50 Most Influential Teams of All Time
Every so often, a team comes along that changes their sport forever.
They're the creators of new offenses and defenses, tweaking, shaping and manipulating tactics of the past, trying things other teams haven't or simply weren't able to for lack of talent.
They redefine the boundaries of what's possible, and in some instances, what's acceptable by the rules of the game, or even by the rules of society.
Truly, it takes a lot to be influential in sports, but as the following 50 teams show you, the world of sports is ever-changing, constantly evolving and setting new standards.
The following is the Top 50 Most Influential Teams of All Time.
Note: I'd like to give a special thanks to David Daniels and Adam Lazarus for providing the research for this article. They're a couple of Bleacher Report's best writers, so be sure to check out some of their work.
50. 2011 Miami Heat
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Influential for: Forming the Super Friends; superstars joining superstars.
When LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it caused an uproar. And, no, I'm not referring to how LeBron left; I'm referring to the idea that superstars should play against other superstars, not join them.
We saw it a few years prior, when the Celtics formed their own Big Three on the way to a 2007 championship. What's important to note here, is that it was effective.
And LeBron recognized that.
The problem is, if superstars are playing with each other and not against each other, what's that mean for parity? How many more teams will fall to the wayside? And what of competition? It cheapens the game a bit.
As it stands, the Knicks look like they might be the next to form a Big Three of their own. They already have Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, and who's to say that Chris Paul won't join them?
And what if Dwight Howard joins the Lakers, too?
Whether you're a fan of it or not, we might be looking at a new NBA over the next few years.
49. 2004 Phoenix Suns
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Influential for: Employing the "Seven Seconds or Less" offense.
The Phoenix Suns had quite the turnaround in 2004.
Mike D'Antoni was in his first full year as head coach, and Steve Nash joined the team as the starting point guard, leaving the Dallas Mavericks for a lucrative contract.
Nash fit perfectly into D'Antoni's offensive scheme, one that favored small, athletic players who could essentially outrun and outshoot their opponents. The premise was to get up the court in seven seconds or less and score.
And it worked wonderfully, as the Suns became the highest-scoring team in the league two years in a row. Their record would earn them the No. 1 seed that year, Nash would win back-to-back MVP Awards and D'Antoni would win Coach of the Year.
Unfortunately, they didn't play any defense, so it didn't result in a championship, but it at least showed other teams that you can't simply outshoot your opponent to a title.
It was exciting to watch, though.
48. 2004 Boston Red Sox
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Influential for: Proving that it's possible to come back from an 0-3 series deficit in baseball.
Prior to their title run in 2004, the Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in 86 years. They were said to have been suffering from the "Curse of the Bambino," and after falling behind 0-3 in the ALCS to the Yankees, it was looking like it would be 87 years.
Then the Sox did something no other team in baseball had done: They came back from an "insurmountable" deficit to take the series, eventually going on to win the title.
Now when a team is down 0-3 in the playoffs, they can say it's technically possible to come back and win the series and not be lying to themselves, all thanks to the Red Sox.
47. 2010 Steelers
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Influential for: Being the face of the current rules changes regarding illegal hits.
When people think of smash-mouth football, they think of the Steelers—as well as the Ravens, but for now let's focus on the Steelers.
They've been knocking people out for years, and I don't have a problem with that, because that's football, but the league recently has become especially concerned with concussions and their long-term effects.
James Harrison alone was fined $120,000 in 2010 for illegal hits, and the football landscape looks to be changing. Physical teams—or overly physical as far as NFL is concerned—are falling out of favor, leaving some to wonder if the NFL is becoming a "pansy game."
The NFL is in the middle of a transitional period, away from the violence that made the game what it is, and into a time where some players are afraid to hit.
Not to say it's the Steelers' fault, because it's not, but 10 years from now we might look back on James Harrison and this team and say that was the year that teams and the NFL changed.
Depending on your perspective, you can either call this good influential (the game should change), or bad influential (the game should stay as is).
46. 2008 Miami Dolphins
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Influential for: Popularizing the Wildcat offense in the NFL.
September 21, 2008, was a really bad day for the New England Patriots. They were routed by the Miami Dolphins 38-13, and it was all due to an offensive scheme they were not prepared for:
The Wildcat offense.
Essentially, the benefit of this formation is that you gain another blocker if the ball is snapped directly to the running back, since the quarterback usually hands the ball off and gets out of the way. It can be quite effective if executed properly, but also predictable.
It seems to be dying down a bit in the NFL, which is why you find it here at No. 46. It's much more effective in college football with less sophisticated defenses and quarterbacks that double as running backs.
45. 1999 St. Louis Rams
Influential for: Being the "Greatest Show on Turf"; seemingly perfecting the passing game.
When you score 500-plus points for three consecutive seasons, this is the type of name you're given.
The Rams offense was an all-out aerial attack. They would use a five-wide receiver set and stretch the field, delivering on precision-timed routes. Obviously, this strategy required excellent pass protection, and the running game doesn't get a lot of love in this set.
They would set numerous offensive records in this time span, and they would win Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans.
The 2007 New England Patriots offense was similar, and they went on to break quite a few offensive records, too.
44. 1999 U.S. Women's Soccer
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Influential for: Making America interested in women's soccer; Brandi Chastain taking off her shirt; women empowerment.
In America, men's soccer isn't all that popular, much less women's soccer. But for a brief time in 1999, Americans were captivated by the U.S. Women's Soccer team.
In the 1999 Women's World Cup, the championship game between the U.S. and China would have to be decided by penalty kicks.
After a miss by China, Brandi Chastain had an opportunity to give the U.S. the title with just one kick. And she would make it.
Then she took off her shirt.
And hey, they've accomplished more than the men have in World Cup soccer.
43. 2007 Boise State, 2004 Utah Utes
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Influential for: Being "BCS Busters."
To say the least, college football's BCS system is controversial.
The system tends to favor teams in larger, more nationally recognized conferences, leaving teams like Boise, who played in the WAC at the time, and Utah, who plays in the MWC, on the outside looking in come bowl season.
The argument is that teams like Boise and Utah play weaker opponents, so they don't deserve to be in the same conversation as teams who play in, say, the SEC.
That's understandable, but it makes for an incredibly flawed system. It says that you're good enough to be a Division I-A team, but not good enough to compete for a Division I-A title. Talk about a glass ceiling.
In a relationship, this would be the equivalent of saying, "You're good enough to be my girlfriend, but never my wife."
But in 2004 and 2007, Boise and Utah broke through that ceiling—kind of, still no title game—and proved that they at least belong in the same conversation as the big boys.
Boise State played Oklahoma in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, beating them in overtime in what is considered one of the most exciting finishes in the history of college football.
In early 2005, Utah would play Pittsburgh in the same bowl, blowing them out 35-7.
The little guy's moving on up.
42. 1988 SMU Football
Influential for: Not playing as a result of the "death penalty."
I know what you're thinking. How influential can a team be if they didn't play a single snap? And I say, that's exactly why they make this list.
There's a reason they didn't play a single snap, and it's a lesson to every college football team out there.
SMU was forced to forfeit their home games that year after years of multiple rule violations, and they were given the option to play their away games but declined. Most of their players left for other schools, leaving the team unable to compete up to the standards they were accustomed to.
It was virtually impossible for them to get any worthy recruits the following year, and the program hasn't truly recovered since, only having beaten two ranked teams and appearing in one bowl game.
That'll teach teams to cheat. You would think so, anyway.
Influential for all the wrong reasons.
41. 1989 Chicago Bulls
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Influential for: Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
When you have 11 championships to your name, you've got to be doing something right, and that something is called the triangle offense.
It also doesn't hurt having Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on your team; that probably has more to do with it, actually.
In any case, the "Zen Master" used the triangle offense through the Bulls' six championships, as well as through the Lakers' five championships up until his retirement this year.
It's not higher on the list because NBA teams don't seem to run the triangle offense, perhaps because it requires smart, versatile players who aren't one-dimensional. It also demands a lot of patience and teamwork and, most importantly, a coach that can teach it effectively.
The Lakers have an eye for talent, so they've been able to keep it going in the Kobe Bryant era, but now that Mike Brown is at the helm, I expect it to disappear.
For a full explanation of how the triangle offense works, click here.
40. 1969 Ajax
Influential for: Being the first team to employ the "Total Football" tactic to great success.
The 1969 Ajax soccer team became the first Dutch team to reach the European Cup Final, and it was in large part due to their Total Football tactic.
Total Football is a proactive offensive tactic that doesn't lock any one player—except the goalie—into any one position. It's physically demanding, and players must be athletic enough to play multiple positions, as they would be switching regularly.
Today, teams like FC Barcelona use a tactic called "tiki-taka," which is said to have its roots in Total Football.
39. 1985 Chicago Bears
Influential for: Buddy Ryan's "46" defense.
Bill Walsh said of the 46 defense that it was the single-most important innovation on the defensive side of the ball in the last 25 years.
And when Bill Walsh says something is important, I believe him.
The '85 Bears defense is widely regarded as the single-best defense of all time—personally, I consider the '85 Bears the greatest team of all time—and that was largely because of Buddy Ryan's defensive genius.
For a full breakdown of the 46 defense, click here, but the premise, in short, was to get to the quarterback by any means possible, even if that meant blitzing with eight players.
Hey, Buddy Ryan's words, not mine.
Today, you don't see the 46 defense as much, but Rex Ryan—son of Buddy Ryan—keeps it alive and well with the New York Jets.
38. 1994 U.S. Men's Soccer
Influential for: The rebirth of American soccer.
The U.S. Men's Soccer team hasn't been too successful at the World Cup, often getting eliminated in the group stage or directly after in the elimination round.
But in 1994, they showed a bit of fight, giving Americans hope that our country might have a future in the game of soccer.
In 1990, America broke a 40-year drought, finally qualifying for the World Cup again after not having been there since 1950. Then, in 1994, they advanced into the Round of 16, taking on eventual champion Brazil.
They lost 1-0, but the game left a lasting impression. Not only is America expected to qualify for the World Cup now, it's expected to compete. Not to win necessarily, but at least compete.
37. 1975 New York Cosmos
Influential for: Trying to popularize American soccer; signing Pele.
He might have been past his prime, but the North American Soccer League (NASL) signing Pele immediately brought attention to American soccer.
In fact, the Cosmos match against the Dallas Tornado was broadcast to 22 countries and covered by more than 300 journalists from all over the world. Just a couple years later, Pele would lead the Cosmos to an NASL title.
Pele is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, if not the greatest. What better to boost your brand than hiring one of the best?
The Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls are currently trying the same strategy by signing David Beckham and Thierry Henry, respectively, but it hasn't had the same impact.
There's just no beating Pele.
36. 1989 Princeton Basketball
Influential for: Creating the Princeton offense.
The Princeton offense emphasizes constant motion, passing, backdoor cuts and disciplined teamwork.
It's used mostly against more athletic teams to slow the game down and keep the score low. All five players must be able to shoot, especially three-pointers, and be above-average passers and ball-handlers.
The offense's staple is the backdoor trap, when a player gets behind the defense, receives a bounce pass and makes an easy basket. If the defense picks up on this, the three-point shot becomes essential.
This offensive tactic is still widely used.
35. 1992 U.S. Men's Basketball Team
Influential for: Dominating the competition; establishing America as the kings of the basketball world.
They were known as the "Dream Team," and if I didn't know any better, I would think they were under the influence of some kind of real-life cheat code.
It was the first Olympic team composed of actual NBA players, and the difference in talent was obvious, as the U.S. won gold by defeating their opponents by an average of 44 points.
Now that's setting the bar ridiculously high.
And that's why it was such a big deal when the U.S. lost the gold in the 2004 Olympics. American basketball players are supposed to be the cream of the crop, and the 2004 team didn't demonstrate that.
The "Dream Team" set a standard that players today are expected to live up to, and our best players are expected to participate and dominate as we know they can.
Good thing the 2008 team got the gold back.
34. 1974 Broad Street Bullies
Influential for: Beating everyone the hell up on their way to a couple Stanley Cup titles; proving expansion teams can beat the Original Six.
The Philadelphia Flyers were introduced in the 1967 NHL expansion that saw six new teams created. For their first few years, they were soft. Then, they realized that in hockey you can punch people.
Led by Dave Schultz's 348 penalty minutes, the Flyers would reach the finals in 1974, defeating the Boston Bruins in six games. The following year, they would do it again, this time beating the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers would even get a shot at the Soviet Union in 1976 in an exhibition game. The Flyers were so rough that the Soviet Union left the ice midway through the first period but returned because they didn't want to lose their pay.
That's total domination.
33. 2004 New York Yankees
Influential for: Buying an All-Star team, and proving you don't need one to win.
They say you can't buy happiness, but in baseball—with no salary cap—you can sure as hell buy every major free agent if you have the money and power.
And that's what the Yankees have been doing for a while now.
Don't get me wrong, they've always been big spenders, but starting in 2004, their spending became ridiculous, even for them.
And I'll save you the suspense: They still easily have the highest payroll in baseball.
The importance here is that their spending hasn't resulted in championships, which goes against conventional wisdom. You would think having the best players would result in titles, but the Yankees since '04 have only one to their name.
The lesson: Nothing beats assembling a solid team with great chemistry. And just for some perspective, last year's World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, have a $108 million difference in their payroll from the Yankees of last year.
32. 2002 Oakland Athletics
Influential for: Moneyball; challenging conventional wisdom in regards to talent.
In 2002, the Oakland Athletics had a payroll of just $40 million, which was only better than the Washington Nationals ($38 million) and the Tampa Bay Rays ($34 million).
Yet, the A's record was an astonishing 103-59.
It's called Moneyball, baby.
Typically, when evaluating talent, scouts focus on statistics like stolen bases, RBI and batting average. But the A's didn't care for that. Instead, they took a sabermetric approach.
They didn't follow conventional wisdom, choosing to focus more on statistics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage, believing those were more accurate predictors of success.
And it worked.
Despite their low payroll, they were able to compete with teams like the Yankees, who also had 103 wins that season. The A's didn't make much of a splash in the playoffs, but an important point was made.
There's also currently a movie set to come out in September about Moneyball.
31. 1927 New York Yankees
Influential for: Murderers' Row.
You know your batting lineup is formidable when it's coined Murderers' Row. It refers specifically to the Yankees' starting six batters in 1927—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs and Mark Koenig.
It was a prolific bunch to say the least.
After losing the 1926 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Yankees came back with a vengeance, scorching the earth on their way to a then-record 110-44 record.
They would outscore their opponents that season by 376 runs, Ruth would win the AL MVP and set the home run record with 60, and they would sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.
That's a pretty good year if you ask me.
To this day, the Yankees and their Murderers' Row continues to be the benchmark for offensive domination.
30. 1995 New Jersey Devils
Influential for: The dreaded neutral zone trap.
The "trap" has a bit of a bad reputation.
When executed to perfection, as the 1995 New Jersey Devils did on their way to a Stanley Cup title, it forces turnovers and keeps the opponent's shot opportunities at a minimum.
But that makes for a boring game. Not that the Devils care—they won a title.
Today, the "trap" can still be seen being deployed by many NHL teams on many nights, and it's often used to protect leads or stay in the game against a more talented, athletic team.
For a breakdown of the neutral zone trap, click here.
29. 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers
Influential for: Popularizing the zone blitz.
The zone blitz comes in many different forms, but it wasn't until the 1995 Steelers, otherwise known as "Blitzburgh," brought it to everyone's attention on their way to Super Bowl XXX that it became popular.
For the record, they would lose to the Dallas Cowboys in that Super Bowl—I had to slip that in—but LeBeau and his defensive schemes continue to wreak havoc on opposing offenses to this day, as he's still coaching in Pittsburgh.
For a breakdown of the zone blitz and its many forms, click here.
28. 1989 Oakland Athletics
Influential for: Introducing us to the steroids era.
This topic is tricky, because it's hard to say exactly when the steroids era began, so I'm choosing to pick on Mark McGwire and the Athletics of the late '80s.
McGwire has admitted using steroids in the 1989/90 offseason, and continued their use throughout the '90s to "recover from injuries." Jose Canseco also said in his book, Juiced, that he had injected McGwire in the '80s personally.
At the time, people were too enthralled by his home runs to notice that something might be amiss, but he continued to grow in size and hit home runs frequently—even breaking Roger Maris' home run record in 1998 with 62.
Obviously, McGwire wasn't the only one cheating, and the '88 Athletics are simply the team where I draw the line in the sand. One thing's for certain, though: The game of baseball took an enormous hit, and it's still in the process of fully recovering.
27. 1990 Loyola Marymount
Influential for: Paul Westhead's up-tempo, run-and-gun style of play.
Recently, ESPN did a "30 for 30" segment featuring Westhead called The Guru of Go, and boy did he ever.
Westhead's system is a lot like D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" system with the Suns. Basically, he wanted to get up and down the court as quickly as possible, getting a shot off in under 10 seconds or so.
The hope was that his team would be in much better physical condition than the opponent, and over time they'd wear them down with their constant movement.
It worked up until they ran into UNLV—the eventual champion—but the team did have the distinction of averaging 122.4 points a game, a record at the time.
26. 1980 Los Angeles Lakers
Influential for: Showmanship, baby
With the arrival of Magic Johnson in 1979, the Lakers and their style of play changed drastically. The league hadn't quite seen a player of Johnson's talents, and his up-tempo pace and no-look passes took the NBA by storm.
Watching the Lakers became an event; it was special and perfectly suited to the Los Angeles culture. Clearly, this hasn't changed a bit to this day.
The Lakers and their "Showtime" offense took them to the finals eight times from 1980-1989, winning five of them on their way to becoming the team of the decade.
They certainly weren't the first fast-break team ever, and they wouldn't be the last, but with Johnson as the catalyst, it's hard to find a team execute as beautifully as the Lakers of the '80s.
The video features some excellent highlights of the "Showtime" offense at work.
25. 1971 Marshall Football
Influential for: Persevering through tragedy.
Nearly the entire Marshall football team was lost in a plane crash on November 14, 1970, leaving the 1971 team in a position to not only cope with the tragic loss, but having to rebuild the entire program, from the coaches to the players.
The 1971 team was pieced together with walk-ons, freshman, ex-servicemen and three basketball players. They finished 2-8, but gained the respect of whoever they played.
Except Miami of Ohio. They beat Marshall 66-6, showing they officially had no soul.
Marshall's story was made into the movie We Are Marshall.
24. 1950 Boston Celtics
Influential for: Drafting the NBA's first black player; shifting the focus away from fast-break basketball.
When Red Auerbach was hired as the head coach of the Boston Celtics in 1950, he made some changes.
First, he drafted Chuck Cooper, essentially breaking down the NBA's color barrier. Cooper didn't have the best career, by any means, but his addition was monumental in itself.
Auerbach also changed the Celtics from a fast-break team to a defensive-minded team once he saw that they "would get tired in the end and could not get the ball."
To remedy this, he would acquire Hall of Famer Bill Russell, and with him, they forced teams into low-percentage shots from farther distances on their way to eight straight titles from 1957-1966.
The lesson: Having a big man in the center doesn't hurt.
23. 1990 Houston Oilers
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Influential for: The Run and Shoot Offense.
Warren Moon had been with Houston since 1984, but it wasn't until the 1990 season that Moon threw for his first of back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons.
Much of Moon's success came as a result of the Run and Shoot Offense, a pass-heavy formation that uses four wide receivers and emphasizes receiver motion and on-the-fly adjustments of receivers' routes in response to different defenses.
It made for an explosive offense, but it came at a price. This was never more evident than in the 1992 AFC Wild Card Game, when Houston blew a 35-3 lead against the Buffalo Bills.
Simply put, they were unable to run the ball, so they couldn't run down the clock. The Bills came back to win the game 41-38.
22. 1961 New York Yankees
Influential for: The single-season home run record race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
The home run is the easily the most exciting play in baseball, and in 1961, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit their share of them.
They would come to be known as "The M&M Boys," as they each traded home runs on their way to challenging Babe Ruth's record of 60.
Though Mantle fell short due to an abscessed hip, finishing with 54, Maris would break the record on the final game of the season against the Boston Red Sox, hitting his 61st home run.
To this day, "The M&M Boys" still retain the single-season record for combined home runs by a pair of teammates with 115.
You know what I mean.
Mantle and Maris helped the 1961 Yankees win the World Series that year, defeating the Cincinnati Reds in five games, and Maris would win the AL MVP.
21. 1971 Cincinnati Reds
Influential for: Being the first bullpen-heavy team.
And it was all thanks to Sparky Anderson, or as the Cincinnati media called him, "Captain Hook."
Anderson had a tendency to yank pitchers at the first sign of trouble, which was fine, because he made great use of the bullpen. It's not as if it didn't work. Anderson is the first manager to win the World Series with teams in both the American (Detroit Tigers) and National Leagues (St. Louis Cardinals).
Since Sparky's arrival in St. Louis in 1971, "he may have developed more relief pitchers than any other manager in history."
20. 1948 UCLA Bruins Basketball
Influential for: John Wooden, the 2-2-1 zone press and their dynasty.
Wooden became the head coach of the Bruins in the '47-48 season, and up until 1975, he helped the Bruins dominate college basketball.
In that span, the Bruins won 10 titles—including seven straight—recorded an 88-game winning streak and had four undefeated seasons.
That's just to name a few things
Much of their success came as a result of the 2-2-1 zone press, which would frustrate opposing offenses and allowed the Bruins to go on long scoring runs.
The defense isn't used too much anymore in the NBA, mainly because ball-handlers are too good and teams are often well schooled at breaking the press with passing.
For a breakdown of how the defense works, check out this YouTube video of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun demonstrating.
19. 1988 Detroit Pistons
Influential for: The "Jordan Rules."
As I've pointed out in a previous article, the Pistons had Jordan's number for three consecutive years from 1988-1990, and it had a lot to do with how they defended him.
For a detailed explanation of how it works, watch the video, but the basic premise is to double- and triple-team Jordan, making him uncomfortable and taking him out of his comfort zone. In other words, the Pistons weren't going to let one guy beat their team.
It worked wonderfully for those three years, but they didn't take into account that Jordan was a God, so he and the Bulls would eventually overcome the Pistons once and for all in 1991.
I bring up the Jordan Rules because teams still use this philosophy all the time. Anytime you have a team with one exceptional player, you see the opponent use the Jordan Rules.
It's exactly why teams with one superstar and little else don't win titles. The Cavaliers with LeBron James and the Bulls with Derrick Rose come to mind.
If the defense is disciplined and talented enough to pull it off, it's hard to beat.
18. 1960 North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball
Influential for: The Four Corners offense (FCO).
Dean Smith, coach of the Tar Heels from 1961-1997, is known for a few things. He is responsible for the foul-line huddle, the run-and-jump defense and the Four Corners offense.
I singled out the FCO in particular because it played a huge role in the NCAA putting in a shot clock. And what would college basketball be without a shot clock? It would be the FCO, that's what!
The goal of the FCO was to stall. Since there was no shot clock, the offense would spread out—a player in each corner—and the point guard would pass the ball around until they either scored, or the defense stole the ball.
You can see how this would be infuriating.
It took the NCAA a while, but they would eventually put in a shot clock in 1985. It's hard to imagine the game without it.
17. 1950 Minneapolis Lakers
Influential for: Winning the first NBA Championship; being the first NBA dynasty; rule changes because of Mikan.
Led by George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers won five of the first six NBA titles—in '49, '50, '52, '53 and '54—establishing themselves as the NBA's first dynasty and dominant team.
You can say that Mikan was the first big man of the NBA, and because of his dominance in the paint, some rule changes had to be made.
You can blame Mikan for the basketball lane being widened from six feet to 12 feet, largely due to his dominating the paint with extreme prejudice (the "Mikan Rule"), and he was also instrumental in the creation of the three-point line.
16. 1978 San Diego Chargers
Influential for: "Air Coryell" offense.
From 1978-1983, the San Diego Chargers offense was almost unstoppable. Led by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, they led the league in total offense from 1980-1983, and as a result, their offensive scheme was dubbed "Air Coryell," after their head coach.
For the most part, teams relied heavily upon running the football at the time, but Don Coryell opened up the passing game, resulting in Fouts throwing for over 4,000 yards three times, including throwing for 4,802 yards in 1981.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame called "Air Coryell" "one of the most explosive and exciting offenses that ever set foot on an NFL field." In all, they would record 24,000 passing yards from 1978 to 1983.
For a rundown of the Coryell offense, click here.
15. 1967 Green Bay Packers
Influential for: Being the NFL's first great team with the first great coach; the power sweep!
What would this list be without the inclusion of Vince Lombardi's Packers? He's a legend—the Super Bowl trophy is named after him for goodness sake—and if the AFL and NFL had merged just one year sooner, his Packers would be the first and only team to win three straight Super Bowls.
As Lombardi says in the video, the power sweep was the Packers' "bread and butter." It was their "No. 1 play," and if teams wanted to stop them, they would have to shut it down.
In Lombardi's words, "There's nothing spectacular about it. It's just a yard-gainer." But that was his mentality. It didn't matter if the opponent knew it was coming. If executed properly, the power sweep couldn't be stopped.
In other words, teamwork can't be overcome.
The sweep is still used in today's NFL, though, certainly not as much as it was in Lombardi's day. It's a solid play but a bit outdated. As with any play, there are various ways to run it.
If you're a real X's-and-O's type of football fan, watch the video to hear Lombardi explain the play on the ol' chalkboard.
14. 1969 Pittsburgh Steelers
Influential for: Creating the Tampa 2 defense.
Despite its name—coined in the mid-90s for Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the Tampa 2 actually originated with Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In Dungy's words:
"My philosophy is really out of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers playbook,” said Dungy during media interviews while at Super Bowl XLI. “That is why I have to laugh when I hear 'Tampa 2.' Chuck Noll and Bud Carson—that is where it came from, I changed very little."
The Tampa 2 emphasizes speed.
In short, for it to work, the defensive linemen have to be quick and able to put enough pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz. This allows the linebackers and secondary to cover the rest of the field, essentially split down the middle between the two safeties.
The Buccaneers would use this strategy on their way to a Super Bowl victory in 2002.
13. 1968 Denver Broncos
Influential for: Starting the first black quarterback.
The Broncos' 1968 season was largely unremarkable. They finished 5-9 and missed the playoffs. But they did accomplish one important thing.
When starting quarterback Steve Tensi suffered a broken collarbone, Marlin Briscoe, an African-American, took his place, becoming the first black quarterback to start a game.
He would go on to start five games and throw for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns.
12. 1979 San Francisco 49ers
Influential for: Creating the second version of the West Coast offense (WCO).
Bill Walsh was hired as the head coach of the 49ers in 1979, and it didn't take him long to turn the franchise around after a 2-14 season in 1978.
With Joe Montana at quarterback, they would win the Super Bowl in 1981, just three years after Walsh took over.
This was in large part due to the refined WCO.
The WCO, as we know it today, is characterized by short, horizontal passes intended to stretch out the defense. As a result, the running game is supposed to open up.
Typically, teams like to run to set up the pass, but this takes that concept and reverses it. It keeps defenses on their toes, unable to commit to any one strategy.
Joe Montana and the 49ers would go on to win four Super Bowls in total using the WCO.
11. 1965 Texas Western Miners
Influential for: Having the first all-black starting lineup in an NCAAB championship game.
If you were to ask Don Haskins, the Miners head coach, about his decision to start five African-Americans in the 1966 National Championship game, he would say, "I really didn't think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court."
Of course, it was much more important than that.
More and more, color barriers were being broken, both in society and sports. It wasn't just that Haskins started five black athletes; it's that they won, beating Kentucky 72-65.
Haskins would later write a book about it called Glory Road, and it was later adapted into a film.
10. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
Influential for: The I-formation, and having Gatorade on the sideline.
The I-formation is one of the most common formations in football, though it's more widely used in college football these days. It's usually used in running situations, and it has many different variations.
The 1969 Chiefs used it often, and it was fundamental in their Super Bowl IV victory over the Minnesota Vikings. They were also said to be the first team to employ the two-tight end offense.
The Chiefs were also the first team to keep Gatorade on the sideline, which isn't exactly revolutionary, but football just wouldn't seem right without it.
What would players pour on their coach after victory? Money? I don't want to live in that kind of world.
9. 1961 San Diego Chargers
Influential for: Executing the first version of the West Coast offense (WCO).
When anyone thinks of the WCO, Bill Walsh and the 49ers of the 1980s immediately come to mind. Thing is, they weren't the first to employ this offensive strategy.
It was Sid Gillman—who learned it from Paul Brown—and the Bolts of the '60s.
It was something the league hadn't seen before, and the Chargers were able to dissect teams with it all the way through their title run in 1963, where they beat the Boston Patriots 51-10.
They had 610 total yards in that game.
The difference in Gilman's WCO and the version we know today is that it utilized longer passing routes that had to be precisely timed. Gilman, apparently, had no use for short passes.
8. 1958 Baltimore Colts
Influential for: Inventing the two-minute drill.
What would the NFL be without the two-minute drill?
Johnny Unitas is said to have invented it, and he executed it perfectly in the 1958 Championship against the New York Giants.
Backed up at their own 14-yard line, Unitas worked the drill to perfection, capping off the drive with a field goal that would send the game to overtime, where they would go on to win their first of back-to-back titles.
It's now an essential part of today's game. A quarterback that can't effectively execute the two-minute drill isn't going to get very far in his career, as clock management is key to his success.
It's characterized by passes—running the ball keeps the clock moving—mostly to the sidelines, as passes over the midfield can be dangerous depending on how much time is left.
And depending on how many timeouts the team has left, that two minutes can turn into 10, especially for those watching.
7. 1990 Buffalo Bills
Influential for: Running the "K-Gun" offense, otherwise known as the no-huddle offense, for entire games.
The no-huddle offense is common in today's NFL, but the Buffalo Bills of the early '90s were the first to run it consistently and effectively.
It relied heavily upon Jim Kelley reading the defense and calling the appropriate play at the line of scrimmage. Often their offensive formation was predetermined, and he then had the freedom to go on with the play or audible out of it.
The main advantage of such an offense is that the defense doesn't have time to substitute their players to fit the offensive package. This led to mismatches, and the Bills were able to exploit defenses on the way to four straight Super Bowls.
Unfortunately, they didn't win any of them.
6. 1926 St. Louis Cardinals
Influential for: Utilizing (and popularizing) the farm system.
Branch Rickey won four championships with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1926-1942, and it was in large part due to the players he developed and brought up in the farm system.
In fact, the star of the 1931 World Series was Pepper Martin, an outfielder and third baseman developed in the farm system.
At the time, the minor leagues were completely separate from the major leagues, and when Rickey started taking some of the better players from their league to play on his team, it was met with some resistance from the commissioner of baseball.
The commissioner felt it would destroy the minor leagues, but all it did was keep them alive, giving them more importance and purpose.
As Rickey continued to develop players and win championships, other teams caught on and started developing players of their own.
And now we have the formalized Minor League Baseball.
5. 1970 Dallas Cowboys
Influential for: Tom Landry and the 4-3 defense.
It was said that Landry began developing the 4-3 back in the '50s when he was a defensive coordinator for the Giants. But he and the Cowboys gained recognition for it with their "Doomsday Defense" of the '60s and '70s.
The formation consists of four down linemen and three linebackers, and it's used widely throughout the NFL today. There are numerous variations of it, but many teams in one way or another use the 4-3.
Just because I'm a Cowboys fan, I'd like to note that they would go on to win the Super Bowl in '72 and '78.
4. 1940 Oklahoma Sooners Football
Influential for: Developing the 3-4 defense.
Bud Wilkinson called it the "Okie" defense, and it initially began as a 5-4 formation before becoming the 3-4, and it helped the Sooners win 14 league and three national championships.
The 3-4 uses three down linemen and four linebackers, which favors defense against the passing game as more defenders drop into coverage.
For a breakdown of the more effective defensive set between the 3-4 and 4-3, check out this article by Pat Kirwan, an NFL.com senior analyst.
3. 1946 Cleveland Browns
Influential for: Laying the groundwork for what would become the first version of the West Coast offense (WCO).
Paul Brown is said to have put into motion what would later be refined (and defined) as the West Coast offense. It wouldn't have made much sense to call it that at the time as Cleveland is not on the West Coast.
As we saw earlier, the WCO got its name in San Diego. Nevertheless, Paul Brown is said to have given birth to it. He was also said to have "professionalized pro football."
He also introduced precision pass routes, grading players and plays, full-time coaching staffs and sending plays in with messenger guards.
The Browns' inaugural season was in 1946, and they would go on to beat the New York Yankees—that's weird—for the title.
2. 1918 Notre Dame Football
Influential for: Popularizing the forward pass.
Seems strange to imagine a time when football didn't utilize the forward pass, but thanks to Knute Rockne, we now have a pass-happy NFL.
It wasn't necessarily that the forward pass hadn't been used before; it was more that Notre Dame—a major school—took the concept and expanded upon it. This led to other schools adopting the strategy.
The fact of the matter is, none of the other explosive and revolutionary offenses would have been possible if not for the pass being popularized. Somebody had to do it, but you can't have a West Coast offense if there's no passing the ball.
Can't have step three without steps one and two.
Rocke also introduced the shift, "with the backfield lining up in a T formation and then quickly shifting into a box to the left or right just as the ball was snapped."
1. 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers
Influential for: Signing Jackie Robinson, thereby breaking the color barrier in the modern era.
Needless to say, the significance of signing Robinson on April 18, 1946, cannot be overstated. The major leagues hadn't seen an African-American athlete in their ranks since 1884, around the time the National Association of Base Ball Players banned any team "composed of one or more colored persons."
Robinson would make an immediate impact, helping the Dodgers to the World Series that year—they would lose to the Yankees in seven games—and even winning the first Rookie of the Year Award in league history.
The number of African-American athletes in baseball has declined quite a bit over the years—falling to just 8.4 percent of players as of 2006—but with Robinson and the Dodgers paving the way, African-Americans had a team and hero to stand behind in a racially tense era.