The NFL is just a few years away from its centennial, and in nearly 100 years the league has seen its fair share of dominant multi-season runs.
The Packers and Bears dominated a league still formulating its identity through World War II. The Lions and Browns reigned for most of the 1950s. (Boy, times have changed!)
But as the talent pool became more diverse thanks to pro football becoming a paying career for the sport’s best athletes, that’s when the real dynasties began to form.
On Sunday, the Patriots can accomplish something only the 1960s Packers had done: Five NFL championships with the same coach/quarterback duo.
That’s what’s at stake for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady against the Falcons in Houston at Super Bowl LI. One more win, and the pair draws even with the immortal Vince Lombardi and Hall of Fame QB Bart Starr, who won titles with Green Bay in 1961-62 and 1965-67.
As great as Lombardi and Starr — along with a core that included Canton enshrinees Paul Hornung and Forrest Gregg for the bulk of the Packers’ run — were in their time, what New England has accomplished since the dawn of the third millennium is the most impressive sustained success in football history.
The Pats are peerless in the era of free agency, in which teams can rise and fall as contenders seemingly overnight. They’ve already won four Super Bowls together, and this is their seventh trip to the NFL’s championship game in 16 seasons.
Think about that. On average, the Patriots reach the Super Bowl almost every other year. No high schooler in the country remembers a time when the Pats weren’t perennial championship contenders.
Only twice in that span has New England failed to reach the postseason: once when Brady was lost for the season in Week 1, and another right after their first championship. The Pats finished above .500 every season.
With all due respect to the Packers, their dynasty lasted only seven seasons. The Steelers of the 1970s, led by coach Chuck Noll and quarterback Terry Bradshaw, won four titles in six years, but they too flamed out much sooner. The 49ers won it all five times from 1981-94, but the final victory came with a new coach and quarterback after Bill Walsh and Joe Montana won the first four in the ’80s.
Patriots haters are legion. Giants fans will always point out Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning had their number in 2007 and 2011. Jets fans may never forgive Belichick for his abrupt departure from New Jersey, and there’s that heated division rivalry in the mix. Rams and Panthers faithful tend to harbor ill will over alleged spying before Super Bowl victories at the start of the Pats’ championship run. Most of the rest just want what New England has: a consistent winner.
Like it or not, this Patriots dynasty stands tall above any in the history of the sport. Win or lose Sunday, that won’t change.