NFL History in Brief: The Rise and Fall of Seven NFL Dynasties

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IJanuary 13, 2009

All good things must come to an end.

This simple saying applies in many aspects of life, especially in the world of sports, where franchises are lucky if they are able to keep the same nucleus of players and coaches for more than five or six years.

Many NFL teams have won conference championships and the Super Bowl, but only a handful of teams have been able to build upon that success and dominate a decade.

These teams are reverently referred to as dynasties. 

Just like all political dynasties, NFL dynasties have to start somewhere. But as Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, what goes up must come down, eventually. 

When we take time to reflect upon a dynasty’s greatness, we often find a moment or a series of moments that led to its rise and fall. These moments may have seemed insignificant at the time, but in retrospect they helped define pro football history.

1940s Chicago Bears (NFL Champions in 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946)

Rise of a Dynasty

Coach George Halas implemented the T-formation with quarterback Sid Luckman.  With the T-formation, Halas often put a man in motion out of the backfield.

This helped to evolve the passing game. On Dec. 8, 1940, the Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the NFL Championship Game.

Fall of a Dynasty

The Cardinals and Eagles combined to win the next three NFL Championships.  Luckman retired after the 1950 championship loss to the Browns.

1950s Cleveland Browns (NFL Champions in 1950, 1954, 1955)

Rise of a Dynasty

Cleveland hired Paul Brown in 1946 as vice president, general manager, and head coach. Brown signed Otto Graham in 1946.

Graham led the Browns to their league’s championship game every year from 1946-1955. They had won four straight AAFC championships before becoming a part of the NFL.

Fall of a Dynasty

Otto Graham retired before 1956 season. The Browns won one more NFL title in 1964 and haven’t won a title since.

1960s Green Bay Packers (NFL champions 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967)

Rise of a Dynasty

The re-emergence of the Packers in the 1960s revolved around one man: Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi was named Packers head coach in 1959. The Packers already had Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung two and three seasons prior to Lombardi’s arrival.

Lombardi believed that his players should be in the best shape possible in order to be successful and developed tough training camps. 

Fall of a Dynasty

Vince Lombardi stepped down as the team’s head coach to become the general manager in 1968. Shortly after, many of the Packers’ Hall of Fame players retired.

1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL champions in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979)

Rise of a Dynasty

While the Steelers had Chuck Knoll and some of their legendary players in place prior to their first Super Bowl season, the 1974 draft was a defining moment in franchise history.

In that draft they came away with four future Hall of Famers (Mike Webster, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Jack Lambert).

Fall of a Dynasty

Injuries and age caught up to the Steel Curtain defense in the 1980 season.

Many key figures (Mean Joe Greene, Lynn Swan, Jack Ham, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, and Jack Lambert) all retired in the early 1980s.

1980s San Francisco 49ers (1981, 1984, 1988, 1989)

Rise of a dynasty

Just like the Packers’ dynasty, the 49ers decade of dominance actually started a year before the decade began. Bill Walsh’s and Joe Montana’s first season was 1979. 

Down 35-7 at halftime to the 0-13 New Orleans Saints in 1980, the 49ers won 38-35.  At the time it was the biggest comeback in NFL history.

It was Montana’s first of many big comebacks and he won the job as the full-time starting quarterback. He was alternating time with Steve DeBerg during his second season. 

In 1985, the 49ers drafted Jerry Rice. Rice is a three-time Super Bowl champion and a member of the 1980's and 1990's all-decade teams.

Fall of a dynasty

Walsh retired after the 1988 season.

Montana suffered an injury in the 1991 NFC championship game against the Giants which prevented a “three-peat”.

Montana missed all of the 1991 season and all but one game of the 1992 season with an elbow injury.

Ronnie Lott left the team after the 1990 season to play for the Raiders.

1990s Dallas Cowboys (NFL champions in 1992, 1993, 1995)

Rise of a Dynasty

Jerry Jones buys the team on Feb. 25, 1989 and immediately hires Jimmy Johnson as head coach. He drafts Troy Aikman in 1989. 

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson decide to trade Herschel Walker in 1989 in order to acquire drafts picks, with which they could build a team.

With the trade, Dallas was able to draft Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodsen. 

Fall of a Dynasty

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson split in 1994 after Jones allegedly said, “Any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”

Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to a win in Super Bowl XXX, but he resigned two years later. This led to the short-lived eras of Chan Gailey and Dave Campo eras. I’m sure Cowboys’ fans would like to pretend didn’t exist.

2000s New England Patriots (NFL champions in 2001, 2003, 2004)

Rise of a Dynasty

Owner Robert Kraft hires Bill Belichick in 2000. On Sept. 23, 2001, Mo Lewis knocks out Drew Bledsoe, as Bledsoe suffers internal bleeding. Tom Brady takes over. The rest is history.

The “Tuck Rule Game," Jan. 19, 2002. Every story has two sides and this one is no different. Here are the facts:

The New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders met in the AFC Divisional playoff round on a snowy afternoon.

The Raiders had a 13-10 lead late in the fourth quarter when it appeared, at first, that Tom Brady fumbled the ball. The ball was recovered by Oakland. Referee Walt Coleman overturned the call on replay by invoking the tuck rule.

Many, if not all, Patriots fans will tell you that the correct call was made. Many Raiders fans will echo the sentiments of Charles Woodsen. He said it was, “a bull[poop] call.”

The Patriots went on the win the game in overtime and the Super Bowl weeks later.

Fall of a Dynasty

I cannot say for certain that the Patriots’ dynasty is done.

They still had a good season this year. Unless Pittsburgh wins the Super Bowl this year, we still won’t have another team that has won multiple titles since the Patriots won their last. 

In other words, no other team has established themselves as a dynasty to take the place of the Patriots.

It looks, though, as if the end may be near for New England’s domination. After a perfect regular season, the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.

The next season almost ended just as it began. On Sept. 7, 2008, Tom Brady went down with a major knee injury. 

His status for 2009 is still unknown and will be for months.


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