Every ten years or so, a special group of guys rocks the NFL and every other team that plays them. These teams, called dynasties, have a lot more in common then you might think.
Here are a few similarities I noticed among the NFL's bonafide dynasties:
The Abyss: One of the more surprising traits I have noticed in regards to the progression of a dynasty is a long stretch of mediocrity shortly before the dominance inherent in a dynastic franchise.
For instance, in 1970, the Steelers went 1-13 and won the coin toss with Chicago that allowed them to pick QB Terry Bradshaw. Shortly thereafter, Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain put the "nasty" in dynasty. The first dynasty, the Packers of the late '60s, was also a terrible team before the hiring of Vince Lombardi. The Pack went 1-10-1 in 1958 under Ray Mclean with a team similar to the 13-1 1962 team coached by Lombardi.
One reason for this may be that such a long stretch of losing seasons gives a team great opportunities to stockpile talent. However, a losing team loses for a reason, so the draft isn't the only way that dynasties are built. A dynasty is seldom ever borne from a contender looking for the last piece of the puzzle either, sure, teams like this may win Super Bowls, but their longevity is limited.
The Visionary: Every dynasty also has a mainstay on their sidelines or in the front office to serve as the architect of the dynasty in question. This man is generally maligned as a maverick in his day and age and is looked down upon by his peers for his innovative practices.
One great example of a visionary is former Cowboys head man Jimmy Johnson. His love of small, speedy players like Alvin Harper, Deion "showtime" Sanders, and Darren Woodson was looked down upon by "experts" around the NFL. The paradigm of the time dictated that size was paramount for a winner, however, Johnson's speedsters blazed past their bigger counterparts on their way to four super bowls in the 1990s.
Johnson's contemporary, Bill Belichick, was maligned for a different reason, he was known to be a salty, cut to the chase guy who didn't let the players talk back, regardless of their talent. His decisions to cut Bernie Kosar and Lawyer Milloy were thought of as foolish when they were made, but Belichick's disciplinarian coaching style has brought him respect from even troubled egomaniacs like Randy Moss.
The Quarterback: This one is pretty self explanatory. No dynasty is complete without a leader taking snaps under center. There have been many great QBs in the NFL, but only a select few are capable of coming through under pressure Consistently.
Whether it was Bart Starr's chilling (pun intended) ice bowl victory over Dallas in 1967, Bradshaw's game winning 64 yard TD bomb in SB X, or Brady's last minute drive against St.Louis, not to mention Montana's numerous clutch moments, the QB almost always has a hand in his team's fortunes.
It may seem that these drives are only possible due to the teams around the quarterbacks. If that were true, the Browns would have made the Super Bowl at least three times with Bernie Kosar, and the Bills would have won at least one Super Bowl in the '80s and '90s.
I'm not knocking Kosar or Jim Kelly, who were great QBs in their own right, I am simply saying that having a QB who comes through when the chips are down is paramount in any dynasty.
No championship run is a cakewalk, as I saw when my beloved Pats capped off their near perfect season without a super bowl ring.
The Bride's Maid: Everyone needs a rival to push them to the next level, and football teams are no exception. For every dynasty, there is a team that wins just as often and puts the best team to the test year in and year out.
Some of these teams. like the Raiders in the '70s, who won just one Super Bowl despite their consistent excellence throughout the decade, eventually became dynasties in their own right.
The most prominent example of an NFL bride's maid is the Jim Kelly led Bills squad that made four losing Super Bowl appearances without a win. They were never an overt rival to the Cowboys dynasty, but they would've certainly had a dynasty of their own if not for Dallas.
The Balance Factor: This is perhaps the most important quality of a dynasty and really doesn't need much of an explanation. Defense win championships is held as an empirical truth in the NFL but no defense is complete without a great offense on the other side of the ball.
For instance, the 1991 Eagles fielded arguably the NFL's greatest defense ever, the team's anemic offense scored only 18 PPG, leading to a 10-6 record and a third place division finish.
The aforementioned Colts needed an improvement on defense to finally beat their nemesis, New England. Every team has its weaknesses, however, a true dynasty works to improve on its achilles heel.
Potential present day dynasties:
New England: Active dynasty, 'nuff said.
Oakland: Opinions may differ on whether or not Al Davis is a visionary, but the man has panache and he certainly fits into the "looked down upon by his peers" category. The Raiders have also been losing long enough to stockpile a lot of nice young talent that should sustain their chances at contention in the AFC for at least six-seven years. The jury's out on Jamarcus Russel's clutch play.
San Diego: The Bolts have one of the most balanced young rosters in the NFL and a true genius in AJ Smith. Phillip Rivers is young and somewhat unproven but the kid's a gamer. He played the Pats on two sprained MCLs and a torn ACL, what a fighter. A rivalry between SD and Oakland should vault both teams to prominence in the coming years.
If I missed anything I'm all ears, tell me what you think.