Sports Outside the Beltway

Pittsburgh Steelers Model of Consistency

Craig Henry notes the remarkable streak of success the Pittsburgh Steelers have had since emerging from the cellar after the 1969 season, having won at least five games every year since.

The other dynasties cannot match it. Dallas sucked in 1988 and 1989 (only four wins in the two years combined). The Patriots had a horrible year in 1992 (two wins). The 49ers only won six games total in the 2004 and 2005 season.

Only one other NFL team can match the Steelers on this score. Denver only won four games in 1971 but that was in a fourteen game season and they had one tie. You have to go back to 1967 to find a woefully bad Broncos team.

I think this record says something about the quality of the ownership of those two teams. Both have consistently fielded playoff teams (and won Super Bowls) without ever dropping into the league’s cellar.

Quite right. The Cowboys have arguably had more success, having won five Super Bowls, making eight Super Bowl appearances, playing in sixteen league or conference championship games, and making the playoffs 28 times since the 1966 season (see here for details). All those marks are better than Pittsburgh’s, with the exception that both teams (and the 49ers) share the record of five Super Bowl rings.

But, yes, the Cowboys have had some really bad years. Although, if the definition is “less than five wins,” they’ve only done it twice since starting their run in 1966: 1988 (3-13) and 1989 (1-15). If the definition is going .500 or better, though, the Steelers have had fewer down years.

Henry is right, too, that,

There is, after all, a benefit to being occasionally woeful in the NFL. A really bad team gets the best draft position. The Colts “won” Peyton Manning by going 3-13. The prize the Cowboys got for their bad streak was Troy Aikman. Teams like Pittsburgh and Denver never receive that bonus. Yet, somehow, they keep operating at the top the league.

The Broncos did go 2-7 in 1982, which allowed them the leverage to get John Elway after he refused to sign with the Colts. Perhaps Henry is starting his “dynasty” era with the acquisition of Elway; I’d start it in 1977, when they came out of no where to win the AFC Championship. Since 1982, though, they’ve only had one season (1990) with as few as 5 wins.

Denver’s period of excellence, though, is much shorter than that of the Steelers and Cowboys and they’ve only won two championships, compared to five apiece for Dallas and Pittsburgh. Indeed, I’d put the 49ers and Patriots ahead of the Broncos as modern era NFL dynasties.

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