Cold Hard Football Facts: Look back at NFL dynasty-ending defeats
If Patriots dynasty is over, it ended with Super Bowl loss to Giants
The Packers' dynasty ended at the hands of the rival Vikings
Other dynasty-ending losses for 49ers, Cowboys, Rams, more
Is the New England dynasty over? It's one of the burning issues in pro football as Tom Brady, Bill Belichick & Co. prepare to enter training camp and prepare to reset the clock after a disastrous 2008 calendar year.
We don't know the answer, really. But we do know that nothing lasts forever -- not even seemingly indestructible pro football dynasties.
Some dynasties, like Al Davis' great Raiders teams, die in fiery Hindenburg-like disasters, with the whole world witnessing the ugly destruction. Other dynasties, like the 1970s Steelers, simply slip silently under the sea like the Titanic, with outside observers oblivious to the disaster that befell the once mighty vessel until the bodies begin washing up on shore.
The Patriots, if it is over, would certainly fill the former category: the 16-0 Patriots of 2007 -- the single most dominant NFL team since the wartime 1942 Bears -- suffered a humiliating loss to the 10-6 Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Just minutes into their very next game, the 2008 season opener, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was lying on the ground, his season ended by a devastating knee injury. The Brady-less Patriots failed to make the playoffs. In fact, in the everything-changes-in-an-instant NFL, the Patriots, who were 16-0 in 2007, lost the 2008 division title to a Miami team that was 1-15 in 2007.
That's a tough nine months for a team that looked literally unbeatable in January 2008.
Yet the Patriots are considered favorites by just about every oddsmaker to return to Super Bowl form in 2009. But if they don't return this year -- if they never return to form -- Super Bowl XLII will always be remembered as the game in which the Patriots dynasty died.
It wouldn't be the first dynasty-ending defeat, of course, and it won't be the last. In fact, thinking about that game this week and the potential of the season ahead, we started to consider all the games that marked the death of all the dynasties and the budding dynasties of pro football past.
Here they are:
The Paul Brown-Era Browns
The game that ended it all: Packers 23, Browns 12 (1965 NFL championship game)
The great Paul Brown was unceremoniously dismissed from Cleveland by owner Art Modell at the end of the 1962 season, after forging the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
The Browns, in their first six years in the NFL (1950-55) appeared in six straight championship games, winning three of them. This NFL performance came on the heels of four straight years of dominance of the old AAFC (1946-49). The Browns won all four league titles.
Yet the system Brown built kept chugging along under the leadership of head coach Blanton Collier and the performances of superhuman running back Jim Brown.
Cleveland destroyed Johnny Unitas and the Colts, 27-0, in the 1964 NFL championship game. They returned to the title tilt against the Packers in 1965 -- the last league championship before the dawn of the Super Bowl Era the following season. It was a pivotal year in NFL history ... and a pivotal year in Browns history.
Cleveland appeared poised to steal "team of the decade" status away from the Packers, who had won championships in 1961 and 1962. The Browns boasted an 11-3 mark in 1965 -- the best record in the league and a hair better than the 10-3-1 Packers -- and they were led by the unanimous league MVP Jim Brown, at the very height of his powers. Brown topped the league in almost every offensive category, including rushing yards (1,544) and rushing TDs (17).
But the Packers defense was more than up to the task: they stopped Brown dead in his tracks, limiting him to 50 yards on 12 attempts, while holding the Browns to 161 yards of total offense.
The Packers would go on to win two more NFL championship games after beating the Browns, not to mention the first two Super Bowls. Cleveland, meanwhile, has never recovered from the dispiriting offensive performance.
The Browns appeared in 13 of 20 pro football championship games before losing to the Packers.
The Browns have appeared in zero of 43 pro football championship games since losing to the Packers.
The 1960s Packers
The game that ended it all: Vikings 26, Packers 13 (Week 2, 1968)
Vince Lombardi retired from pro football (for a year, anyway) after the 1967 season and after leading the Packers to three straight NFL championships and to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
The dynasty wasted no time drowning in his wake.
The Packers opened the post-Lombardi Era with a solid 30-13 win over the Eagles. But by the end of Week 2, it was evident that something was very, very wrong in Green Bay.
The Vikings, for example, had struggled since joining the league in 1961 and were a dismal 3-8-3 in 1967.
But by the end of this game at Lambeau Field, we had discovered that Bud Grant's Vikings were an emerging force. We also learned that Phil Bengston's Packers had rolled over and died. The Vikings raced out to a 16-0 lead -- a Jim Marshall sack of the great Bart Starr for a safety adding insult to injury -- and easily outmuscled the Packers. In fact, Minnesota sported a nifty 26-6 lead before Starr connected with Carroll Dale for a late TD.
The result reverberated across the upper Midwest and across the young Black & Blue Division. The Vikings beat the Packers again in November and cruised to an 8-6 record, their first division crown and their first postseason appearance. The Packers finished 6-7-1, their first losing season of the decade. Nothing was ever the same for the organization:
The Packers won five NFL championships in the seven years before losing to the Vikings.
The Packers have won one NFL championship in the 40 years since losing to the Vikings.
The 1970s Dolphins
The game that ended it all: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26 (1974 divisional playoffs)
Better known as the "Sea of Hands" game, this is one of the great epic defeats in pro football history.
Miami was a seemingly indestructible force entering the 1974 playoffs and well on its way to achieving "dynasty" status (the general consensus seems to be that it takes three titles to tango on the dynasty dance floor).
The 1972 Dolphins had gone undefeated and won Super Bowl VII. Some observers, including several Dolphins themselves, claim that the 1973 squad that went 12-2 and won Super Bowl VIII was even better. The 1974 Dolphins were not quite as dominant, but at 11-3 they had the second-best record in football. The 12-2 Raiders were one game better.
The Raiders were also one play better on this particular day.
In the waning seconds of the game, quarterback Ken Stabler was chased from the pocket. He awkwardly shot-putted the ball while off balance into the end zone and into a hornet's nest of defenders surrounding the lonely black jersey of running back Clarence Davis.
Davis somehow came up with the ball amid the "Sea of Hands" for the game-winning touchdown. The Miami dynasty was over.
The Dolphins appeared in three straight Super Bowls, winning the last two, before the Sea of Hands game.
The Dolphins have appeared in two Super Bowls, winning none, in the 34 seasons since the Sea of Hands game.
The 1970s Steelers
The game that ended it all: Oilers 6, Steelers 0 (Week 14, 1980)
It was Pittsburgh who wrested the dynasty crown from the hands of those very same Dolphins and Raiders the week after the Sea of Hands game, besting Oakland in the 1974 AFC championship game and going on to win four of the next six Super Bowls.
They were two-time defending champs entering the 1980 season. It looked like the 8-5 Steelers had a shot at a third straight Super Bowl when they hit the road to face 8-5 Houston in a pivotal AFC Central battle.
But the Steelers failed to show up for the showdown.
Terry Bradshaw, so brilliant in Super Bowls XIII and XIV, was so ordinary in the years that followed. He had one of his worst games in years on this day, completing 10 of 26 passes for 138 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT and a woeful 16.7 passer rating.
The Steelers also lost two fumbles, allowing the Oilers to eke out a pair of field goals and the victory. Pittsburgh stumbled to a 9-7 season and finished in third place in the division. It was a classic example of a dynasty quietly slipping into the abyss.
The Steelers enjoyed eight division titles and four Super Bowl championships in the decade before the loss to Houston.
The Steelers enjoyed two division titles and zero Super Bowl appearances in the decade after the loss to Houston.
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