If the greatest minds in sport sat down in a room and weren't allowed to leave until they defined the term "sports dynasty," they would never leave.
The word dynasty is thrown around the way Oprah "throws" cars to her audience members, but that doesn't mean the label is always deserved. Dynasties in sport, for the most part, are defined by teams that won multiple championships over a period of time. In a salary cap world, though, the "traditional" dynasty has become a thing of the past thanks to the emergence of parity across all of North American professional sports.
This has proven to be especially true in the National Football League. There hasn't been a repeat Super Bowl champion since the New England Patriots turned the trick in 2003 and 2004. Since then, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants have each won twice, but not consecutively, while the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks have all won once.
The Seahawks came close to repeating on Sunday, but their spot on this list was stolen away by Malcolm Butler and the Patriots. The definition of an NFL dynasty might have evolved over time, but the feel of a dynasty will never change: it's the team that comes into your stadium on Sunday and strikes the fear of God even into the NFL's best, the team that makes your heart sink when you see them on your schedule or find out you'll be playing them in a playoff game next week.
Because of the always changing definition of the word dynasty, the order of the list will no doubt irk someone. One thing cannot be argued, though: these are the best of the very best, and no changing definitions will ever put these facts into disrepute.
10 Minnesota Vikings (1968-1982)
It's easy to forget that, once upon a time, the Minnesota Vikings were considered an NFL powerhouse. Unfortunately for the Vikes and their fans, their dominance through the 60's and 70's was also met with the doom and gloom of four Super Bowl losses - and no wins, thus knocking them well down the pecking order. Bud Grant and Fran Tarkenton had quite the run together, but ultimately it was never enough to get them over their biggest obstacle. Twelve playoff appearances in fifteen seasons is nothing to scoff at, though.
9 St. Louis Rams (1999-2003)
The St. Louis Rams of the Dick Vermeil/Mike Martz era make the list thanks to the "Greatest Show on Turf," which dominated the NFL for a couple of seasons at the tail-end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, among others, shredded defenses during those few seasons of glory - even Marc Bulger got in on the action for a couple of seasons. They were only able to win one Super Bowl, but an offense as good as theirs was practically unprecedented, so they deserve to be on the list.
8 Denver Broncos (1983-1998)
The Denver Broncos dynasty of the 80's and 90's is defined by the back-to-back Super Bowls they won in 1997 and 1998, but the Broncos dynasty dates back to the early days of John Elway's Hall of Fame career. It may have taken longer than initially hoped to get their hands on the Lombardi trophy, but the wait was worth it for Elway and the Broncos. The Broncos made the playoffs 10 times during Elway's career, and while his record in the big game was 2-3, the two wins came at the end of his outstanding career - won on sheer will (and a good running game) rather than the arm of a young gunslinger.
7 Green Bay Packers (1961-1967)
This generation of Packers fans wishes they could have dynasties led by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers - and while both were (and still are, in Rodgers case) very successful, they pale in comparison to the Packers of the Vince Lombardi era.
The Packers dynasty of the 1960's gets knocked due to the lack of competition that they essentially profited from during the early years of the Super Bowl era. Before winning the first two Super Bowls, they won three NFL championships in five years. Until Rodgers leads the Packers to another championship, Bart Starr will forever be the Packers QB with most Super Bowl wins. It's Starr's shadow he must slip out of, not Favre's.
6 Miami Dolphins (1971-1974)
If it hadn't been for the Oakland Raiders and the 1974 "Sea of Hands" game, the Miami Dolphins might have had the NFL's only three-peat. The two years prior though (and even in 1971, despite an embarrassing loss in the Super Bowl), the Dolphins were far and away the league's best. The core of the 1971 team that was unable to score a touchdown in Super Bowl VI came back with a vengeance, becoming the league's only undefeated team in 1972, and followed that up with a back-to-back Super Bowl win in 1973.
5 Dallas Cowboys (1991-1996)
Cowboys fans could rightfully argue that there are a few different eras of Cowboys dynasties, but the best had to be the Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irwin years, which saw the Cowboys make the playoffs six years in a row and win three Super Bowl titles. The Landry/Staubach years were fantastic, of course - but the extra Super Bowl win, combined with the top notch Hall of Fame talent on the team of the 90's, gives Aikman & Co. the nod on this list.
4 Oakland Raiders (1967-1985)
For nearly two decades between the mid-60's and mid-80's, the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders franchise was arguably one of the best run franchises - at least on the field - in all of sport. The Raiders averaged a miniscule 4 losses a season over those 19 years, making the postseason every year except four. Led by names like Madden, Flores, Plunkett and Stabler, the Raiders made it to four Super Bowls, winning three in the process and entrenching themselves as one of football's greatest dynasties. Unfortunately for Raiders fans, those are nothing but memories now - just enough to ease the pain of the current Raiders demise.
3 Pittsburgh Steelers (1972-1979)
One could make the argument that the Steelers have been one of the most consistent NFL franchises in the history of the sport - their six Super Bowl rings lead all franchises, and since 1969 the Steelers have only had three head coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Between 1972 and 1979 is when the Steelers truly made their mark on the NFL history books, though, winning four championships thanks to the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and one of the most fearsome defenses of all-time (aptly named "The Steel Curtain") led by Mean Joe Greene.
Ben Roethlisberger and the most recent batch of Steelers' teams have been impressive in their own right, but even their two rings pales to what the Steelers of the 70's were able to accomplish under Noll.
2 San Francisco 49ers (1981-1998)
When your team boasts two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time over the span of 17 years, you better win multiple championships.
That's exactly what the 49ers did between 1981 and 1998, thanks to legends Joe Montana, Bill Walsh and Steve Young. Montana won four rings, and is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all-time (or was, until this week), and the Niners we're spoiled enough to have another legend backing him up. Steve Young only got one ring, but there was no denying his talent. The Walsh-led Niners were some of the greatest teams in league history and, for a long time, it was hard to believe anyone would ever surpass them.
1 New England Patriots (2001-Present)
It's often frowned upon when an NFL player - especially a quarterback - loses his job because of an injury. However, the best thing that ever happened to the New England Patriots might have been the hit that Mo Lewis of the New York Jets put on Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
Enter Tom Brady, stage left and the rest is history. Twelve AFC East championships, six Super Bowl appearances, and four Super Bowl rings - four apiece for the legendary duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. After this weekend's heroics, it's hard to argue against either as the greatest of all-time at their positions. Belichick has been turning seemingly mediocre rosters into elite teams for the past 15 years, and Brady has been at the helm - often without a star-studded supporting cast - en route to four titles.
The craziest things about the New England dynasty:
1) If not for David Tyree and Mario Manningham, Belichick and Brady would likely have six rings each (we do realize how lucky they were for their last Super Bowl win).
2) If Brady hadn't gotten injured in 2008, the Patriots would have undoubtedly won the AFC East again and made another run at Lombardi.
3) Tom Brady has plenty left in the tank and Belichick isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Of course, these two will always be associated to SpyGate and DeflateGate - at the end of the day, neither matter. Brady and Belichick have proven time and time again that they don't need to cheat to win - and even if they did, taping a practise and deflating a football realistically would not have enough of an impact to lead a team to four championships and fourteen straight winning seasons.
You can probably count on them making it 15 next season, too.