No, Pats Aren't Most Dominant Dynasty in History
The Super Bowl is just around the corner, and every American without connections to Boston finds him- or herself faced with the odious task of rooting for a team from Philadelphia. It’s a bleak scenario, to be sure, but hope is just around the corner. Dynasties, by definition, don’t last forever. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, here are the 10 greatest dynasties in all of sporting history:
10. Chicago Bulls (1990-1998). Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Bill Cartwright, the list goes on and on. The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were basketball. They won six championships in two sets of three-peats. They ousted Isaiah Thomas’ Pistons in the early ‘90s, then kept their thumb on Ewing’s Knicks, Reggie’s Pacers, and the poor ol’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the east, while beating Magic’s Lakers, Clyde the Glyde and his Blazers, Barkley’s Suns, and the Stockton-to-Malone show in the Finals. That’s a heckuva resume, and they’re ranked tenth.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (1972-1979). How about Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain? Oh, and their Hall of Fame quarterback, what was his name? Kerry Madshaw? Jerry Badsaw? Have any of you ever seen a Lynn Swann highlight reel? I’m a Bruin so I loathe giving props to Trojans, but that man could catch damn near anything. Now, to be fair to wide receivers today, the only good defense in the 70s other than Pittsburgh’s was Minnesota’s, and the Purple People Eaters, being in a different conference than Swann & Co., only got one good shot at the Steelers: the 1974 Super Bowl (they lost). Steel City’s finest have enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade or so, but none of her recent teams have matched the dominance of those 1970s Steelers.
8. Alabama Crimson Tide (1958-1979 & 2007-current). Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama squads won six national titles and 13 conference championships. Under current coach Nick Saban, the Tide have rolled even harder. They just won their fifth national title under Saban last month, and they’ve competed for the championship every year since 2007. Under Saban, Alabama had its first Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram, and welcomed Derrick Henry to the Heisman ranks in 2015. The Tide routinely send more players to the NFL than any other school (by quite a large margin, too), and won the SEC conference titles five times.
7. New England Patriots (2001-current). I hate to do this. I really do. But the New England Patriots are a dynasty. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will go down in NFL history as legends. They’ve been to seven Super Bowls in 17 years (winning five of them), and they did it in the most competitive field the NFL has ever been able to muster. They’ve been to 12 conference championships in those same 17 years. They beat a lot of great teams and a lot of great, future Hall of Fame players. They went undefeated in 2007 before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Time will get the best of these Patriots, but make no mistake: they are dominant.
6. Edmonton Oilers (1983-1990). “Let’s play ice hockey,” said no American, ever. At least until the Edmonton Oilers arrived on the scene in the early 1980s. Wayne Gretzky, before he plied his trade in Lalaland, made a name for himself as a member of the star-studded Oilers squads that dominated professional hockey in the 1980s. Take a gander at their 1983-84 squad: Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Ken Linseman, Jaroslav Pouzar, Pat Hughes, and their backup goalie was Andy Moog. The Oilers won five championships in seven years. Egos eventually got the best of this dynasty (take another gander at that roster), but for most of a decade the Edmonton Oilers exemplified what hockey was all about: speed, strategy, lots of goals, and a nasty defense. Interest in ice hockey exploded during the Oilers dynasty, in no small part due to Gretzky’s scoring, Coffey’s passing, Fuhr’s dominant defense, and Marty McSorley’s face taking punch after punch.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991 & 2000-2010). Showtime! Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Michael Cooper. James Worthy. AC Green. Byron Scott. Kurt Rambis. My main man Silk Wilkes. Pat Riley and his slick Italian suits. Run. And. Gun. No-look passes. Skyhooks. The Forum. Laker Girls. Five championships in an era that included Larry Legend’s Celtics is nothing to mess with. You know what else was nothing to mess with? Showtime’s defense. Showtime’s rebounding. L.A.’s offense was understandably lauded, but it was defense and rebounding - grit - that won championships and established the dynasty. The Kobe Era wasn’t much different than Showtime, to be honest. Sure, it was fun to watch No. 8 score points, but his defense was world-class, and it rubbed off on his teammates. You throw a shotblocker and glasspounder like Shaq into the mix, and you’ve got yourself another dynasty.
4. Boston Celtics (1956-1969 & 1979-1992). Speaking of defense and rebounding, how about Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics? They won eight championships in a row, and 11 championships in 13 years. Sure, basketball was a different game back in the 50s and 60s (and America a different country), but you can’t argue with those numbers. The 1956-69 dynasty’s greatest achievement during this era wasn’t its championships, but its victorious fight against racism. The Larry Bird Era (‘79-’92) wasn’t quite as dominant as the Russell Era, but the Celtics were a dynasty once again. Robert Parrish. Kevin McHale. Dennis Johnson. Danny Ainge. Cedric Maxwell, baby! Reggie Lewis. Bill Walton. 40-1 at Boston Garden in 1985. Three championships. Boston’s revival, paired with the success of the L.A. Lakers, helped get the NBA out of a funk, of sorts. Basketball became fun to watch again, thanks to Bird and his teammates. Boston’s 1980s squads showed an entire generation of soon-to-be ballers how to play the game using defense, strategy, selfless passing, and blue-collar grit.
3. FC Barcelona (2004-present). Let’s take this global. Not enough Americans have been watching the right kind of soccer. To truly get a feel for the game, and how beautiful it can be, you’ve got to pay attention to professional soccer rather than World Cups. Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, and Germany’s Bundesliga are the four most exciting leagues on the planet today. There have been quite a few dynasties over the course of time, but FC Barcelona, led by Argentinian Lionel Messi, has won eight La Liga titles and four European club championships since 2004. Given the competitive nature of soccer today, that’s no small feat.
2. New York Yankees (1920-1964). Bringing it back home (though baseball is a global sport, too; be sure to check out anthropologist John D. Kelly’s The American Game: Capitalism, Decolonization, World Domination, and Baseball for an excellent look at our national pastime’s influence around the world) to the baseball diamond, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the New York Yankees. The Yankees won 29 World Series titles in 45 years. From 1936-39 the Bronx Bombers won four World Series in a row, and an additional five in a row from 1949-53. The Yanks declined somewhat beginning in the mid-60s, but from 1996-2001 the Yankees and Derek Jeter won four World Series titles, won 125 games in 1998, and became the fourth team to win back-to-back titles (2 of the other 3 are Yankee squads from the earlier dynasty).
1. UConn Huskies (1985-present) & UCLA Bruins (1964-75). The UConn women’s hoops program has been literally unbeatable for the better part of three decades under the stewardship of Geno Auriemma. The women Huskies have won 11 national championships, the most in college basketball history, and have earned six undefeated seasons. Six! In 2016, Auriemma surpassed legendary hoops coach John Wooden for winning the most national championships in college basketball history. Speaking of the legend himself, John Wooden put together an amazing dynasty that includes 10 national championships in 12 years, four undefeated seasons, a win streak of 88 games, and seven consecutive national championships from 1967-73. Don’t hate, appreciate. 8-Clap! Oh, and these two coaches did all this with the only group of amateurs on the list (sorry Alabama, I couldn’t resist).
I obviously love basketball.
Another interesting angle is leisure and economic development: professional sports teams prior to the 1920s barely existed. An entire market dedicated to leisure has been created over the past century: data analysts, lawyers (of course), medical professionals, turf care guys, marketing folks, etc. Simply amazing.
In an odd way, this list highlights the beauty of sport: instead of violence in the streets or on the battlefield, professional gladiators engage in a structured, rule-bound contest with other gladiators for the amusement of consumers. In a sense, sports isn’t about winning at all, but rather about free and open societies proudly highlighting the fact that they’ve been able to conquer humanity’s penchant for violence in a rational, diplomatic manner.