Was 2023 Chicago’s worst sports year ever?

This is no way to end a year, but the discussion must take place.

There's a chance 2023 was the worst year in Chicago sports history.

For starters, there were no playoff games by any of the five oldest professional teams. The Sky sneaked into the WNBA playoffs as the No. 8 seed, but were barely competitive while getting swept by Las Vegas.

The biggest (maybe only) success story was Northwestern basketball reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history. Dang it, Chris Collins, we needed that Sweet Sixteen berth.

The closest thing to a playoff game among the Traditional Five teams was the Bulls' thrilling two-game run in the NBA's play-in tournament. First they beat Toronto with Zach LaVine (remember him?) scoring 30 points in the second half.

Then came maybe the greatest Chicago sports moment of 2023: Coby White hit a 3-pointer with 3:47 left, giving the Bulls a 90-87 lead over Miami. Keep in mind, the Heat went all the way to the NBA Finals after almost losing to the Bulls in the play-in game. But the Bulls ended that game in Miami by getting outscored 15-1 down the stretch. Wah, wah.

The Cubs had a similar collapse, it just happened slowly. After finishing a sweep of the Giants on Sept. 6, the Cubs were 12 games above .500, a game and a half behind Milwaukee for the NL Central lead, and their playoff chances were likely in the 90th percentile.

Cubs manager David Ross was fired after the 2023 season when the team went 7-15 down the stretch. Associated Press

But the Cubs went 7-15 the rest of the way and their season essentially ended when they blew a 6-0 lead in Atlanta, the final 2 runs scoring when Seiya Suzuki lost a pop up in the lights. On the bright side, a crushing sports loss is a great parent-child bonding moment: “I suffered through the same heartbreak you're experiencing right now, junior.”

The Bears, White Sox and Blackhawks were all pretty bad in 2023, though the Bears managed to create faint playoff hopes until blowing that fourth-quarter lead in Cleveland.

Hope for the future counts for something. There's obviously a big difference between the Bears going 4-10 in Walter Payton's rookie season and finishing 8-8 in Marc Trestman's first year as head coach. Where would you rather be?

At the moment, Bears fans have likely split their optimism between QB Justin Fields' future, the chance to draft Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick or the possibility the McCaskey family won't own the team forever.

The Blackhawks are on pace for their worst record in terms of points percentage since 1955. But future optimism soars with every Connor Bedard highlight goal.

White Sox optimism, that's tough to pinpoint right now. If we're lucky, Jerry Reinsdorf won't hold the city hostage (for a second time) with a threat to move to Nashville.

The Traditional Five teams all missing the playoffs feels like complete failure, but it happened as recently as 2019. That year seems a little better, since the Bears went 8-8, failing to defend their NFC North title behind Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy. The Cubs finished above. 500 despite a September collapse, and the Blackhawks were playoff contenders until late in the season.

Maybe making the playoffs is overrated. The Blackhawks had a 28-year playoff streak from 1970-97, but were far from a successful franchise during that era.

One team winning titles erases a whole heap of losing. So that wipes out the early 2010s, thanks to the Blackhawks; the 90s because of Michael Jordan; and the late 80s when the Mike Ditka-era Bears dominated headlines. Even when the Bears and baseball were bad in the 70s, the Bulls and Blackhawks were good, while DePaul's tournament runs were a big deal and the Sting had some fun seasons.

No teams in the playoffs also happened in 2004 and 1999. At least 2004 featured a couple of successful coaching changes, with Lovie Smith and Scott Skiles stepping onboard, plus both baseball teams finished above .500.

On the other hand, 1999 might actually be the Worst Sports Year Ever, since all the Traditional Five pro teams missed the playoffs and finished with losing records. In addition, no in-state teams made the NCAA Tournament that year. The only highlights were the Fire losing in the first round of the MLS playoffs and Kurt Kittner leading the Fighting Illini to a Micron PC Bowl victory.

So that settles it: 2023 is not Chicago's worst sports year ever. But it's probably in the Top 2.

There's always next year.

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