LOOK AT them, those fans of teams that win titles so often. They seem so happy, don't they? Patriots fans wake up every day and debate which piece of their Super Bowl championship gear to wear. Should they go with the hoodie from the Pats' title last season, or maybe the wool cap from 2001, the T-shirt from '03 or the jacket from '04? San Francisco Giants fans weigh which recent World Series title was more rewarding. Was it the first one in '10 against Texas, the sweep of Detroit in '12 or the seven-game nail-biter over Kansas City last season? Then they give up, agree that choosing one title is as impossible as picking a favorite child and gleefully make a date to meet at next season's championship parade.
Don't be envious of those poor souls, so drunk on all that winning. Pity them, for they know not what they miss. Fans who have titles of recent vintage have forgotten the exquisite agony of a championship drought and, more important, the unmatched elation that comes with ending one.
Baseball's four teams that entered the week still having a chance to win the World Series—the Cubs (107 years since their last title), Royals (30), Mets (29) and Blue Jays (22)—all have fan bases who know the hunger that comes from decades without a championship. That's probably why there seemed to be no villain in the LCS field, nothing but a bunch of sentimental favorites (although those cursed Cubbies appeared to have grabbed the most hearts around the country). One of the benefits of going so many years without a title is that there is little animosity toward your team. The clubs in the ALCS and the NLCS haven't exactly made a habit of crushing other fans' hopes, so who can hate them? Teams in a drought may get mocked or pitied, but despised? Never.
Droughts also make teams memorable in a way they will never be again once they have won. Remember when the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918, when they were the subject of books and essays about the curse of the Bambino? Then they won the Series in 2004 and again in '07 and '13, and now they're just another franchise that wins the occasional title.
It's natural to focus on the misery of a championship drought, but the flip side of that misery is anticipation, the constant daydreaming about how sweet it will feel once the drought finally ends. Clevelanders, whose teams haven't won a title in a major sport since 1964, have had 51 years to fantasize about the Day It Finally Happens, which, in a way, might be almost as fun as the day it finally happens.
The Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays and Royals can give their fans what teams like the Blackhawks, Cardinals, Patriots and Spurs cannot—the joy of wearing a crown for the first time in a long time.
When the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994 after 54 years without one, a fan at Madison Square Garden held up a sign that read, NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE. That's the kind of feeling that only comes at the end of a dry spell that lasted generations. Congratulations in advance to the fan base that will get to experience that kind of emotion after the World Series. But to the three others, do not feel too discouraged. There are two things that make a franchise special—a dynasty and a drought. It only takes a few years to achieve the first, but the second can take—and last—a lifetime. Embrace it.
Fans who have titles of recent vintage have forgotten the unmatched elation that comes with winning one.
TODD ROSENBERG FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED