The New England Patriots have now won 6 Super Bowls since 2001.
Simple, concise, a model of success. In the NFL, there is no other parallel, and if you look closely, although the other four major sports have some worthy challengers, this run takes the cake.
The longevity, the same QB and coach, the consistency, the winning (the winning…).
I’ll try to break it down, and I know I might disrespect some fans of certain teams, but that’s what the debate is for. Sure, this is subjective, but objectively, I believe there are reasons this dynasty is the greatest in professional sports.
The one that matters the most: the rings. In the history of the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, there are 17 franchises that have won at least 6 championships. Seven franchises (including the Patriots), doing so 9 total times, have won 6 champions in a duration of 18 or less years.
The NBA has three teams that have done this: the Boston Celtics (12 in 18 seasons), Los Angeles Lakers (6 in 17 seasons), and Chicago Bulls (6 in 8 seasons)
The NHL has two teams that have done this: the Montral Canadians (8 in 17 seasons, and 10 in 15 seasons), the Toronto Maple Leafs (6 in 17 seasons)
The MLB has one team that has done this: the New York Yankees (9 in 18 seasons, and 10 in 18 seasons)
Not the only dynasty, but the Patriots are the only team to win 6 champions in 18 or less years in the 21st century, and only one other championship run occurred in the 1990s or later.
Team of the Decade(s)
The New England Patriots have won 3 Super Bowls in both the 2000s and 2010s (yes, already). Since the first Super Bowl was played for the 1966 season, no team has won the most Super Bowls in a decade twice, let alone back-to-back decades. If you want to go back and include NFL Championships (meaning going back to 1920), the Packers are the only other team to have the the most championships in a decade more than once (1930s, 1960s).
The Patriots also have the most wins in both the 2000s and 2010s (yes, already).
The Patriots have had the same owner, QB, and head coach during this era.
Other dynasties can string together championships, but having the same central pieces this long is quite rare.
The 1990s Chicago Bulls had the same head coach (Phil Jackson), and same star player (Michael Jordan); Scottie Pippen also won 6 championships, but their championships spanned 8 seasons.
Red Auerbach (coach) and Bill Russell (player) won 9 championships together between 1957 and 1966; other Celtic players won at least 6 during this run.
The Montreal Canadians have one coach who won at least 6 championships (Toe Blake), winning 8 Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1968; I did not include this specific period of time as an example, but it works; there’s a plethora of players that won at least 6 during the Canadians run(s), including Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau.
The Yankees have two managers with at least 6 World Series Championships (Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel won 7 each). Yogi Berra and Casey Stengal won 7 together (Berra won 9 overall); best example I can find (come get me Yankee fans).
Free Agency and Salary Cap
This is a big one for me.
The Patriots have won all of their championships during the salary cap era.
Every Yankee World Series championship I have included (the two runs spanning from 1927 to 1962) were won during the reserve clause era. Free agency did not exist, and players were essentially signed for one year, and at the end of the season, the team had the right to re-up the contract (i.e. reserve the player). The only player movement you saw was either in the form of trades, or if a contract was sold to another team (like how Babe Ruth ended up on the Yankees). That alone meant the Yankees never had to worry about losing players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, etc to free agency, and could trade them when they were done with them.
In the NBA, prior to 1988, unrestricted free agency did not exist. According to NBA.com, “Signing with another team after your contract was up, however, was not the wide-open option it is today. Even if your team was willing to let you go, they had to receive compensation.” This means the Laker and Celtic dynasties had an easier time building and maintaining championship rosters than the Bulls did during the 1990s.
It was not until 1972 in the NHL that the reserve clause came to an end, and players could become free agents (thank Bobby Hull for this). This invalidates the Toronto Maple Leafs run for me, but I’ll give the Canadians credit for the latter part of their second championship run (6 championships between 1973 and 1986).
The Patriots also play in a league with one of the stingiest salary caps. In the NFL (as well as the NHL), there is a hard cap, which means if the cap is $125 million, teams have to stay under this at all times. In the NBA, the cap is softer, and there are ways of working around in. For example, if a team has a player’s Larry Bird rights, they can sign that player for as much as they want, exceeding the given salary cap while doing so. Case and point: the Golden State Warriors. This season the back-to-back champions have over $145 million in salaries, which is $40 million over the salary cap set for this season. Only two teams in the league are UNDER the cap, meaning it does not mean as much compared to the NFL and NHL.
The MLB has no salary cap, although they have a luxury tax that is meant to serve as line of demarcation for teams to not surpass; if you go over this line, your team can face financial penalties, and they become stricter if done continuously. Does not stop you for signing whomever you please (meaning the Sox can still get Harper and Mahcado if they’re willing to pay for it).
This means the Patriots, out of all the other championship contenders, have had the biggest challenge in PAYING a champion during their run.
Number of Teams
There have been at least 30 other teams in the NFL each time the Patriots have won a championship during this run.
The NHL had 6 teams until 1967, meaning the Maple Leafs, as well as the Canadians first run, only had to compete against 5 other teams.
For the Chicago Bulls, there were 27 NBA teams when they won their first championship, and 29 when they won their last.
From 1903 to 1960, there were only 16 teams in Major League Baseball (8 per league). Baseball began expanding in the 1960s, and during the Yankees last championship of their second run on this list, there were 20 teams in baseball.
This means the Patriots had the most competitors, and the most talent was allowed to exist in the sport compared to the others. It also means there was not a monopoly on talent (see: free agency), and that it is spread between 32 other teams. It’s easier for teams to be more talented if there are only 16 teams, but if there were 32 teams in the MLB during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and free agency were allowed to exist, that distribution of talent would mean it would be much harder to win (sorry Yankees).
Okay, my favorite part.
The Patriots 6 championships have been won in an 18-year period.
The Patriots have appeared in the Super Bowl 9 times during this interval.
The Bulls, the chief rival to the Patriots dynasty, won 6 championships in 8 seasons, but that is it. It is probably the greatest stretch of dominance, but it did not last Jordan’s whole career. Jordan did not reach the Finals until Year 7 of his career.
To put that into perspective, since 2001, in Tom Brady’s 17 healthy seasons, there have not been more than two straight seasons in which he has not appeared in the Super Bowl.
Okay, it might be a bit cluttered, but let me clean it up here.
There are less than 10 examples of franchises in the four major sports winning 6 championships in an 18-year interval.
The Patriots have the most Super Bowls in two straight decades, something no other NFL team can say. The Canadians had the most Stanley Cups for three straight decades (1950s, 1960s, 1970s). The Yankees had the most World Series titles in 4 straight decades (1920s-1950s), and tied for the most in the 1960s.
The Patriots have had the same coach and same player leading this run from Day 1, something only the Celtics and Bulls can truly say they have done. There are examples from the Yankees, but I would not say Berra was the best player during the championship runs of Casey Stengel’s managerial stint in NY; it’d be like saying Belichick and Gronk (still great, but we know it’s not the same).
The Patriots won all of their Super Bowls with unrestricted free agency existing, something only the 1990s Chicago Bulls did. Other teams therefore had an easier time keeping talent once it was accumulated due to the reserve clause, and restricted forms of free agency.
The Patriots have won 6 championships in a league with a hard cap; the Bulls unfortunately play in a league with a rather soft salary cap. Iin 1997-1998, Michael Jordan alone exceeded the salary cap .
There have been over 30 teams in the NFL each time the Patriots have won a Super Bowl. With player movement being allowed, this means it is much more complicated to construct a championship roster, as players can get paid, and a market can develop with 32 suitors. There is also a plethora of talent in the league, meaning there are many worthy foes, something the other championship runs cannot say they endured to the level the Pats have.
Lastly, the longevity of this specific run, is otherworldly. From 2001 to 2018, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl 6 times, meaning once every three seasons. They have won at an unparalleled level, and have done so with the same core. The longevity of Belichick and Brady has never been emulated. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich won a title in 1999 and 2014, but only won 3 titles in between, and had a 6-year period where they did not appear in the NBA Finals. When Brady is healthy, his longest championship appearance drought is 3 years. With 13 conference championship game appearances under their belt, they are truly in contention every season. There have been more seasons the Patriots have won a Super Bowl (6) during this run than there have been seasons in which they did not appear in the AFC Championship Game (5).
This run is amazing, and it’s been going on for a LONG time. When the Patriots first won in 2001, Brady was 24 and Belichick was 49. Yesterday, when the Patriots won their 6th title, Brady was 41, and Belichick was 66. 17 years is a long time to be winning… and there might be more to come.
The best there ever was.
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