Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sports Dynasties: A Leading Cause of Intellectual Hemophilia

The 21st century school of sports history runs as follows. Whatever happened yesterday, or even better, an hour ago, is the greatest thing that ever happened. Whatever happened before yesterday did not, in fact, happen at all.

So it is that the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-23 win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII is being hailed as the most amazing Super contest of all time, and the Steelers lauded as the pro football team of the decade, or all time, depending on the degree of mental challenge the commentator faces on a daily basis. Commentators, you really have to get a handle on this Google thing. Persons irked with your claims about the Steelers are apt to look up your comments on the New England Patriots the week before LAST year's Super Bowl, when, of course, the Pats were the all-time dynasty, albeit one with dark if vague ethical questions.

Super Bowl LXIII was a terrific football game. As a guy I know, more a baseball than football fan, said, "all I ask of a game is that one team have the ball with five minutes or less left to play and they need a score to win. And that happened three times in this game."

Best ever? I don't think so, but who cares? All teams need to do is win, and all games need to do is entertain. Rating them is what I call a lazy off-day column. Why fans do it on their own time baffles me.

Rating teams of the same era is even more pointless. They play each other. There's no need for debate. We can look it up and print the results in agate type.

The results show that since 2001, pro football has seen three clubs one cut above the remaining 29, the Pats, Steelers, and Colts. They have won 6 of 8 Super Bowls and appeared in seven. They combined for 11 of 16 possible AFC championship game appearances, playing each other in four of 'em. They only missed the playoffs a combined five times. As a group, they are impossible to fault on performance.

The results also show that the Pats won three Super Bowls, the Steelers two, and the Colts one. The Steelers haven't beaten the Pats in the playoffs, either, which the Colts have. But letting arithmetic be our guide, honest folk rate these powers 1. Pats, 2. Steelers, 3. Colts.

And then, having done so, honest folk throw the rating out the freakin' window and appreciate these teams for themselves and their own accomplishments. People who can't appreciate the work of Peyton Manning or Wes Welker or Troy Polamalu because they are so insecure in their fanhood have my profound sympathy as long as they never attempt to communicate with me.

Is Bill Belichick a better coach than Tony Dungy? He won more Super Bowls with his team than Dungy did with his. Then again, they both coached two teams, and Dungy's both won more than they lost, while Belichick's did not. The point is, hire either guy, and you're going to have a Hall of Fame coach working down the hall from your office. The idea of sports is that there's winning and losing, success and failure. The idea of DEGREES of success is a secondary, no, tertiary, no quadrupiary, (a word I just made up) issue.

Think back to the 1980s. From 1982 through 1991, the 49ers, Giants, and Redskins won 9 of 11 Super Bowls and never lost one. They were six cuts above their rivals. They played each other a lot, being in the same conference, and New York and Washington being in the same division. They all beat each other, and they all got beat, especially in the playoffs.

The 49ers won four Super Bowls, and are regarded as the (sigh) Team of the Decade. Nobody argues about it any more, although these clubs and their fans shared a healthy mutual loathing at the time. Giants fans acknowledge that the 49ers rank first among the great teams of that era. 49er fans acknowledge their rivals were great teams in their own right. Hell, even BILL PARCELLS acknowledges, if not in so many words, that Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs were, maybe, just maybe, more successful football coaches than he was.

Insecure fans and instant history bore me. Indignation is a quality best reserved for matters of more import than sports. And I can't help remember one thing about the people who actually participated in the games that start the stupid arguments.

When Hall of Famers meet, no matter how bitter their contests of yesteryear, they see each other as equals.


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