You can win all you want in the regular season, but if it doesn't lead to a championship, it's all-for-not. If anything, great regular-season performances only set the stage for enormous postseason expectations.
For some teams, the burden of those expectations has proven too much to bear. It isn't how you start, it's how you finish. The 15 teams on this list may have heard that mantra before, but they nonetheless fell victim to the weight of their own accomplishments.
Here they are: The greatest teams in sports history that never won the championship.
2007 New England Patriots
They were going to be the greatest team in NFL history -- the second team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, but the first to do so in the era of 16-game regular seasons. They almost made it all the way there. But in Super Bowl XLII, they were shocked by the New York Giants, who seemed to peak at the right time and also benefited from some miraculous fourth-quarter magic to upset the Patriots, 17-14.
The Patriots still managed to make it in the record-books: They're owners of the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history. But they're also the only team to win every game but the Super Bowl in a single year. The sting of that loss may never go away.
1994 Montreal Expos
One thing sets this team apart from everyone else on this list: No one ever beat the Expos in the playoffs. This poor team ripped off a 74-40 start before baseball's strike ended the 1994 season prematurely. The Expos may well have gone on to win the championship, but we'll never know for sure. After something like this, is it any surprise Expos fans became disenchanted with Major League Baseball?
1973 Boston Celtics
With 68 wins, this Celtics team set the franchise's single-season record, which still stands today. But it can't claim one of the 17 NBA championships Boston has won. In the Eastern Conference Finals that year, the Celtics fell into a 3-1 hole against the New York Knicks, and they weren't able to dig themselves out. After forcing a Game 7 at home, Boston's offense sputtered, and the Knicks went on to win their second championship in four years.
2001 Seattle Mariners
This Mariners team looked unstoppable: They won 116 games in the regular season, which tied the all-time MLB record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. That year, Ichiro Suzuki debuted in Seattle as an instant star imported from Japan's professional baseball league. Seattle reached the ALCS but quickly fell apart against the Yankees, which crushed the Mariners in a brutal five-game series. The Mariners never recovered: Despite that incredible season, the team still hasn't reached the playoffs again.
1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels
UNLV had smoked Duke by 30 points in the 1990 NCAA national championship game. Then the Rebels rolled into the 1991 Final Four at 34-0 -- and lost to Duke 79-77 in the national semifinals. UNLV had three players taken in the top 12 picks of the 1991 NBA draft: Larry Johnson (first overall), Stacey Augmon (ninth) and Greg Anthony (12th).
1996 Detroit Red Wings
Judged solely off of the regular season, the Red Wings are one of the best hockey teams ever: They won 62 games and amassed 131 points, which is still the second-highest total in NHL history. Keep in mind, this was before NHL teams began earning a point for losses in overtime. But that run of success came to a screeching halt in the conference finals as the Colorado Avalanche, which dispensed of the Red Wings in six games.
1993 Atlanta Braves
The Braves won 104 games in 1993, thanks in large part to one of the most dominant pitching trios in modern baseball history. (A nod also goes to the San Francisco Giants who won 103 games this year but didn't even make the playoffs in this era before the wild card.) But Atlanta's bats failed the club in the NLCS that year: The Braves scored just 10 runs in its four losses to Philadelphia, and a team built for postseason success failed to realize its potential. That's only the most egregious shortcoming in a decade-long run of regular-season dominance for Atlanta, which amazingly only resulted in one World Series win.
1998 Minnesota Vikings
Who couldn't love this team? With an all-time receiving corp led by Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss, the '98 Vikings were tons of fun on the field. They were also exceptionally talented, racking up a 15-1 regular season in which they had the top-ranked offense and the No. 6 defense. The Vikings were a heavy favorite to win the Super Bowl. Alas, a missed field goal in the NFC championship game handed the win, and a Super Bowl berth, to the Atlanta Falcons.
1968 Baltimore Colts
The Colts lost quarterback Johnny Unitas for almost the entire season, but it didn't seem to hurt them: Baltimore's offense ranked first in the league that year, and its defense ranked second. Led by backup quarterback Earl Morrall, the team marched into Super Bowl III and was the favorite against the New York Jets. But the Jets, perhaps fueled by Joe Namath's victory guarantee, jumped out to the lead and held on against Baltimore -- even after the team subbed Unitas in during a failed second-half rally.
1986 Edmonton Oilers
In 1986, the Oilers were firing on all cylinders. Led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the Oilers were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and had their eyes on a third straight title.
Then the team found itself in a close playoff battle with archrival Calgary. Game 7 in Edmonton was decided by a single goal -- an own goal scored by Oilers defenseman Steve Smith in the third period. The Oilers came back to win championship in 1987 and 1988, but the loss to Calgary interrupted what could have been a five-peat run of dominance.
2007 Dallas Mavericks
With 67 regular-season wins, the Mavericks were the No. 1 seed in the West and a heavy favorite for the NBA championship. But they barely got out of the gate before the Golden State Warriors rained havoc from the three-point line.
Playing an unorthodox style of offense that emphasized three-point shots, and may be considered a precursor of today's three-point-heavy strategies, the Warriors stunned Dallas -- and the country had a ton of fun watching it happen. Dirk Nowitzki did eventually get a title ring, but coach Avery Johnson was given the boot long before that opportunity was seized.
2015 Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari's team tied the NCAA record for most wins in a season with 38. But it needed 40 to capture a national title, and that didn't happen. The Wisconsin Badgers derailed the Wildcats 71-64 in the national semifinals. A year earlier Kentucky had beaten the Badgers by one point in the national semis. Kentucky had four players taken in the top 13 picks of the 2015 NBA draft: Karl-Anthony Towns (first overall), Willie Cauley-Stein (sixth), Trey Lyles (12th) and Devin Booker (13th).
2008 Memphis Tigers
How close can you come to winning a championship without actually doing it? In the 2008 national championship game, Calipari's Tigers held an 11-point lead with two minutes left, and a title seemed imminent. But Kansas resorted to fouling to catch up, and the Tigers couldn't hit their free throws. The Jayhawks ended up tying the game with a last-second three, and wound up winning in overtime. The Tigers finished the season 38-2, although NCAA sanctions later wiped out all but one game of their entire season. As a result, they officially finished that year 0-1. Tigers star Derrick Rose became the first overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.
2016 San Antonio Spurs
That's right -- based on regular-season record and points differential, this year's Spurs are one of the best teams that fell short of the championship. San Antonio's 67 wins are tied for the fifth-best all-time, but Oklahoma City burned the Spurs to a crisp in the second round, eliminating them in six games.
2016 Golden State Warriors
Maybe the Warriors were worn out from their slog through a record-setting 73-win season. Maybe Stephen Curry was more injured than he let on. Whatever the case, Golden State had shown signs of collapse well before they dropped three straight games and lost to Cleveland in seven games. Its series against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals was surprisingly close, and even in some wins, its three-point shooting game seemed diminished.
We'll continue to debate the reasons why, but the facts are indisputable: With its loss in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Golden State became -- officially -- the best NBA team that never hosted the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
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