The Raiders, previously in Oakland, moved to Vegas tis season, but will the city get a winner out the gate? Or will Vegas fans be as disappointed as so many folks around the roulette wheel?
For this look back, we decided to focus only on the four major American sports leagues, avoiding anything too old school. So if you’re hoping to see how the St. Louis Browns did once they became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, that’s a story for another day.
This isn’t the Raiders’ first move. After spending 21 years in Oakland, the Raiders moved down to Los Angeles prior to the 1982 season. That was an awkward year for the NFL: a strike-shortened nine-game season. That season went well for the Raiders, as they ended with an 8-1 record. Later, they would move back to Oakland for the 1995 season, going 8-8.
Unlike the Raiders, the Rams were a staple in Los Angeles. They called L.A. home from 1946 through the 1994 season. Those last few years weren’t so good, and maybe some didn’t mind them moving to St. Louis. They went 7-9 that first year in their new city and would win the Super Bowl a few years later. The Rams are now back in Los Angeles once more.
You may know them as the Arizona Cardinals, but they’ve been known as such only since 1994. When they moved from St. Louis to the Grand Canyon State in 1988, they were called the Phoenix Cardinals for a few seasons. That last season in St. Louis was marred by another strike, and the team finished 7-8. The Cardinals’ first season in Arizona? They posted a 7-9 record, so it was basically more of the same.
You know the story. The Colts left Baltimore in the middle of the night to move to Indianapolis. Maybe Baltimore fans got to enjoy a bit of satisfaction with how the 1984 campaign went for the Colts in their new digs. After going 7-9 in their last season in Baltimore, the Indianapolis Colts debuted with a 4-12 record, and head coach Frank Kush got the ax before the season was over.
Of course, Baltimore would be on the other end of a bitter franchise move. The Cleveland Browns, one of the NFL’s iconic franchises in the early days, were leaving their home to give Baltimore a franchise back. This is the first instance on this list where a team didn’t just move but also changed its name. That 1996 season was pretty brutal for the Ravens, though, as they went 4-12. It’d be a few years before Brian Billick took over and they became a Super Bowl contender.
Technically, they were the Los Angeles Chargers first. However, they spent only one season in L.A. before moving to San Diego, where they stayed from 1961 through 2016. That is the true history of the franchise. Now the Chargers are back in Los Angeles, though it hasn’t gone smoothly. They’ve been playing in a soccer stadium waiting to share the new SoFi Stadium with the Rams. On the field, though, the Chargers actually played well after the move, posting a 9-7 record but missing the playoffs.
Sorry, Sonics fans. We know the city of Seattle is still bitter after losing its basketball team to Oklahoma City. It surely hurts even more because the Thunder quickly became one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They had drafted Kevin Durant just before moving! By their second year in OKC, the Thunder were a 50-win team. That first year, though (2008-09), they struggled to a 23-59 record in what was Durant’s second season.
In 1995, the NBA decided to get Canadian and added two franchises. One, the Toronto Raptors, just won its first title. The second, the Vancouver Grizzlies, never took off. Vancouver would cede its team to Memphis after only six seasons north of the border. In the 2001-02 season, the Grizzlies still stunk, posting a 23-59 record. At least Pau Gasol was Rookie of the Year.
The Nets didn’t move far. They moved to New Jersey from New York just before joining the NBA from the ABA and called Jersey home until heading to Brooklyn to hang out with Jay-Z. In their last year in Jersey, the Nets went 22-44. Surprisingly, the move to New York seemed to give them a boost, as they went 49-33 in the 2013-14 season and made the playoffs. That wasn’t enough, with the Nets going all in on aging veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. It didn’t pay off.
After the Charlotte Bobcats changed their name back to the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA returned to them all their Hornets history. We know the truth, though, and it's that the Pelicans were known as the New Orleans Hornets when they moved from Charlotte down to the Big Easy. New Orleans got a good team in its first year, with the Hornets going 47-35 and making the playoffs. This was when the team was still in the Eastern Conference, by the way. It would move to the West after two years.
Speaking of New Orleans, that’s where the Jazz franchise started. You know, a place where calling a team the Jazz makes sense. There may not be much Jazz in Utah, but there was a lot of great basketball in the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Fans had to wait for those days, though. In Utah’s debut season (1979-80), it went a mere 24-58. It would be five seasons before the Jazz had a winning season in Salt Lake City.
The Kings franchise has been a transient one. It began in Rochester as the Royals before moving to Cincinnati. Then it moved to Kansas City and took on the Kings name and even made a conference finals in Kansas City. In the 1985-86 season, the Kings left for Sacramento. Despite going 37-45 they actually made the playoffs, though they got swept in the first round.
First, the Clippers franchise made a huge move, going from Buffalo all the way down to San Diego. After several seasons there, the team presaged the Chargers’ move, heading to Los Angeles. Under Donald Sterling’s ownership, the Clippers were a notoriously troubled franchise. That was certainly true when it debuted in L.A. during the 1984-85 season, going 31-51. Hey, that was a one-win improvement over the previous year!
This may be the toughest one. The Nordiques didn’t have a ton of success in Quebec, but we know Canadians love their hockey. Well, the Nordiques left for Colorado and were rechristened as the Avalanche prior to the 1995-96 season and then added Patrick Roy, arguably the greatest goalie of all time. This put the team over the edge, and the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver. That’s how to make a debut.
Like the Cardinals, the Coyotes have dropped the Phoenix for Arizona. It took them longer to do it, though. The franchise left Winnipeg, a city nicknamed “Winterpeg,” for the desert. Talk about whiplash. Unlike the Avalanche, the Coyotes didn’t wow out the gate after leaving Canada. During the 1996-97 season, the Coyotes made the playoffs but lost in the first round.
Eventually, Winnipeg would get a team back. This time, a franchise from the south, the Atlanta Thrashers, headed north of the border. The Thrashers never really took off, so they may not be terribly missed. Winnipeg was, inexplicably, stuck in the Eastern Conference for its first two seasons. The Jets missed the playoffs in the 2011-12 campaign, but they added a couple of future cornerstones in Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.
Everything old is new again. You know what other franchise left Atlanta? That would be the Flames. Maybe they just aren’t into hockey in the Peach State. Calgary made its debut in the 1980-81 season. It was still stuck playing in a division with the two New York teams, Philly, and Washington, but despite all the travel the Flames made the playoffs. In fact, they won two playoff series. Also, Kent Nilsson set a franchise record with 131 points, a record that still stands.
Cue up “Brass Bonanza.” We all miss the Hartford Whalers, but we have to admit that a professional sports franchise in Hartford is a little odd. The Whalers became the Hurricanes, and in their first season, 1997-98, they were stuck playing in a tiny arena in Greensboro. Carolina finished ninth in the Eastern Conference but sixth in its division. Had they not been in such a tough division, the Canes may have debuted with a playoff season. Oh well. At least we still get to see the Whalers jerseys sometimes.
If you saw “The Mighty Ducks,” you remember the Minnesota North Stars. Minnesota is a hockey-loving state, which wasn’t true of Texas when the North Stars went south and wisely dropped the “North” part of their name. Mike Modano was in full effect in the 1993-94 season, and the Stars made the playoffs. In the first round they swept the Blues, before losing to Pavel Bure and the Vancouver Canucks.
It took a while for the Devils to find a home. They began life as the Kansas City Scouts but lasted only two seasons there. Then they became the Colorado Rockies. No, not the baseball team. The Rockies lasted only a few campaigns as well before they moved to New Jersey for the 1982 season. This time, things stuck, and the Devils won several Cups behind Martin Brodeur. Brodeur wasn’t around in the 1982-83 season, though, and the Devils were truly terrible. They went 17-49-14 in that first year.
Washington D.C. would seem to be a fine city for baseball, but it took a few tries before a team stuck (presuming the current denizens of the capital stick). The Rangers began life as the Washington Senators in 1961, and the team stayed for around a decade. After that, the Senators left for Texas, changing their name to the Rangers. The Senators had only one winning season in all their time in Washington, and that didn’t change in 1972. In fact, the Rangers went 54-100.
What’s your favorite memory of the Seattle Pilots? You have so much to choose from. There’s that one moment from the 1969 season and…well, actually the Pilots played in Seattle for only that one campaign. At the behest of new owner, and future commissioner, Bud Selig, the franchise was moved to his hometown of Milwaukee. In their one year in Seattle, the Pilots went 64-98. When they became the Brewers, they improved all the way to…65-97.
What could have been if not for the 1994 strike? The Montreal Expos were heading toward winning its first World Series, and then the Series didn’t happen. After that the franchise started to unravel. Eventually, MLB took over ownership of the Expos and then sold them to owners who moved them to Washington, bringing baseball back to the capital. The 2005 season was a solid debut campaign, as the Nationals went 81-81.
The Athletics had some great seasons in Philadelphia, even winning some World Series. Then the team was sold to an owner who moved it to Kansas City prior to the 1955 season. Ownership changed hands again, and the A’s moved to their current home in Oakland before the 1968 campaign. The team improved by 20 wins, finishing with an 82-80 record, a sign of things to come. Oakland didn’t have a losing season until 1977 and won three World Series in a row before that.
We are going old school and combining two teams into one entry, but for good reason. New York had three baseball teams: the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers. Then, prior to the 1958 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers decided they wanted to become the first MLB team on the West Coast That would have been big enough, but the Dodgers didn’t want to do it alone. They were able to convince the Giants to join them and move to San Francisco. Thus, California suddenly had two teams, and New York was down to only one. Of course, you also have to get it done on the field. The Giants did that, going 80-74. Los Angeles, meanwhile, went 71-83.