CHARLOTTE, NC. Usually, when you think of the word “dynasty,” you envision powerful historical rulers who controlled world power down through the ages. But with the New England Patriots’ eighth straight appearance in an AFC Championship game, the word “dynasty” also relates to the world of sports. As in the term sports dynasty. However, this begs the question as to exactly how to define sports dynasties in the competitive realm of athletics?
Currently in professional football, the most despised team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. That’s thanks largely to their dominance in professional football in recent decades. As an original member of the now defunct American Football League (which later merged with the NFL), New England appeared on the football landscape back in 1960. Subsequently, the team served pretty much as a doormat over the first several decades of its existence.
But, since joining the National Football League in 1970, the Pats have made 26 playoff appearances. Better yet, the team won 22 division championships, 12 conference titles and 5 Super Bowls. Little wonder that nearly everyone today regards them as the team they love to hate in pro football. With the exception of Patriots fans, of course.
Given the longevity of franchises in other sports where the term “dynasty” is used, New England’s NFL team must qualify as a bona fide candidate for this label. Even in their own league, only perennial powerhouses like the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers come anywhere near the dominance of the Patriots.
How do you define the term “dynasty” in the world of sports?
However, the dynasty question becomes cloudy when we attempt to properly define what a sports dynasty actually is. Certainly, championship wins must be a starting point. But then consider the Atlanta Braves. They once dominated the National League East in Major League Baseball, winning 11 straight division titles. But they won only a single World Series contest.
Usually in major league sports, it takes about three league championships earned within a short period of time to earn sports dynasty honors.
Thanks to free agency, salary caps, expanded playoff systems and wild cards, to mention a few contemporary innovations, a new sports dynasty category has been created: mini-dynasty. Mini-dynasties incorporate a winning tradition without producing consecutive championships. Thus, the Atlanta Braves fit in the mini-dynasty category.
So, imagine you were compiling the list. What teams do you regard as legitimate professional and collegiate sports dynasties? Keep in mind that there no right answer really exists. Further, arguments pro and con possess infinite lives of their own. As a result, much like professional wrestling, these arguments can never be resolved. But we offer our own CDN choices below.
NHL sports dynasties
Ice hockey has some strong candidates for dynasty status. NHL sports dynasties easily compare with those of the NFL, the NBA, MLB and NCAA football and basketball.
- The Chicago Blackhawks from 2010 through 2015 captured three Stanley Cups in five seasons.
- Hockey belonged to two NHL teams in the decade of the 80s. From 1980 to 1984, Lord Stanley’s Cup was the property of the New York Islanders.
- For the rest of the decade, between 1985 and 1990, the Edmonton Oilers dominated the NHL ice rinks. No surprise: they did it under the leadership of Wayne Gretzky. During the Great Gretzky’s nine year career with the team, the Oilers captured five cups in a seven year span. Four of that team’s players, including Sir Wayne himself, now reside in the NHL Hall of Fame.
- Even so, the Montreal Canadiens have to be regarded as one of the most dominating sports franchises in history. Today, their name remains synonymous with professional hockey and its famous trophy. On three separate occasions Montreal dominated the ice. From 1953 to 1960 they took home five straight Stanley Cups. During the 60s, the Canadiens were the team to beat again. Between 1965 and ’71 they won four more titles in a span of five years. During the stretch from 1976 to 1979, Montreal added four more crowns to their trophy case. In short, the team racked up a total of three hockey dynasties in three different decades.
NBA sports dynasties: LA
The NBA lays claim to its own share of powerhouses. NBA sports dynasties got started in the stretch between 1980 to 1988 in Los Angeles. This list began a new life, rising anew during the first decade of the 21st century.
Led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar the LA Lakers took home five professional basketball trophies. In the process they held offchallenges from the Celtics, Pistons and 76ers. Some of the battles and stars who competed in that nine year span are still legendary. With the turn of the century, LA went back into dynasty mode. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal under the leadership of coach Phil Jackson did the trick. Kobe and Shaq captured three titles together before Bryant went solo for two more in 2009 and 2010.
NBA sports dynasties: San Antonio
One interesting piece of sports trivia belongs to the San Antonio Spurs team between the years 1999 to 2014. Though the Spurs were a dynasty in their own right, a period when they won five championships, it is the only time in professional sports history when there was concurrent dominance. Despite the notable talents of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Spurs had shared the spotlight with the Miami Heast and the aforementioned Los Angeles Lakers. During practically any other period of NBA history, the Spurs would have easily become a household name in the annals of the highest caliber franchises in sports.
NBA sports dynasties: Air Jordan and the Celtics
The final decade of the 20th century was dominated in Chicago by the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen led Bulls. Before going to the Lakers, Phil Jackson etched his name into coaching history with six championships beginning in 1991 and running through 1998. As another debate for another day, many fans still regard Michael Jordan as the best player in NBA history. One major reason lies in the fact that Jordan retired from the game twice during that span and, it was during those years that Chicago failed to control the league while Michael was out of the line-up.
It is likely that no team in any sport will ever challenge the Boston Celtics from 1956-1976. Red Auerbach with his famous rolled up program coached the Celtics and Bill Russell to eight straight league titles from 1957 until 1966. Much like the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL, the Boston Celtics established a basketball dynasty second to none. Just for fun, they did make another run at perfection between 1980 and 1986.
NFL sports dynasties
With the popularity of professional football, the NFL probably has the greatest number and the most familiar dynasties for American sports fans.
- Green Bay Packers: 1960-1967. Won Super Bowls 1 & II and compiled a record of 82-24-4 under head coach Vince Lombardi.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 1974-1979. Led by Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert and head coach Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” hoisted four Lombardi Trophies in a six-year span.
- San Francisco 49ers: 1981-1989. San Francisco had Joe Montana and Jerry Rice plus Bill Walsh calling the shots. Known for their consistency, the 49ers donned four Super Bowl crowns in the 1980’s. Some say they may have been the best dynasty in NFL history.
- Dallas Cowboys: 1992-1995. Known as “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys held the honor of being the most hated team in football. That is, until the New England Patriots came to power. Outspoken owner Jerry Jones won three Super Bowls from 1992 until ’95. This was thanks to coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer and on-field talent the likes of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders.
- New England Patriots: 2001— Present. The team most likely to take exception to the 49ers claim as the best football dynasty in history is the New England Patriots. Head coach Bill Belichick won the Lombardy Trophy in 2001, ’03 and ’04 and again in 2014 and ’15. With QB Tom Brady at the helm the “Brady Bunch” can win a record tying sixth Super Bowl in 2019. They also hold the record for most appearances in the title game with 11.
Major League Baseball (MLB) dynasties
Major League Baseball has many storied franchises but truthfully only two recognized dynasties. From 1972 – 1974 only one team won the World Series, the Oakland Athletics. Add in larger-than-life slugger Reggie Jackson and the first baseball dynasty belongs on the West Coast where the A’s won 277 games in three years.
Though Major League Baseball claims only one other contender, the New York Yankees are arguably the best known of all the sports dynasties in the world of sports.
With 27 World Series Championships, 40 league pennants and more retired numbers than many teams have uniforms, the Yankees dominated baseball between 1927 and 1962. There was another small surge from 1996 to 2000.
Some say there have been four separate dynasties rather than a continuous stretch for the Bronx Bombers. But that’s a subject for another debate.
College Football dynasties
In collegiate ranks, football dominates in the category of sports dynasties. With so many teams cranking out bowl victories year after year, it’s best to list the most outstanding programs. They include the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida State Seminoles, Miami Hurricanes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Longhorns and the USC Trojans.
Note: More recently, current NCAA College Football Champions, the Clemson Tigers have been rapidly moving up in the rankings. Another solid season like the one they just had would surely add them to this list.
Other college sports
In other sports, UCLA’s 12-year, ten NCAA basketball run under John Wooden will likely never be matched. At one stretch UCLA won 88 straight games in the mid-1970’s.
While the Bruins hoopsters were on their winning streak, Southern Cal’s baseball team won five straight College World Series trophies.
Women’s soccer was not even a sport in Chapel Hill in 1979. Three years later, head coach Anson Dorrance began a winning streak that captured 16 national titles in 18 years.
As might be expected, since 1984 in the upper Midwest, the University of Minnesota Women’s Hockey team has been, and still is, a powerhouse that includes a 62 game winning streak.
Even without Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan, the Hawkeyes of Iowa University racked up a total of 20 national wrestling titles. That spectacular 26-year run started in 1975.
Let’s not forget the ladies: College women’s sports dynasties
Once women began playing college basketball for real, Tennessee and Connecticut rose to the realm of the sports elites in the NCAA.
The Lady Volunteers controlled the game during the final decade of the 20th century. Pat Summitt’s teams won four crowns, including three in a row from 1996 to 1998.
The UConn Huskies took over in 2000 and remain the team to beat today. Under Geno Auriemma, the University of Connecticut has won four straight NCAA Women’s Basketball championships. Their winning streak in that time: a whopping 116-1. The Huskies have amassed a grand total of ten national championships. That inspired the Chicago Tribune to call them the “greatest college basketball dynasty ever.
The rest of the best
Finally, other teams in various sports have shown great strength over the years. But today’s list of dominant championship teams provides some food for thought and debate. In the future, we may also consider specific athletes and the eras in which they played. Things do change over time.
For now, our current compendium provides ample information to fuel any sports dynasties arguments arising in your local watering hole. It may also help answer that nagging question: “What constitutes a sports dynasty?”
— Headline image: Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
(Via Wikipedia entry on the Hall of Fame, CC 3.0 license)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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