BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — It’s hard to win one championship in any sport. The degree of difficulty multiplies for every title after the first one.
Only a few franchises across sports have been able to achieve a true dynasty. It’s almost unheard of to see one last almost two decades. But that’s where we are with the New England Patriots.
The Patriots go for their sixth Super Bowl championship in 17 seasons on Sunday. They’re in their eighth Super Bowl, have won 15 division championships and have posted 16 double-digit win seasons. The last time they didn’t make the AFC championship game was 2010. They have done this with extreme roster churn; only coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady remain from the first Super Bowl title team at the end of the 2001 season. The fact that the cast has almost entirely changed makes it a little harder to judge their dynasty in historical terms, but it also highlights the challenges they’ve faced.
While the Patriots still have a lot of work to do in writing their story, including in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s time to see if these Patriots have already ascended to the top dynasty in major American sports history. We’ll compare them to the great NFL dynasties first, then to the best dynasty across the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL and college football and college basketball. It’s a good reminder that when we watch Super Bowl LII, we’re seeing something that rarely comes around, and might never again.
PATRIOTS VS. THE NFL
The major NFL dynasties have been cut up neatly into decades, until the Patriots spanned two decades.
The Patriots can’t compete with the star power of some of the other NFL dynasties (for this story, we counted only players and coaches in the Hall of Fame). The 1960s Packers added their 13th Hall of Famer on Saturday when guard Jerry Kramer got in. The 1970s Steelers have 10. The Patriots won’t match those numbers. They got Randy Moss in on Saturday. Junior Seau is in although he started only 16 games for the Patriots over four seasons at the end of his career. Ty Law was a finalist this year, Brady and Belichick will certainly be in some day and Rob Gronkowski will have a very good argument. Wes Welker should at least get a look, just like Darrelle Revis (though Revis spent only one season with the Pats). But New England doesn’t have a ton of easy-to-recognize stars from this run. That’s an argument in their favor, however.
These Patriots have always been defined by having lesser-known players filling key roles and doing it well. The 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers and 1980s 49ers weren’t picked apart with free agency. The Patriots have been able to somehow be among the NFL’s best year after year in a league that is designed for teams to rise and fall every year or two. The challenge they face is much different than any other NFL dynasty before it. The Steelers didn’t have to worry about which “Steel Curtain” member was leaving in free agency, let’s say.
The Patriots have more titles and championship game appearances than any other dynasty on this list other than the Vince Lombardi Packers, and they can pass the Packers with their sixth championship in Super Bowl LII. The run of greatness has lasted much longer than any other NFL dynasty, with more challenges due to the league’s desire for parity. The Patriots already have the greatest NFL dynasty, and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to stop after Super Bowl LII, win or lose. VERDICT: Patriots
PATRIOTS VS. ALL SPORTS
Now that the Patriots are established as the greatest NFL dynasty, it’s time to see if they hold up against the great dynasties in other major American sports. We are comparing the Patriots only against the top dynasty in each sport (voting occurred before the show, apologies to Bill Russell’s Celtics, the late 1990s Yankees, the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, the 1950s Oklahoma football team and anyone else that didn’t make the cut). Let’s take a look at the Patriots against each of the other great sports dynasties.
PATRIOTS VS. MICHAEL JORDAN’S BULLS
One thing that stands out about the Bulls is they rarely were pushed to the brink. In their six championship seasons, they played 24 series and were only pushed to Game 7 twice (Eastern Conference semis vs. Knicks in 1992, Eastern Conference finals vs. Pacers in 1998). They weren’t just great, they were rarely challenged. The Patriots have had some close calls in Super Bowls, with good and bad results.
We’ll give the Patriots the slight edge, though it’s hard to go against Jordan’s singular greatness. The Patriots’ run has lasted twice as long, and the challenge of reconfiguring a 53-man football roster is harder than finding a championship core in basketball. VERDICT: Patriots
PATRIOTS VS. THE JOE DIMAGGIO/MICKEY MANTLE YANKEES
The Yankees’ run from 1947-64 is fairly amazing. They played in 15 of 18 World Series in that stretch. Even the Patriots can’t match that. The Yankees had unbelievable players, and much like the handoff from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio, DiMaggio passed it on to Mantle in the middle of this run and the Yankees machine kept rolling.
Here’s why the Patriots get the edge: It’s harder for them to sustain greatness. The Yankees did most of their damage in this era before expansion and divisional play. For most of this run, there were eight teams in the American League and once the Yankees finished in first place of the AL in the regular season, they were in the World Series. It’s still incredible to do it 15 of 18 years, but it’s harder to keep winning in a 32-team NFL with free agency and a few playoff rounds. VERDICT: Patriots
PATRIOTS VS. CANADIENS
It’s tough to go against the Canadiens. Like the Yankees, the biggest challenge is to pick just one era for Montreal. They dominated the NHL for a long time. Their run from 1964-79 included 10 Stanley Cups. Players like Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer each were at least part of that specific run, and each of them ended their careers with at least 10 Stanley Cup wins.
The Canadiens had advantages in player acquisition (people will still complain about the territorial rights the Canadiens had to French-Canadian players). The NHL had just six teams at the start of this run, though it was up to 17 for their last Cup of this run. It’s hard to overstate how important navigating the challenges of free agency and the draft is to grading the Patriots dynasty. They’ve done this without any of the edges of teams in any sport decades ago. It’s very close against Montreal, though. VERDICT: Patriots
PATRIOTS VS. NICK SABAN’S CRIMSON TIDE
Saban and Belichick are friends, and they’re each putting together great dynasties at the same time. It’s possible Saban’s Crimson Tide keeps this going so long that they pass the Patriots, but they’re not there yet. Player acquisition is also no contest. Yes, it’s a challenge to recruit, but there’s no possible way the Patriots can collect the best crop of free agents year after year, like the Crimson Tide do in recruiting. Imagine Alabama having a limit on how many five-star recruits they could get, and having to find a slot cornerback from the two-star group because they’re over the cap. Once you look at it through that lens, you can see this is an easy call. VERDICT: Patriots
PATRIOTS VS. JOHN WOODEN’S BRUINS
Here we have an interesting case. The Bruins reign lasted more than a decade. They won 10 titles, which the Patriots won’t match (right?). They did so with much different rosters. Having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then Bill Walton accounted for plenty of the titles, but Wooden won without them too. They had to go through deep fields to win (the first UCLA title was won in a 26-team tournament, and the last one was a 32-team field).
While it’s harder to build a great football team just because of the size of the rosters, it’s hard to deny the volume of UCLA’s success and doing it with different casts. Sorry, Patriots. VERDICT: UCLA basketball
UCLA basketball’s success stands the test of time and that is the greatest American sports dynasty, but the Patriots have a great argument against any dynasty we’ve ever seen. And as we know, and most NFL fans hate, the Patriots might not be done adding to their trophy case either.
– – – – – – –
More NFL coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Eagles QB on becoming a pastor: ‘In my heart, that’s what I want’
• Brady shares beaming family pic ahead of Super Bowl
• Steelers’ Shazier reportedly has regained movement in legs
• Colts linebacker killed by suspected drunk driver