Growing up in the 80's, the awesome era of football that was the 1970's seemed almost mythical to me.
There were so many great teams during that time--the Steelers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Raiders were some of the star players of the day--and it was just an unbelievable time for the NFL.
Every decade has its star football teams, and I always wanted to witness another era when my Pittsburgh Steelers were among the elite of their day. Well, the past ten seasons (2001-2010), I got my wish as the Steelers were one of the top dogs in the NFL.
Right now, I'd like to do a little exercise and compare the storylines of some of the teams from the previous decade of football to the teams from the 70's and even late 60's.
Nothing too serious, just some observations. It's fun to compare. Please don't hate me too much.
I just pretended I was a movie producer who wanted to make a film about some of those teams from the 70's. If I needed to cast NFL teams from the past ten seasons to fill the roles, which teams would best be suited to play what roles?
Let's get started, shall we?
The Minnesota Vikings of the late 60's-late-70's
Starting in 1968, the Minnesota Vikings were as consistently good as any team in football, winning 11 division titles and appearing in four Super Bowls. They were led by one of the all-time greats at quarterback in Fran Tarkenton. And on defense, Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page and Gary Larsen made up a front-four that was so dominant, it was nicknamed "The Purple People Eaters." Unfortunately, despite their consistency throughout the 70's, the Vikings never won a World Championship. Minnesota was a good squad but always seemed to be the less-talented team in each of its four Super Bowl appearances, particularly the last three losses to the Dolphins, Steelers, and Raiders respectively.
It was hard to find a team from the previous decade that was similar to the Vikings of the 70's, but for this exercise, I went with the Chicago Bears. I know it's a bit of a stretch since the Bears weren't nearly as talented as those legendary Vikings teams, but not too many NFC teams distinguished themselves in the last decade, and I wanted to include some in my little post. The Chicago Bears won division titles in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2010 but could never get over the hump and win a championship. Like the Vikings of the 70's, you always got the sense that the Bears' talent didn't stack up very well once they reached the postseason--even their Super Bowl XLI appearance seemed more like a coronation for the Indianapolis Colts.
The 1968 New York Jets/1968 Baltimore Colts
Other than quarterback Joe Namath and his "guarantee", nobody in their right mind gave the New York Jets of the American Football League a chance against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts of the National Football League in Super Bowl III. The AFL representatives looked very inferior against the NFL in the first two Super Bowls, and Super Bowl III was expected to unfold the same way. The Colts outscored their opponents 402-144 in the regular season in 1968 and entered Super Bowl III with a 15-1 record. The Colts' only regular season loss was to the Browns, and they destroyed Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL Championship Game. The Colts were established as 18-point favorites against the Jets and were on their way to having maybe the greatest season ever. But surprise, surprise. Led by an efficient Joe Namath, a powerful running attack, and an opportunistic defense, the New York Jets shocked the football world by defeating the Baltimore Colts, 16-7. Instead of being anointed "The Greatest Team Ever", the 1968 Baltimore Colts were on the wrong end of one of the greatest upsets in the history of team sports.
It wasn't hard to find a similar scenario to 1968 in the previous decade. The 2007 New York Giants were a wildcard team that had to win all of their postseason games on the road just to make it to Super Bowl XLII. Much like the New York Jets from almost four-decades earlier, the Giants weren't expected to be much of a match for the 2007 New England Patriots, who came to the Super Bowl on one of the most dominant runs in league history. The Patriots were 16-0 in the regular season and outscored their opponents by a whopping 315 points. With two more wins in the playoffs, New England was 18-0, and a win over the Giants would not only put the Patriots in the same undefeated class as the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but their season was so dominant that it would be easy to make a case for the 2007 New England Patriots being considered the greatest team of all time. However, just like the Jets in Super Bowl III, the Giants shocked the world by knocking off the Patriots in the final seconds to become Super Bowl XLII champions. Instead of New England being in the same undefeated class as the '72 Dolphins, they joined the '68 Colts as a team that, despite their dominance during the year, will always be known as a team that didn't win the one game that mattered.
The 1977 Denver Broncos
Starting with their inaugural season in 1960, the Denver Broncos were one of the worst teams in football for many years. They never appeared in the playoffs and had very few seasons of note. However, that all changed in 1977 when the Broncos captured the imagination of the City of Denver with a magical run that culminated in an AFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XII. The Broncos' 1977 season was so magical that it is often credited with forever changing the image of the City of Denver. Despite losing Super Bowl XII, many long-time Broncos' fans cherish that '77 season even more than the Broncos' Super Bowl Titles of the late 90's.
The New Orleans Saints were founded in 1967, and their fortunes were so bad, they didn't even have their first winning season until 1987. The Saints were a downtrodden bunch for many years, and their fans often referred to them as "The Aints" and were known to attend games with bags over their heads. In 2005, the City of New Orleans was devastated by hurricane Katrina. Many lives and homes were lost, and the Superdome was so badly damaged, the Saints were forced to play designated home games in San Antonio and even at Giants stadium. There were even rumors that the Saints would relocate to San Antonio. The Saints had hit rock-bottom in 2005--they were homeless and finished the year with a 3-13 record. However, Sean Payton took over as Head Coach in 2006 and immediately transformed the Saints into a playoff team. By 2009, the Saints had achieved the almost unimaginable with their first ever Super Bowl appearance. And the 2009 Saints did the 1977 Denver Broncos one better by defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Finally, after many years of suffering, the New Orleans Saints gave their fans and their city a reason to hold their heads high.
The Baltimore Colts of the 60's and early 70's
The Baltimore Colts won two World Championships in the late 50's under young quarterback Johnny Unitas. They spent the 60's trying to get back to the top of the mountain but came up short time-and-time again. Finally, in 1970, after the AFL/NFL merger, the Colts won another World Championship with their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. Johnny Unitas was nearing the end of his Hall Of Fame Career, and it was Earl Morrall who took over for an injured Unitas in the second half of Super Bowl V and helped spark Baltimore's 4th quarter comeback.
The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XXXI early-on in Brett Favre's time with the team. Despite Favre being in his prime, the Packers could never win another World Title with him under center even though they made the playoffs numerous times in the late 90's and all throughout the 00's. Favre finally departed Green Bay after the Packers' overtime loss in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, and Aaron Rodgers took over as quarterback starting in 2008. The Packers finally achieved the ultimate prize with their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season. To draw even more comparisons, just like the 1970 Colts, the Packers defeated a team in the Steelers that they once shared a league with years ago before the merger.
The Houston Oilers of the late 70's
The Houston Oilers were the Pittsburgh Steelers most bitter division rivals in the late-70's. Houston engaged in several close battles with Pittsburgh and many believed that if they could just get by the Steelers, the Oilers were a Super Bowl-worthy team. Houston could never best the Steelers in the old AFC Central Division and had to settle for a wildcard berth in 1978 and again in 1979. The Oilers would go-on to meet the Steelers in the AFC Championship game in back-to-back seasons but never did get past Pittsburgh and to a Super Bowl.
The Baltimore Ravens have been the Pittsburgh Steelers most hated division foes for quite some time. The two teams are said to be mirror-images of one another and have engaged in many memorable battles over the years. Pittsburgh defeated Baltimore in the postseason three times from 2001-2010 with each game being played at Heinz Field as the Ravens had to settle for the wildcard entrant all three times. The Ravens and Steelers are so similar in-style and talent that it's probably fair to say that Pittsburgh may have been the only thing that stood between Baltimore and another World Title or two.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1970's
Beginning in the late 60's and all-throughout the 70's, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the most glamorous and successful teams in the NFL, and by decade's end, would be known as "America's Team". They were a bona fide Super Bowl contender pretty much every year and had some of the most talented rosters the league has ever seen. In the late 60's, the Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers in back-to-back NFL Championship Games and again to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. Although, they came close, a World Championship always seemed to be just out of the Cowboys' grasp. They were labeled as a team that just couldn't win the big game and were often referred to as "Next Year's Champions." Dallas finally did win a World Championship in Super Bowl VI and again in Super Bowl XII, but the Packers, Steelers, Vikings, Rams and Colts stood in the way of the Cowboys earning even more World Championships. The Cowboys were such a talented team in those days that with another Super Bowl victory or two, they may have been considered the greatest dynasty of all time.
The Indianapolis Colts may have been the most consistent team over the last ten seasons. Starting in 2003, the Colts won 12 games or more a record 7-straight times. Indianapolis may not have had as much talent as those 70's Cowboys teams, but they were a bona fide Super Bowl contender every season. The Colts weren't "America's Team", but Peyton Manning has been America's quarterback for years, and with his many endorsements, is arguably the most popular player in the NFL. Manning was certainly one of the top quarterbacks in the last decade. However, despite the Colts' success, they came up short in the playoffs from 2003 through 2005, and many people labeled Manning and the Colts as "chokers." The Colts finally did make it over the hump with their victory in Super Bowl XLI, but that was their only World Championship of the decade. Many people feel that the Colts left a few more Super Bowls on the table as the Patriots, Steelers, Chargers and Saints were roadblocks in their quest to be "Team Of The Decade."
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's
The Steelers story is well-known. Before the 1970's, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the least successful franchises in the NFL. They never won a playoff game and played second-fiddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the City of Pittsburgh. However, that all changed in the early 70's when new coach Chuck Noll transformed the Steelers into a football dynasty. Pittsburgh won 4 World Championships in the decade and not only eclipsed the Pirates as top dog in Pittsburgh, but they became one of the most popular franchises in team sports and still are to this very day. The 70's Steelers are widely regarded as the most dominant and talented football dynasty of all-time.
This comparison might get me banned from this site, but I'll give it a shot. The New England Patriots may not have been a league laughingstock prior to 2001, but they were never considered a football juggernaut and way behind the Boston Red Sox in-terms of popularity in the New England area. That all began to change in 2001, when head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory. The Patriots would go on to win three Super Bowls in four seasons and had one of the greatest runs in NFL history. The Patriots may never supplant the Red Sox as top dog in the New England area, but they certainly are now one of the marquee franchises in the league. I'm not suggesting that the Patriots dynasty of the 00's is anywhere near that of the 70's Steelers. It's not even close. The Steelers won their titles with 9 Future Hall-of-Famers, and a Hall of Fame coach. The Patriots teams weren't nearly as talented, but their three Super Bowl victories along with another appearance in Super Bowl XLII clearly earned them the title of "Team of the Decade."
The Oakland Raiders of the 1970's
The Oakland Raiders were one of the best teams in the NFL in the 1970's. They won six division championships and made the playoffs seven times. However, despite being one of the best teams in the league, a Super Bowl Title alluded them in the early portion of the decade. Oakland came up short in Super Bowl II prior to the 70's and lost in the AFC Championship Game three-straight times beginning in 1973--the last two coming at the hands of their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most people felt that those Raiders teams were every bit as good as the Steelers, but even though Oakland did break through and knock off the Steelers in 1976 on the way to their first ever Super Bowl victory, it wasn't until after the Steelers dynasty started to fade in the early 80's that the Raiders were able to win a couple more Super Bowls and achieve a little dynasty of their own.
If the New England comparison to the 70's Steelers gets me banned from BTSC, this one may get me dumped by my girlfriend and even shunned by Steeler Nation.
From 2001 to 2010, the Steelers were as good as any team in football, winning six division titles and making the playoffs seven times. However, a Super Bowl crown alluded Pittsburgh early-on as they lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game two-times in four seasons. The Steelers finally did break-through starting in 2005 with three Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi Trophies in six years, but it wasn't until after the Patriots' dynasty started to fade a little that the Steelers were able to carve a nice little niche for themselves as one of the juggernauts of the NFL. If you want to take the Oakland comparison even further, the Oakland/LA Raiders made the playoffs 15 times from 1967 to 1985, won three championships and appeared in the Super Bowl in three-straight decades with three different coaches. Since 1992, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made the playoffs 13 times, won two championships and made Super Bowl appearances in three-straight decades under two different head coaches.
This concludes my comparisons. I hope you enjoyed it. Here's to another awesome decade of football!