American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years on Sunday, snapping a drought that seemed like an eternity. That 12 horses won only the first two legs of the Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness respectively — since Affirmed won all three races in 1978 made the wait seem that much longer.
From California Chrome a year ago to Pharaoh, trainer Bob Baffert's four failed tries at the elusive Triple, the Belmont, known as "The Test of a Champion," stood strong at a track where legendary runs annually came up short. But 37 years is hardly a long wait in comparison to some of the other droughts in sports that may likely never be quenched.
Ask Cubs fans. They would gladly trade 37 years for the World Series, instead of the 106 years they've been pining for a title. Of course, anything can happen this fall, but Cubs fans have been conditioned to believe another title may never come.
While 106-years-and-counting is the heavyweight champion of sports droughts, Canadian hockey fans, by virtue of their deep passion for the game, have waited far too long for one of their teams to win a Stanley Cup. The last team from up north that hoisted the Cup was the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. Oh, Canadian teams have come heartbreakingly close, like the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers each falling in Game 7 of the Final. But they were all defeated by American-based teams (made up mostly of Canadian players, to boot), keeping the dust bowl alive and sparking riots in each of those cities.
Compounding Canadian Cup angst, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the most popular team north of the border, hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, though with new coach Mike Babcock, the Leafs significantly improved their chances of eventually snapping that dry spell.
For as long as the Leafs have gone without a title, men's tennis followers have waited just two fewer years for a Grand Slam winner. The last female tennis player to win all four majors — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open — was Steffi Graf in 1988. No man has accomplished the quadruple feat since Rod Laver in 1969. With so much parity on the men's side, despite the past dominance of guys like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of late, Laver's Slam is likely to live on for many more years. Of course, American tennis fans would just be happy with one major tennis title, having waited 12 years since Andy Roddick captured the 2003 US Open.
In golf, the wait has been even longer for a true Grand Slam winner. Bobby Jones was the last man to win all four major tournaments, in 1930, including the U.S. and British Amateur titles in an era before the Masters and PGA Championship. The Tiger Woods era of dominance has come and gone, and while he captured the so-called "Tiger Slam" when he won the U.S. Open, Open Championship, and the PGA in 2000, and the Masters the following year, not even he won all four majors in the same calendar year. If Tiger in his absolute prime wasn't able to officially do it, we may never see it done again. Ever.
The prospect of never seeing a sports drought end is humbling, but because of the evolution of the games and the athletes who play them, there are simply records that will never fall and feats that will never be matched. Of course anything can happen, which is the beauty of sports, but the idea of the next-level of sports droughts ever ending is almost illogical.
At the top of the list is the undefeated season in both college basketball and pro football. The last NCAA hoops team to finish with a spotless record was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Kentucky came pretty close to ending the drought this year, but the mania of March Madness is even crazier than it used to be, and going wire-to-wire is highly unlikely. On the other side, despite hosting the first title game in 1939, and again in 1955, Northwestern is the only team from a major conference never to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In football, the Miami Dolphins were perfect in 1972 when they went 17-0, a feat that still stands. The New England Patriots were 18-0 going into Super Bowl XLII in 2008, but could not finish the drill. Their bid for a 19-0 season (teams are required to play more games than the Dolphins did in 1972, when the regular season only consisted of 14 games) ended, and with more parity in the NFL than ever before, a hard salary cap, injuries, and rumors of extending the season to 18 games, there may never be another undefeated NFL season again.
While no football records are safe — offenses are more prolific than ever and there are few stats in the record book out of reach with an emphasis on that phase of the game — two baseball records have stood the test of time.
Ted Williams's .406 season and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak both happened in 1941, and no player has been able to come close to either of those legendary feats. The way that baseball is covered in the media today only compounds the difficulty of toppling either of those prestigious, 74-year-old achievements, not to mention the elements of luck and skill necessary to pull each off.
The saying goes that records are meant to be broken. But in sports, some of them were set in a different era, in another time, in games that have evolved far beyond what existed when some records were first established.
But you never know. And that's why you never say never. Unless you're a Cubs fan.