With the New England Patriots once again preparing to play for another championship, it seems fitting to focus on the topic of professional sports dynasties.
Depending on which sports broadcasting pundit you listen to, you’re expecting either the continuation or the finale of one of the longest extended runs of excellence in sports this Sunday against the Rams.
Going back 17 years, to February 2002, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls and played in eight. Normally, to be considered a dynasty, a franchise would need a minimum of three championships in a short time span, say five years. That gets you a somewhat sturdy leg to stand on.
So, with all the talk over the past two decades about the Patriots dynasty, it might surprise you to find out that the Patriots did the majority of their damage in the first four seasons of the Tom Brady era.
Brady of course famously took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and led the Patriots to a championship victory over the Rams in the 2001-2002 season. New England then missed out on the playoffs the following year before winning back-to-back Super Bowls over the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers.
While the Patriots were often heavy favorites to win another championship or at least make it back to the championship game, it wasn’t until the 2014-2015 season that Brady got his hands on the Lombardi Trophy again. That was the game where the Seattle Seahawks famously opted to go for a pass on the goal line, leading to a game-clinching interception, rather than handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, at the time one of the NFL’s top running backs.
Unfortunately, the Patriots didn’t follow the Seahawks’ example in their latest AFC Championship game in Kansas City.
It’s hard to believe though that with how prevalent the Patriots’ dynasty has been in the media, Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick went 10 years in between championship wins in 2005 and 2015.
The Patriots have since won the fifth title of the Brady era, two seasons ago against the Atlanta Falcons, and then lost the crown to the Eagles last season.
In essence, the Patriots’ dynasty can really be considered two separate runs of greatness, separated by 10 years in between of fitting more into the latter category of today’s column headline.
Brady and Belichick have proven that excellence can still be sustained over decades, controversies notwithstanding, through the practice of coaching players to their highest potential rather than simply going out and signing better players than everybody else. However, even they had a 10-year dry spell when it comes to the true measure of a dynasty — winning championships.
The rise to prominence of free agency and salary caps combined with the megadeals that athletes sign to play with these teams now has made the sustainability of decades-long string of championships a thing of the past.
As someone who grew up during the era of the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bulls dynasties, I don’t expect to ever see another run of dominance that matches the Bulls of the 1990s.
The Bulls twice won championships in three consecutive seasons and altogether won six championships in eight years from 1991-98. Even that, however, pales in comparison when you go back to the Boston Celtics of the late 1950s and 1960s, where the team won eight consecutive championships and 11 total in a 13-year span.
Even with what the Golden State Warriors are doing now, with back-to-back championships and three title wins in the past four years, and the chance for a three-peat this year, success in this era is only sustained until the next bigger and better “superteam” is constructed to knock a dynasty off its pedestal.
Perhaps there is no bigger dynasty wannabe in professional sports right now than LeBron James. The NBA’s biggest star changed teams for the third time in his career by joining the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer. James took the concept of a “superteam” to a new level in 2010 when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join fellow all-stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The Heat only managed to win two championships though in James’ four seasons with the team. Miami did, however, reach the NBA finals all four of those seasons.
James then went back to Cleveland, joining the superstar that was drafted to replace him, Kyrie Irving, and inciting a trade for Kevin Love that resulted in yet another “superteam.” The Cavaliers were outdone though by the Warriors, who met Cleveland in four consecutive NBA Finals from 2015-18 with the Warriors winning three times and the Cavaliers just once.
With that attempt at a dynasty foiled, James has now shifted to L.A. Already, in just James’ first season with the team, the media has become focused on trade rumors that would take superstar center Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans to L.A. to join James and Lonzo Ball.
At 34 years of age, this could be the last attempt at a dynasty of James’ career.
In Major League Baseball, there is no shortage of dynasties going back through the years.
However, there have been just two franchises in the past 30 years to hit that minimum mark of three championships in short succession to even start to get into the dynasty conversation. One of those, the New York Yankees, rose to prominence in the late 1990s with the team’s first championship in nearly two decades in 1996. That was followed by three consecutive World Series victories in 1998, 1999 and 2000. With only a few of the mainstays from those teams still around, most notably shortstop Derek Jeter and recently elected Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, those Yankees got a fifth championship nearly a decade later in 2009.
The other was the San Francisco Giants during the superstitious even-years only run that included championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The Giants, however, missed the playoffs in both 2011 and 2013. Personally though, I kind of feel like not even making the playoffs in 40 percent of the seasons during your run of championships somewhat precludes you from holding the status of a dynasty.
The topic of dynasties in baseball was thrust back into the spotlight this week with the assertion of Houston Astros third-baseman Alex Bregman that the Astros are going to be a dynasty.
The Astros already have one World Series championship to their credit, in 2017. They also have a solid lineup of young players to continue to make a run at more. However, so do a good deal of other teams in the league like the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox.
Those same Red Sox unseated Houston as the American League Champions this past season and won their fourth World Series championship of the past 15 years.
Confidence is always a good thing for your players to have, but it’s probably putting the cart before the horse to even mention the d-word without already having two rings to rub up against each other.
The Cubs made similar claims of a dynasty in the making when they finally ended the century-long “Billy Goat” curse three years ago. They’ve not been back to the World Series since and this past season were bounced from the playoffs by the Colorado Rockies after just one game in the wildcard round.
For those in St. Louis, one can only hope that the Cubs have succeeded in calling down another century of futility upon themselves and that those on the north side of Chicago stay wannabes.
Whether a dynasty is in the cards for any of these teams, or whether they’ll ultimately be added to the list of wannabes, we’ll have to wait and see.