Tigers and Red Wings taking their place among the longest playoff streaks in sports history

Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Verlander have helped the Red Wings and Tigers to a combined 14 postseason appearances in the last nine years.

Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Verlander have helped the Red Wings and Tigers to a combined 14 postseason appearances in the last nine years.

This fall, if all goes well, the Detroit Tigers should earn a trip to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. That would place them in rare company: only 12 times has a team made the postseason in four straight seasons in baseball; and only seven franchises have pulled off the feat. With a roster featuring Must-See JV, Miggy, Mad Max, VMart, and other stars, the Tigers are enjoying one of their most successful stretches in franchise history, even if they haven’t won a World Series since ’84.

The Detroit Red Wings just clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 23rd straight season. The last time they missed the playoffs, George W. Bush’s daddy was president, “twitter” was a sound a bird made, not something you sent over your mobile phone, and Johnny Carson was hosting The Tonight Show. The Wings have spoiled their fans so much over that playoff streak that this spring, even while their young team has played exciting hockey down the stretch, many followers are yawning and expecting a first-round exit. Doesn’t anyone remember Harry Neale?

Maybe it’s time to shed some of the animosity some of us have toward Mike Ilitch for strong-arming the city of Detroit into abandining and demolishing Tiger Stadium. Sure, we’d like to have the reminders of the old days, but these new days are about as good as it’s ever been. And Ilitch is the common denominator between the Tigers and Red Wings. It’s his name at the bottom of the checks for both Verlander and Pavel Datsyuk. If we could only introduce him to the Pistons!

It’s a great time to be a Detroit sports fan, folks! (Even if the Lions routinely crush our souls and cause us to break 4.7 remotes per season on average). It could be worst, we could be Cleveland fans, right?

Here’s a not-so-brief look at some of the longest playoff streaks in professional sports history.

* = active

*Detroit Tigers (3 seasons, 2011-2013)
The only other time the Tigers have ever been in the postseason for three straight seasons was 1907-09, when Ty Cobb, Wahoo Sam Crawford, and Wabash George Mullin were answering to manager Hughie Jennings, who was known for jumping and dancing and hollering “Yeehaaaaaahhhh!” from the third base coaches’ box. Given that the trend is toward adding more teams to the postseason (five now in each league), it’s a good chance that the Tigers will have a few streaks in their future. If the Tigers advance to the postseason this October, they will become one of just eight teams to make the playoffs in four consecutive seasons. By making the League Championship Series in each of the last three seasons the Tigers joined a select group of teams, and if they make it four straight in 2014, they will match the A’s (1971-1975), Braves (1995-1999), and Yankees (1998-2001) as the only clubs to do that.

Dallas Cowboys (9 seasons, 1975-1983)
A pack of chewing gum to the first person who can tell me the name of the Michigan-born QB who guided the Cowboys to their final postseason in this streak. (Answer below) The Boys had a streak of eight seasons just before this stretch, giving them 17 postseason appearances in 18 years, all under the fedora of Tom Landry. The nine seasons is an NFL record that has been equalled only once, by the …

Indianapolis Colts (9 seasons, 2002-2010)
This streak encompassed the bulk of the Peyton Manning era. The Colts won at least 12 games in seven of the nine seasons, but they won only one Super Bowl. Jim Caldwell coached the team the last two seasons of this streak – you’ll be seeing him a lot this fall, Lions’ fans. 

New York Yankees (13 seasons, 1995-2007)
This was the era of “The Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. Other than the Celtics, this streak produced the most championships (four).

Atlanta Braves (14 seasons – MLB record, 1991-2005)
Interrupted only by the 1994 strike-shortened season, the Braves had an amazing run of success, made even more remarkable by the fact that they won their division in every one of the 14 seasons. There was no need for a wild card, they were clearly the best team in the National League East every year and they posted the best record in their league in nine of the 14 seasons. They only captured one World Series title, however.

*San Antonio Spurs (17 seasons, 1998-2014)
Considering how great this franchise has been during this streak, it’s pretty impressive that the Pistons nearly beat the Spurs in the 2005 NBA Finals, narrowly losing in a seven-game series. Did you know the Spurs have won four NBA titles since 1999?

Boston Celtics (19 seasons, 1951-1969)
This was in an era when just a handful of teams were making the playoffs, not like now. The Celtics won 11 titles in the 19 seasons, with Bill Russell at the center of them all. The most dominant team on this list. (Note: the longest playoff streak by the Los Angeles Lakers was 17 years, from 1977 to 1993.)

Utah Jazz (20 seasons, 1984-2003)
There’s a world of difference between the Celtics streak and this one. The Jazz never won a championship and only got to the NBA Finals twice, each time losing to the Bulls. The unglamorous Karl Malone, John Stockton & Crew were 18-20 in postseason series during this stretch.

Portland Trail Blazers (21 seasons, 1983-2003)
The Blazers were 14-21 in playoff series during this stretch, advancing to the NBA Finals twice, losing to the Bad Boys once and Jordan’s Bulls once. If you go back to 1977, Portland made the postseason in 26 of 27 seasons, winning the title in ’77 with Bill Walton.

Philadelphia 76ers (22 seasons, 1950-1971)
This is the longest streak in NBA history. They weren’t actually the 76ers for this entire streak, they originated as the Syracuse Nationals, earning 14 of the 21 trips to the playoffs while playing there. They won a title in Syracuse with Dolph Schayes as their top scorer, and one in Philly with Wilt Charmberlain as their centerpiece.

*Detroit Red Wings (23 seasons, 1991-2014)
The Wings have won 33 playoff series and lost 18 during the streak, winning four Stanley Cup titles of course. They’ve been to six Finals and advanced to the NHL’s Final Four eight times in the 22 seasons (through 2012-13). Detroit has won at least one playoff round in 15 of 22 seasons thus far, so you can usually count on 4-5 home playoff games at The Joe.

Montreal Canadiens (24 seasons, 1971-1994)
Eight titles during the streak, and how about this: from 1927 (1927!) to 1998, the Canadiens missed the playoffs only five times in 72 years. The Habs are the only hockey team that has a more storied history than the Red Wings.

St. Louis Blues (25 seasons, 1980-2004)
The Blues were sort of the Jazz of the NHL, as they never won a title, and they frequently got bounced from the playoffs right away. During this lengthy streak, St. Louis only advanced to the conference finals twice and never went to the Stanley Cup finals.

Chicago Blackhawks (28 seasons, 1970-1997)
Made the playoffs in 38 of 39 seasons going back to 1958-59, but never captured a Stanley Cup title during the 28-year streak. The Blackhawks were 4-2 against the Red Wings during this streak.

Boston Bruins (29 seasons – NHL record, 1968-1996)
Usually the bridesmaid and never the bride, the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals five times in this streak. Want to know how transient the team was during the streak? They had 13 different coaches. In contrast, the Red Wings have had just four permanent head coaches during their current playoff streak.

– – – – – – – – –

Trivia answer: Gary Hogeboom, who was born in Grand Rapids and attended Central Michigan University.