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Winless Pro Football Teams

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How often does it happen, and are the Browns next on the list?

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Everyone that follows the game of pro football is well aware of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. This squad was the only team in the history of the National Football League (NFL) that went unbeaten and untied in a single season.

There have been quite a few teams that have finished a season without any losses. The key is the spotless aspect: unbeaten as well as untied. In fact, the very first NFL champions, the Akron Pros, went undefeated; the problem was their three ties. The Canton Bulldogs, which won 23 straight games between two seasons, went 10-0-2 in 1922 and then 11-0-1 the following season while taking home the league title both years. As dominant as the Bulldogs were, the three ties do not add them to history the same as the Dolphins do.

The St. Louis Blues went 7-0-1 in 1934 in the second American Football League while the 1948 Cleveland Browns took home their third league crown with a 15-0-0 record in the All-America Football Conference in 1948.

And get this: the 1972 Dolphins are the only unbeaten/untied team in the NFL. There have other franchises that were able to duplicate Miami’s feat going unbeaten without any tie games, just in their own league.

On the flip side, the 2016 Cleveland Browns are on a collision course with history - just in reverse. At 0-13-0, the Browns have three games left in the season to equal six other teams that also ended their season 0-16-0. The 2008 Detroit Lions of the NFL was the last club to lose all 16 games.

But going winless in a pro football season is really a common occurrence. In fact, there have been 33 NFL clubs that have lost every game during their football year.

In all, there have been a grand total of 85 teams who have paid their players to play professional football that ended their season without a single conquest.

No NFL team had more bad luck in the win/loss column than the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons, a charter member of the NFL. This squad began in 1908 and competed in the loosely organized New York Pro Football League. The team had limited success, but once they joined the NFL they could only muster one win, two ties and 20 losses in their brief six-year stint. Among those years were five different seasons without a single win; although they did capture some victories in non-sanctioned league games. The franchise did not fold, but suspended operations for the 1926 season because of financial difficulties. However, after two seasons in limbo, the club officially expired in 1928.

Another charter member of the NFL that experienced a run of bad luck were the Dayton Triangles. Dayton is the site of the very first NFL game, however, from 1923-1929 this club went a combined 5-42-4 including three winless seasons. The franchise was born in the Ohio League (OL), another disorganized organization that pre-dated the NFL. In the OL, the Triangles won four championships, but found the going pretty rough against NFL competition.

World War II decimated the rosters of every NFL team. Many coaches and even the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Dan Reeves, enlisted to fight overseas. This meant that existing NFL clubs had issues filling their roster. The Bears’ George Halas had a public tryout and anyone who could run around the track twice was hired. Several teams merged together what little players they had, and several retired players came back to play. This meant the talent pool was very thin. The Detroit Lions (0-11-0), Chicago Cardinals (0-10-0), Brooklyn Tigers (0-10-0) and Card-Pitt (0-10-0) each spit out winless seasons with ramshackle talent.

The expansion Dallas Rangers were hastily put together and missed the annual college draft. The league then had a veteran dispersal draft from all of its existing players. The lack of talent placed the Rangers, who later were renamed the Cowboys, on the list of winless clubs. Oddly enough, the lone tie came against head coach Tom Landry’s former team the New York Giants.

John McKay, former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In 1976, unfortunately for the 0-14-0 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team roster was comprised of NFL players whose talent was on the decline or up in years, and almost 20 rookies.

Tampa Bay was coached by the highly successful John McKay who had led USC to four national championships. They did not score until their third game or net a touchdown until game four. The Bucs were last in the league in touchdowns and points scored with a woeful offensive effort. When asked by a reporter about the offense’s execution, McKay exclaimed, “I’m all for it.” The defense was a disaster as well. McKay summed it up with “We didn’t block real good, but we made up for it by not tackling.”

2009 NFL Draft

The 2008 Detroit Lions went through the pre-season with a sterling 4-0 record. Hopes were high as the team had captured seven wins in 2007 after drafting WR Calvin Johnson, OT Gosder Cherilus, FB Jerome Felton, DE Cliff Avril and RB Kevin Smith. However, the team was never competitive and is the only team to lose every game since the advent of the 16-game schedule. Not only was the coach fired but the General Manger found a pink slip as well as the Lions allowed 517 points – good enough for second worst all-time. Their 0-16-0 record is equaled by several pro football teams: 2001 Trenton Lighting (IPFL), 2001 Columbus Wardogs (af2), 2002 Mobile Wizards (af2), 2003 Carolina Cobras (Arena) and 2004 El Paso Rumble (IFL).

Below is a complete list of male pro football teams that have been recorded in the standings of their respective teams without a win:

National Football League

  • 1920: Rochester Jeffersons 0-1-0, Muncie Flyers 0-1-0, Hammond Pros 0-3-0, Columbus Panhandles 0-5-0
  • 1921: Louisville Brecks and Muncie Flyers, both 0-2-0
  • 1922: Rochester Jeffersons 0-4-1, Hammond Pros 0-5-1, Evansville Crimson Giants 0-3-0, Columbus Panhandles 0-7-0
  • 1923: Rochester Jeffersons 0-2-0, Louisville Brecks 0-3-0
  • 1924: Kenosha Maroons 0-5-1, Minneapolis Marines 0-6-0, Rochester Jeffersons 0-7-0
  • 1925: Duluth Kelleys 0-3-0, Rochester Jeffersons 0-6-1, Milwaukee Badgers 0-6-0, Dayton Triangles 0-7-1, Columbus Tigers 0-9-0
  • 1926: Hammond Pros and Louisville Colonels, both 0-4-0
  • 1927: Buffalo Bisons 0-5-0
  • 1928: Dayton Triangles 0-7-0
  • 1929: Dayton Triangles 0-6-0
  • 1934: Cincinnati Reds 0-8-0
  • 1942: Detroit Lions 0-11-0
  • 1943: Chicago Cardinals 0-10-0
  • 1944: Card-Pitt and Brooklyn Tigers, both 0-10-0
  • 1960: Dallas Cowboys 0-11-1
  • 1976: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-14-0
  • 2008: Detroit Lions 0-16-0

Intense Football League

  • 2004: El Paso Rumble 0-16-0

United Football League

  • 2009: New York Sentinels 0-6-0

Professional Indoor Football League

  • 1998: Minnesota Monsters 0-14-0

American Football League I

  • 1926: Newark Bears 0-3-2

American Football League II

  • 1936: Brooklyn Tigers 0-6-1
  • 1937: Pittsburgh Americans 0-3-0

Indoor Professional Football League

  • 2001: Trenton Lightning 0-16-0

Atlantic Indoor Football League

  • 2005: Greensboro Ghostriders 0-10-0

World League of American Football

  • 1991: Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks 0-10-0

National Indoor Football League

  • 2004: Greenville Riverhawks 0-4-0
  • 2005: New Jersey Xtreme 0-14-0
  • 2006: St. Joe Cyclones 0-14-0
  • 2005: Atlanta Thoroughbreds 0-3-0, Green Cove Lions 0-3-0

Arena Football League

  • 1989: Maryland Commandos 0-4-0
  • 1991: Columbus Thunderbolts 0-10-0
  • 1992: New Orleans Night 0-10-0
  • 1994: Milwaukee Mustangs 0-12-0
  • 1996: Memphis Pharaohs 0-14-0
  • 2003: Carolina Cobras 0-16-0

Arena Football League 2

  • 2001: Columbus Wardogs 0-16-0
  • 2002: Mobile Wizards 0-16-0

Great Lakes Indoor Football League

  • 2006: New York Revolution 0-10-0

Continental Indoor Football League

  • 2007: Springfield Stallions 0-12-0
  • 2009: Miami Silverbacks 0-10-0
  • 2010: Chicago Cardinals 0-10-0
  • 2012: Chicago Pythons 0-9-0
  • 2013: Kane County Dawgs 0-10-0
  • 2014: Detroit Thunder 0-8-0, Kentucky Xtreme 0-5-0

American Indoor Football League

  • 2006: Columbus Blackhawks 0-1-0, Carolina Ghostriders 0-11-0, Philadelphia Scorpions 0-1-0, Cumberland Cardinals 0-2-0
  • 2007: Gulf Coast Raiders 0-3-0
  • 2008: Florida Stingrays 0-14-0
  • 2010: New Jersey Revolution 0-14-0
  • 2012: Virginia Badgers 0-3-0, Nevada Lynx 0-4-0
  • 2013: West Virginia Badgers 0-4-0, Washington Eagles 0-8-0
  • 2014: Washington Eagles 0-1-0, Atlanta Sharks 0-3-0
  • 2015: Maryland Eagles 0-3-0, Cleveland Saints 0-8-0
  • 2016: Maryland Eagles 0-2-0, Kentucky Nightmare 0-5-0

United Indoor Football League

  • 2012: Pennsylvania Sting 0-6-0
  • 2013: Sarasota Thunder 0-3-0
  • 2014: Missouri Voodoo 0-5-0

X-League Indoor Football

  • 2014: Savannah Steam 0-8-0
  • 2015: Corpus Christi Fury 0-7-0

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Barry Shuck is has been a freelance pro football writer for about 18 years. He writes historical articles over at Big Blue View, our Giants affiliate, and his latest work here focuses on the history of teams who have gone winless, considering Cleveland is currently 0-13.