I really hate to do this to the dedicated readers of the Sports page by forcing them to have to read yet another column that deals with the New England Patriots, but someone needs to stop the madness. Their Super Bowl victory two weekends ago is certainly impressive and thus it is understandable that the News’ sports columnists should be excited over it. But I think it is about time we stop making ridiculous statements about how the 2001-2004 Patriots are the best team in NFL history, as my good friend Michael Menitove stated in his Wednesday column. While it would be ignorant to say they are not good or that they are not one of the greatest teams in the history of professional football, there are arguably three other NFL teams who still surpass New England as the best NFL teams ever. These are the 1974-1979 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1981-1989 San Francisco 49ers and the 1992-1995 Dallas Cowboys.
The Pittsburgh Steelers in the ’70s set the bar in terms of what it means to be an NFL dynasty. From 1972 to 1979 the Steelers won six consecutive division championships (seven total) and had four Super Bowl victories in six years. In comparison, the New England Patriots have only won four total division championships (two consecutive) in the past eight years and have had three Super Bowl victories in four years. While the Pats could certainly be on their way to tie or even break these statistics held by the ’70s Steelers, the point is that they have not yet done so. Also, the coach of the Steelers in the ’70s, Chuck Noll, still remains the only NFL coach with four Super Bowl wins with the same team.
The 49ers of the mid to late ’80s, while not a team which had its Super Bowl wins as close together as the ’70s Steelers or the Pats to date, do have more rings than either franchise with five. All five came between 1981 and 1994, four of which were won in the ’80s with Joe Montana at the helm. During these years, Montana was the first to win three Super Bowl MVPs, a feat that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has yet to eclipse. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ Bill Walsh became one of the few coaches to guide a team to three Super Bowl victories, a mark Pats coach Bill Belichick has just tied.
Finally there is the Dallas Cowboys of the early ’90s, which like the Patriots, won three Super Bowls in four years. The Cowboys also were able to make it to the playoffs in 1995, the one year out of the four which the team did not win a Super Bowl, something the Patriots could not do. Although both the Patriots and the Cowboys of the early ’90s had potent offenses with good quarterbacks, the Cowboys managed to win each Super Bowl by an average of 21 points. The Pats, on the other hand, won each game by a mere three. A win is a win, but what is a better team: One that beats its opponents by 21 points or one that beats them by three?
Of course, it is hard to really make good comparisons between teams which span decades, particularly with the changes in free agency and salary caps, not to mention the increasing strength and size of the athletes that compete. When it comes down to numbers of championships, though, the New England Patriots fall short of other NFL dynasties. They are one of the best teams in the history of professional football, but they are not yet the best. The fans of New England are going to just have to wait a little longer to see if that will become a reality.