The United States and Canada are two sports crazy nations and many of their teams have followings throughout the planet. This a look into the top 10 most storied franchises in what we call the “Big Four” sports. Some of these teams have rivalries with other teams that have been in existence for over 100 years. These are in no particular order but most of these are pretty obvious and this does not include all the storied franchises in North American major sports leagues. There will be a little synopsis in the character of these franchises, the year they were established, and how many championships they have won over the years. I am going to include at least two from the four major sports leagues in the United States and Canada. I encourage you the reader to comment and create your own top 10 list. So in no particular order here are the 10:
10) Toronto Maple Leafs (Hockey 1917): Beginning life as the Toronto Blue Shirts and considered part of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) “Original Six” (referring to the six franchises that existed prior to expansion that began in the 1960s), the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of three teams from Toronto that compete in three of the four major sports leagues in North America. They are famous for their team colors of blue and white. They did not always sport these famous colors. The Blue Shirts eventually were sold and were known as the Saint Patricks from 1919 until Valentine’s Day 1927, when they became the Maple Leafs. The name is a symbol of patriotism for Canadians and they embody what is Canada’s largest city. They have won the Stanley Cup 13 times, and currently have the longest drought of current teams that have won the oldest trophy in North American sports. Their oldest rival is the Montreal Canadiens which also spills over from the general rivalry between the two Canadian cities.
9) Los Angeles Lakers (Basketball 1947, 1960): Beginning life in Minneapolis (hence the nickname “Lakers” due to the many lakes in Minneapolis and throughout Minnesota) in 1947 and in Los Angeles since 1960, The Lakers have 17 championship titles and are currently tied with the Boston Celtics for the most in NBA history. They are one of the most popular teams in all of sports and Hollywood celebrities are seen at virtually every home game. When the Lakers originated in Minneapolis, they gained fame for signing George Mikan who was the tallest man to play basketball at that time and winning six championships in a row from 1948-54. A popular catchphrase that had its origins with the Lakers is “threepeat” which they doubled in Minneapolis and did three times after moving to Los Angeles. Mikan is one of many of the greatest basketball players to have ever played in the NBA to wear a Laker uniform. Among others are Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Jerry West. Their classic NBA Championship rivals are the Boston Celtics and they have a long standing rivalry with the team they share Staples Center with the L. A. Clippers. They also have a long running rivalry with the Phoenix Suns. It is hard to imagine an NBA without the Lakers. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine a Lakers home game without Jack Nicholson in the stands.
8) St. Louis Cardinals (Baseball 1892): Though they are often overshadowed by other teams, the St. Louis Cardinals have the second most World Series titles in the Major Leagues, and the most of any club in the National League. They began in1882 in the old American Association and joined the National League in 1892. The Cardinals iconic script on their jerseys is the word “Cardinals” across the front with two cardinals perched on a baseball bat that “hooks” the “C” and spans across the entire script. The font of the script may have changed through the years but they have not changed their success. In 1920, they hired Branch Rickey to be their General Manager. Rickey had a keen sense for talent and he was credited 25 years later, while with the Brooklyn Dodgers, for signing Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in baseball. The “Red Birds” won their first World Series title in 1920 and last won it in 2006. Being in a smaller market, they have the affections of the city they call home. They used to share a stadium from 1920 to 1954 with St. Louis’ American League Franchise, the Browns. The Browns did not have the success that the Cardinals had and eventually moved to Baltimore where they changed their fortunes and their nickname to the Orioles. When St. Louis based brewery Anheuser Busch bought the team and Sportsman Park. Sportsman Park was renamed to Busch Stadium and the two stadiums that have replaced it have held that name. They have won 17 National League pennants where they have had classic battles with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox on several occasions (losing to the Red Sox only once in 2004). Some of the baseball greats who have worn Cardinal uniforms include Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Joe Torre, Lou Brock, Mark McGwire, and Albert Puljols. They have a long standing rivalry with the Chicago Cubs that dates back to their earliest days. St. Louis has long considered itself a baseball town and will do what it takes to keep their birds grounded in the Gateway City.
7) Green bay Packers (Football 1919): Playing in the smallest major sports market, Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Packers is a team that hearkens back to the early days of professional football where the leagues were often filled with small town teams. Founded in 1919 when Earl “Curly” Lambeau approached his former high school rival and friend George Whitney Calhoun to form a football team. Lambeau solicited funds from the Indian Packing Company for uniforms and the Packers were born. Though they had faced the adversity of financial woes in their early existence, the Packers have won the most championships in NFL history with a total of 13 which dates back to the pre Super Bowl era. They have many traditions and a legacy of players and coaches who have played for them. Their logo of a white “G” inside a green oval is easy to identify the team and its fans. Lambeau was able to lead the Packers to six titles while coaching them for 20 years. After a lean stretch that lasted from 1950 to 1958, they hired a former Fordham University player and former New York Football Giants assistant coach Vince Lombardi in 1959. Lombardi took his first Packers team to a 7-5 record and to the NFL Championship game in his second his second season losing that year to the Philadelphia Eagles. The next year they won their first of six championships during the 1960s. To cap off their success, the Lombardi led Packers played in and won the first two games that became the Super Bowl. After winning the second Super Bowl ever played, Lombardi stepped down as coach and moved on in 1969 to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Lombardi did not see the same success he saw in Green Bay and succumbed to Cancer in 1970. His impact on the game is immortalized in the NFL with the Super Bowl trophy bearing his name. The Packers had a period of futility that lasted from the 1970s through 80s. In 1992 General Manager Ron Wolf hired San Fransisco 49ers assistant coach Mike Homgren and acquired a young unused quarterback from the Atlanta Falcons named Brett Favre. After putting together a talented team of players that included Reggie White, the Packers began to see success once again. They made their trip to the Super Bowl in 1997 where they defeated the New England Patriots and then returned football’s promised land the following year only to be defeated by the Denver Broncos. On Sunday February 6, 2011 they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers and won their fourth Super Bowl and 13th NFL championship overall by a score of 31-25. They compete in the NFC North Division (formerly the NFC Central) which has the closest geographic distances between their members than any other division in the NFL. They have heated rivalries with division mates the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions but their biggest rival is the Chicago Bears.The rivalry between the Bears and Packers is the oldest in the NFL and is played twice a year.
6) Chivas Guadalajara (Soccer 1903): Club Deportivo Guadalajara, better known as Chivas, is the wild card in this list because they are the only soccer team and Mexican team to make this list. They were founded in 1903 and are the most popular soccer team in Mexico and they are the most successful. They have won 11 First Division (top level league) titles, seven Champion of Champions Cups, and two Mexican Cups. They are one of 10 founding members of Mexico’s First Division and have never been relegated to the Second Division. In many countries, leagues are structured where the lower performing teams drop to a lower level and the better performers in the lower levels move up to the next higher level. Their biggest rival is with Club America of Mexico City. Chivas is owned by Mexican Entrepreneur Jorge Vergara. Vergara also owns a team in MLS (Major League Soccer), Chivas USA which is based in Los Angeles. Chivas is also the only Mexican professional soccer team to feature only players of Mexican heritage. They opened a new stadium, Estadio Omnilife, in 2010 which has had some controversy due to the artificial playing surface. Their colors are red, white, and blue. The colors are symbolic of “Fraternity, Union, and Sports”. Their home uniforms are one of the most recognizable soccer uniforms in the world. The tops are red and white vertical stripes and blue shorts. They have sported this look for around 80 years with some variants throughout the years. The name Chivas is Spanish for Goat which is their mascot. Chivas’ influence is being felt in the United States in trying to help popularize a sport that has been difficult in achieving popularity over the years. However, they will be around and they will have a huge fan base following them for years to come.
5) Edmonton Eskimos (Football 1949): Even though the Canadian Football League (CFL) is considered a minor league compared to the NFL, the CFL does have some storied franchises. The CFL team that makes this list is the Edmonton Eskimos. Like the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, the Eskimos have won the CFL’s Grey Cup 13 times making them the owners of the most championships in the CFL. They have some similarities to the Packers. One of them being they share the same team colors of green and gold. In fact, the Eskimos sported the green and gold longer than the Packers when they purchased the green and gold uniforms from the University of Alberta football team in 1949. The Packers permanently adopted their colors in 1958 in Vince Lombardi’s first year. Another similarity is that the team is community or shareholder owned. They play their home games in Commonwealth Stadium which has been their home field since 1978. Prior to Commonwealth, they played their home games at Clarke Stadium from 1954 to 1978. For many years they were the only team in the CFL to play their home games on natural grass. They switched to an artificial turf field in 2010 thus making the CFL an all turf league. They had an impressive run of five consecutive Grey Cup Championships from 1978 to 1082. All time combined (NFL and CFL) passing yards record holder Warren Moon was the quarterback for the Eskimos during their run. Their last Grey Cup came in 2005. They are always a threat in the CFL and they are always hungry for bringing the Grey Cup back to Edmonton.
4) Boston Celtics (Basketball 1948): One of the most recognizable logos in all of sports is the leprechaun of the Boston Celtics. They are one of the NBA’s original teams and one of two still playing in their original city, the New York Knicks being the other. They played the majority of their home games at the Boston Garden until they moved to the TD Garden in 1995. They suffered through mediocrity during their early years until they hired Red Auerbach to coach the team in 1950. Seven years later, they won the first of their 17 NBA championships. Auerbach was coach for the first seven of them and was part of the 15 as either coach or General Manager of the Celtics. Many NBA legends from the early years through today wore Celtic Green including Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Kevin Mc Hale, Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett, and Shaquille O’ Neal. The Celtics were on an amazing run in the middle 1980s when they drafted Len Bias in 1986. Bias, who was the top collegiate player in 1986, was taken in the first round and died of a cocaine overdose days after the draft. The loss of Bias was the beginning of a dry spell in Boston that lasted for the better part of 20 years. They were losing players from the Larry Bird era to retirements, trades, and free agency. The Celtics had tabbed Reggie Lewis as Bird’s heir as the team’s captain. Unfortunately tragedy struck the Celtics again in 1993 when Lewis died of a heart attack while playing a pick up game during the off season. Lewis had fainted during a playoff game the prior season which was attributed to a heart condition and was waiting to be cleared to play for for the Celtics when he died. There were many saying that the Celtics had seen their better days and that they would probably not see another NBA title. However, the Celtics and their loyal fans kept up hope and the front office was assembling a team that could compete for NBA championships for several years. They acquired players using the draft and free agency and re-established pride in the green. In 2008 they won their 17th championship. Their classic NBA Finals rivals are the Los Angeles Lakers and they last met them in 2010. The Lakers won the last series to tie the Celtics for most championships, this included championships the Lakers won while calling Minneapolis home. With the pride and determination to win, the Celtics will be in the NBA title hunt for years to come.
3) Montreal Canadiens (Hockey 1909): The Montreal Canadiens are the winningest team in professional hockey. Having won 24 Stanley Cups, only baseball’s New York Yankees have won more championships in all of North American professional sports, History, pride, and tradition run deep within the annals of Les Habitants (a commonly used nickname for the Canadiens). The Habs won their first Stanley Cup in 1916 and their most recent in 1993. They played their home games at the Montreal Forum from 1926 through midway during the 1996 season when they moved to the Bell Centre. One of the traditions is in their locker room where they have a flame that burns. It was carried over from the Forum to the Bell Centre when they moved. Their motto is a passage from the John McCrae poem “In Flanders Fields” which reads: “To you from falling hands we throw this torch. Be yours to hold it high.” This motto is written on the walls of their locker room at the Bell Centre. Many hockey legends wore the famous red, white, and blue sweater of the Canadiens. These legends include Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Guy Charbeneau, Guy Lafleur, Jaques Lemaire, and Henri Richard. The Canadiens are currently going through a championship drought that has brought frustration to Montreal since 1994. They have had a few years where they came close to returning to the Stanley Cup Finals but only to fall short in the conference finals. To Canadiens fans, any season short of winning the Stanley Cup is considered a failure. With determination they will be back on track and hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the oldest trophy in North American Sports, once again and many times over.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers (Football 1933): No team has won more NFL championships during the Super Bowl era than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having won the Lombardi Trophy six times, the Steelers are professional football’s most storied franchise. They came from very humbling beginnings having seen very little success for the first 40 years of their existence, the Steelers have owned by one family, the Rooneys. The patriarch of the Rooney family was Art Rooney who won the team in a poker bet. Being a notorious gambler, Art Sr. stuck by his guns with the Steelers during many years when they were a laughing stock. The Rooney family owned many enterprises including dog tracks in Florida and used their profits from these enterprises to keep the Steelers in operation. During the World War II years the Steelers combined with the Philadelphia Eagles, known unofficially as the “Steagles” for one season and another season they combined with the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals and were known as Card-Pitt. These brief mergers were done due to the loss of players due to service obligations during the war but retained their autonomy after the war. The Steelers saw a few winning seasons during the late 1940s and early 50s but they saw their first postseason action in 1947 in a tie breaking playoff against the Philadelphia Eagles which they lost 21-0. For most of their early years the Steelers split their home games between Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium until 1970 when they moved to Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers’ fortune began to turn in 1969 when they hired Chuck Knoll, a former player and assistant under Cleveland Browns’ and Cincinnati Bengals’ legendary coach Paul Brown. Knoll and the Rooneys began to assemble a team that would be forever etched in sports history. The assembly process began in 1968 by signing Notre Dame running back Rocky Blier who missed a few seasons due to his service in the Army during the Vietnam War and serious wounds he received from stepping on a landmine while on a patrol. They also added quarterback Terry Bradshaw, linebackers “Mean” Joe Green and Jack Lambert, wide receiver Lynn Swann, and running back Franco Harris. The Steelers of the 1970s used the same Western Pennsylvania blue collar work ethic that Pittsburgh was famous for on the field. In 1975 the Steelers faced the Minnesota Vikings in their first Super Bowl in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. They defeated the Vikings 16-6 in a game that was rain soaked. They returned the next year to face the Dallas Cowboys the next year in Miami’s Orange Bowl and defeated them in the first of three Super Bowl match ups with the Cowboys. They have won two of the three meetings against the Cowboys. They also beat the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals for their Six Super Bowl wins. The Steelers are now looking for their seventh Super Bowl win . They had their first attempt at Super Bowl win number seven on February 6, 2011 against the Green Bay Packers only to fall short 31-25 in the most watched Super bowl ever. They will eventually get that seventh title and many more. They have a long standing rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys. They also have rivalries within their AFC North Division against the Cleveland Browns (a famous t-shirt in Pittsburgh says “Cleveland Sucks”). the Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals. They also have a rivalry that has diminished over the years with the Tennessee Titans which extends from when the Titans were in the same division as the Steelers and the Titans’ original incarnation as the Houston Oilers. The Steelers currently call Heinz Field their home and will remain in Pittsburgh for a long time to come.
1) New York Yankees (Baseball 1901): Beginning life as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901 then moving to New York the next year as the New York Highlanders, the New York Yankees have become synonymous with greatness in North American sports. The Yankees have won 27 World Series titles and have appeared in at least one world series per decade with exception of the 1900s and 1910s. They moved to New York from Baltimore to give the new American League a sense of legitimacy. They did not start out as the most successful team in baseball history. They were perennial occupants of the American League “Second Division” for the better part of 20 years. They officially adopted the Yankees Moniker in 1913 and their famous pinstripe uniforms originally in 1912 but abandoned them for two years before bringing them back permanently in 1915. They originally played their home games at Hilltop Park until moving to the Polo Grounds in 1913. Their fortunes changed in 1920 when they traded for the rival Boston Red Sox Slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Babe Ruth and the Yankees began a relationship that ran from 1920 to 1934. Babe Ruth ironically played minor league baseball for a minor league team in his home town of Baltimore called the Orioles. Ruth was the major cog in the wheel that the Yankees used to assemble the team that dominated the 1920s and 30s. The Yankees by this time had become more popular than the New York Giants who owned the Polo Grounds. The Giants were reportedly jealous of the Yankees success and popularity and evicted the Yankees. As a way of thumbing their noses to the Giants, Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Rupert broke ground on a new stadium directly across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, That stadium was called Yankee Stadium, also known as “The house that Ruth built”. Yankee Stadium would be the home of the Yankees from 1923 until 2008. There was a two season period when they played their home games at Shea Stadium in Queens while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. They moved to a new state-of-the-art Yankee Stadium in 2009. Along with Ruth, many other legends wore the Yankees Pinstripes. These included: Lou Gehrig, Joe Di Maggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Tony Kubek, Bucky Dent, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Lou Pinella, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, David Wells, Adrian Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. What some people consider the low point of the Yankees history post-1910s would be the 1980s. In 1979, they lost Catcher and team captain Thurman Munson in a plane crash during a day off. They also saw some of their stars who were part of their revival in the 1970s depart through trades and free agency. Another contributor was the on going drama between owner George Steinbrenner and former player and occasional Manager Billy Martin. Steinbrenner was determined to have a winner on the field and went through many managers during this span. Martin would be hired five times, reportedly Steinbrenner was about to hire Martin for a sixth time as manager for 1990 when Martin was killed Christmas Day in 1989. The Yankees began their climb back to glory in the early 1990s when Steinbrenner hired Buck Showalter to manage the Yanks. Showalter skippered the Yankees from 1992 to 1995 and made them competitive and passed the torch to Joe Torre in 1996. Torre would lead the Yankees to win four World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000. Torre would move to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. He hand picked his successor, Joe Girardi. The Yankees Christened their new version of Yankee Stadium in 2009 with their 27th World Series title. The Yankees are perennial contenders for an American League pennant and they will more than likely win at least another 27 titles. Their most heated rival is the Boston Red Sox, who they bought Babe Ruth from in 1920. The rivalry with the Sox is usually at its height during the late part of the baseball season and sometimes in the playoffs. The New York Yankees have a fan base that spans the Earth.
These are 10 teams in North American sports that are the most storied. There are other teams that are steeped in tradition and are storied but this is a top 10 list and it is a difficult decision to make in putting together this list. There may be top five or top 109 lists of storied teams in each respective sport in the future but these are the ones i found to be the most storied in the collective of North American sports. Feel free to comment or create your own top 10 list.