Greatest Pro Sports Teams That No Longer Exist
Running a professional sports franchise is an expensive business, and not every business was built to last. While we rarely see it today, there was a time when professional sports teams came and went in the blink of an eye.
But some of them left some pretty indelible memories and are still worth remembering. These are the greatest pro sports teams that no longer exist.
30. Hamilton Tigers
Note: Teams that were rolled into other franchises or became other teams at some point weren't considered for our rankings.
Franchise years: 1920-25
Hall of Famers: Billy Burch, Babe Dye, Shorty Green, Joe Malone
Bottom line: The Hamilton Tigers can trace their roots back to one of the original NHL franchises. The Tigers were originally the Quebec Bulldogs from 1878 to 1920, before the team's interests were sold to a group of investors in Hamilton.
After the Tigers were disbanded, the team's players were given to another NHL team, the New York Americans, who would disband just 17 years later.
29. Sacramento Gold Miners/San Antonio Texans
Franchise years: 1993-95
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: The early 1990s were a heady time for the Canadian Football League, as two of its stars, quarterbacks Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, made the move to the NFL and became stars.
The CFL ended up feeling itself a little too much and tried to expand into the United States with mostly disastrous consequences. The CFL added one team in 1993 when the Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football became the Sacramento Gold Miners. They were the first of six teams the league added in the U.S. in 1993 and 1994.
When the city of Sacramento refused to upgrade the Gold Miners' home stadium at Sacramento State after two seasons, the franchise became the San Antonio Texans for the final season of the U.S./CFL experiment in 1995.
28. Boston Breakers
Franchise years: 2009-18
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: It was a different ownership group that retained the same name for the Boston Breakers after the first version played in the WPS (Women's Professional Soccer). They kept it going when the NWSL (National Women's Soccer League) formed, and the Breakers were one of the first eight teams.
The Breakers' demise was very much centered around the product that was put on the field. In the five seasons that they were in the NWSL, they failed to make the playoffs even once, and financial difficulties shut the team down for good in 2018.
It didn't help that the Breakers never had a consistent home. From 2009 to their final season in 2017, they played home games at three different locations.
27. Chicago Stags
Franchise years: 1946-50
Hall of Famers: Andy Phillip, Harold Olsen
Bottom line: The Chicago Stags had one really good season in the BAA/NBA era of the late 1940s/early 1950s when they made it to the BAA (Basketball Association of America) Finals in 1947. But they only lasted one year when the NBA took its full form, and the team folded after the 1950 season.
The Stags were actually the tenants of Chicago Stadium before the Bulls and got a nice shoutout from the team in 2006 when the Bulls wore Stags jerseys for three home games.
They also weren't the first NBA team to fail in Chicago. The Chicago Packers/Zephyrs were in the city before they left and became the franchise now known as the Washington Wizards.
26. Cleveland Indians/Bulldogs
Franchise years: 1923-27
Championships: 1 (1924)
Hall of Famers: Steve Owen, Benny Friedman, William "Link" Lyman, Steve Owen
Bottom line: Cleveland businessman Sam Deutsch bought the Canton Bulldogs in 1924 and combined the team with his existing NFL franchise, the Cleveland Indians, and made them into the Cleveland Bulldogs.
Cleveland won a controversial NFL championship in 1924 when they finished the season in a virtual tie for first place with the Chicago Bears. They played a championship game on Dec. 7, 1924, that the Bears won 23-0. Because the owners agreed the season wouldn't go past the end of November, they awarded Cleveland the NFL championship.
The team played in Cleveland until 1927, when they were sold to a Detroit investor who named the team the Detroit Wolverines. They lasted until 1928.
25. Charlotte Sting
Franchise years: 1997-2008
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: The Charlotte Sting were one of the WNBA's original eight teams when the league was formed in 1997. They lasted a decade before folding after the 2007-08 season.
The Sting had their best year in 2000-01, when they made the WNBA Finals and were swept by the Los Angeles Sparks in a three-game series.
Like many defunct teams, the thing that eventually sunk the Sting was poor play. They missed the playoffs in each of their final three seasons before shutting down for good.
24. Providence Steamrollers
Franchise years: 1925-33
Championships: 1 (1928)
Hall of Famers: Jimmy Conzelman, Fritz Pollard
Bottom line: The Providence Steamrollers were first called the Providence Steam Roller before adopting the more commonly used name, and they have several interesting NFL records still to their name. Not only were they the first team from the New England area to win an NFL championship, but they're also the last NFL team to go defunct after winning a title.
Providence won its championship in 1928 by virtue of having the best winning percentage in the NFL. They actually had three fewer wins than the Frankford Yellow Jackets, who went 11-3-2.
The Great Depression, along with several star players going into professional wrestling and coaching, led to the Steamrollers' downward spiral, and they played their last season in 1933.
23. Tampa Bay Mutiny
Franchise years: 1994-2002
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: The Tampa Bay Mutiny are an interesting case study in how the MLS worked. They were a team owned and operated by the league itself for their entire eight years of existence.
It goes without explaining that a league that owns and operates its own teams is a bad business model. But the Mutiny actually had some pretty good seasons and one really great season in 1996.
That year, Carlos Valderrama was named MLS Most Valuable Player, Roy Lassiter set the single-season goals record (which would stand until 2018), and the Mutiny won the MLS Supporters' Shield with the league's best regular-season record.
22. New York/Brooklyn Americans
Franchise years: 1925-42
Hall of Famers: Billy Burch, Charlie Conacher, Lionel Conacher, Red Dutton, Busher Jackson, Ching Johnson, Harry Oliver, Chuck Rayner, Sweeney Schriner, Eddie Shore, Bullet Joe Simpson, Hooley Smith, Nels Stewart, Roy Worters
Bottom line: The Americans — known as the Amerks to their fans — were an NHL mainstay for almost two decades before financial difficulties and World War II forced the team to close its doors.
More interesting than the history of the Americans themselves is the history they created when they shut down. After their last season in 1941-42, the "Original Six" era began in the NHL. From 1942 to 1967, the league only had six teams in operation with the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In 1967, the league doubled in size by adding six more teams.
21. Chivas USA
Franchise years: 2005-14
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: Chivas USA was an interesting part of MLS for almost a decade. The team was a subsidiary of Mexican club C.D. Guadalajara, who controlled the team's branding rights.
Chivas played its home games in Carson, California, at the StubHub Center, sharing a home with rival club Los Angeles Galaxy. It was a similar arrangement to the one shared by the Clippers and the Lakers in the NBA.
Chivas is notable for being the last team from a major professional sports league to fold after it shut down in 2014.
20. Cleveland Spiders
Franchise years: 1887-1899
Hall of Famers: Jesse Burkett, Cy Young
Bottom line: The Cleveland Spiders were one of the best teams in the National League in the 1890s, finishing in second place three times in 1892, 1895 and 1896.
The greatest player in Spiders history was none other than pitcher Cy Young, who still holds MLB career records for wins (511), innings pitched (7,356), starts (815) and complete games (749).
Young was part of the dismantling of the franchise when the Spiders' ownership group bought the rights to the then-unnamed St. Louis NL franchise — which would become the Cardinals — and shipped all of the team's talent to that club.
The Spiders went 20-134 in 1899, their final season. That remains the worst single-season team record in MLB history.
19. Cleveland Rockers
Franchise years: 1997-2003
Hall of Famers: Lynette Woodard
Bottom line: Here's a story you're going to hear told several times with defunct teams — one of the WNBA's original franchises runs into hard times, the owner cuts ties and can't find another buyer, and the team folds.
This was the case with the Cleveland Rockers, who were owned by former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund until he gave up the rights of the team to the WNBA in 2003. Then the league cut bait shortly after that.
The Rockers had their best season in 2000, when they made the Eastern Conference finals and made the WNBA playoffs four out of their six seasons in existence.
18. Ottawa Rough Riders
Franchise years: 1876-1996
Championships: 9 (1925, 1926, 1940, 1951, 1960, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1976)
Hall of Famers: Damon Allen, Less Browne, Soupy Campbell, Tom Clements, Abe Eliowitz, Eddie Emerson, Tony Gabriel, Tony Golab, Condredge Holloway, Russ Jackson, Ron Lancaster, Ken Lehmann, Dave McCann, Rudy Phillip, Silver Quilty, Moe Racine, Bob Simpson, David Sprague, Ron Stewart, Dave Thelen, Andrew Tommy, Joe Tubman, Whit Tucker, Kaye Vaughan
Bottom line: The Ottawa Rough Riders were one of the oldest professional sports franchises in North America when they folded after 120 years of operation following the 1996 season.
In 1958, the Rough Riders became one of the original members of the Canadian Football League and won nine Grey Cups before folding.
They also spent the entirety of their time in the CFL being confused with another team in the same league and with the same mascot — the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
17. Wichita Wings
League: MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League)/NPSL (National Professional Soccer League)
Franchise years: 1979-2001
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: Try explaining to a sports fan under 40, the oddity of America's obsession with professional indoor soccer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Essentially, it was human foosball.
No team captured that spirit more than the land-locked Wichita Wings, who played in front of almost 10,000 fans per night at the Kansas Coliseum.
They were "a crew of European party boys who went toe-to-toe with New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and arch-rival St. Louis in the crazy 1980s," according to the IMDb description of the low-budget documentary, "God Save the Wings" from directors Adam Knapp and Kenneth Linn.
16. Spirits of St. Louis
Franchise years: 1974-76
Hall of Famers: Moses Malone, Rod Thorn
Bottom line: The Spirits of St. Louis were immortalized in Terry Pluto's book, "Loose Balls," which told a story that included an uber-talented, uber-troubled star forward named Marvin Barnes and a talented young play-by-play announcer in his early 20s named Bob Costas.
The real story of the Spirits is about the team's finances. When the NBA brought four ABA teams into the fold in 1976, the Spirits were left out, but the owners of the team, the brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna, then made a prescient deal.
Instead of taking a buyout offer from the NBA for a couple of million dollars, they negotiated for a share of future national TV rights that would go on in perpetuity. NBA TV money wasn't much of a revenue stream in the mid-1970s, but over the ensuing decades, the deal netted the owners $800 million.
15. Los Angeles Xtreme
Franchise years: 2001
Championships: 1 (2001)
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: Say what you will about the XFL, but for only lasting one year, the league made a huge impression on the public consciousness because of its bizarre rules, including allowing players to put phrases and nicknames on the back of their jerseys.
In the XFL's one year of existence, the Los Angeles Xtreme were the champions. They won the "Million Dollar Game" for the title behind quarterback Tommy Maddox, the XFL Most Valuable Player.
Maddox led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC playoffs in 2002 and was a backup on the Steelers when they won the Super Bowl in 2005.
14. Virginia Squires
Franchise years: 1967-76
Championships: 1 (1969)
Hall of Famers: Julius Erving, George Gervin, Charlie Scott, Zelmo Beaty
Bottom line: The Virginia Squires were actually the third incarnation of an ABA franchise that originated as the Oakland Oaks, turned into the Washington Caps, then finally found a (sort of) permanent home in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Squires' popularity had nothing to do with location, however. Instead, their mass appeal had everything to do with a transcendent player, Julius Erving, aka Dr. J. Erving played for the team from 1971 to 1973 and was followed by another Hall of Famer, George Gervin, The Iceman.
Funny how that works.
13. California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons
Franchise years: 1967-78
Hall of Famers: Harry Howell, Bert Olmstead, Craig Patrick, Rudy Pilou, Bill Torrey
Bottom line: The Bay Area's NHL team was a study in exactly how not to market a team. In 15 WHL and NHL seasons in San Francisco and Oakland, they changed names five times.
The team was known as the San Francisco Seals, California Seals, Oakland Seals, Bay Area Seals and finally the California Golden Seals. It's no wonder they had a hard time keeping fans. They probably couldn't remember what the team was called.
Because of plummeting attendance, the franchise moved to Cleveland, where they became known as the Barons and shut down operations after two seasons.
12. Houston Gamblers
Franchise years: 1983-85
Hall of Famers: Jim Kelly
Bottom line: In the modern history of North American pro sports leagues, only twice has another league truly put a scare into one of the Big Four leagues. One of those times was the USFL's three-season run.
One of the ways they did that was by putting a truly entertaining product on the field. The Houston Gamblers pulled University of Miami quarterback Jim Kelly away from the NFL and the Buffalo Bills and let loose the Run 'N' Shoot offense in its most spectacular form.
As a rookie in 1984, Kelly threw for 5,219 yards, 44 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Then, in 1985, he led the Gamblers to a 34-33 win over Steve Young and the Los Angeles Express in "The Greatest Game No One Saw." Houston trailed 33-14 with 10 minutes left and Kelly finished with 574 passing yards.
Spoiler alert: You can actually watch the game on YouTube.
11. Baltimore Bullets
Franchise years: 1947-1954
Championships: 1 (1948)
Hall of Famers: Buddy Jeannette, Clair Bee
Bottom line: The Baltimore Bullets own a couple of unique distinctions. They're the last NBA team to completely fold, and they're the last NBA team to win a championship that folded.
The Bullets had their best years as part of the BAA — the league that became the NBA — and won their title in 1948. They also won two championships in the predecessor to the BAA, the ABL (American Basketball League).
The Bullets fell on hard times once they joined the NBA and never posted a winning record in their five seasons in the league before shutting down.
10. Frankford Yellow Jackets
Franchise years: 1924-31
Championships: 1 (1926)
Hall of Famers: Guy Chamberlin, William "Link" Lyman
Bottom line: The Frankford Yellow Jackets only lasted eight seasons in the NFL and folded in 1931, but the franchise's roots date back to 1899, and they were once considered one of the building blocks for the NFL in its infancy.
Frankford, which is a neighborhood in the northeast section of Philadephia, went 14-1-2 in its NFL championship season of 1927. The NFL wins record would stand until the San Francisco 49ers went 15-1-0 in 1984.
Bad luck essentially led to the end of Frankford having an NFL team after a fire damaged Frankford Stadium beyond repair in 1931 and forced the Yellow Jackets to play "home" games at different stadiums around Philadelphia. Bleeding money, the team shut down after the season.
9. FC Kansas City
Franchise years: 2013-17
Championships: 2 (2014, 2015)
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: FC Kansas City shined bright in its five seasons of existence. One of the first eight teams in the NWSL, FC Kansas City won back-to-back NWSL championships in 2014 and 2015.
The sad thing about FC Kansas City not surviving as a team was that they actually had pretty good attendance comparatively. They played in front of almost 5,000 fans per game on average in their first season and once drew 8,489 fans to their 2015 season opener at Sporting Park.
An absentee owner finally brought down FC Kansas City. Businessman Elam Baer had the team taken away from him after one year, and the players and draft picks were redistributed to expansion team Utah Royals FC after the 2017 season.
8. Baltimore Stallions
Franchise years: 1994-95
Championships: 1 (1995)
Hall of Famers: Mike Pringle, Elfrid Payton, Tracy Ham, Don Matthews
Bottom line: One of the great, mostly untold stories in sports history has to be that of the Baltimore Stallions. They played two years in the Canadian Football League as part of an ill-fated experiment to expand into the United States and became the only non-Canadian team to win the Grey Cup in 1995.
Baltimore once again showed it was a great football town by supporting the Stallions, but when longtime Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell decided to move his team to Baltimore, local support for the Stallions evaporated. And the team soon folded after that.
In 1996, the Stallion owners then created a new CFL franchise, the Montreal Alouettes, which still exist today. But that's the only link to the old Baltimore Stallions.
7. Sacramento Monarchs
Franchise years: 1997-2009
Championships: 1 (2005)
Hall of Famers: Bridgette Gordon, Ruthie Bolton, Ticha Penicheiro, Yolanda Griffith
Bottom line: Led by legendary point guard Ticha Penicheiro and Yolanda Griffith, the Sacramento Monarchs were a blue-collar franchise that won its only WNBA championship in 2005 and made it back to the finals in 2006 before losing to the Detroit Shock in five games.
The Maloof family, which owned the Sacramento Kings at the time, divested itself of its interest in the Monarchs in 2009, and just like the Houston Comets one year before them, no buyer could be found.
And the franchise faded into oblivion.
6. Canton Bulldogs
Franchise years: 1920-27
Championships: 2 (1922, 1923)
Hall of Famers: Jim Thorpe, Guy Chamberlin, Joe Guyon, Wilbur "Pete" Henry, William "Link" Lyman, Greasy Neale
Bottom line: The Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs won a pair of NFL championships in 1922 and 1923, but the team's most notable era was before that, when the team's most notable player, Jim Thorpe, played on the Bulldogs (1915–1917, 1919–1920) in the years leading up to joining the NFL.
While Olympic gold medal decathlete Thorpe only played one season with Canton in the NFL, in 1920, he was the main draw for the team for years before that. The team's attendance hovered around 1,500 before signing Thorpe in 1915, then shot up to 6,000 in his first year and 8,000 in 1917, which was the capacity at Canton League Park.
The team moved to Cleveland in 1924, won the NFL championship, then returned to Canton for two years before folding in 1927. The team's influence on the NFL and the region led directly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame being placed in Canton.
5. Providence Grays
Franchise years: 1878-85
Championships: 1 (1884)
Hall of Famers: Charles Radbourn, George Wright, Harry Wright, Jim O'Rourke, John Montgomery Ward
Bottom line: The Providence Grays only played for eight seasons, but they own a unique, irreplaceable part of baseball history. They were the first World Series champions in 1884 behind a staggering 60 wins from pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn.
Radbourn's incredible win total included 20 consecutive games to close out the regular season and all three of the Grays' wins over the New York Metropolitans in the World Series.
The team ran into massive financial difficulties following the World Series victory and was forced to shut down following the 1885 season.
4. Kentucky Colonels
Franchise years: 1967-76
Hall of Famers: Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Frank Ramsey, Hubie Brown
Bottom line: The Indiana Pacers were the signature team to come out of the ABA, winning three championships in the league's nine seasons. Right behind them were the Kentucky Colonels, who played in the ABA Finals three times and won their lone championship in 1975, when they beat the Pacers in five games.
The Colonels were left out in the cold when they were one of four teams not invited to join the NBA in 1976 — almost solely because the Chicago Bulls wanted Colonels center Artis Gilmore.
Colonels owner John Y. Brown took a $3 million buyout from the NBA for the Colonels and bought the NBA's Boston Braves with the money. The Braves franchise became the Los Angeles Clippers, who sold for a whopping $2 billion in 2014.
3. Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Franchise years: 1983-85
Championships: 2 (1984, 1985)
Hall of Famers: None
Bottom line: No team dominated the USFL like the Stars, who played their first two seasons in Philadelphia before moving to Baltimore for their final seasons. They played in the USFL championship game all three years of the league's existence and won back-to-back titles in the final two seasons.
In three seasons of play, the Stars went 41-13 in the regular season and 7-1 in the postseason. The Stars were led by a gaggle of future NFL talent on the sideline and on the field. Future Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora Sr. was the head coach while future NFL All-Pro punter Sean Landeta and linebacker Sam Mills dominated.
2. Montreal Maroons
Franchise years: 1924-38
Championships: 2 (1926, 1935)
Hall of Famers: Clint Benedict, Toe Blake Georges Boucher, Punch Broadbent, King Clancy, Sprague Cleghorn, Lionel Conacher, Alec Connell, Red Dutton, Eddie Gerard, Reg Noble, Babe Siebert, Hooley Smith, Nels Stewart, Tommy Gorman, WIlliam Northey, Donat Raymond, Carl Voss
Bottom line: The racial/culture divide in the 1920s and 1930s in Montreal could very easily be defined by the two NHL teams the city played home to. The Montreal Maroons were the team meant for the English population, and the Montreal Canadiens were the team intended for the French population.
The Maroons won two Stanley Cup championships in 1926 and 1935 before being waylaid by the Great Depression and played their last season in 1938. They didn't officially close down operations until 1947.
1. Houston Comets
Franchise years: 1997-2008
Championships: 4 (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)
Hall of Famers: Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson
Bottom line: The Houston Comets won the first four championships in WNBA history from 1997 to 2000 behind a headline-grabbing lineup of Hall of Famers led by Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson and the late Kim Perrot.
Almost 25 years later, only two other teams in WNBA history have been able to match the number of titles won by the Comets — the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx.
The Comets are emblematic of the problems the WNBA has had as a whole with retaining signature franchises. When the team finally folded in 2008, it was because they couldn't find a buyer with their asking price of $10 million.