Uncharted territory: can Tom Brady and the Patriots do what no other team has done and win three straight Super Bowls?
MANY HAVE TRIED, ALL HAVE failed. Now it is New England’s turn.
The Patriots hardly are the first team in position to capture three straight Super Bowl titles. Since the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first AFL-NFL championship game in 1967, six franchises have won two consecutive titles, with the Pittsburgh Steelers doing it twice. None reached the Super Bowl with a third crown on the line.
Can the Pats do it? And what happened to the other clubs who failed?
First, some history. Actually, a lot of history:
* Green Bay beat Kansas City 35-10 in 1967 and the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in 1968.
* The Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in 1973, the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in 1974.
* Pittsburgh downed Minnesota 16-6 in 1975, the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in 1976.
* The Steelers also took Dallas 35-31 in 1979, then beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in 1980.
* The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in 1989 and routed the Denver Broncos 55-10 in 1990.
* Dallas took Buffalo 52-17 in 1993 and again beat the Bills, 30-13, in 1994.
* Denver upset Green Bay 31-24 in 1998 and beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in 1999.
* New England outlasted the Carolina Panthers 32-29 and the Philadelphia Eagles 24,21.
Here’s a look at the teams that failed in their Threepeat bids:
The Packers were approaching the end of their dominance of the NFL when the Super Bowl was created. They’d won the NFL championship in 1961, ’62, and ’65. With tremendous pressure on them to prove their league was superior to the upstart AFL, the Packers held up their end with their victories over the Chiefs and Raiders.
“The ’60s were the time that pro football came of age, with television and the rest of it,” Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke said in 1997, when the Packers finally made it back to the big game. “The Packers are what people remember, the mystique of those teams. Lombardi still comes at you–the values of Lombardi, the discipline, the pride you should have in your job. It’s something people are always looking for, a universal thing.”
But the team was old by ’68, and iconic coach Vince Lombardi wanted a break. He stopped coaching after the second Super Bowl, handing the job to assistant Phil Bengtson. Although Lombardi grew antsy in the front office, his return to the sidelines came in Washington, not Green Bay.
Bengston went 20-21-1, the beginning of more than two decades of mediocrity for the Pack.
The Dolphins reached three straight Super Bowls, falling to Dallas in the 1972 game, then winning the next two. With a precision offense led by the conservatism of quarterback Bob Griese and the running of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris behind a staunch line, Miami could bludgeon most opponents. When the need arose to throw, the Dolphins had Paul Warfield, who, like Griese and Csonka, is in the Hall of Fame.
The No-Name Defense actually featured some terrific names: Nick Buoniconti, Jake Scott, and Dick Anderson. Don Shula, who would become the NFL’s winningest coach, was in charge. Then came the World Football League, which threw around money it didn’t really have and enticed Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield to leave Miami. The Dolphins couldn’t handle the dropoff in talent against such strong opponents as the Steelers and Raiders in the AFC. But one thing only the Dolphins have done is post an unbeaten season, 17-0 in 1972.
“With each year, our accomplishment stands higher and higher,” says Warfield. “In 1972, the media attention was significantly less; no one was paying attention to what we were doing. Now as soon as a team wins six games in a row, the media are all over the chance to go undefeated. All of a sudden, each game along the way has a Super Bowl atmosphere. That’s why it is a lot harder to do in today’s setting.”
The Steel Curtain defense and a versatile offense sparked the Steelers to four championships in six seasons. The rosters read like a Hall of Fame scroll: Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster.
But Pittsburgh could not win three NFL rifles in a row.
Unquestionably the best team in the league in the ’74 and ’75 seasons, the Steelers were ravaged by injuries in 1976. Their defense played remarkably in a 104 season, allowing only 138 points and posting three straight shutouts and five in the last eight games. But the team had little offensive balance because of injuries to 1,000-yard running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier during the playoffs and lost to Oakland 24-7 for the AFC Championship Game.
“That 1976 team might have been the best Steelers team ever,” Lambert says. “We just shut people down, really dominated them. Teams would just give up running the ball against us.” Until the Steelers were so worn thin that the Raiders handled them 24-7 for the conference crown.
Pittsburgh was right back at it in 1978 and ’79, with the same fearsome defense and a more explosive offensive attack as a more comfortable Bradshaw was given the green light to go deep to Swann and Stallworth. The Steelers beat the Cowboys and Rams for two more Super Bowl championships, then began the Drive For Five–or One For The Thumb, a ring for each finger.
By 1980, there was nothing left in the tank. It had been a great run, but the Steelers also grew old during it, and they were just 9-7 that season, allowing 313 points, the most they’d yielded since 1969.
Bill Walsh took over a 2-14 team and promptly went, uh, 2-14. And then 6-10. Walsh, however, was building with youngsters such as Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. He’d installed his West Coast offense, and it took root in 1981, when the Niners stormed to a 13-3 record, best in the NFL, and won their first title.
By 1985, they’d added Jerry Rice–and another championship the previous season. In 1988 and ’89, San Francisco grabbed its third and fourth crowns of the decade in diametrically opposite fashion. Against the Bengals, the Niners needed one of the most clutch TD drives in pro football history to win in the dying seconds. Against Denver, they staged the most lopsided rout in Super Bowl annals.
So 1990 was going to be their year to become the first team with three straight Super Bowl victories, and the first with five overall. Things looked good, too, as the 49ers outlasted the New York Giants for best record in the league, 14-2 to 13-3, and played the NFC Championship Game at home.
They held the Giants without a touchdown all day, leading 13-12 and moving with the ball late in the fourth quarter, even though Montana was injured. Then Lawrence Taylor recovered Roger Craig’s fumble at the New York 43 with 2:36 remaining. The Giants calmly marched downfield, and Matt Bahr made his fifth field goal of the day as time expired.
“This season was so incredibly difficult. We were playing everybody’s Super Bowl,” says Steve Young, who replaced Montana. “‘You’d hear it when you warmed up on the sidelines. Other players talked that way. The enormity of what we faced each game. We came through so much, and to have it come to this. I never thought we wouldn’t get back there.”
The Cowboys’ demise in 1994 hardly was a fall, but it was caused by fallout from The Feud. When owner Jerry Jones and coach/mastermind Jimmy Johnson opted to part ways after an ego-driven series of arguments at the NFL meetings, it also signaled harder times for Dallas. But not immediately.
Under Jones’ hand-chosen successor, Barry Switzer, the legendary former Oklahoma coach, America’s Team went 12-4 in ’94. The 49ers were 13-3, and when both advanced to the NFC title game, it was held in soggy Candlestick Park. On the Dallas sideline, Switzer lost his cool several times, even drawing a critical penalty. That helped the 49ers to a 38-28 decision, and they than beat the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl.
Switzer earned the nickname “Bozo the Coach” from some in the media for his antics, but Dallas did come back to win the 1995 crown. Of course, it was with Johnson’s players. Without the breakup between JJ and JJ, who knows how many straight championships the Cowboys might have won?
Sometimes the explanations are so easy. In the Broncos’ case, here it is: John Elway retired after the 1998 season, and he pretty much has been irreplaceable since. It didn’t help that Terrell Davis wrecked his knee in ’99 or that the defense flopped. Still, Elway’s departure ruined any shot at three in a row.
Can the Patriots overcome the various obstacles sure to be placed in their way this season? Those barriers already have set up, beginning with both coordinators leaving–Romeo Crennel to become head coach with the Cleveland Browns, Charlie Weis to take the same job at Notre Dame. What’s more, defensive leader Tedy Bruschi had a stroke last February and will miss the entire season.
But this team might be in the best shape of any that have gone for the coveted third straight Super Bowl win. It is not old; such key players as Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Eugene Wilson, and Adam Vinatieri are in their prime or approaching it. Bill Belichick has proven to be among the most brilliant strategists in the game. Scott Pioli and he find exactly the right fits for their system and their philosophy.
In this salary-cap era, when depth is nonexistent for so many teams, the Patriots have it. Their aging players such as Willie McGinest and Troy Brown are not asked to do too much. Only enough to win championships.
A Threepeat is on the horizon again. History says it won’t happen, but who will stop the Pats?
COPYRIGHT 2005 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group