The NFL: More Than A Game

Kyle EggemeyerCorrespondent IMay 5, 2010

Preface: This article is not typical to the type of article one will generally run across on this website.  I just want my readers to understand the nature of this article before dealving in.  This is the final draft of an argumentative essay I recently wrote for one of my college courses, and therefore it is very long and rather academic in nature, including MLA citations, the occasional wordy phrase, a multitude of figures/tropes, etc.  Despite the article's academic feel, the points it makes are very relevant to this sports site, and for that reason, I would like to share it with an audience that will be able to appreciate its substance.  You have been warned... Enjoy



Throughout the history of professional sports, specific teams have differentiated themselves from others through their dominating performances over great lengths of time.  This domination is personified through their unparalleled level of success, juxtaposed against the relatively lacking performance of their competition.  The fantastic spectacle of supremacy exhibited by these select entities leads to their cementation in sport’s history; they are considered dynasties (Holley 134).  Specifically, the NFL has seen five dynasties come to fruition since 1966, the year league officials began hosting the Super Bowl .  On a broad scale, the cycle of success in the NFL has followed an unwavering pattern - a steady exchange of torches from one dynasty to the next, as one decade sets and the dawn of anew settles in.  These five teams garner special attention as they have differentiated themselves from other sports dynasties by representing more than athletic prowess and mental fortitude.  Each dynasty mirrored their respective decade’s culture by representing its evolving social, political and economic norms.  It can be argued that these connections are simply random occurrences, or attempts to force generalized conclusions through hindsight, however, the unlikelihood of this should become apparent as facts are presented, and supported conclusions are drawn throughout this argument.



In the 1960s, Green Bay Packer football was king.  Prior to the merging of the NFL and AFL, there was no Super Bowl to end the season.  Rather, the NFL and AFL had their own respective championship games to determine the best team in their league.  Green Bay was part of the NFL, a league considered far superior to the AFL (Sutherland [F] 38:10-38:29).  During the early 1960s, Green Bay won three NFL Championships, and was known as the best of the NFL (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  In 1966, league officials made the controversial decision to merge the NFL and the AFL, forming the NFL as we know it today.  The former NFL would become the NFC and the AFL, AFC (MacCambridge 75-6).  An annual game dubbed the Super Bowl would be played between the best NFC and AFC team to crown the NFL champion.  Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls, in 1966 and 1967, firmly cementing themselves as, NFL dynasty of the 1960s (Sutherland [F] 21:54-22:18).



The 1960s was a time of struggle within the traditional family structure.  The baby boomers were growing into teenagers - these teenagers generally had far different ideas regarding culture and politics than their parents (MacCambridge 46-7).  A power struggle ensued, the ideas of a new generation clashing against the conservative backdrop of an old.  Every generation inevitably sees tension mount from an unwillingness of older generations to accept changing ideals, however, the 1960s was a time especially known for this power struggle (Rollin 224).  This same power struggle was apparent between Green Bay’s head coach, Vince Lombardi, and the evolving NFL which eventually merged with the very liberal-minded AFL. 



Vince Lombardi was an extremely well-respected man within the NFL, however his strict, traditional coaching methods were becoming outdated.  Lombardi was not fond of the pass-oriented AFL because of its liberal, unstructured persona (Sutherland [F] 3:24-3:39).  The sport of American Football was traditionally based upon power-running and tough defense.  Elaborate passing schemes were not utilized by many NFL teams, and for this reason, the AFL was seen as very liberal and cutting-edge for running these schemes (MacCambridge 248-49).  Increasingly more teams adopted the AFL’s schemes as the 1960s progressed, easing the AFL into the mainstream.  It slowly became apparent that the NFL was going to have to accept the AFL, a notion which became evident in 1966 as the two leagues merged to form one (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  Lombardi won the first two Super Bowls, keeping alive the idea that traditional football is superior to the new practices of the AFL - this could not last forever.  In 1968, Joe Namath and the AFC-affiliated New York Jets, defeated an NFC team in the Super Bowl, marking an end to Lombardis' traditional ideals (Baldwin [A] 38:00-41:23).  This merging of old and new within professional football runs parallel to the merging of juxtaposing cultures during the 1960s; it was a slow yet inevitable change in both cases.



During the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were unbeatable, winning Super Bowls in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  They are considered one of the best sports dynasties of all time due to the high level of competition they consistently played.  The Steelers played the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys at least twice a year during their reign as a NFL dynasty; both teams which were on the cusp of becoming dynasties of their own during the 1970s, with the Raiders winning one Super Bowl in the 1970s, and the Cowboys, two (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  With the arm of Terry Bradshaw, hands' of Lynn Swann, and a punishing defense known as, ‘The Steel Curtain’, the Pittsburgh Steelers ruled the 1970s (Willis [G] 11:54-12:06).



The 1970s was a tough time economically for America.  The steel and oil industries were losing their luster and America was in the midst of a cold war with the Soviet Union (Taylor, Winquist 266).  The Steelers played in a city, Pittsburgh, stricken with poverty from the failing steel industry, a failing industry, represented in logo on all Steelers’ helmets and jerseys, juxtaposing an icon identified with failure against a fabric linked to greatness.  Emanating a blue-collar aura, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a beacon of hope for many American’s because of their ability to succeed tremendously amongst tremendous hardship.  Starting running back, Rocky Bleier, nearly lost his legs fighting in Vietnam, but, like so many veterans of the time, persevered through his hardships, becoming a key element to the Steeler’s success (Willis [G] 24:31-25:09).  Arguably the best defense in NFL history played for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s.  Histories’ image of this defense was built upon their defensive line, just as histories’ image of the Cold War was built upon the Berlin Wall.  Both are legacies forged in the memories of many under the pseudonym, ‘The Steel Curtain’ (Willis [G] 11:54-12:06).  Overall, the Steeler’s persona represented America’s dying industrial spirit during the 1970s.



During the 1980s, a single team was known for producing clutch plays in big games.  Under the direction of hall-of-fame quarterback Joe Montana, and later, hall-of-fame quarterback Steve Young, the San Francisco 49ers won four Super Bowls during the 1980s (Reidenbaugh 113-15).  This brought pride to a team and city who had enjoyed little football success previously. Bill Walsh was their head coach; he ran the West Coast offensive scheme at level of precision few have since matched.  Winning Super Bowls in 1981, 1984, 1988 and 1989, the San Francisco 49ers anchored themselves in sports history as dynasty of the 1980s (NFL Record and Fact Book ).



Progression was the cornerstone of the 1980s.  Both economically under President Reagan and socially in terms of the gay-rights movement.  Reaganomics was implemented to curb America’s economic issues, and homosexually for the first time became a socially acceptable topic to speak of publicly (Taylor, Winquist 307-10).  President Reagan guided the country out of an economic crisis just as quarterback Joe Montana lead his team from obscurity into greatness.  At the center of the 1980s gay-movement was the city of San Francisco, still known today as the gayest city in America, respectively.  Head coach Bill Walsh embraced this evolving culture, reflecting the 1980s norms well with his charismatic attitude.  Walsh’s overall attitude can be summed up in a single quote, “Men, you have to do everything you can to get yourselves mentally ready for this game. Now, for some of you, that will mean a lot of sex, and for others it may mean none at all.” (Hackman [D] 27:44-28:05).  This quote, represents the black and white nature of America’s culture during the 1980s. It was a time of excess and deviance; the margin of difference between mainstream Americans and the social deviants of the time was very large (Taylor, Winquist 315).  The San Francisco 49ers played at the epicenter of one of the largest social movements in American history, bringing a new sense of pride to a city desperately attempting to find its identity during the 1980s.



The Dallas Cowboys were the most dominate NFL team during the 1990s.  They won three Super Bowls, relying on a potent offensive attack to dismantle opposing defenses (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  This attack was led by three players known as, “The Triplets” - Quarterback Troy Aikman, halfback Emmitt Smith, and wide receiver Michael Irvin, all current members of the NFL Hall of Fame (Baldwin [B] 6:00-6:28).  Collectively, these three players caused a decades-worth of headaches for defenses around the league.  Known as ‘America’s Team’, the Dallas Cowboys ruled the NFL throughout the 1990s.



Marked by innovation, the 1990s was a time of technological evolution.  The Internet, personal computers and cellular phones, all formed an expansive landscape of untapped business opportunities.  Externally, the 1990s can be viewed as a flashy era, portrayed through a significant rise in entrepreneurship, a stock market boom and a dramatic increase in cocaine use (Rollin 377-79).  The decade’s issue with cocaine is personified through the numerous Dallas Cowboys who fell victim to it, most notably Michael Irvin and Hollywood Henderson (Baldwin [B] 32:19-32:55).  Where there was money and power during the 1990s, there was also cocaine.  The Dallas Cowboys have always been known as a flashy franchise, seeking the biggest and best of everything - Their silver and blue uniforms are unmistakable; cheerleaders, flawless; and stadium, built with, “a hole in its roof so God can watch His favorite team play” (MacCambridge 119).  This attitude mirrored the flashy, entrepreneurial spirit of the 1990s.  Apart from the Gulf War in the early 1990s, America had a very isolationist approach to foreign policy, focusing most of its efforts on national issues (Taylor, Winquist 397-99).  It is very fitting that during this decade of isolationism, “America’s Team” dominated the NFL.



A new millennium, conjured a new NFL dynasty, the New England Patriots, to the forefront.  The 2000s saw the unlikely rise of a franchise built upon the talent of a sixth-round pick (Holley 156).  Quarterback Tom Brady, a late pick in the 2000 draft, led his team to three Super Bowl victories and the only undefeated 16-game regular season in NFL history (NFL Record and Fact Book ).  Coached by Bill Belichick, the Patriots were consistently more prepared than their competition.  Every NFL team sat in their shadow, making the Patriots the dynasty of the 2000s.



The 2000s saw an enormous rise in patriotism following the September 11th terrorist attacks.  The Patriot’s won their first Super Bowl on February 3, 2002, just months after the 9/11 attacks (NFL Record and Fact Book & Fishburne [C] 12:59-13:21).  It is very ironic that a team named the Patriots, won the Super Bowl during one of America’s most patriotic times.  The 2000s, unfortunately, will be remembered for the numerous political scandals and untruths that came out of Washington D.C.  Most notably, President George W. Bush was accused of lying to the American public about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in the Middle East to create a pseudo-catalyst for war.  These scandals were not limited to politics; Patriot’s head coach, Bill Belichick was involved in an incident dubbed ‘Spygate’ during the 2007 season.  The Patriots were caught filming the sideline hand signals of opposing teams in an attempt to decipher what play was about to be run.  Belichick would eventually be levied the largest fine for a head coach in NFL history, $500,000 (Holley 167-68).  The New England Patriots represented the extremely Patriotic culture and historic misuse of power which marks the 2000s.



Using the parallels drawn between distinct NFL dynasties and their respective decades’ social, political and economic norms, one can confidently predict which team will become the next NFL dynasty.  As we are on the cusp of a new decade, it is rather timely to cast a hypothesis for which NFL team will be the dynasty of the 2010s.  While this decade is still young, and it is impossible to predict what the world will be like in 2019, it is clear, this decade is on the course of ‘change’.  Barrack Obama, the first African-American president, was elected into office in 2008 under the mantra of ‘change’.  Thus far, he has made good on his word, passing a monumental healthcare bill that will change our healthcare system significantly (The White House ).  Examining the 32 cities which have NFL teams, one city has endured more change than any other over the past several years.  New Orleans, home of the Saints, has changed drastically in recent years due to natural disaster. The Saints won the first Super Bowl of this new decade on February 7th, 2010, a dramatic change for a franchise with a long tradition of losing (NFL Record and Fact Book) .  Following the pattern of past NFL dynasties, I predict the New Orleans Saints will be the dynasty of the 2010s, as they have already won a Super Bowl in this decade and appear to closely mirror the evolving culture of our time.  



The argument that NFL dynasties represent the norms of their respective decades is an original argument, for which I have found no material, whether it be books, articles, documentaries or otherwise, which explicitly draw this connection.  For this reason, there is no substantial counterargument to these claims, but for the inevitable notion that everything might simply be random, holding no significant meaning, or that the overall argument, relating NFL dynasties to cultural norms, can be applied to any number of NFL teams in hindsight.  It is possible that all five NFL dynasties randomly aligned to closely mirror their decades’ norms, and that the pattern will not hold true for this next decade.  It is also possible, even probable, that any NFL team could be matched to their respective decade’s culture with some semblance of continuity, however, these arguments are not very concrete.  The notion that mere coincidence explains why the NFL dynasties closely mirrored their decade’s culture is highly unlikely after five decades of consistent parallelism.  Also, while similar connections could be made between various NFL teams and specific decades, the five dynasties mentioned in this argument are the best representations of their respective decades’ norms as they mirror the most key elements of their time with striking accuracy.



Socially, politically and economically, each dynasty represented its respective decades’ motifs, commonplaces and culture. Just as the Packers personified the evolving ideals and social power struggles of the 1960s; just as the Steelers symbolized the blue-collar motif and industrial downfall of the 1970s; just as the 49ers flaunted the social and economical advancements of the 1980s; just as the Cowboys corresponded to the technological innovation and political isolationism of the 1990s; just as and the Patriots paralleled the patriotic culture and political corruption of the 2000s; so too will the next NFL dynasty depict the culture of its time.  History and football are invariably linked to one another beyond the collection of statistics and archival of game footage.  Histories’ teachings is no exception to the fact that, football represents more than a game; footballs’ laurels is no exception to the fact that, history tends to repeat itself. 




Works Cited:


Baldwin, Alec, narr. America's Game: The 1968 New York Jets . Perf. Joe Namath, Gerry Philbin, and Don Maynard. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [A]

Baldwin, Alec, narr. America's Game: The 1992 Dallas Cowboys . Perf. Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Ken Norton, Jr. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [B]

Fishburne, Laurence, narr. America's Game: The 2004 New England Patriots . Perf. Bill Belichick, Troy Brown, and Tedy Bruschi. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [C]

Hackman, Gene, narr. America's Game: The 1984 San Francisco 49ers . Perf. Russ Francis, Keena Turner, and Dwight Hicks. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [D]

Hackman, Gene, narr. America's Game: The 1989 San Francisco 49ers . Perf. Tom Rathman, George Seifert, and Jerry Rice. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [E]

Holley, Michael. Patriots Reign (1st ed. HC ed.). HarperCollins

MacCambridge, Michael. America's Game . Boston: Twayne Publishers, 2005.

NFL Record and Fact Book . Record & Fact Book. NFL Enterprises LLC. Web. 17 Apr. 2010. .

Reidenbaugh, Lowell, et al. Super Bowl Book . St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1985.

Rollin, Lucy. Twentieth-century Teen Culture by the Decades: A Reference Guide . Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999. Print.

St. John, Allen. The Billion Dollar Game . New York: Doubleday, 2009.

Sutherland, Donald, narr. America's Game: The 1966 Green Bay Packers . Perf. Bill Curry, Willie Davis, and Bart Starr. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [F]

Taylor, Victor E., and Winquist, Charles E. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism . London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Williams, Pete. The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL's Search For Talent . New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006.

Willis, Bruce, narr. America's Game: The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers . Perf. Rocky Bleier, Mel Blount, Randy Grossman, and Joe Greene. Prod. Steve Sabol. 2007. NFL Films and Warner Bros Home Video. 1st ed. DVD-ROM. [G]

The White House . What’s in the Health Care Bill. U.S.A. Executive Office. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. < >.


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