With all of the recent talk about the NFL Team of the Decade (a year early), I thought it would be fun to start a new discussion as to what team could be considered the NFL’s only perpetual dynasty.
There’s current talk about the Steelers potentially being on the cusp of a second dynasty, if it already isn't. I would argue that the Steelers dynasty of the 70s may have never really ended, and they are the NFL’s only “perpetual” dynasty (since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970).
A dynasty is literally defined as “a succession of rulers of the same line of descent,” or “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.” There is no formal definition for a “sports dynasty” however, and the definition is often left up to speculation and debate by sports fans.
A sports dynasty is generally considered to be a team that dominates their sport for multiple seasons or years. It has a beginning and an end. While the beginning or end may not be a pinpoint in time, the dynasty does fit within a space of time.
Many argue a sports dynasty must be highlighted by championships. Others believe titles aren’t necessarily required so long as the team remains dominant in regular season wins over time.
Using these definitions, we can point to the obvious NFL dynasties—the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers and Redskins of the 80s, the Cowboys and Bills (yes the Bills) of the 90s, and the Patriots of this decade.
What if you consider them all together - Wins, titles, and Championship game appearances - since 1970?
If you make this consideration, you can pinpoint one and only one candidate for the NFL’s only perpetual dynasty—the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
- 99-44 Losses (.692)
- 8 Playoff Appearances
- 5 AFC Championship Game Appearances
- 4 Super Bowl Titles
- 77-75 (.507)
- 4 Playoff Appearances
- 1 AFC Championship Game appearance
- 93-67 (.581)
- 6 Playoff Appearances
- 3 AFC Championship Game Appearances
- 1 Super Bowl appearance
- 00 Decade (to date):
- 94-49 Losses (.657)
- 6 Playoff Appearances
- 4 AFC Championship Game Appearances
- 2 Super Bowl Titles
As compared to the other dynasties, was there ever really a finite end of the Steelers 70s dynasty? If you consider wins, playoff appearances, championship games, and Super Bowl visits and titles, there's a strong argument to be made that Pittsburgh never left the dynasty dance floor.
The obvious argument against the Steelers in this discussion is the decade of the 1980s. While obviously the most difficult in the past 40 years for the Steelers, it was still well above par by NFL standards. It was a decade with a positive winning percentage (.507), the Steelers still made the playoffs 40% of the time, and made a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
Did the Steelers “dynasty” truly disappear, and is there a finite end to their dynasty as you saw with the other dynasties? It does not appear there is. There is no decade where the Steelers played sub-.500 football. There is no decade where the Steelers didn’t play in a Conference Championship game. The Steelers were represented in the playoffs 80% of the time in the 70s, 40% in the 80s, 60% in the 90s, and 60% of the time so far this decade.
The New England Patriots
When considering the Patriots, it’s very easy to pinpoint the beginning of their dynasty. It’s not possible, by most opinions, to say their current dynasty run is over, even though they’ve not won a Super Bowl since 2005. Let’s consider them from 1970 to the present.
- In the 70s, the Patriots were 66-78 (.458), making the playoffs twice, losing both games.
- In the 80s, the Patriots were 78-74 (.513), making the playoffs three times with one AFC Championship Game appearance, and one Super Bowl appearance.
- In the 90s, the Patriots were 68-92 (.425), making the playoffs four times, with one AFC Championship Game appearance, and one Super Bowl appearance.
- 00 Decade (to date), the Patriots are 102-42 (.708), making the playoffs six times, with five AFC Championship Game appearance, and four Super Bowl appearance
Clearly the Patriots were not an NFL force until this decade, having had only one marginal decade in winning percentage, and making the playoffs only 7 times in 30 years with a 7-10 playoff record. In fact, the Steelers decade of the 1980s, the team’s worst since 1970, is still better in comparison to the three previous Patriots decades.
The Patriots cannot be considered more than a “periodic” dynasty, having had only an 8 year run of dominance in their history.
The San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers make a more lasting mark with a two decade, multi-QB, dominating impact. However, they have a clear beginning and end to their dynasty.
- The 1970s were a forgettable decade. The 49ers were 60-82 (.423) with 3 playoff appearances. The decade started off well, with three consecutive playoff appearances, and 2 NFC Championship game appearances, but the following seven seasons were abysmal.
- Combining the decades of the 80s and 90s, the 49ers were an incredible 217-94 (.698) with 15 playoff appearances in 20 years, 10 NFC Conference Championship Games, and five Super Bowl titles. From 1981 to 1998, the 49ers were an eye-popping 207-72 (.742).
- You can clearly identify the finite end to the 49ers dynasty, beginning in 1999 season when the team, coming off of a 12-4 season with Steve Young at the helm, went 4-12 with Garcia taking over the reins. In this decade, the 49ers have been a woeful 60-84 (.417) with two playoff appearances.
While a tremendously dominant team for 18 consecutive seasons, the 49ers performance prior to 1981 and after 1998 remove them from consideration.
The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be the only team that could be considered a true competitor with the Steelers as a potential “perpetual” dynasty.
- In the 1970s, the Cowboys were 105-39 (.729) with nine playoff appearances, seven NFC championship game appearances, five Super Bowl appearances, and two Super Bowl Titles.
- Like the Steelers, they had a “lull” in the 1980s, but didn’t completely lose their focus going 79-73 record (.520) with five playoff appearances and three NFC Championship game appearances.
- The 90s were a decade of dominance for the Cowboys, finishing 101-59 (.631) with eight playoff appearances, four NFC Conference Championship games and three Super Bowl titles.
- The Cowboys however, take themselves out of the discussion with their recent history, starting with the 1997 season where the team went 6-10, and have been fighting since to turn the franchise around. Dallas is 71-73 (.493) in the current decade alone and 95-97 (.495) since 1997. The Cowboys have been in the playoffs only three times this decade and have failed to win a playoff game since 1996 – twelve full NFL seasons.
It is this 12 year lull that marks a clear and definitive end to the Cowboys’ 26 year run of dominance.
It should be obvious to most that the Steelers, with their 6th Super Bowl title this past February, are the NFL’s most dominant franchise since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Only the Miami Dolphins have won more regular season games since 1970 than the Steelers, and that lead is a mere one game – a margin Pittsburgh should overcome in the 2009 NFL season.
Pittsburgh has shown a continued winning tradition, never suffering a decade with a losing record. In 39 years the Steelers have had back-to-back losing seasons only three times.
If there were a discussion (and maybe there should be) about the only Perpetual NFL Dynasty, it should be a short one.