You Decide 2012: The NFL's Other Best Teams in the Super Bowl Era
Earlier this week, readers selected the 1980s 49ers as the NFL's greatest dynasty, with the '70s Steelers and '00s Patriots fighting for runner-up and the '90s Cowboys a distance fourth place. While those four teams have separated themselves from the pack of the elite teams of the Super Bowl era, what other teams should be considered among the NFL's best since 1966.
While their resumes are impressive, we did not include the current Steelers (two Super Bowl titles and three Super Bowl trips since 2005) and the Giants (two Super Bowl titles since 2007) in this list since they are still in the middle of building their legacies.
Six teams were selected based on various categories that included championships won, their dominance over the competition and their lasting impact on the NFL. Which team from this list had the most impressive era? The choice is yours.
Kansas City Chiefs (1966-1971): On paper, you wouldn't think this team adds up among the greatest eras in the NFL over the last five decades; the Chiefs only won one Super Bowl and were blown out in Super Bowl I. But look a little harder at the facts and you'll see that the Chiefs accomplished some pretty impressive feats that helped shape what the NFL is today.
Under Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, the Chiefs won the first-ever AFL crown and faced legendary coach Vince Lombardi's Packers in what was then called the "AFL-NFL Championship Game" (the game was not called the Super Bowl under the third match up of the two best teams from each league).
The AFL champion Chiefs hung tight with the NFL champion Packers in the first half of Super Bowl I, trailing 14-10 after quarterback Len Dawson fired a touchdown pass to close the gap to four points in the second quarter. But an interception and long return by Green Bay defensive back Willie Wood (caused by a furious Green Bay pass rush) early in the second half opened up the floodgates as the Packers won their fourth of what would be five titles in the '60s.
Kansas City remained along the AFL's best over the next two seasons and was again the league's finest team in 1969. The Chiefs' offense epitomized the AFL's philosophy of showcasing explosive, wide open offenses that could score at any place at any time. Dawson's primary weapons were wide receiver Otis Taylor and running back Mike Garrett. Taylor was ahead of his time as a play maker, having been blessed with the strength of Michael Irvin, the jumping ability of Randy Moss and the running ability of Jerry Rice. Also ahead of his time was Garrett, who was one of pro football's first running backs who was also just as dangerous as a pass catcher.
The trio of Dawson, Garrett and Otis accounted for both the Kansas City's touchdowns against the heavily favored Vikings in Super Bowl IV, with Otis' long touchdown reception late in the second half icing the game.Kansas City built a 9-0 halftime advantage behind three field goals by Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud.
The strength of the Chiefs, however, was on the other side of the ball. Spearheaded by Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier, Hall of Fame cornerback Emmitt Thomas and Hall of Fame linemen Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan, the Chiefs suffocated the Vikings explosive offense in Super Bowl, holding shutting out Minnesota in the first half and holding Minnesota to only 239 yards of total offense while picking off Viking passers three times.
With the Chiefs' 23-7 win coupled with the Jets' 16-7 win over the NFL's Colts one year earlier, the AFL had finally earned the leverage it needed to try to surpass the NFL as pro football's superior league. The two leagues merged soon after to form today's modern NFL, cementing the Chief's place in pro football history as one of the key factors in the evolution of pro football.
Selling Point: The Chiefs are the only franchise in pro football history to win two AFL championships and a Super Bowl title.
Dallas Cowboys (1971-1978): Tom Laundry's Cowboys won two Super Bowls in the '70s and played in three more while morphing into "America's Team". They won with style and bravado, and were led by Hall of Fame players on both sides of the ball. While Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach led the Cowboys famed shotgun offense, Randy White and the "Doomsday" defense shut down opposing offenses for a decade.
After losing a turnover filled game to the Colts in Super Bowl V on a last-second field goal, the hard-luck Cowboys finally struck gold in 1971. Staubach was armed that season with Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka and receiver Lance Alworth. His talented backfield that included Duane Thomas, Walt Garrison and Calvin Hill rolled up 252 yards against the Dolphins' "No Name" defense en route to a 24-3 victory in Super Bowl VI. Led by Hall of Fame linemen Bob Lilly, the Cowboys became the first team in Super Bowl history to not allow a touchdown.
Dallas reloaded midway through the decade and added the dynamic running of Tony Dorsett for their title run in 1977. Staubach also had a host of talented receivers in Drew Pearson, Golden Richards and Tony Hill. Their defense also reloaded by adding Hall of Fame linemen Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed "Too Tall" Jones along with Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson midway through the decade. Defensive backs Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris provided blanket coverage throughout the '70s.
"Doomsday" enjoyed its finest hour in Super Bowl XII, harassing the Broncos by allowing a putrid 61 passing yards while forcing four interceptions. Their dominance was so convincing that both White and Martin were named co-MVP's. The Cowboys offense, which led the NFL in scoring in 1977, rolled up 27 points behind touchdown passes by Staubach, Robert Newhouse (on a running back option pass) and a touchdown run by Dorsett.
The Cowboys also played gallantly in four-point losses to the Steelers in Super Bowls X and XIII. Dallas would be argued as one of the best teams of all-time if they come had out on the winning end of those games.
Selling Point: The '70s Cowboys are only team to play in five Super Bowls in one decade.
Miami Dolphins (1971-1974): The Dolphins ended the Chiefs run of excellence in what was then the longest game in NFL history in the 1971 playoffs. Miami defeated the Raiders one week later before losing to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3. The Dolphins used their futile performance in Super Bowl VI as fuel for their undefeated season in 1972.
Miami's 14-7 win over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII cemented the Dolphins' place as the only team to go through an entire season without a loss.Miami became the first team to play in three straight Super Bowls following their dominating 24-7 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII.
The Dolphins featured the three-headed backfield led by Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka. Mercury Morris flanked Csonka as the first pair of teammates to each rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Reserve Jim Kiick added nearly 700 yards of total offense in 1972 to go with six touchdowns. Kiick usually entered the game on third and short while Morris was used in third and long situations, thus creating the first "third down situation back" substitution in NFL history.The trio enjoyed great blocking up front that was led by Hall of Fame linemen Larry Little and Jim Langer. The line helped Csonka rumble for 112 yards in Super Bowl VII and 145 yards and two scores en route to game MVP honors in their Super Bowl VIII win over the Vikings.
What team produced the most impressive era?
Quarterback Bob Griese kept defenses honest while throwing to tight ends Marv Fleming, Jim Mandich and Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield. But like the Chiefs, the strength of the Dolphins team lied in their defense, led by Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Bouniconti, who intercepted one of the Dolphins' three interceptions in Super Bowl VII. The other two picks were hauled in by safety Jake Scott, was named the game's MVP. Perhaps the finest player on the field that day was defensive linemen Manny Fernandez. Accustomed to being double teamed for most of his career, Fernandez was left only needing to get past one Redskin linemen on his way to be backfield. The result was 17 tackles and a sack by Fernandez, who many feel was the game's MVP.
The Dolphins two-year record of 31-2 is still the best in NFL history. After their second straight Super Bowl title in January of '74, Miami roared back to the playoffs where they fell to the Raiders in the famous "Sea of Hands" game that wasn't decided until the game's final seconds. Even with their devastating loss to Oakland, the glow of Miami's two-year reign over the NFL is still shining.
Selling Point: Miami's defense dominated Super Bowls VII and VIII, playing a total of seven quarters and 106 minutes before allowing a touchdown.
Oakland Raiders (1976-1983): Oakland was the NFL's model franchise for winning, advancing to at least the AFL or AFC championship game all but one season from 1967-1975. Oakland never won a Super Bowl during that span but won three Super Bowls over the next eight seasons.
Hall of Fame coach John Madden platooned one of the baddest teams in the history of professional sports. The Raiders led the NFL in penalties in 1976 but still ran up a 13-1 regular season record. They squeaked past the Patriots (the only team to beat them in the regular season) in the divisional playoff round before ending two years of frustration by bullying the Steelers 24-7 in the AFC championship game.
The Raiders' greatness in 1976 was on full display in Super Bowl XI. Oakland was known for the Raider Sweep behind legendary linemen Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. Behind maybe the best offensive line in NFL history, running back Clarence Davis gained 137 yards on only 15 carries as the Raiders churned out 266 rushing yards (for a 5.1 yards per carry average) against Minnesota's famed defensive line. Quarterback Ken Stabler found room in the Vikings secondary to fire a short touchdown pass to Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper. Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff set up three short touchdowns, and his 48-yard catch late in the second half helped secure the victory.
The parts of Oakland's offense changed during their last two Super Bowl runs, but their place as one of football's most explosive offenses never did. Quarterback and former castoff Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to a 27-10 victory over the favored Eagles in Super Bowl XV, while Marcus Allen's breathtaking runs helped Oakland run away from the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Cliff Branch replaced Biletnikoff as the Raiders' primary receiver during those last two Super Bowl runs, catching two touchdown passes in Super Bowl XV and another one in Super Bowl XVIII. The outspoken Todd Christensen replaced Casper and was one of the NFL's finest tight ends during the 1980s.
Oakland's defense during that era is argued as the nastiest in pro football history. Hard-hitting safety Jack Tatum led a ragtag secondary known for it's big hits and intimidating style.While Tatum leveled Viking receiver Sammy White in perhaps the most celebrated hit in Super Bowl history, fellow defensive back Willie Brown put the exclamation point on Oakland's first Super Bowl triumph with a 75 yard interception return for a score. The two were replaced in later years by arguably the finest cornerback duos ever with Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes shutting down the talented Redskins receivers in Super Bowl XVIII.
While Phil Villapiano anchored the Raiders linebackers during Oakland's first Super Bowl win, Matt Millen and Rod Martin helped the Raiders win Super Bowls XV and XVIII, with Martin intercepting a Super Bowl record three passes. "The Mad Stork", defensive linemen Ted Hendricks, wreaked havoc on opposing offenses during all three of the Raiders Super Runs. Throw in one of the best punters ever in Ray Guy along with Super Bowl winning coaches in John Madden and Tom Flores, you have one of the greatest eras in NFL history.
Selling Point: The Raiders average margin of victory in their three Super Bowl victories was over 21 points that included their 38-9 thrashing of the heavily favored Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
Washington Redskins (1982-1991): The Redskins didn't get a very good introduction to this poll after reviewing their embarrassing 29-point loss to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. That loss was their only Super Bowl setback on their way to four Super Bowls in 10 seasons. Under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, Washington lost only once in the strike shortened 1982 season on their way to a 27-17 win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.
Despite competing in a ultra competitive NFC that included the team of the '80s (49ers) and another team that won multiple Super Bowls during that span (the Giants), the Skins made it back to two more Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991. They won both games in convincing fashion, as masterful passing performances and strong, intelligent defenses taking center stage.
Unlike the teams that proceeded them on this list, the Redskins' Super Bowl winning rosters are not filled with household names. But the schemes and philosophies that the players executed with peerless precision earned them three Super Bowl rings. Washington won their first Super Bowl behind a powerful running game that started up front with "The Hogs", who were led by Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby. John Riggins was an honorary Hog, rushing for 166 yards on 38 carries that included a game winning 42 yard touchdown on a fourth down and one play late in Super Bowl XVII. Washington's defense, led by linemen Dexter Manley, did not allow a single Dolphins' pass to be completed in the second half.Kicker Mark Mosley, who was named the NFL's MVP that season, booted two field goals in the Skins' victory.
While quarterback Joe Theismann led Washington to their first two Super Bowls, Doug Williams unleashed a passing parade for the Skins in Super Bowl XXII. The first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Williams led the Skins to five second quarter touchdowns en route to their 42-10 thumping of the Broncos. While unheralded rookie running back Timmy Smith blew through gaping holes for a Super Bowl record 204 yards and two touchdowns, Washington receiver Ricky Sanders paced a very talented yet underrated Washington receiving corps with nine catches for 193 yards and two scores. Washington's defense put pressure on Denver quarterback John Elway all day, picking him off three times and shutting out the Broncos offense after the first quarter.
Charles Mann, Darrell Green and the rest of the Skins' defense again befuddled a prolific passing offense in Super Bowl XXVI, this time forcing the Bills no huddle offense into sheer panic. They intercepted Jim Kelly a record four times, the second interception leading to a Gerald Riggs touchdown to stretch the Washington lead to 24-0. Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien had no such issues, throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns to earn the game's MVP. Receivers Gary Clark and Hall of Famer Art Monk each went over 100 yards, with Clark hauling in a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
The lasting legacy of this Redskins team was their ability to take Gibbs' complex game plan and execute it into championships. The severity of film study and game planning illustrated by Gibbs and his staff's ability to obtain players that fit and could learn their desired scheme's opened the door for how NFL teams operate today.
Selling Point: Joe Gibbs is the only coach to win three Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien).
New York Giants (1986-1990): Giants football was epitomized by their teams in the late '80s and early '90s: tough, physical, and smash mouth. They won Super Bowl XXI behind a highly-efficient passing attack and a front seven that blew past everyone in their path. They won Super Bowl XXV behind a ball controlling offense and a secondary that punished any and all receivers that dared to cross the middle.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick presided over a defense that included one of the best groups of linebackers ever in Hall of Fame backer Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Harry Carson. The trio dominated the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, with Banks compiling 10 unassisted tackles, four of which were made behind the Broncos' line of scrimmage. Taylor's third and goal stop of Elways attempted roll out in the first half led to a momentum-changing missed field goal on the next play. The defensive line also applied pressure all day, led by George Marshall and George Martin. Marshall led the charge with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Parcells and offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt put together a masterful game plans during most of their regime. Phil Sims executed their game plan to the fullest in Super Bowl XXI, completing 22 of his 25 throws for 268 yards and three scores. His 88 percent completion percentage is still a Super Bowl record.One of his touchdown passes went to tight end Mark Bravaro, one of the most iconic Giants ever.
The Giants returned to the Super Bowl in January of 1991 after dethroning the two-time defending Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. They were again heavy underdogs to the Bills heading into Super Bowl XXV. The Giants defensive backs perfectly executed Belichick's game plan of allowing Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas to rush for 100 yards while punishing the Bills receivers on every play. While Thomas did gain 135 yards rushing and 190 total yards, the game plan worked as the Giants shut down Andre Reed and Jim Kelly's passing game in the second half.
That game plan-which was used by Belichick again when his Patriots faced the Rams prolific offense in Super Bowl XXXVI (the Pats won, 20-17)- was perfectly executed during the game's final drive. Unable to complete any passes to his wide receivers, Kelly was forced to scramble while also settling for shot gun draws to Thomas to gain desperate yardage with the Giants up by a point. They eventually ran out of time, and were forced to try a long field goal that sailed wide right.
With the Bills' no-huddle neutralized, New York displayed the finest ball control offense in Super Bowl history. They controlled the ball for over 40 minutes behind the running of Otis Anderson and the short, precision passing of Jeff Hostetler. Underrated receiver Mark Ingram's clutch catch and conversion on a third and long play in the second half was just one of the big plays the Giants continued to make that the Bills did not.
Selling Point: The Giants' Super Bowl runs during this era are even more impressive considering that they twice defeated Joe Montan's 49ers in the playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl.
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