There is often an imprint of someone or some group that left us in awe. Whether it was in 1969, 1984 or 2018, greatness can be appreciated and measured from years ago and in the modern era. With American sports, the greatest teams have all made us feel amazing in some way, and what they achieved as well as what they did for the respective games make them deserving of high acclaim.
-Green Bay Packers, 1960-1967: The Packers under Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr, through an eight year stretch, won three NFL championships and two Super Bowls.
-Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-1991: The ‘Showtime’ Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Coach Pat Riley won five titles and appeared in eight finals series in 11 seasons.
-Montreal Canadiens, 1974-1979: Five cups in five years, an astounding achievement only done once before in the NHL, highlighted a talent-filled Canadiens team that changed the NHL rulebook.
-New York Islanders, 1979-1983: Only eight years after entering the league as an expansion team, the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups in five straight appearances.
-San Antonio Spurs, 1998-2017: The arrival of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan to the San Antonio Spurs lead to 17 straight seasons with 50+ wins and five NBA titles in the competitive Western Conference.
-San Francisco 49ers, 1981-1994: With Joe Montana and Steve Young commanding the pocket, the San Francisco 49ers won five Super Bowls in 14 seasons, making the playoffs an impressive 12 times.
5) Edmonton Oilers, 1983-1990
Statistically speaking the Oilers are the most successful Ice Hockey team there is. They may not be as impressive as some of the other dynasties across America’s four major sports leagues, but the level of dominance featuring the most objectively-agreed ‘greatest’ in their sport in Wayne Gretzky, this Oilers team are the best Hockey has to offer and one of the five greatest America does.
Going into the 1983-84 season, the Oilers were coming off a Stanley Cup Finals drubbing at the hands of the Islanders, who themselves were experiencing an impressive four year stretch. Such a defeat sparked the team to regroup and go significantly better, increasing their record from 47-21-12 to 57-18-5 and winning their first cup. A year later they followed that up with one of the greatest single seasons for an American franchise, and star-man Gretzky finished with 208 points, and broke numerous playoff records.
What made the Oilers so great in this period was the firepower in their lineup, including a formidable forward group of Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, along with Glenn Anderson. During the four men’s respective tenures with the Oilers (Gretzky of course departing in 1988), they achieved 12 All-Star team selections, 20 All-Star appearances and five Hart Memorial Trophy’s between Gretzky and Messier in the seven year period.
To show off an idea of engrained success, losing Gretzky and Coach Glen Sather, who rescinded his coaching duties to solely become the General Manager, did not discourage the franchise’s ability to lift another Stanley Cup. Under new Coach John Muckler they would win again in 1990, making it five in seven years, with Messier picking up the Hart Memorial Trophy – proving their quality without ‘The Great One’.
4) Boston Celtics, 1956-1969
The Boston Celtics of the 50s and 60s were the very definition of dominance, winning 11 championships in 13 years – a feat that has not been rivalled since in the NBA.
It all began in 1956 when the Celtics, after years of playoff exits and Coach Red Auerbach failing to deliver on his confidence and grit finally went on a title run and brought Boston their first chip. That period would become engrained in Boston sports history, as the Celtics won nine straight finals series out of 10 straight appearances from 1957 to 1966 – an NBA record still unbroken. Amongst that saw the Celtics defeat their rival Lakers (rivalry that wasn’t as big then as it is now) in eight straight finals, tormenting Jerry West to this very day.
Most notably the 1969 NBA Finals, one of the biggest upsets where a Laker side featuring Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich along with West were upset in seven games against an old Celtics team who literally limped into the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern conference – something else that is quite remarkable.
The likes of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, John Havlicek and Tom Heinsohn were the curators of success for the following years, gaining 43 All-Star appearances and sharing six MVP awards over the period.
There is a slight, which is the lack of competition in the NBA at the time. The league expanded from eight teams to 14 as the years went on in this 13 year period. On top of that none of them were ever relevant enough to pose much of a threat to the Celtics, aside from the Lakers and that was to an extent.
The 80s Lakers and Celtics, 90s Bulls and the Warriors of the last few years could hold their weight and more so against the Celtics of the 50 and 60s.
3) New York Yankees 1949-1962
You may as well just put the Yankees as a whole in there, because every decade it seems they have had a period of success. But with an impressive 15 American League pennants in 18 years, this one stands alone as their very best.
1948 saw the Yankees fail to win the pennant, finishing third and many believing an empire had fallen. Manager Casey Stengel took over the team, and with numerous unsuccessful attempts at making franchises formidable in the league prior, there was tremendous uncertainty around whether the Yankees would able a giant any time soon. 1949 saw Joe DiMaggio slowly enter his downfall and retirement, the same time that Mickey Mantle was rising as one of the brightest stars in the league. Catcher Yogi Berra became a perennial MVP winner, with three awards in a five year period. The Yankees only improved their wins total by one game, but with an AL pennant they took down a talented Dodgers side and won their 12th World Series title.
From that moment, the second part of the dynasty, the Yankees would win seven AL pennants in the next eight years, highlighted by four titles. From 1956 to 1962 Mantle and Roger Maris would account for five of the seven MVP awards in the AL, as well as pitcher Whitey Young taking out a Cy Young award and becoming a perennial All-Star. The vast talent along with Stengel still at the helm until 1960 saw the Yanks win four pennants and two more World Series.
Naturally as it sounds for any other sports franchise, but not so much for the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees would not win another title until 1977, thus ending a truly memorable period with their win in ’62. Every aspect of a successful team was present, and statistically speaking, over such a long period of time, no American sports franchise has had that much success.
2) Chicago Bulls, 1990-1998
What sets the Chicago Bulls of the 90s apart from the rest of the NBA’s notable teams over the years, are two men; Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan, the greatest coach and player of all time combined for six titles in eight years, during one of the NBA’s toughest eras, and creating two of the five best single-season teams of all time.
Pound-for-pound, in a round robin-like format the ’96 Bulls have all the tools to take down Auerbach’s Celtics, the Showtime Lakers and any rendition of the Shaq-Kobe duo – that’s not subjective.
Coach Doug Collins’ three year run ended after failing to make the Finals with Jordan, a task expected to be easily achieved. That promoted Assistant Coach Phil Jackson to take the reins, bringing in the triangle offence which focussed on the team rather than a single player. Michael Jordan’s personal numbers were exceptional, averaging 34.9 PPG during Collins’ tenure. Jackson’s arrival though limited what Jordan could produce, as his points went down to 30.9 through seven seasons. At the same time it elevated his team, with the likes of Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Ron Harper and John Paxson, to name a few, to become important cogs over the course of Chicago’s winning tenure.
The Bulls subsequently won six championships without needing a game seven to put away an of the six Western Conference champions. Through that period they had a winning percentage of 78.9 per cent, and only missed the finals the two years Jordan was out of the NBA, and even when he returned in 1995 he was terribly out of shape and it was clear the team needed a reboot.
1998 was the moment Jordan and the Bull’s became the greatest NBA dyansty. The Bulls looked old and washed out, to an extent, making the Jazz favourites and an opportunity to win their first championship. A 45-point performance in game six by Jordan secured a 4-2 series win, and a sixth ring and finals MVP for the already proclaimed ‘GOAT’.
1) New England Patriots, 2001-present
The margin for error in the NFL is so much greater than the other three major competitions, simply because you play once a week through the course of just over four months. If you mess up one night in the NBA, you have another 81 games to make up for what you did, as well as a best of seven playoff series instead of one game. That makes any form of extended success, like three Super Bowl wins in four year, in the NFL pretty impressive.
The definition of greatness, of stable management and coaching staff, and a quarterback who puts up terrific numbers regardless of who’s on the offensive end, look no further than the Patriots of late.
What sets them apart from the San Francisco 49ers between 1981 and 1994, the only other NFL rival to their throne, is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the impenetrable bond they’ve created.
Through 16 seasons the Patriots have mustered five Super Bowl championships as well as three other appearances, and 14 division titles in that span. Since the 2001 season, the Patriots have won 76.8 per cent of their games, with 10 or more wins since the 2003 season. On top of that, over their 15 playoff appearances since 2001 the Patriots have made 8 Super Bowls, over half of their post-season campaigns have ended up in a Super Bowl bout… that’s insane.
Tom Brady’s personal success has come so without consistent Pro-Bowl calibre receivers out wide and with Rob Gronkowski, one of the games greatest tight ends ever, continuously in and out of the lineup with injuries. Brady’s last two Super Bowl MVP performances have elevated him above Joe Montana, officially, as the greatest of all time. Against Seattle in Super Bowl 49 and Atlanta in Super Bowl 51, Brady executed important fourth quarter drives, coming from behind in both instances to win his team their fourth and fifth Super Bowls in 15 years.
What does, or at least should for the majority, cement New England’s status on top, is they did all of this in a salary cap and free agency-driven era, where decades ago it was far easier to sign and hang onto start players.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.