Quick turnaround leaves us wondering which team is next
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- In war rooms around the NFL, the plotting already has begun. The success of the Ravens and Giants gives hope to everybody else, because the age of dynasties is dead.
A year ago, Baltimore was 8-8 and New York 7-9. If they can go from mediocrity to the Super Bowl this fast, why not other teams?
Why not New Orleans, which has been the host of the Super Bowl so often but has never played in it?
Why not Kansas City or Detroit or the New York Jets, each with a new coach?
Why not anybody?
Suddenly, the Super Bowl has turned into a game of one-shot wonders. In this era of free agency, salary caps and NFL parity, six teams have made it to this game in the last three years. That leaves 25 to go -- and one more when Houston begins play in 2002 -- and those others think about it all the time.
That's not to say that teams with multiple needs will turn things around instantly.
"You've got to have component parts," Polian said. "The Giants and Ravens were five years in building. It takes time. If you look at it from a football person's perspective, you see two teams with extraordinary defenses. That's what got them there. The question remains if just anybody can get there."
There are plenty of anybodies ready to step up and try, some of them just as inconspicuous now as the Ravens and Giants were a year ago.
Washington invested $100 million in a fistful of fancy free agents and was rewarded with an 8-8 non-playoff season for its trouble. But that's exactly where next-door neighbor Baltimore was a year ago.
Jacksonville struggled through a 7-9 season, out of the playoffs a year after playing in the AFC championship game. But that's where the Giants were last year.
Maybe the surprise team next season will be Buffalo, 8-8 and starting over with new GM Tom Donahoe set to hire a new coach after the Super Bowl. Maybe Carolina, 7-9, which played for the NFC championship in 1996 before falling back in the pack in the last few years.
Perhaps Minnesota and Oakland, both a game away after big seasons. It would be a good idea, though, to score more than a field goal between them if they want another chance in the conference championships next season.
Polian constructed the league's last great dynasty as general manager of Buffalo's four consecutive Super Bowl teams from 1991-94.
"That will never be equaled," he said.
He loves the parity the NFL has created.
"The beauty of this system is that even though it has a lot of drawbacks, it's a great equalizer," he said. "By its nature, it erodes good teams. Teams can't stay long. Green Bay is an example. They made two straight Super Bowls, but the Packers were clearly eroded by the cap.
"It gives everybody a chance to be successful, a chance to feel they can be successful."
Giants linebacker Michael Barrow knows what's up.
"The way the NFL works it, we're No. 1 this year so now we'll play a No. 1 schedule," he said. "That will make it harder to get back next year. That's the way the league wants it. Every team has a chance. In the '70s, you had Pittsburgh. In the '80s, you had San Francisco and Dallas. Now it could be anybody."
There is a different look about the league in this climate of equal opportunity football. Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl championships in six years and San Francisco's five titles are history, the architects of those titles safely enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Randy Cross played on three of the 49ers' championship teams and now works as a broadcaster for CBS. He likes the changes in the NFL.
"Dynasties as we knew them will cease to exist and that's good," Cross said. "But for all the bells and whistles of free agency, all the negatives, if you look at the cast of characters, the basic core teams are still there. We don't have the 49ers, Cowboys and Steelers, but the rivalries are still there. The fans still have teams to hate. There is no America's Team and that's good."
What we have now is a roller-coaster ride with teams like the St. Louis Rams, who went from 4-12 one year to Super Bowl champs the next to first-round playoff casualties this season.
The end of the era of dynasties might be one of the great strengths of the NFL. No team is a sure thing. The New York Yankees don't play in this league. And neither do the old Steelers or 49ers.