Updated: Aug 24, 2021
If you are present on sports social media, particularly Twitter and it's toxicity, you're most likely familiar with the term "Mickey Mouse ring." Sports fans are some of the weirdest people on the planet if you really break it down. We dedicate countless hours of our lives to our teams, we mold our day's around their schedules, we spend our hard earned dollars to go watch them play, we judge others based on their allegiances, we let our team's final outcome determine our mood for the day, and in some very, very extreme and unnecessary cases, we hurt each other physically and emotionally over some stupid game.
Another really weird thing that we do, is that we are constantly trying to discredit our rival team's successes. Perhaps the biggest insult of all is the "Mickey Mouse" ring slight. Today, I'm going to run through the Mickey Mouse ring contenders of the last decade, in order of most recent to least recent, tell you why they're being discredited, and I'll let you decide whether or not the team at hand deserves the hate or not.
First, we have to define what a "Mickey Mouse" ring is. A "Mickey Mouse" ring -- also commonly referred to as a "fake championship," or simply just an "asterisk" -- is what sports fans use to describe a championship won by a team that was considered to have cheated and or had an easy path to the gold, but does an easy path really even exist?
Let's get into the list
2020 & 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning
Some hockey fans call both of the Tampa Bay Lightning's back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships "Mickey Mouse" for much of the same reason, Covid-19. The 2019-20 NHL season, just like every other sports league in the world, was postponed due to the pandemic. Sports fan's went many months without getting to see their favorite teams take the field/ice. Once league's were able to get back up and running again, the NHL and NBA formed their own respective bubbles, and finished out their season's, although not in a traditional way.
The playoffs were expanded in 2019-20 for this reason. And although the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to make the playoffs whether or not the season was shortened, people still find a way to discredit them through the circumstances surrounding the pandemic-shortened season and expanded playoffs. I don't think this one is deserves to be called a "Mickey Mouse" ring. The Lightning, just like the other 24 playoff teams, were only working with what they were given.
The 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning championship is a little different, however. With the divisions realigned in order to limit travel between cities, the Lightning were placed in the Central Division with the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Columbus Blue Jackets. All eight teams in the division played each other eight times, for a total of 56 games, 26 games short of a regular 82 game season.
The Lightning finished third place in their division with 75 points, where only the top four teams made the playoffs. The team that finished below them in fourth was the Nashville Predators with 64 points, making the gap between the third and fourth place teams a considerable one.
Tampa Bay was also $17.3 million over the NHL's salary cap. Many fans of opposing teams cried foul play, stating that the extra money gave the Lightning an unfair advantage over their opponents who stayed under the cap (looking at you, Islanders fan's)
However, the Lightning weren't cheating by using this tactic. This tactic was used by Stanley Cup teams before. The long-time injured reserve has been a point of contention in the NHL for years. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks both used the LTIR during their championship years as well, and no one calls either of those two teams "Mickey Mouse champions." It is also worth noting that the Tampa Bay Lightning themselves tried to get the league to close this loophole years ago, and were denied, so they fought fire with fire.
2020 Los Angeles Dodgers
Okay, honestly, I really do agree with this one. Dodgers fan's can get as mad at me as they want, but I said from the beginning of the 2020 MLB season that any team that won that year would never be taken seriously as champions, even the Mets. The 2020 Major League Baseball season was only 60 games long. 60 games is not even half of the regular 162 game season.
If you look at the 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals, at 60 games into the season, they were under .500, not in a playoff spot, and many people had considered them dead and buried. After an amazing run, the Nationals found themselves in a wild card spot, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers, then disposing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and then eventually the Houston Astros on their way to the franchise's first World Series title.
The baseball season is often considered a marathon, not a sprint. The 2020 MLB season was a sprint. Given the fact that the Dodgers had lost back-to-back World Series' in 2017 and 2018 against the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, they earned themselves a reputation for choking during the postseason, and baseball fans are left wondering who the rightful champions would have been had the league and the player's association got their act together and started playing games earlier. Who knows, it could have been the Dodgers year either way, but that'll always remain a mystery. Many baseball fans (myself included) believed it would've been better if the season was just cancelled altogether.
2020 Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles, the city of Mickey Mouse champions (don't credit me with that quote, I saw it somewhere else and found it funny)
I personally don't believe that the Lakers deserve the slack that they get for 2020. But it really doesn't help the Lakers cause that their championship was literally won in Disney World. Much like their NHL counterparts in the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Lakers were only working with the circumstances they were given. The world was in turmoil, and if we wanted basketball back, this was the only way it was going to happen. No one suffered more than the players, who spent a long time in the bubble, separated from friends and family for months at a time, under strict rules and guidelines. If anything, this was the hardest championship (mentally) to win.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the 2002 Los Angeles Lakers are also considered Mickey Mouse champions, as it was discovered years later that the referees who were working Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals purposely made calls in the Lakers favor in order to pay back gambling debts that the refs had found themselves in.
Once again, not the Lakers fault though. So I personally don't consider 2002 a Mickey Mouse ring. Ask a Sacramento Kings fan though, they might have something different to say. I am not including this championship on the list, because I'm only covering the last ten years.
2017 Houston Astros
Here it is! The one you were all probably waiting for. In the final paragraph of the intro to this article, I wrote that "Mickey Mouse" rings were also commonly referred to simply as "asterisks." Well, the 2017 Houston Astros are less "Mickey Mouse," and more "asterisk."
In the biggest cheating scandal in the MLB since the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, the Houston Astros were caught cheating their way to a World Series championship, by using garbage cans and other auditory cues to let their hitters know which type of pitch was coming next.
The Astros were also accused of using buzzers underneath their jerseys to relay incoming pitches as well, although this theory was never proven true.
The 2017 Houston Astros will go down as perhaps the most hated baseball team of all time, and it will be a very, very long time before fans of other teams will let the Astros and their fans forget about this one.
Super Bowl 49 New England Patriots
The Super Bowl 49 champion New England Patriots are one of the most polarizing teams of all time. Super Bowl 49 is most remembered for the Malcolm Butler goal line interception that secured the Patriots the win over the Seattle Seahawks.
However, there is something else that Super Bowl 49 and the New England Patriots will always be remembered for, and that is the infamous "Deflategate" scandal. Although "Deflategate" didn't happen during the Super Bowl, it certainly helped the team get there. The Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady, were accused of using underinflated footballs in order to get a better grip on the ball, on their way to a 45-7 win over the Colts during the 2015 AFC Championship game.
The NFL held a hearing for Tom Brady and the Patriots following Super Bowl 49, where the league and commissioner Roger Goodell found Brady and the Pats guilty of underinflating footballs in order to gain an unfair advantage. The league suspended the quarterback for five games, fined the team $1 million, and made them forfeit two draft picks in the 2016 NFL draft.
The hearing was escalated to federal court, where Brady's four-game suspension was lifted. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated Brady's suspension, which he would then go on to serve during the 2016 season. Brady accepted the suspension, and "Deflategate" has been a huge controversy ever since.
Much like the 2017 Houston Astros, this one is more of an asterisk than a Mickey Mouse ring. It is also something that the Patriots and their fans haven't been able to forget about since. The New England Patriots have been caught cheating three times since 2007, only one of them have led to a championship.
I have a feeling that I'll be ruffling a few feathers by writing this article, but don't hate the player, hate the game, and win a real championship (joking)
If your team was featured on this list, defend them in the comments, or else you're a coward.