Ranking the five worst teams in Denver sports history
Oct 15, 2023, 12:10 AM | Updated: Oct 16, 2023, 3:59 pm
The Colorado Rapids and Colorado Rockies have had their worst-ever seasons in 2023, and the Denver Broncos are off to a brutal start, but how bad are they when compared to all of Denver sports history? It’s too early to say on the Broncos, who could very well end up on this list by season’s end. In only one year of the NFL playing 17 games, the worst record was 3-14, could the Broncos set the new low mark at two wins or even hold at one win for the reason of the season? It’s all too early to tell—but for this year’s Rockies, it is not, who found their way onto this list.
Five worst teams in Denver pro sports history
5: 1963 (2-11-1) and 1964 (2-11-1) Broncos
The two worst seasons by record in Denver Broncos history happened in back-to-back seasons very early into their existence. You can easily pick the 1963 or 1964 season for your fifth spot on this list. These seasons were so early into the Broncos history that the team was still wearing brown and yellow. For Jack Faulkner, who will go down as one of the worst coaches in Denver sports history, at least he got Broncos Country into blue and orange. The coach actually started out the 1962 season 6-1 before the team fell apart. That fall would last through 1963 and into 1964 when Faulkner was fired after four games, meaning after the hot start in Denver’s third season being a franchise, the team would go 4-20-1 in his final 25 games at the helm. That time period saw star quarterback Frank Tripucka and other veterans ousted from the roster. It took the Broncos another decade after the debacle to even crack their first winning season, doing so in 1973, and building up to a Super Bowl appearance in 1977. Before the Broncos merged into the NFL, their AFL record ended as the worst in the league’s history. Despite only playing 14 games, the team’s -198 point differential in 1964 is still the worst in team history and the team nearly moved to Chicago the following spring. Denver has always won at least four games in a full season when the slate expanded to 16 games a year.
4: 2023 Rockies (59-103)
While the season that just happened was the first 100-loss year in Colorado Rockies history, it’s not that rare in the context of MLB. Since the slate became 162 games a year, the 100-loss mark is hit nearly twice a season. The year was undoubtedly the worst franchise history, surpassing the previous low mark by five losses.
The Rockies have rarely been good or great but never before this season had they been worst in baseball level bad. Even in prior struggling years, they could be explained away by a young growing team, a star who was hurt or something. Sure the Rockies do have a young group of players coming through now and nearly their entire pitching staff went down—but Colorado wasn’t going to contend to begin with. They not only lacked stars, but the team had a very old group of players to begin the season before slowly transitioning playing time to younger ones toward year’s end. During the season Kris Bryant cemented himself as one of the worst and overpaid signings in team history, key starters German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela suffered serious injuries, and young infielder Brendan Rodgers season was almost lost entirely to injury.
The team’s All-Star from the season before C.J. Cron was sent to Anaheim at the deadline. While the team’s All-Star from the 2023 season, Elias Díaz, finished with a 0.0 fWAR. The only big name playing regularly on the Rockies in 2023 was the 37-year-old Charlie Blackmon, who earned a contract extension for a 14th season.
There’s not a lot of hope for the immediate future and it’s unknown now if this is Rox bottom or if we’ll see Colorado dip even further next year.
3: 2023 Rapids (5-16-12, 27 pts)
The Colorado Rapids still have one more game to play next Saturday before their season finally comes to a merciful end. It doesn’t matter that they play their rivals in Utah because Colorado has already lost the Rocky Mountain Cup for the third straight season. The end will be their worst 34-match MLS season. But that doesn’t even get into Colorado getting blown out of the water in Leagues Cup and only beating lower-level clubs in US Open Cup before losing again to Real Salt Lake.
Like many teams on this list, the Rapids fired their coach mid-season, letting Robin Fraser go after the team fell apart. He had previously led the team to the best record in the west just two seasons prior in 2021 but a series of moves by Padraig Smith and a lack of investment from KSE meant that run petered out quickly. Colorado’s leading goal scorer in 2023 is the homegrown Cole Bassett, who left after 2021 to go to Europe but couldn’t crack it. And Bassett’s goals have been a late-season furry as lead forward Diego Rubio has been held to just three goals and captain Jack Price suffered a season-ending injury 38 minutes into his season. The only season where the Rapids amassed fewer points in the standings was in a 26-game year and their -27 goal differential and only 26 goals scored are each worst in franchise history.
2: 2016-17 Avs (22-56-4, 48 pts)
Only 50 teams have had 48 points or fewer in a 70-plus game season, which became standard for the NHL in the mid-1960s. So less than one team a year is as lousy as the Avalanche were in 2016-17.
Under first-year head coach Jared Bendar Colorado started 9-9 before finishing 13-47-4. It was the worst season in the club’s Denver history and the only season that even rivals it by total points was a 39-point effort in a 48-game season in 2013. With almost twice the games four years later the Avs only managed nine more points. Bendar had a decent roster too, led by Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Erik Johnson it was a group that, in part, went on to win the Stanley Cup five years later. And to boot they had some good players like Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie and Jarome Iginla from a previous core that led the team to a playoff berth just a few seasons before. But the fall under team legend Patrick Roy was real and it seemed like the promising career of youngster MacKinnon may be staling. For the second straight season, MacKinnon only managed a few over 50 points.
The 48 points were among the fewest for a non-expansion team since 1967, and the fewest for any team playing an 82-game season where one point is earned for losing in overtime or a shootout.
So why is Bendar still the coach? After leading the Avs farm team in Lake Eerie to a title the year before, Bednar was tasked with taking over the big club just a month before the start of the season when Roy quit. Bednar couldn’t install a system or his people and the train wreck was in order before the train got rolling.
As you know this story unlike the others has a very happy ending. Even though Colorado fell from first to fourth in the NHL Draft thanks to the lottery the team didn’t miss. To this point, they got easily the best player selected that summer in Cale Makar. The top defenseman joined MacKinnon forming a superstar duo atop the team while the poor previous season led to a mega trade of Duchene which turned into more key figures of Colorado’s Cup-winning team.
1: 1997-98 Nuggets (11-71)
The worst season in the Nuggets somewhat lousy history was the sixth-worst in NBA history. The whole disaster started the year before. The 1996 summer was arguably the worst in Nuggets history. The Nuggets traded away Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Jalen Rose, Reggie Williams and the 10th pick away and got basically 52 games of Mark Jackson back. Team coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff didn’t like his options in the draft, which included Kobe Bryant who went at 13, Peja Stojakovic at 14, Steve Nash at 15 and Jermaine O’Neal at 17. In addition, the Nuggets lost Dikembe Mutombo for nothing. Just 13 games into the year Bickerstaff quit as the coach, replacing himself with Dick Motta. They lost 10 straight and the season was lost. Bickerstaff was fired at season’s end from his executive role.
Going into the season the Nuggets were basically forced to trade young star Antonio McDyess in order to kick off the rebuild. So they picked up 25-year-old Eric Williams and were left with prime LaPhonso Ellis, journeyman Johnny Newman, and some dudes at season’s start. Williams blew out his knee four games into the season and was never the same and Ellis’ points per game fell by seven. To start the Nuggets lost 12 straight under new head coach Bill Hanzlik. Just 28 games later the Nuggets rode a 23-game losing streak to have a 2-38 record and were firmly on track for the worst season ever which was set by the 76ers at 9-73. Six games later at the All-Star break another general manager, Allan Bristow, was fired. Kyle Wright argued in his 2007 “The NBA from Top to Bottom” that the 97-98 Nuggets were the worst team in NBA history. In 2012 the Bobcats went 7-59. Denver got the third pick in the draft but they would miss on Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, instead taking his Kansas teammate Raef LaFrentz. The Nuggets wouldn’t recover to a winning season until 2003-04 when they drafted Carmelo Anthony.