HOUSTON -- If the New England Patriots win their second Super Bowl title in three years Sunday night, as I suspect they will, small children and dogs will likely be trampled in the rush to invoke the "D" word.
And we're not talking about defense.
The media's penchant for throwing the "dynasty'' label around at the drop of a helmet has grown almost comical in its predictability. There's such a rush to put things into their historical perspective these days that we forget to actually let some history occur before we dive into the debate. Good old instant analysis at its finest.
With a win, the Patriots won't have claim to a dynasty. What they will deserve is to be considered the closest thing that the NFL has to offer in the way of a dominant team in the league's volatile, ever-changing landscape. In this age of free agency and the salary cap, keeping teams together long enough to create a dynasty is virtually impossible. But that doesn't mean we should respond by changing the definition of the word in order to make the tag fit our times.
If two titles in three years is a dynasty in today's NFL, then what term truly describes the 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers or 1980s 49ers? And let's not even consider how we would begin to quantify the dominance of the Yankees of 1920-1964, the Boston Celtics of the Red Auerbach-Bill Russell era or the Montreal Canadiens in the days of the six-team NHL.
Dynasty is just a word we're going to have to put aside in the NFL until it fits. Who knows? Maybe it'll be decades before anyone again deserves the designation.
After all, if the Patriots have a dynasty from 2001-2003, consider what would happen if Tampa Bay rebounds next season and wins its second Super Bowl in three years. Another dynasty? Even though it overlapped with New England's would-be dynasty, and neither team made the playoffs the year after its first Super Bowl win? I don't know about you, but in my book dynasties have to occur one team at a time, or by their very definition they're not dynasties.
The perfect response to the question of modern-day dynasties was, of course, uttered by Packers general manager Ron Wolf six years ago about now, in the moments after Green Bay was upset by Denver in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. The Packers were heavily favored to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title, and thus Wolf had been bombarded with pregame questions regarding the "new'' Packers dynasty.
"We're just a fart in the wind,'' said Wolf, making no attempt to hide his disappointment in Green Bay's missed opportunity. "This ought to take care of all that silly dynasty talk.''
It did in Green Bay. But it cropped up right after that in Denver, which won a second consecutive Super Bowl, and again in St. Louis before the Rams lost their chance to nab two out of three titles two years ago against New England. And now it's back, providing a backdrop for everything the Patriots have said and done this week.
"Let's win this game first before we start doing all the comparisons,'' Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "That's all that matters to us at this point.''
But it is silly to talk dynasty, and that's to take nothing away from this New England team. If it beats Carolina, ending its season with 15 consecutive wins -- the second-longest one-season streak in NFL history behind the 1972 Miami Dolphins of 17-0 fame -- it will be a remarkable accomplishment that merits the 2003 Patriots being mentioned among the best teams of all time.
But a second Super Bowl title won't make New England a dynasty, not in an era where three of the last five Super Bowl champions didn't even make the playoffs the following year. It will just mean that the Patriots were a great team this season, and accomplished something quite extraordinary in this era of parity and widespread player movement. Why can't that be enough? Why do we have to make it larger than that?
"If, if, if. What good does it do to sit here [with hypotheticals]?'' Patriots special teams standout Larry Izzo said. "Our place in the [history] books will be determined, not by us, but somewhere down the line. We have to just go out and take care of our job. My job isn't to daydream about the possibilities of who is going to say we're the greatest and this and that.
"When it's all said and done, you start thinking like that and that's when you get smacked in the face. I don't even want to touch that because it's scary. It's a scary thing.''
To their everlasting credit, no one on the Patriots has even sipped the Kool-aid this week when it comes to the media's dynasty fascination.
"I think it takes more than three years,'' New England quarterback Tom Brady said. "We need to string together a decade or two to match something like that.''
Now there's a refreshing perspective, albeit one that goes more than a tad overboard. I'd say in the NFL as it is currently constituted, putting together a decade or two of sustained excellence is as likely as getting Al Davis and Paul Tagliabue to vacation together, just them and the wives. But we applaud Brady's attempt to defuse the dynasty talk.
"I would say 14 [wins] in a row, that's awesome,'' Brady said. "We're proud of it. But if you don't win that 15th, it's going to make for a lousy year. So this next one coming up is the most important. The next one coming up is really going to measure what this team is and what we've accomplished.
"Nobody remembers the [Super Bowl] runner-up. Everybody remembers the champion. So we've got to win that 15th if we really want to be proud of ourselves.''
There's plenty to be proud of in New England these days. The Patriots haven't lost since late September, and Brady's a victory away from becoming the youngest ever two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, at 26. Even better, New England's roster has been wisely built, and the cap-savvy Patriots have a higher-than-average chance to add to their Super Bowl legacy in the coming years.
But let's let them do it first, and then we'll talk history. Like they say, two out of three ain't bad. But it ain't a dynasty.