Definition of a Dynasty

23 01 2012

I had a short Twitter debate today with my friend Paul Bourdett on the timeline of the New England Patriots’ dynasty. I tweeted a remark that the Pats’ dynasty is ongoing with their recent admission into Super Bowl XLVI (46). He retorted that the franchise was no longer in dynasty mode since it hasn’t won the big game since 2004 (representing the 2003 season). He thought it ended with their Super Bowl loss to the Giants a few years ago. He made me consider what standards I have for calling an organization a dynasty.

Before I get into that, I want to point out that terming a franchise a dynasty can be made on a case-by-case basis. There’s no clean definition for it.

My first general rule is that the same core group of players and/or coaches must win multiple league championships, e.g. Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series. And the time frame in which that franchise was elite in its sport should have lasted for at least five seasons. By saying ‘elite’, that doesn’t mean a team has to appear in a semi-final or final series or game every year. There are times when a team has a great regular season and flames out early in the playoffs. Yet if that campaign is sandwiched between others in which it advances far in the playoffs – or wins the damn thing – then it’s fine.

A good example is the ’90s Dallas Cowboys. They get automatically called a dynasty because they won three Super Bowls in four years – ’92, ’93, ’95. They were absolutely a dynasty, but I think people forget that their run atop the NFL was relatively short. In that four-year window in which they won three Super Bowls, they won 12 regular season games three times and 13 once. In ’94, they lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. (It was technically in ’95 but it was for the ’94 season.)

Yet the ‘Boys won 11 games on the front-end of their Super Bowl years and 10 games on the back-end. In totality, they had six straight 10-game win seasons, with four of them having the ‘Boys playing at a Super Bowl level. I suppose it’s arguable whether they were truly elite for five straight years, but they come close enough.

I consider the Patriots to still be a dynasty because, first and foremost, Tom Brady has been the quarterback and Bill Belichick has been the head coach. They’ve been around the whole time. I can’t argue the Super Bowl title thing, since they won one in ’01 to kickstart their dynasty, two more in ’03 and ’04 and haven’t brought home the Lombardi Trophy since then. They obviously lost in ’07 (technically ’08; these NFL seasons are so confusing) and they’re back in the ’11 season. Look at their overall timeline, though.

Since the 2001 season, they’ve won 11, 9, 14, 14, 10, 12, 16, 11, 10, 14 and 13 regular season games. That’s a run of almost 10 consecutive seasons with double-digit wins. They’ve made the playoffs all but two years – the nine-win campaign in ’02 and the weird 11-victory season in ’08 when Brady was hurt and Matt Cassell QB’d the team. The Pats have been remarkably consistent in this NFL era of increased free agent movement. This is their fifth Super Bowl appearance during that time. Given how little difference there is in team quality between the Super Bowl winner and loser, I think Super Bowl losses shouldn’t count too much against a team.

That’s why I consider the ’90s Atlanta Braves to be a dynasty. They don’t pass my requirement of multiple titles – they won a single World Series during their 15-year reign atop the National League East from 1991-2005 – but they were still so damn dominant. They nearly strung together 15 consecutive NL East titles. The only division title they didn’t capture during that ’91-05 period was in the strike-shortened summer of ’94, when they finished second, even though they may have won the NL East had the season not halted in August.

During their reign of terror on the NL, the Braves lost four World Series – ’91, ’92, ’96, ’99. This got people to call them the Buffalo Bills of MLB, although they were stronger over a much longer period of time than the western New York club. Extended dominance must count for something, especially when factoring in the need to replace productive players due to injuries, retirement or reduced, you know, productivity.

Anyway, I think the Patriots are still in the midst of their dynasty, which stands a decade long. I’m interested to hear (or read) from my readers about this subject. Do you think the Patriots are still a dynasty? What is your criteria for determining what constitutes a dynasty? Fire away on here or get at me on Twitter (@KyleStack) or Google+ (+KyleStack).

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