Tuesday, July 21, 2009
When you take a look at all of the seasons played in league history, certain teams obviously stand out. Teams with great defenses, legendary quarterbacks, and Super Bowl greatness set themselves apart in the discussion for the best of all time. In comparing those teams against each other, which teams emerge as the 10 best ever? I'm pretty sure that no two fans could agree on that list, but I take my shot at it in this week's top ten.
10) 1971 Dallas Cowboys
The 1971 Dallas Cowboys defense was known as the "Doomsday Defense". Basically, if an opposing team was relying primarily on their offense to lead them to victory, they met their doom when they faced Dallas. The stingy defense only allowed 122 points that season. With defensive tackle Bob Lilly anchoring the line and high intercepting linebackers like Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan, the team had not given up a touchdown in 25 quarters leading up to Super Bowl VI.
That Super Bowl was the second in a row for Dallas. The previous year they lost to the Baltimore Colts in a game known as the "Blunder Bowl"; due to its sloppy play and poor officiating. The '71 Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins 24-3. The team set Super Bowl records for most first downs (23), most rushing yards (252), least points allowed, and least total yards allowed (185). Cowboys legendary quarterback Roger Staubach finished the season as Super Bowl MVP and the NFL passing leader.
9) 1999 St. Louis Rams
No one saw Kurt Warner coming. The guy went from working in a grocery store to working as a backup quarterback to Super Bowl champion in the span of two years. In the 1999 season, Warner and the Rams offense was known as the "Greatest Show on Turf". Warner had the supporting cast of star running back Marshall Faulk, legendary receiver Isaac Bruce, and Pro Bowl wideout Tory Holt. The team would comprise an 8-0 record at home and finish the season 13-3. Kurt Warner was named league MVP
The team won Super Bowl XXIV in dramatic fashion against the Tennessee Titans. However, this time it was the Rams defense that made the difference. The unit held the Titans one yard short of the end zone, preventing them from tying the game on the final play. Warner would go on to be named Super Bowl MVP. He threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns in the dramatic victory.
8) 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers
The 1979 Steelers were AFC Central division champs and finished the season with a 12-4 record. They would finish the season in their 2nd consecutive Super Bowl. The team was led by legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw. With receivers like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Bradshaw finished the season with 3,724 yards and 26 touchdowns. The "Steel Curtain" defense finished first in the AFC, showcasing Hall of Famers like Jack Lambert, "Mean" Joe Green, and Jack Ham.
In Super Bowl XIV, Pittsburgh defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-19. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was the game's MVP with 309 yards passing and two touchdowns. Bradshaw hit wide receiver John Stallworth with a 73 yard pass late in the game to take the lead. But it was the defense that solidified the win by not allowing any points in the entire 4th quarter. It was the Steelers fourth Super Bowl ring in franchise history.
7) 1991 Washington Redskins
The 1991 Redskins led the league in scoring with 485 regular season points. On the flip side, the defense only allowed their opponents to score 224 points all season. Mark Rypien led the offense at the quarterback position with Art Monk at wide receiver and running back Earnest Byner in the backfield. Byner was ranked 5th in the league with 1,048 rushing yards. The defense was ranked 3rd in the league in fewest yards allowed all season (4,638). Defensive end Charles Mann recorded 11 sacks on the season and defensive back Darrell Green led the team in interceptions (5).
They finished the season 14-2 and faced the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. By the third quarter of the game, the Redskins were up 24-0; a lead the Bills could not recover from. Mark Rypien led the way with 292 yards and two touchdowns and was named Super Bowl MVP. The 1991 Washington Redskins would win their 3rd Super Bowl in franchise history by a score of 37-24.
6) 1994 San Francisco 49ers
In the 1994 season, the San Francisco 49ers became the first team in league history to win 5 Super Bowls. Steve Young had officially taken over the offense after the trade of the legendary quarterback Joe Montana. It was the 1994 season that would determine if Young was truly a champion. He was benched in a 40-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 5, which dropped them to 2-3 on the season. A furious Steve Young was seen yelling at head coach George Seifert on the sidelines during the embarrassing loss. Young's fire sparked the rest of the team and prompted a 10 game winning streak that would carry them right into the playoffs.
But without beating Dallas and winning the Super Bowl, the team would be deemed a failure by the fans, media, and even themselves. After losing to Dallas in the NFC Championship for 3 consecutive seasons, the 9ers got over the hump and beat them 38-28 to advance to Super Bowl XXIX. Facing the San Diego Chargers for the championship, the 49ers dominated from start to finish. Steve Young had the performance of a lifetime with 6 touchdowns; still a Super Bowl record. He was named Super Bowl MVP. Stellar performances by wide receiver Jerry Rice and defensive back Deion Sanders also highlighted the game.
5) 1989 San Francisco 49ers
Not to be outdone, quarterback Joe Montana and the 1989 49ers are placed a notch higher on this list. The 1989 49ers set out to win back-to-back championships. They started by dominating the league that year on both sides of the ball. Montana threw for 3,512 yards and 26 touchdowns, while only throwing 8 interceptions all season. At the time, those numbers netted him the highest quarterback rating of all time (112.4). Wide receiver Jerry Rice finished the season with 1,483 yards and 17 touchdowns and running back Roger Craig led the team with 1,054 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns. To top it off, the defense was ranked 3rd in the league.
The 49ers finished the regular season with a 14-2 record. In Super BowlXXIV they faced the Denver Broncos led by quarterback John Elway. What resulted was the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl history. The 49ers beat the Broncos 55-10. The team scored on 6 of its first 8 drives. Montana threw for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns to be named Super Bowl MVP. Jerry Rice finished with 148 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 49er defense held the Broncos to 167 yards and just 12 first downs.
4) 1962 Green Bay Packers
Under coach Vince Lombardi, the 1962 Packers comprised a 13-1 record. Quarterback Bart Starr led the league in passing with 2,438 yards. Packer running back Jim Taylor led the league in rushing with 1,474 yards rushing; the one year that Jim Brown didn't win the rushing title with the Browns. Defensive back Willie Woods led the league in interceptions with 9. In the 1962 season, the franchise looked to win a back-to-back NFL Championships.
In the NFL Championship game, the Packers faced the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium. Legendary linebacker Ray Nitschke recovered two fumbles and deflected a pass to become the game's MVP. The Packers defense kept the Giants scoreless in the first half and only allowed them one touchdown in the entire game.
3) 2007 New England Patriots
If the Patriots had won Super Bowl XLII, they would have topped this list as the best team in the history of the NFL. They didn't win the Super Bowl, but they did win every game in a 16 game regular season. No other team has ever accomplished that feat. Their 2 wins in the playoffs made them the first team in league history to win 18 games in a row. And, their offensive assault on the NFL record books will have a long lasting impact on the game.
Quarterback Tom Brady set the record for most touchdowns thrown in a season (50). Brady was named league MVP and league Offensive Player of the Year. While wide receiver Randy Moss set the league record for most receiving touchdowns in a season (23). The team sent a franchise high 8 players to the NFL Pro Bowl. But, the shocking loss in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants keeps this team from being the best of all-time.
2) 1972 Miami Dolphins
Its surprising that the 1972 Dolphins are number 2 on this list. As the only team to go undefeated in an NFL season, the Dolphins have a very good argument for the top spot. With a flawless season from week 1 to the Super Bowl, the '72 Dolphins are hailed as the only team with a perfect regular season, a perfect playoff record and a Super Bowl ring. When quarterback Bob Griese broke his ankle in week 5, it appeared as if the team would have trouble. But, backup veteran quarterback Earl Morrall led the way in week 6 as the team beat the Buffalo Bills by 1 point. After that victory, the team never looked back.
Running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first running tandem to each rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. The "No Name Defense" ranked first for the season and was led by linebacker Nick Buoniconti, tackle Manny Fernandez, and defensive end Bill Stanfill. They faced the Washington Redskins in the championship in the lowest scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. The Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7; allowing the Redskins to cross mid-field only 4 times the entire game.
1) 1985 Chicago Bears
I know that I give the 1985 Bears a lot of love. I'm not even a huge Bears fan. But the team's dominance in the 16 regular season game format coupled with their huge win in Super Bowl XX continues to standout against other teams in league history. The roster was filled with stars and future Hall of Famers. That season, middle linebacker Mike Singletary was named Defensive Player of the Year, running back Walter Payton was named NFC Offensive Player of the Year, and coach Mike Ditka was named Coach of the Year.
When you look at the regular season performance of the 1985 Bears, what stands out is the dominance displayed over teams week after week. Many of their wins were blowout victories; with many teams failing to score more than 1 touchdown against them. But it is the post season play of the 1985 Bears that sets them apart. The total annihilation of teams in the playoffs made the Bears look like a team of men playing among boys. The defense allowed 1 touchdown in 3 playoff games, with two of the games ending in shutouts. In the end, the Bears beat the New England Patriots 46-10 to win Super Bowl XX.
The 1985 Bears and the 1972 Dolphins will continue to be in the argument for best team ever until a team can finish what the 2007 Patriots started. That is win all 16 regular season games and the Super Bowl. Until then, there will be fans that have very good arguments for either team to be labeled the best ever. As always, I welcome your opinions.