Please Join Us On Our New Sports Then and Now Site

We have redesigned the Sports Then and Now site and moved to a new platform. Please change your browser URL for this site to:

We will be keeping this site updated through July, but beginning in August all content will be on the new site only.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When Does History Start?

I know we live in a society (and sports world) where “what have you done for me lately” is the unofficial motto, but since when did the media get the power to ignore nearly 50 years of sports history?

It hasn’t been surprising that since the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated Arizona to win Super Bowl XLIII many people have been quick to proclaim the Steelers as the best team of the Super Bowl era. I get it. They were the first team to win six Super Bowl titles, so they certainly have the right to lay claim to that title.

However, what I haven’t understood is that a number of respected veteran sports reporters have been quick to go a step further and anoint the Steelers as the “greatest franchise in the history of professional football.” What?!

In case you didn’t know (and obviously a number of well revered sports journalists have forgotten), the NFL began in 1920, not in 1967 when the first Super Bowl was played.

And in those first 47 years the Pittsburgh Steelers were nowhere near the league’s best franchise. In fact, from the time the Steelers joined the league in 1933 until the end of the first 50 years of the NFL in 1969, the Steelers could probably be considered the league’s worst team as they posted an overall record of 157-253-18 and never won a championship. But who needs facts when they get in the way of a good sound bite?

As the sports media has shifted almost total focus toward the male 18-35 year-old demographic, anything that happened before these ultra-fans were born seems to have been swept under the rug.

So, is there really such a thing as the “greatest franchise in the history of professional football?” Throughout the 89-year history of the NFL, various teams have dominated seasons or decades, but no team has claimed a championship in more than three consecutive decades. In fact, the Chicago Bears, who rank second all-time with nine NFL Championships, hold the distinction of the most decades with a championship having earned championship rings in five different decades.

Pro Football’s “Titletown” is still in Green Bay as the Packers hold the distinction of having claimed the most championships in a decade, five in the 1960s, and most all-time with 12. And, while those of you in the 18-35 age bracket might have a hard time believing it, 11 of those championships came under the guidance of a quarterback other than Brett Favre.

While championships are an important measure of greatness, consistent winning is also significant. In that category, no team has won a greater percentage of their games than the Miami Dolphins, who have been victorious at a .583 clip since playing their first game in 1966. Of the franchises who have played at least 70 seasons, the Chicago Bears rank first with a .579 winning percentage and the Packers are next at .556. And while the Steelers have won at a .606 clip since 1970, their all-time winning percentage of .516 is tied with the New England Patriots for 17th place in league history.

Now please don’t get the impression that I think for a second the 1933 World Champion Chicago Bears would have a chance if put on the field with the 2008 champion Steelers, or even the 0-16 Detroit Lions. There is no question that the players of today are far superior in size, strength and athletic ability to athletes from 30, 50 or 80 years ago. But that really isn’t the point.

Assessing the history of professional football is about looking at the entire story. No one year or period should be weighed above another just because nearly 100 million people now watch the championship game each year. While the 2008 Steelers certainly worked hard to earn their championship, the Packers of 1929, the Lions of 1957, the Dolphins of 1972 and the 49ers of 1981 all also withstood the best shots of their contemporaries to claim their championships.

I once got a letter from Clarke Hinkle (shown above) a Hall of Fame running back who played 10 years for the Packers and was a member of two championship teams. His note was in response to a letter I sent him asking if he found it ironic that he had once been the all-time leading rusher in NFL history with 3,860 career yards and at that point (mid-1980s) the leading rusher in league history had nearly 10,000 more yards than that.

Hinkle, who was known as a tough-nosed player who didn’t take any gruff, responded by saying that the players of the modern era had it so much easier and if they had to play with the same kind of equipment, play both offense and defense (as was the norm in Hinkle’s era) and endure the same kind of physical play as the players of his era, they wouldn’t last a minute.

Unfortunately, Hinkle passed away in 1988, but if he were still alive today, I guarantee he would chastise the modern sports reporters for dismissing the effort that he and many others put into becoming all-time greats and winning championships.

Just because these legends are now out of sight doesn’t mean that their accomplishments should be out of mind. Pro football has an amazing history and rather than minimizing portions of it, the fans and reporters of today should embrace the past and celebrate all generations of greatness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter