The Cincinnati Bengals’ incredible ride to a potential Super Bowl title faces one last test against the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals were not expected to be in the Super Bowl this year and are underdogs in the game, but it’s not just the Rams they are facing. They’re up against history.
The Bengals are part of a group of major professional franchises that have never won the big one. If they win on Sunday, they’ll be ending one of the longest streaks of not winning their league’s title. Amazingly though, there are a number of teams with even less probable streaks.
To put some numbers on it, consider that the Bengals have been a major league football team since 1968. That’s 53 years the Bengals have padded up and never won a Super Bowl.
Based purely on random chance – a calculation we’ll be doing a lot of in this article – there was about only a 15% chance the Bengals would never have won a Super Bowl.
To be clear, there is a higher likelihood that at least one team wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl since 1968, but for it to be specifically the Bengals, it’s about 15%. You can read more about these calculations in this article from FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine.
There are other teams in the NFL with even worse luck.
The Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills (much to my chagrin), Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans have operated consistently since the first Super Bowl in the 1966-1967 season – and none of them have ever won a Super Bowl. The chance of that happening for the given franchise is a little less than 15%.
My Bills managed to appear in four consecutive Super Bowls and lost all of them. They’re the only team to go to four Super Bowls in a row and certainly the only one to lose all of them. Such a fate happening to a team is less than 1%.
In terms of length of time for winning the Big One, the Cardinals and Lions manage to top all of these teams. The Cardinals have existed in the NFL since the beginning of the league in 1920. Before the Super Bowl, an NFL Champion was crowned. The Cardinals won just one of those titles: in 1947, thanks in part to a great punt return by Hall of Famer Charley Trippi.
The chance the Cardinals haven’t won a title since that point is only about 3%.
The Lions have suffered a similar fate. They won an NFL title in 1957 – a little more recently than the Cardinals. But unlike the Cardinals, they haven’t even won the NFC championship since that point.
By random chance alone, 99 times out of 100, the Lions should have won an NFL or NFC championship. Worse for arguably the league’s unluckiest fan base, the Lions haven’t really been competitive. They haven’t even appeared in an NFC title game in 30 years. This year, they won three games – tied for the worst in football. At least, the Cardinals made the playoffs this season.
Of course, we’re limiting ourselves a little bit by examining only football.
Major League Baseball is the oldest sport of the big three – MLB, NBA and NFL – in the US. It had three streaks of teams going over 85 years without winning a World Series: the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox. All managed to break the slide this century, however.
The current streak for ineptitude in baseball belongs to the Cleveland Guardians. They haven’t won a World Series since 1948 – an over 70-year-old streak.
They have come close two times in recent years – in 1997 and 2016 – though they couldn’t get over the top. By random chance, there was a better than 95% chance the Guardians would have won at least one World Series during that timespan.
The Seattle Mariners have a perhaps lesser known streak, though one that is equally nutty. They have been members of the American League since 1977. They haven’t won an American League pennant once during that time. For any team, that should happen less than 5% of the time.
More – or less, depending on your point of view – impressive is that the Mariners haven’t even made the playoffs in the last 20 years. This is the longest streak in all three major league sports we’re talking about here, not just baseball. There was less than a 1% chance that would happen to the Mariners by random chance alone!
But even the Mariners can’t top arguably the least talked about streak of horrible luck in the three major sports.
The Sacramento Kings haven’t won an NBA championship in 70 years. More than that, they haven’t even appeared in a championship game since they won it as the Rochester Royals in 1951. This is six years longer than the streak put together by the Lions of the NFL for not appearing in the championship game.
What’s incredible about what the Kings have managed to do is that they have done so in a league that hasn’t historically had a lot of teams. For a good chunk of the Kings’ streak, they had to beat out less than 10 teams to make it to the NBA Finals.
More than 99 times out of 100, the Kings should have made it to the NBA Finals at least once by random chance. Arguably the closest they came was in 2002, when they lost Game 6 and Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in somewhat contentious fashion. The Kings lost Game 7 in overtime.
And it’s not like there has been any sign in recent years that the Kings have gotten better. They haven’t been to the NBA Playoffs in 15 seasons, which is by far the longest current streak.
Sacramento looks well on its way to year 16 without making it. If that happens, it’ll be the longest streak any NBA team has ever gone without making the playoffs.
Given over half the NBA teams make the playoffs every season, this is truly on another level. Put another way, even if the Joe Burrow and the Bengals don’t win on Sunday, they can at least say they aren’t the Kings.
Other Super Bowl musings
Of course, some people will not be watching Sunday’s game because they’re interested in football. So for all of those out there whose main interest in the game is not the actual sport of football, here are five things you should know – or might be fascinated to hear:
Bring chicken wings to your party
- If you’re wondering what the No. 1 treat is for people when watching the Super Bowl, it’s chicken wings at 33%. Next is pizza at 19%, according to a 2020 SSRS poll. Burgers (13%) and dips (16%) – that you might use in chips and salsa – are the only other foods to hit double digits. What’s interesting about this is that pizza typically scores as the top food choice outside of football, but I guess people just prefer something different with their pigskin.
A lot of people will watch the game
- I don’t think most of us realize how many people are going to tune into this game. We’ve already had north of 50 million watch the AFC and NFC Championship games at their peak. Last year, more than 90 million watched the Super Bowl, so 100 million viewers is very reachable. If we hit 100 million viewers, it will be three times as large as the audience for any non-NFL program in 2021.
A lot of people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials
- One of my favorite questions about the Super Bowl was a 2020 SSRS poll asking why people watched it. Nearly three-fifths (58%) said it was for the game. Another 24% said it was mainly for the commercials, and 13% admitted it was for the halftime show. Given that at least 90 million people watch the Super Bowl, we’re talking about more than 30 million people who are watching the game for a reason mainly other than play on the field.
The postgame show is… more sports and will likely be well watched
- One of the big advantages of a network hosting the Super Bowl is that it gets to showcase a television program after the game. Sometimes, a network will premiere a show – The Wonder Years and Family Guy come to mind. Last year, the CBS postgame show, The Equalizer, ended up rating in the top-10 primetime programs for the entire year. This year, NBC is putting on the Olympics, which have so far struggled in the ratings.
If you don’t know who to root for, choose the Bengals to fit in
- Data tells us that most people generally prefer rooting for the underdog. That seems to be the case this year as well. About 15 points more of those with a rooting interest in the game are picking the Bengals over the Rams. That’s especially the case outside the state of California, where the Rams are based. So if you don’t follow football and want to be part of the in crowd, you better wear black and orange.