Don’t call it a comeback: A brief history of pro sports teams during and after displacement

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Home-court/field advantage – one of the sweetest sounds to hear in sports.

From fans cheering your name to awkward time zone shifts for the opponents, playing at home provides some great intangible benefits. But what if that’s all taken away in a way that is out of your control?

Throughout the history of professional sports, teams and individual athletes have had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Natural disasters, pandemics, wars and other global historical events have all put sports in disarray for days, weeks, months and even years.

While most teams have been able to survive being displaced by catastrophe without having to fold, others have not been so lucky.

The Toronto Raptors will be one of those teams who will be able to transition back to playing at home in the near-future. With their impending 2021-22 season, it would be a good idea to study how other professional sports teams have fared after returning home.

Here are some of the teams that made it through their temporary displacement and how they performed when they regained home-court and home-field advantage:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

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At the height of World War II, numerous NFL players were either drafted or decided to enlist for military service.

The limited amount of Pittsburgh Steelers players and staff remaining on the roster merged with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 to form the “Steagles.” The team played six of their home games at Shibe Park in Philadelphia but only two at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The Steagles would eventually post a winning 5-4-1 record.

The following season, the Eagles were back to a full roster but the Steelers still needed help from the league.

After Philadelphia refused to extend their merger with Pittsburgh, the former Chicago Cardinals stepped up and merged with the Steelers. The team was officially named the “Card-Pitts” – it weirdly sounds like “carpets” – and went 0-10 during the season. The newly-merged club split their home games between the two cities, with three in Chicago and three in Pittsburgh.

When the Steelers finally had a full team again in 1945, they were able to improve their record from the following season, but not by much. The Steelers went 2-8, losing their final three games of the year to finish dead last in the NFL’s Eastern Division.

Pittsburgh missed the playoffs despite finally having the luxury of playing all of their home games at Forbes Field for the first time since 1942.

2. New Orleans Hornets

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In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 tropical cyclone, ripped through New Orleans and devastated every community in the state.

The former New Orleans Hornets were forced to play two seasons – 2005-06 and 2006-07 – at Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

In their first year in their temporary home, the Hornets posted a 38-44 record, finishing fourth in the Southwest division and 10th in the Western Conference – they did not make the playoffs.

The following season was much of the same. New Orleans would end the year with a 39-43 record – one win better than 2005-06 – but finished with the same divisional and conference standings as the previous season.

The Hornets finally returned to New Orleans full-time prior to the 2007-08 season and the team took advantage of being back home. The team went 56-26, posting the best record in their division and the second best in the conference.

New Orleans also hosted the 2008 NBA All-Star Game. Hornets head coach, Byron Scott, was named the Western Conference Team’s head coach.

New Orleans clinched a playoff spot and made their way to the second round of the post-season. The Hornets comeback season ended after losing in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.

3. New Orleans Saints

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The Hornets weren’t the only professional sports team in town to have been displaced by the destruction left behind by Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Saints also had to temporarily relocate from their home arena – the Louisiana Superdome. Although there would be no games played in the dome until September 2006, the venue was famously repurposed as a shelter for New Orleans residents whose homes were destroyed by the hurricane.

Similar to the Hornets, the Saints performed poorly in their new environment.

The team split their home games between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium. New Orleans also played at Giants Stadium in San Francisco for their first regular season home game.

The Saints were last in the NFC South, finishing with a 3-13 record and missed the playoffs.

New Orleans was fortunately able to return home to the Superdome for the 2006 NFL season.

The Saints came marching in and improved from their losing record one year prior to a successful 10-6 season. They finished first in their division and clinched a berth in the playoffs.

New Orleans’ emotional season back home ended at the hands of the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game.

The Saints also sent three players to the Pro Bowl that season: Drew Brees, Jammal Brown and Will Smith. Brees and Brown also both earned AP First-Team All-Pro honours while Mike Kearney was named an AP Second-Team All Pro.

4. Toronto Raptors

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We The South?

Due to the threat of a global pandemic and rising cases of the coronavirus last summer, the Toronto Raptors were forced to make the decision to play their 2020-21 NBA season south of the border in Tampa Bay.

Just two years removed from winning the franchise’s first NBA championship, the Raptors failed to make the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The Raptors finished the season at 27-45 – the worst record in the Atlantic division – and lost the last seven games of the year.

What’s worse is that the treat of Kyle Lowry’s departure in the upcoming free agency period was looming throughout the season – not something Toronto fans want to hear in an off-year.

The Raptors and the NBA have yet to make a decision on if the team will return to Toronto in the fall but Raptors president of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri, made it clear to The Athletic’s Eric Koreen that he wants to be at Scotiabank Arena for the 2021-22 season.

If the Raptors do find their way back to Toronto this coming season, how will they perform?

It’s not entirely clear what the next Raptors season will look like but there is some hope. Near the end of the draft lottery last Tuesday night, Toronto found out they will own the fourth overall pick in this year’s NBA draft on July 29.

Some of the best college basketball players in the country will be available for the Raptors to pick up as they will have the luxury of holding a top five pick for the first time in 10 years. Hopefully, for Toronto’s sake, the man who’s selected to be a part of Toronto’s future can help build a path back to a winning franchise.

Will the 2021 Toronto Raptors be like the 1945 Pittsburgh Steelers, finishing with a slightly improved record from the year before despite being back home? Or will they replicate both New Orleans teams after returning home?

Only time will tell.

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