Free fall might not be the pits for Cavs (cont.)
Win decline: -10
In terms of winning percentage, this is the greatest decline in the four major pro sports (.750 to .125 for a difference of .625).
People don't remember this collapse very well, probably because the Oilers never made the Super Bowl. But it was epic. The Oilers had made six straight playoff appearances and tied for the best record in the NFL in 1993. Then, in order: They lost a home playoff game to the Kansas City Chiefs; traded 37-year-old Warren Moon to the Minnesota Vikings in a money-saving deal; put their offense in the hands of Cody Carlson (who would get hurt) and Billy Joe Tolliver; discovered Moon did not age like most humans do (he would throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two years with the Vikings); and discovered Billy Joe Tolliver was Billy Joe Tolliver.
They did find a very good head coach, Jeff Fisher, who replaced Jack Pardee in November 1994. They also found another state to call home. The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997.
Win decline: -9
Do you remember the great Bears team of 2001? Me neither. It finished 13-3 through some combination of defense, luck and proper voodoo-doll pin placement. It won two games in overtime. It went 11-2 with Jim Miller as a starting quarterback. (Miller was 4-10 the rest of his career.) From 1997 to 2004, the Bears won 4, 4, 6, 5, THIRTEEN!, 4, 7 and 5 games per season. This wasn't a decline. It was a return to reality.
Win decline: -9
Win decline: -7
As far as I'm concerned, these were the same team. The Falcons made the Super Bowl after the 1998 season thanks largely to a veteran quarterback who did not seem Super Bowl-worthy (Chris Chandler), lost to coach Dan Reeves' former team (the Broncos) and then, with injuries playing a role, completely fell apart (three consecutive losing seasons). The Raiders made the Super Bowl after the 2002 season thanks largely to an overachieving veteran quarterback who did not seem Super Bowl-worthy (Rich Gannon), lost to their former coach (Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden) and then, with injuries playing a role, completely fell apart (seven straight seasons with five victories or fewer).
This may sound like revisionist history, but I think you could see both collapses coming. The NFL is an up-and-down league -- unless you have an All-Pro quarterback or a brilliant general manager, your ups will usually be followed in short order by downs. And if you overachieve, then suffer a severe decline in quarterback play ... well, that is how you end up on this list.
San Francisco 49ers
Win decline: -8
I remember how weird this seemed at the time. For pretty much my entire life, the 49ers had been good, and to a sports fan, whatever happened when you were a kid seems like the only thing that ever happened. Especially if, like me, you are a narcissist. And if you are, I don't want to hear about it. We're talking about me, not you.
The 49ers had won at least 10 games for 16 straight seasons. Then they got old and started playing lousy defense. Steve Young suffered concussions, which prepared him for appearing on cable talk shows but limited him to three games in 1999. The Niners actually made it back to the playoffs two years later thanks to the happy love triangle of Steve Mariucci, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, but, of course, that blew up when T.O. implied that Garcia was gay, Garcia responded by marrying a Playboy Playmate and Mariucci ended up working for Matt Millen. I think we can safely say Garcia made out best in that scenario.
Win decline: -8
We are going to retroactively diagnose the 1999 Broncos with several ailments:
1. Double Super Bowl Hangover (they were two-time defending champs).
2. Superstar Voiditis (John Elway had retired and Terrell Davis, who looked like he was on his way to the Hall of Fame, played only four games in '99 and averaged 3.1 yards per carry).
3. We're Not So Good Anymore Syndrome. This is actually an offshoot of No. 1. Teams that know they are on the way down tend to go down quickly, because they know that whatever effort they put in, the result will not be as cool as what they did the year before.
This also began the Broncos' era of being pretty good but never winning playoff games (except for one, in the 2005 season), an era that ended when they brought in Josh McDaniels to get rid of all their good players. Surprisingly, that failed too.