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Top Five: Worst Teams in Arizona Sports History

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No matter how many games back the D-Backs are, they're better than these teams

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Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but the D-backs are a pretty bad baseball team. Since I don't want my weekly column to turn into a go-to spot for a dump on the current edition of the local baseball squad, I want to show you that things can and have been worse in the state. 

Arizona has been relatively fortunate to have some good sports teams in its day. The Suns have missed the playoffs just three times in the past 22 seasons, the D-Backs have four division titles and a World Series championship in just 13 seasons of existence, and the Cardinals are coming off of back-to-back division titles and were in the Super Bowl just two years ago.

But there have been bad times, too... oh my, have there ever been bad times. And since I'm a firm pessimist, I get a sick pleasure out of concentrating on those bad times. Pain is the only thing that makes you know life is real, right? 

All terrible teams were not created equal, so I wanted to let you into the highly scientific process by which I compiled this super list. 


  • They had to have been bad. Yes, it sounds obvious, but we're talking losses, blowouts, bad offense, bad defense, and just general awful hilarity.
  • Expansion teams get a break. The Suns won only 16 games in their expansion year, but it usually takes as while to build a solid team. I want the awfulness to have built organically.
  • Having a complete dearth of talent on the roster is helpful.
  • I tried to play nice with the college teams, but I tossed them on the honorable mention list anyway.

Honorable mention:

  • 2003 Phoenix Mercury (8-26) - They had the ninth-worst record in WNBA history and although they had the sexiest player in the league, there weren't too many other bright spots. On the plus side, the poor season delivered the top pick in the draft and UConn star Diana Taurasi. That turned out OK.  
  • 1982-83 University of Arizona Men's Basketball (4-24) - The final season of the pre-Lute Olson-era was a phenomenal disaster for U of A hoops. The team went 1-17 in the Pac-10, was outscored by an average of 9.3 points per game, and suffered a 53-point loss to UCLA (the second largest in school history). Lute worked out just fine for them, though.
  • 2006-2007 Arizona State Men's Basketball (8-22) - The team in Herb Sendek's first season was impressively unimpressive, but they get a bit of a pass since they were a young squad. I'll assume the losing was character building for starters Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser, who went on to enjoy excellent Sun Devil careers.
  • 2003-2004 Phoenix Coyotes (22-36-18) - They didn't really lose a ton, but the 22 wins were the lowest in their years in Phoenix. The lack of success cost coach Bob Francis his gig. He was replaced by something called Rick Bowness on an interim basis and, by the next season, it was Gretzky time.
  • 1991, 1992 Phoenix Cardinals (4-12) and 1995, 1997 Arizona Cardinals (4-12) - They were bad.

5. 2003-2004 Phoenix Suns (29-53)

With so much to choose from in the way of Cardinals teams, college hoops, the Coyotes, and the Mercury, you may be asking yourself why I put the Suns in this spot. Well the answer is relatively simple: I felt like it. Trust me, fans of the honorable mention teams, you were all well deserving. 

Phoenix was coming off a surprising 44-win season and a first-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Spurs when they entered the '03-04 season. Though they returned much of the same roster, the team got off to a rough start and after 21 games, coach Frank Johnson was fired. 

Mike D'Antoni replaced Johnson and didn't exactly set the world on fire, as the Suns limped to the finish line. It certainly didn't help matters for Phoenix that Amar'e Stoudemire missed 27 games with an ankle injury. 

Stars? - Shawn Marion wasn't an All-Star as he'd been in the previous season, but he still posted an average of 19 PPG and 9.3 RPG. Joe Johnson had his breakout season, improving his scoring average from 9.8 to 16.7.

Professional Athletes by name only - Not to offend Suns announcer Scott Williams, but by the time he was 35 years old, his basketball skill (which wasn't that great to start with) was about on par with his announcing skill - making his 10 starts for Phoenix mildly depressing. Other people who started games for Phoenix included Jahidi White (17 starts), Donnell Harvey (7 starts), and washed up versions of Antonio McDyess and Tom Gugliotta. 

Statistical Evidence that they sucked - The Suns endured two neat little losing streaks of six games apiece and an eight gamer in mid-February. Happy Valentines! It certainly aids the losing process when the team ranks fourth to last in the game in points surrendered.   

Bright Spot - On January 5th, 2004, the Suns got a late Christmas gift from the cap space fairy (Isiah Thomas) when the Knicks took the contracts of Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway off the Suns hands. The deal didn't bring the Suns talent, but it did free up enough money for what you'll see in the next section. 

What Happened Next - The salary cap friendly move allowed the Suns to sign a dashing Canadian gentleman by the name of Steve Nash and magic ensued. Phoenix won 62 games the next season and locked into the top seed in the Western Conference. 

Movie Team that could probably beat them - East High Wildcats from High School Musical, provided they could keep the musical interludes to a minimum.

4.  2003 Arizona Cardinals (4-12)

Let's be honest here: I could have really just pulled any of the 4-12 Cardinals seasons out of a hat and plugged them right into this spot on the list. I suppose what made this team special was the point differential that was 75 points worse than any of the other 4-12ers. 

If you ever wanted to see what it looked like when a 33-year-old past-his-prime quarterback is handed a starting job for the season, then get some film of Jeff Blake bombing passes for the '03 Cardinals. Fun stuff. 

Stars? - Rookie wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught 101 passes for 1377 yards, eight touchdowns, and represented the Cards in the Pro Bowl. Reigning Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson intercepted six passes, regardless of how overpaid he was. 

Professional Athletes by name only - Marcel Shipp carried the ball 228 times and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Former Cowboys star Emmitt Smith was a shell of his former self in his Valley dalliance, rushing 90 times for only 256 yards. 

Statistical Evidence that they sucked - Though not quite as bad as the team sitting number two on this list, the Cards had an impressively bad -227 point differential. Considering that stat, it shouldn't be surprising that they surrendered more points (452) than any team in the league that season. A 38-0 loss to Detroit and 44-6 throttling against Cleveland were fun highlights of a lost season. 

Bright Spot - On the final day of the season, the Cardinals knocked the Vikings out of the playoff race with a buzzer-beating touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole. For his efforts in putting the Packers into the playoffs, Poole was awarded the key to the city of Green Bay. 

What Happened Next - Dave McGinnis was fired after the season and replaced by Dennis Green. Three more double digit loss seasons later and Green was also on his way out the door. 

Movie Team that could probably beat them - West Canaan Coyotes in the game after they spent the previous night at a strip club. 

3.  1987-1988 Phoenix Suns (28-54)

The story of the '87-88 Suns was written at the end of the previous season. On April 18, 1987, three members of the Suns team and several others in the organization were indicted on charges of possessing and trafficking cocaine or marijuana. Exactly what every reputable organization is looking for. 

Just to make this read more like a bad one-hour drama, Suns star Walter Davis testified against teammates James Edwards, Jay Humphries, and Grant Gondrezick in order to avoid his own prosecution. 

The aftermath saw the team sold to Jerry Colangelo and a group of local investors and a number of players shipped out of town. Ed Pinckney, William Bedford, Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, James Edwards, and Jay Humphries were among those leaving Phoenix. 

During the actual season, the team opened up 7-8, but the good feelings quickly subsided. The Suns suited up 19 different players and the odd mix of players could never really mesh on the way to just 28 wins. 

Stars? - Larry Nance (21.1 PPG and 9.9 RPG prior to his trade), Walter Davis (17.9 PPG), Eddie Johnson (17.7 PPG). 

Professional Athletes by name only - Ever heard of Winston Crite? He played 29 games for the Suns. How about Bernard Thompson? He started seven times for the team. But don't forget superstar Bill Martin, who played 10 games. If you are Winston Crite, Bernard Thompson or Bill Martin, I apologize for offending you.

Statistical Evidence that they sucked - Not that the Suns have ever been a defense-heavy squad, but they were 20th (of 23) teams in the league in opponents scoring and towards the bottom of the league in just about every defensive category. The offense wasn't the worst in the history of basketball, but it was certainly average enough to not make up for the porous defense. The team also managed to endure 10- and 9-game losing streaks. 

Bright Spot - The team didn't have much in the way of bright spots on the court, but in February of 1988, they dealt star forward Larry Nance in a package to Cleveland that brought the Suns Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, and a first round draft pick that turned into Dan Majerle. Not a bad core to turn things around. 

What Happened Next - Phoenix signed Tom Chambers and brought Cotton Fitzsimmons back to the bench. With KJ, Eddie Johnson, and Jeff Hornacek already in place, the Suns raced to 55 wins and a berth in the Western Conference Finals. Not a bad turnaround. 

Movie Team that could probably beat them - Western University Dolphins in the season before Pete Bell started selling out. 

2.  2000 Arizona Cardinals (3-13)

If you're a Cardinals fan, watch the NFL, or have been reading this list at all, you know the Cards have had some rough years since they moved to Phoenix. Yet in team history, this is the season that stands out among the rest.

Believe it or not, but 3-13 is, in fact, the worst mark in Cardinals history. The team was barely removed from their surprise 1998 playoff run, but a 6-10 mark in 1999 eliminated all the good feelings coach Vince Tobin had earned from the run. Thus, when Tobin opened 2000 with a 2-5 record, he was shown the door and replaced with Dave McGinnis. 

McGinnis rolled to a 1-8 finish, which was apparently enough to keep him onboard for the next few seasons. This certainly redefines a low bar for success.

Stars? - David Boston (71 catches, 1156 yards and seven touchdowns), Scott Player (Pro Bowl), Aeneas Williams (five interceptions and a 102-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown). 

Professional Athletes by name only - Rookie Thomas Jones - the seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft - averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on his 112 attempts. Jake Plummer had the lowest QB rating (66.0) of any NFL quarterback with over 325 pass attempts, finishing behind such stars as Shaun King and Cade McNown. He did, however, manage to finish barely in front of Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith. Take that!

Statistical Evidence that they sucked -  Lots of stats really stand out for these Cardinals, but my favorite is the point differential. This edition of the Cards was outscored by 233 points - good for the 14th worst point differential in the history of the NFL. Folks, the NFL is a really old league... that's saying something. The team actually started the season 2-3 (with one of the wins coming over the equally awful Browns) before taking a 48-7 loss in Dallas and a 44-10 pounding in Jacksonville. The high-flying offense lit up the scoreboard to the tune of single-digit scoring six different times. 

Bright Spot - Not that Dallas was any good during the 2000 season, but in Week 2, the Cardinals rallied from a 24-13 second-half deficit to defeat the Cowboys and even their record at 1-1. Any time you're calling a win over an aging Randall Cunningham and a 5-11 Dallas team a "bright spot," you know it was a poor season. 

What Happened Next - McGinnis managed to rally from his poor beginnings to lead the Cardinals to a 7-9 record in 2001. Plummer got back on his feet, throwing for over 3600 yards and putting together a 18-14 TD/INT ratio. Unfortunately, the team took steps back in 2002 and 2003 and McGinnis was gone before the 2004 season began. 

Movie Team that could probably beat themThe Little Giants. Though I'm not sure the Cards offense could have made sure it was much of a game with Ice Box patrolling the middle. 

1.  2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (51-111)

On a list of suck, this is the Oreck vacuum of the Arizona sports scene. Just three seasons removed from a World Series title, the bill finally came due on the D-backs' early success. A combination of has-beens and never-gonna-bes took the team to 51 wins - by far their lowest win total in team history.  As is the case with a lot of these stories, manager Bob Brenley was fired after 79 games - and a 29-50 record - which appeared sparkling compared to the 22-61 mark interim manager Al Pedrique put together. 

The team actually started 9-13 in April, but was no better than seven games under .500 in any full month that followed. 

Stars? - Randy Johnson (16-14, 2.60 ERA), Shea Hillenbrand (.310 BA, 15 HR, 80 RBI), Steve Finley (.275, 23 HR, 48 RBI). 

Professional Athletes by name only - Casey Fossum, the "fruit" of the Curt Schilling trade, started 27 games and recorded 4-15 record with a 6.65 ERA. Catcher Juan Brito had171 of his 194 career MLB at-bats during the season and hit a scalding .205 at the dish.

Statistical Evidence that they sucked - Where should I start? They finished 42 games back of the Dodgers for first place in the NL West, lost 14 in a row during the middle of July, and scored the fourth-least runs of any Major League team since the strike-shortened 1995 season. The 14 losses in a row represented the grand finale to a 4-30 stretch that ran from June 18th until July 25th. Dog days of summer indeed.

Bright Spot -  On May 18, 2004 Randy Johnson threw a perfect game against the Braves. Who can forget the image of catcher Robby Hammock leaping into the arms of Johnson upon his recording of the final out? 

What Happened Next - Arizona dealt The Big Unit to the Big Apple and shifted into full rebuilding mode. The team finished just five games back of first in 2005 (thought the division winning Padres won just 82 games) and hung around .500 in 2006. The Baby Backs broke through to the NLCS in 2007, with only Brandon Webb serving much of a role as an alum of the 2004 squad. 

Movie Team that could probably beat them - The Bad News Bears, after Amanda joined the team, but before Kelly Leak jumped on board.

Now isn't that all enough to make you thankful for the current state of Arizona sports? No matter how dark it may seem sometimes.