-2 to win the series.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kansas City Royals made it to postseason for the first time since 1985, lost to Giants
  • Their move gives hope to other teams that have long tasted failure, says Mike Downey
  • L.A. Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, St. Louis Blues have never won titles
  • Chicago Cubs fans have waited 106 years for a repeat of their World Series win

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune who contributes frequently to CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) -- Do the hopeless causes have hope? If so, how much?

When it comes to the wide world of sports, it springs eternal. Anyone who saw baseball's Kansas City Royals fight their way into the World Series for the first time since 1985, only to lose to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 Wednesday night, was reminded that losers have been known to turn into winners.

The Giants know that feeling. When they took the World Series in 2010, they had gone without a championship for 56 years. Now they have their third in five years.

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

The Royals will have to wait till next year for a chance at baseball's ultimate prize, but other unexpected teams could surprise us in the meantime.

Who might that be?

Projections that the Cleveland Cavaliers could meet the Los Angeles Clippers for the National Basketball Association's next championship have not as yet been met with a ha-ha-ha, you-kill-me kind of maniacal laugh. It could happen, relatively smart NBA people believe. Both bad franchises suddenly look uncommonly good.

A question of whether the Detroit Lions could finally make it to a Super Bowl now exists, halfway through this National Football League season, without the requisite rolling of eyeballs or a yeah, yeah, yeah, when-pigs-fly kind of reply. It remains improbable, but not impossible, like convincing Matthew McConaughey to make a TV commercial for a car.

Not every cause is lost. Some are merely misplaced.

Individually in the Long Overdue Dept. of life, Sergio Garcia, 34, is a successful pro golfer who has never won a Grand Slam tournament, or one of the "majors," as they in the PGA say. Danica Patrick, 32, has yet to win a NASCAR race behind the wheel. John Isner, 29, has not been beyond the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam event of tennis.

In other sports shots heard 'round the world, not once has the winning goal of a World Cup championship match been struck by a certain soccer team we like to call "USA, USA, USA!"

Gotta happen SOMETIME, yes?

Doesn't it?

Kansas City had not been to a World Series for 29 years, but finally got its act together this fall. Seattle's pro football squad hadn't won a Super Bowl game, but that finally happened in 2014. Los Angeles' hockey team endured decades without claiming a Stanley Cup, but now has drunk out of two of the last three.

Teams gotta dream. Some year has to be your year. When previously overpowering organizations such as the Boston Celtics, Dallas Cowboys or Los Angeles Dodgers become teams that no longer play for the championship year after year, your team could actually stand a chance. No one fears the New York Yankees nowadays; they are pretty much just another pretty good team.

Who'll finally get lucky? Whose fateful year will it finally be?

Here they come, Hopeless Causes R Us:

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (NBA)

Last NBA championship: None.

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They joined the league in 1970. They got their hands on LeBron James and lost him. They lost 26 games in a row in the season of 2010-11. Were once again mocked as the "Cleveland Cadavers."

Ah, but look who's back: King James himself. He went south to Miami for a few winters, turned the Heat into a hot property, then decided that he longed to return to his native Ohio, where he would try to win the Cavs a crown at last. You know what? They just might.

DETROIT LIONS (NFL)

Last NFL championship: 1957.

More than likely, this season's Lions will retreat tails between legs to lick their wounds, as they do year after year. Since the name "Super Bowl" was applied to the league's big game, Detroit has hosted it, but never played in it.

But the team's current record is 6-2. It is in first place in the NFC North. It has a legit playoff shot. Who's to say that after Katy Perry sings at halftime, the team from Motown won't win on Super Bowl Sunday and have Detroiters dancin' in the streets?

ST. LOUIS BLUES (NHL)

Last NHL championship: None.

No team has been in the National Hockey League as long as this one has without winning a Stanley Cup at least once. Its trophy haul is an empty net.

It looked like last season's team might change all that. St. Louis' record was a fine 52-23. Blues lovers jammed the Scottrade Center expecting to sing a new tune. Alas, out on a sour note they went, in the opening round of the playoffs. The Blues remain O-for-ever.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES (MLB)

Last World Series title: 1983.

Oh, the O's of this season came SO close. They made their division rival Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays eat their dust. They won 30 more games than they lost. They broomed the man-eating Tigers right out of the playoffs.

Even after losing two star players, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, at an inopportune time, the Orioles could have gone all the way. If not for a red-hot Kansas City ball club, Baltimore might well have won its first World Series title since 1983.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (NBA)

Last NBA title: None.

Donald Sterling, the boneheaded owner, is out. Steve Ballmer, the bald-headed owner, is in. Doc Rivers is a smart coach and there's a lot of talent on that court.

On the other hand, these are still the Clippers, who have been demonstrating a million ways to die in the West since long before a Seth MacFarlane movie by that name came out. Yes, they really did beat the Lakers in a game last season 142-94. Is this team for real, though? It is not now-or-never, but almost.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (NFL)

Last NFL title: 1964.

Hard to believe this franchise, football royalty, has never been to a Super Bowl even once.

This season's record is 4-3. Not awesome, but not rotten. Maybe they can take their division. Maybe they can get on a roll. Maybe they can ask Kevin Costner, who played the Browns' general manager in the 2014 movie "Draft Day," to join them on Super Bowl Sunday 2015, if truth turns out to be stranger than fiction.

BUFFALO SABRES (NHL)

Last NHL title: None.

They tried nine different goaltenders last season -- repeat, NINE. That is a National Hockey League record. It is also ridiculous.

Trades, hirings, firings, new ownership, nothing's worked. Not a single Stanley Cup for this franchise, founded in 1970. The honeymoon near Niagara Falls is long over. Time for the Sabres to stop fouling up in front of their fed-up fans.

SEATTLE MARINERS (MLB)

Last World Series title: None.

Quick, name a team that's never even been IN a World Series. Bzzz, time's up. The answer is: Seattle's Mariners, one of the true underachieving organizations of all time.

The M's were on the brink, missing this season's playoffs by just one game. They have a super pitcher in Felix Hernandez and a splendid player in Robinson Cano. What they do not have is a single World Series ring with a Mariner logo on any finger. If not soon, when?

NEW YORK KNICKS (NBA)

Last NBA title: 1973.

Last time anybody expected a title: Hmmm, can't recall.

Rings-on-every-finger Phil Jackson is in charge now. He helped the Bulls and Lakers try on NBA championship jewelry again and again. It's a long, long way from contender to champ, but maybe Jackson can figure out what his Madison Square Garden predecessors have not.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (NFL)

Last NFL title: None. Zero. It's a franchise that's been to only one Super Bowl, which it lost 49-26.

This season's Chargers have a record of 5-3. They and quarterback Philip Rivers look sharp. Not as sharp as Peyton Manning's team and Tom Brady's team, but maybe lightning will strike.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (NHL)

Last NHL title: 1967.

Up there north of the border in Ontario the situation is bordering on tragicomic, kind of like Mayor Rob Ford's.

A couple of seasons ago, the Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in quite a while. A franchise that won 13 Stanley Cups ought to be able to win a 14th somehow, sometime.

CHICAGO CUBS (MLB)

Last World Series title: 1908.

Being the butt of every joke can't be easy. "Lovable losers" are still losers, no matter how their fans feel. When you go 106 years without a championship, you are not Cinderella finally going to the ball; you are Cinderella still scrubbing the floors.

But, a young star or two, a couple of up-and-comers, and who knows? Good things do happen to bad teams. Although where the Cubs are concerned, nahhh.

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