Sustained success

Or … the teams I root for create low expectations.

What is the definition of sustained success for a sports team? Winning a title every year seems steep and having consecutive winning seasons seems like a low bar. I’m going to try to determine this sustained success for the sports that I follow.
In college basketball, winning an NCAA tourney game two years in a row feels like success. To make the degree of difficulty higher, let’s go with winning a tournament game three years in a row or getting to the Sweet 16 two years in a row. In Missouri’s case, making the Final Four once ever would be enough.

In college football, making bowl games used to be enough. Now I think the team has to win, but even then beating the number five team in the Big Ten doesn’t seem that great. I think that having a winning record in your conference and winning consecutive bowl games does it. When it comes to Missouri, winning one Big 12 title ever or making a BCS game would be nice.

Baseball’s a little tougher because you have to have a great season to make the playoffs, unless you’re in the crappy AL Central. Making the playoffs in two straight years would be a massive accomplishment. The White Sox winning a title pretty much makes the last decade and the last century “sustained success”. Until 1969, only two teams made any kind of playoffs. Between 1920 and 1982, the White Sox were in the playoffs (mainly just the World Series) once. That’s sustained lack of success. They were in it in 1983 with poor results. The 1993 team flamed out against a great Blue Jays team. 2000 was the embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Wild Card Mariners. 2008 was a quick and painless defeat to the Devil Rays.

2005 stands out as the outlier to all outliers. In 2005 the White Sox went 11-1 in the playoffs, including a crazy four straight complete games. They never had a lead of more than two runs in the “World Series that time forgot”. That’s 11 playoff wins in one year. The 1906 and 1917 teams won four. The 1919 team won three games, impressive when half the team was trying to lose. That’s 11 playoff wins right there. In the other appearances, all losses, they won six games. If the Sox can somehow make the playoffs this year and miraculously beat whatever AL East juggernaut they draw, that has to be success.

In the NFL, it’s hard to win year to year. Making the playoffs one year, but sustaining a postseason-caliber team is very difficult. Just look at the 2009 Titans. As head coach Jeff Fisher’s taken the Titans to the playoffs six times. The 1999/2000 teams, 2002/2003, and 2007/2008 made it to the postseason. That’s kind of weird. Last year there was a golden opportunity to make it three years in a row. The Oilers, bless their hearts, made the playoffs seven straight times from 1987 to 1993. That was before the two wild card teams, don’t forget. They never made an AFC title game. I still can’t believe that.

Could Fisher pull off the three-peat? It looks like the team is transitioning, quite rapidly, from a defense and field goal squad to an offensive team that needs to outscore the opponent because stops are going to be rare. Since the Titans rarely draft the way that prognosticators say, they might shock the world by taking Dez Bryant at 16 when the assumption is that they will go defense.

I think that two straight years with a playoff win is sustained success. Making it three times would be the next level. Winning one Super Bowl (notice a theme here?) would be otherworldly.

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