Which are the greatest dynasties in NFL history?
I define a dynasty as team of prominent players and coaches which achieves an exceptional level of success over multiple seasons. Obviously, lots of subjectivity is involved when trying to chose teams and decide where they should be ranked. A number of key factors were taken into consideration including — (1) league championships won, (2) conference championship game appearances, (3) playoff appearances, (4) regular season wins, (5) number of Hall of Fame inductees, and (6) the team’s lasting legacy. Note that I’ve limited my selections to the modern era which began in 1960, when the American Football League was formed and the NFL began expanding into new cities.
First, here’s my list of teams from eras that didn’t quite make the top ten list:
1962-69 Kansas City Chiefs — Although the Chiefs played in the old American Football League and much of their success came before prior to 1970 NFL merger, Hank Stram’s-coached Kansas City teams of the 1960’s were as good as any team from that period. Kansas City won three AFL titles, appeared in two Super Bowls, and perhaps most importantly, they destroyed the Minnesota Vikings (which were a 13-point favorite) in the final inter-league championship game before the AFL was officially dissolved. The Chiefs ended the 1960’s as the winningest team in the AFL’s ten-year history. They produced five Hall of Fame players, in addition to head coach Hank Stram and owner Lamar Hunt.
1984-1991 Chicago Bears — The 1985 Chicago Bears are usually a popular choice as the “greatest team of all time,” going 15-1 during the regular season and establishing a level of dominance over their opponents which hasn’t been seen since, especially defensively. Mike Ditka’s teams, which included Buddy Ryan as the brassy defensive coordinator, would have made the rankings had they been able to win more titles, or at least make some deeper playoff runs in an eight-year stretch when they won 90 regular season games (averaging 11 wins per year). These Bears teams sent four players to the Hall of Fame, plus Mike Ditka.
1986-1990 New York Giants — The Bill Parcells’-coached teams of the late 1980’s included 72 wins in seven seasons, plus two Super Bowl titles (in 1986 and 1990). However, they sent only two players to the Hall of Fame, in addition to Parcells and team owner Wellington Mara. This is a marginal choice at best, but still worthy of an honorable mention because the 49er’s teams from this period were so dominant as were the Redksins within the same division. Perhaps had these Giants teams not had to compete with the great San Francisco and Washington teams within the same conference, they would have posted better results and might have cracked the top ten.
Now, for a countdown of the top ten list:
10. 1988-1996 Buffalo Bills — One probably doesn’t think of a team that lost four Super Bowls as a dynasty. However, Marv Levy’s teams won 88 games within a span of just eight seasons (averaging 11 wins per season), appeared in five conference championship games (winning four), and then made four futile Super Bowl appearances. If expanded though 1999, the Bills can add two more 10-plus win seasons plus two additional division titles. The Bills merit inclusion on this elite list of teams by virtue of their dominance of the AFC over a decade, in addition to sending seven players in the Hall of Fame, plus Marv Levy, Bill Polian (General Manager), and Ralph Wilson (owner).
9. 1982-1992 Washington Redskins — Head Coach Joe Gibbs and General Manager Bobby Beathard clearly built one of the great dynasties over a decade when they made four Super Bowl appearances, winning three NFL championships. Perhaps most impressive, Gibbs accomplished this feat with multiple quarterbacks (four different starters). These Washington teams made the playoffs in 8 of 11 years, all 10-plus win seasons. The Redskins played in what was unquestionably the league’s most competitive division (competing with the great Giants’ teams coached by Bill Parcells, Tom Landry’s Cowboys, and Buddy Ryan’s Eagles). In addition, they competed with the great Bill Walsh 49ers’ teams within the same conference. Posting three Super Bowl wins is quite impressive given the opposition, leading to arguments these Redskins teams could be ranked higher.
8. 1970-1974 Miami Dolphins — Lots is made of the perfect 17-0 season achieved by the 1972 Dolphins, and that remains the unmatched benchmark of achievement. Miami won 57 regular season games within a five year span (keep in mind these years had a 14-game season), played in three straight Super Bowls, winning two titles (1972 and 1973). Don Shula’s trademark during this era was defense and the Dolphins were certainly one of the greatest of all-time. Six Miami Dolphins from this era were inducted into the Hall of Fame, plus Don Shula, who finished his career with the most all-time victories.
7. 1992-1996 Dallas Cowboys — Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys were always an enigma. They began as undoubtedly the worst NFL franchise when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 fire sale and immediately brought in a college football coach from the University of Miami which brought widespread ridicule. Within four seasons however, Dallas won their first Super Bowl and went on to achieve three NFL championships (the last in coming 1995, while coached by Barry Switzer). The Cowboys posted regular season wins of 11, 13, 12, 12, 12, and 10 in six remarkable seasons. Dallas sent five players into the Hall of Fame. These Cowboys were an enigma because Jimmy Johnson’s departure from the team while at his peak raises even more questions about how great this team might have been among the very best and how long the dynasty might have lasted had he remained with the team for several more years.
6. 1970-1983 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders — Al Davis’ Oakland Raider teams of the 1970’s often get overlooked because they competed in the same era with some other great teams (most notably Pittsburgh and Dallas). However, the John Madden-coached Raiders appeared in five straight AFC championship games (1973-77), won one Super Bowl, and sent a whopping eight players into the Hall of Fame. Following Madden’s retirement, Tom Flores assumed control of the teams and proceeded to win two more Super Bowls — in 1980 (when in Oakland) and 1983 (when in Los Angeles) . That made for three titles in nine seasons.
5. 1966-1982 Dallas Cowboys — Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboy’s were the winningest NFL franchise for a very long time, making the playoffs 16 out of 17 years, winning two Super Bowls (1972 and 1977), appearing in seven NFL championship games, as well as 12 conference championships. Even the championships lost by the Cowboys (1966 to the Packers, 1967 to the Packers, 1970 to the Colts, 1976 to the Steelers, and 1978 to the Steelers) all went down to the final drive, meaning the Cowboys could conceivably have far more titles. Most impressive — this dynasty was accomplished with four different quarterbacks (Meredith, Morton, Staubach, White). Landry remains one of the most innovative coaches in NFL history, both offensively and defensively, and ended up ranked third in all-time wins among head coaches. The Cowboys sent seven players to the Hall of Fame from this period (actually, 11 overall), plus Landry as a coach and Tex Schramm as General Manager.
4. 1972-1979 Pittsburgh Steelers — Some will be surprised not to see these powerful black and gold teams ranked closer to the top. There’s compelling evidence that these great Chuck Noll-coached teams of the 1970’s could be the very best. Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls within six seasons (no other team has accomplished that, except Green Bay during the 1960’s). During seven of these eight seasons they won 10-plus games. Moreover, the roster of Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame may be the strongest argument for moving them up higher. Nine Steelers are in the HOF, plus Chuck Noll (coach) and two of the Rooney’s (owners). This team also had to compete in the same era with the great Dallas and Oakland teams, which were nearly as good and consistent.
3. 1960-1967 Green Bay Packers — Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers are legendary, and with good reason. They set the bar of excellence during the era when pro football became the true national pastime and remain a benchmark of team accomplishment. Now iconic in stature, the players on this team came together in a small Wisconsin town and became heroes to millions of fans across the country. Green Bay won five NFL championships within seven years (and played in another). Oddly enough, Green Bay’s regular season win totals weren’t quite as impressive, which is one reason they don’t quite match the top two choices. Ten Packers are inducted into the Hall of Fame, plus Vince Lombardi.
2. 2001-present New England Patriots — No one could have possibly imagined that when QB Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of an early-season game in 20o1, that would ignite a dynasty which continues to this day (and could continue for a while longer). There’s ample evidence to suggest the Patriots will go down as the greatest dynasty of all time. However, it still remains to bee seen where they’ll finally stack up in terms of number of players in the Hall of Fame, overall wins, championships, and so forth. Even with the incomplete grade, Bill Belichick’s record of achievement, entirely under the consistent on-the-field command of Tom Brady, is unlikely to be equaled — 182 regular season wins within 15 years (averaging 12 wins per season). Six Super Bowl appearances and four wins (including three out of four 2001-2004). Seven conference championship game appearances. Even with all the sideline controversy, these numbers are irrefutable. This team could go down as the greatest dynasty ever, since they aren’t quite finished yet. (Update: Patriots play in Super Bowl 51, which is not factored at the time this article was first written)
1. 1981-1998 San Francisco 49ers — The Bill Walsh-George Seifert teams of the 1980’s and 1990’s achieved an unrivaled level of excellence, perhaps matched only by the New England Patriots of the present era. San Francisco won 10-plus games during a staggering 17 of 18 season run (192 regular season wins in 18 years). They also won five Super Bowls during an 11-year stretch (not losing any appearances). The 49ers also appeared in 10 NFC championship games within this period. They inducted nine players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with Bill Walsh (coach) and Eddie Debartolo (owner). Let the debate begin as to which of these top two ranked teams are better, but I’ll give a slight nod to the 49ers who have achieved success just a bit longer and have fielded many of the greatest players of all time at their respective positions (Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott).
Agree? Disagree? Which other teams should have made the list?
Feel free to leave your choices and comments.