For four consecutive seasons, Sunderland somehow found a way to survive against the odds in the Premier League, with late-season managerial appointments inspiring them to stay up as the squad got gradually worse.
Now they are paying the price for those years of decline. After finally succumbing to relegation in 2016/17, the Black Cats followed it up with a second successive heartbreak, slipping into the third tier for the first time since 1987/88 with defeat to Burton Albion on Saturday.
As they travel to Accrington Stanley and AFC Wimbledon next season, Sunderland fans should remember that they are not the first club to suffer this fate - as these memorable examples will testify.
1. Swindon Town (1993-1995)
Of all the clubs to have played in the Premier League, Swindon and Coventry are the only two currently in the fourth tier of English football. It's hard to imagine that the Robins were once a top-flight club, but a thrilling play-off final win over Leicester made that dream a reality in 1993.
From there, it all went wrong. John Gorman's side conceded 100 goals and won just five matches as they were relegated at the first attempt. Relegation the following season was followed by promotion back to the second tier at the first attempt, but Swindon have never returned to the Premier League.
2. Luton Town (2006-2009)
The poster child for downwards momentum, Luton are the only English side to have suffered three consecutive relegations in the 21st century. The Hatters finished 10th in the Championship in 2005/06, but were relegated back to League One the following year.
A ten-point deduction for entering administration contributed to another relegation the following year, but that was nothing compared to the Football League's punishment in 2007/08. The Hatters began the season on minus 30 points, an injustice about which their fans still sing to this day, and their valiant fight against the drop was in vain.
It would be five seasons and three failed play-off campaigns before Luton finally returned to the Football League, and this Saturday they clinched a return to the third tier. The path to recovery has been long and arduous, but the Hatters are on their way back.
3. Portsmouth (2011-2013)
Portsmouth didn't quite match Luton's calamitous decline - it was a mere three relegations in four seasons for Pompey between 2009 and 2013. But in terms of a fall from grace, it doesn't get much worse. FA Cup winners in 2008; a League Two side just five years later.
Yet it could have been so much worse. The club entered administration in 2009 and the situation became so dire that an official club statement in 2010 advised that liquidation was imminent. That didn't happen, but the club remained on the brink until the Pompey Supporters' Trust took over in 2013, and Portsmouth was declared debt-free the following year.
Pompey were promoted to League One as champions last year and have staged a fierce play-off challenge this season, though it looks like they will come up short. But at least good times are finally back at Fratton Park.
4. Wolverhampton Wanderers (2012-2014)
If any side is to act as Sunderland's inspiration it must be Wolves, the most recent club to suffer consecutive relegations from the Premier League to League One. They won just one of their last 24 games at the top level in 2011/12, before a final-day defeat at Brighton the following year sent them through the trapdoor again.
They bounced back immediately with a record League One points tally of 103, and consolidated their place in the Championship before making short work of the league this season. Nuno Espirito Santo's side went top of the table in October and never wavered, clinching promotion last week and the title this week. Chris Coleman, start taking notes.
5. Blackpool (2014-2016)
Blackpool's story is almost identical to Portsmouth's. Relegation from the Premier League, a quick respite in the Championship, followed by consecutive relegations to League Two, and then promotion back to the third tier last season. Unfortunately, Blackpool's troubles are far from over.
The club is still owned by the Oyston family, an indictment of the FA's 'fit and proper person test' if ever there was one. They have used the club as a cash cow, and have shown no repentance for their actions. Many Tangerines fans still stay away from Bloomfield Road, and will continue to do so until their nefarious owners are ousted once and for all.