In honor of the upcoming NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament (there’s a Women’s Tournament too), the National Football League’s official website gave us its own “March Madness”. In order to determine the “greatest team of all time”, a 64-team bracket was produced.
The bracket was interesting, and I do plan on voting each round. The team that “advances” is determined by fan vote. With all due respect, though, this bracket, while intriguing, leaves lots to be desired. First is in the caption over the spot reserved for the “champion” – “Greatest Team of All Time”. That name itself is dishonest. All 64 teams are from the Super Bowl Era. No 1962 Packers, or 1965 Packers, 1960 Eagles, none of the ’50s Browns, or the original Monsters of the Midway.
The most conspicuous absence from this “tournament”, though, is the team on the losing end in perhaps the biggest upset in NFL history – the 1968 Baltimore Colts. That team went 13-1, steamrolled through the NFL playoffs over the Vikings and Browns, and were 19-point favorites for Super Bowl III. Much discussion abounded about where they ranked with the greatest teams ever. The fact that they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly that January, 1969 day doesn’t negate how dominant of a team they were that season. Also curious was the absence of the 1973 Vikings, who had Fran Tarkenton back in his 2nd stint with the team. That team started 9-0, had the NFC Central wrapped up two weeks before Thanksgiving, and blasted through the NFC playoffs, only to run into a Miami Dolphins buzzsaw in Super Bowl VIII.
The bracket also features 3 teams that didn’t even make it to the Super Bowl. Great teams, sure, but if the 1990 49ers, 1998 Vikings and 2011 Packers belong in this, how do you omit the 1968 Colts? How do you omit them while having the 1981 Bengals on there?
Since I was wanting to do this anyway, I want to reveal my own building blocks for an upcoming mock tournament. Four more seasons have to complete before I do it. I want to make a 100-team tourney of all Super Bowl participants after the conclusion of Super Bowl L in January 2016. The 50 Super Bowl winners will be ranked 1-50, and seeded accordingly. The 50 Super Bowl losers will also be ranked 1-50, and seeded 51-100.
In the next several blog posts I will reveal my current rankings. Those ranking will stay. The next 4 winners, and losers, will fill out spots and can be squeezed in anywhere. Here now are my #41 through #46 ranked Super Bowl-winning teams:
46. 2011 New York Giants
With all championship teams, give credit where it is due. The Giants got hot when it mattered most. They swept the Cowboys twice in a four-week span to capture the NFC East. They beat a solid Falcons team in the Wild Card round, then went up to Green bay and smoked the 15-1 Packers, making Green Bay the first ever one-and-done 15-1 team. New York beat them soundly 37-20. Then they went all the way to the West Coast and eeked out a tough 20-17 OT victory over the 49ers. Then they overcame the same Patriots team they beat in early November, with some of the same cast they beat in Super Bowl XLII. A remarkable run for a team that looked dead in the water heading into the stretch run.
Which brings me to why they’re right now the lowest ranked champion.They were swept by the last place, 5-11 Washington Redskins, including a 23-10 home loss in mid-December that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. A 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team handed Big Blue a 36-25 loss at the Meadowlands, as did the 8-8 Eagles 17-10. New York was cumulatively outscored 400-394, the only Super Bowl champion with that distinction. They are also the only team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy after allowing at least 25 points per game in the regular season.
45. 1980 Oakland Raiders
This is the first ever world champion with the moniker “wild card team”. Oakland entered Super Bowl XV loose, with the team used to playing under the glare of the championship spotlight. They had many players left over from their Super Bowl XI team – Gene Upshaw, Cliff Branch, Dave Dalby, Henry Lawrence, to name a few. They dominated the favored Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the Superdome, over which was tied a yellow ribbon in honor of the Americans returning home after being held hostage in Iran for over a year. Jim Plunkett, the ultimate NFL comeback story, won MVP honors with 3 touchdown passes.
This was a team many picked to finish in the AFC West cellar, a division many at the time considered the strongest. They finished 11-5, good for 2nd place. The San Diego Chargers captured the AFC West that season due to a net-points-in-division-games tiebreaker over Oakland. They then shut down Earl Campbell and the Oilers 27-7 in the Wild Card round, escaped from Cleveland with a 14-12 victory over the Browns after Sam Rutigliano had Brian Sipe go for a TD late in the game on a pass play called “Red Right 88” that was intercepted in the end zone by safety Mike Davis. Oakland then beat the Chargers 34-27 in San Diego to take the AFC Title.
The Raiders starter heading into the season was Dan Pastorini, acquired in a trade with the Houston Oilers that sent franchise QB Ken Stabler to Houston. They floundered to a 2-3 start, with Pastorini suffering a leg injury in the 5th game, a 31-17 lackluster loss at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Insert Plunkett, and the Raiders got hot. They won 6 in a row, also riding the exploits of Lester Hayes, the stick-um clad, combative cornerback whose 13 interceptions fell just one short of the all-time league record set by Dick “Night Train” Lane.
So why the low ranking? The 1980 Oakland Raiders had no regular season wins by 20 or more points. Their largest margin of victory was 33-14 over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8. Their only 20+ victory was that wild card win over Houston. Lester Hayes’ secret to success was stripped of him in 1981 when the league outlawed stickum. Hayes still was a decent corner, but not quite as effective without the goo all over his uniform. That Raiders season was also sandwiched by three seasons watching the playoffs from home. Every season is in a way self-contained, but that team seemed to hit lightning in a bottle. They returned to prominence two years later after moving to Los Angeles. That said, I’m not sure if you replay the 1980 playoffs 20 times if the Raiders would come out on top more than two other times.
44. 1987 Washington Redskins
This team, more than any other, seemed to take the Lombardi Trophy by default. They cruised to a 11-4 record to win the NFC East by 3 1/2 games over the Cowboys, Eagles and Cardinals. The defending world champion Giants finished 6-9. They were boosted by a 3-0 record during the replacement games as the only team without a regular player to cross the picket line. Included was a 13-7 win in Dallas on Monday Night Football over the Cowboys who started Danny White, Randy White, Tony Dorsett and Too Tall Jones in that game.
Washington had some disturbing regular season losses: 21-20 at Atlanta where the difference was a blocked extra point, 31-27 at Philadelphia where their pass defense failed them in the clutch, and 30-26 at home to the 6-9 Los Angeles Rams. They went into Chicago to face the Bears for the 2nd straight year in the divisional round. They rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to win 21-17 on the strength of a classic Darrell Green punt-return TD. They were able to travel to Chicago for this round because the 8-7 Vikings destroyed the 12-3 Saints in the wild card game. They were able to avoid the 49ers again after Minnesota upset San Francisco a day before the Redskins win in Chicago. Thus the Redskins were able to host the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings. They held on 17-10 after Darrin Nelson dropped a 4th down pass at the goal line in the final minute. Two weeks later they steamrolled to a historic 35-point 2nd quarter, with Doug Williams throwing 4 TD passes in the period, overcoming all doubters, and Timmy Smith setting a Super Bowl rushing yardage record that stands to this day. They demolished the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, in a game proving at the time the superiority of the NFC big dogs over the AFC’s best, as well as the fact that matchups often determine who wins.
43. 2007 New York Giants
This team went from on the verge of ousting Tom Coughlin and looking like the worst team in the league, especially on defense, to the team that registered the greatest upset since Super Bowl III. They won on the strength of a front four who could wreak havoc on a pass pocket without extra blitzers, and a quarterback who, although was sometimes erratic, made the plays when it counted most. Eli Manning capped his Super Bowl XLII MVP performance with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left to deny the New England Patriots the first 19-0 season in league history, 17-14.
The Giants were the second team to capture the world championship after winning 3 road playoff games. They finished 10-6 and at the time were tied with the 1988 49ers with the worst regular season winning percentage for a Super Bowl winner. They are also the only Super Bowl winning team with a losing home record, not winning a single game at the Meadowlands after Halloween. Three of those losses featured Eli Manning at his worst, seeming to not yet grasp how to manage the game in the swirling autumn winds in East Rutherford. He gave up 3 interceptions for TDs in a 41-17 loss to the Vikings. They were 7-1 on the road, however, in the regular season. Then they whirled through Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay to reach the big game. They didn’t look the part early, though, giving up 80 points in their first two games. The next two weeks showed their character, though, as a late goal line stand preserved a 24-17 win in Washington. The next week they sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times, including six by Osi Umenyiora, in a 16-3 win over the Eagles at Giants Stadium.
42. 1988 San Francisco 49ers
Their 10-6 record, mentioned above, including a pedestrian 4-4 home mark. This team was the first Super Bowl winner without a winning mark in their own stadium during the regular season. Several of their 6 losses were to league also-rans. The first was a 34-17 drubbing at the hand of the last place Atlanta Falcons at home. Then the 8-8 Broncos stole a 16-13 OT win, catching San Francisco on one of their many off days. They turned a 23-0 lead into a 24-23 loss to the 7-9 Phoenix Cardinals in Arizona. This road loss, on November 6, 1988, would be their last away from Candlestick Park until September . . . of 1991! The next week, though, the mediocre Raiders came to the West Bay and held the Niners to a field goal, winning 9-3. San Francisco was in 3rd place, two games out of first place, then turned it around. They won their next four games and captured the NFC West by winning a 3-way tiebreaker over the Saints and Rams.
Then in the playoffs they turned it up a notch, getting full revenge on the Vikings who unceremoniously ousted them the year before, beating Minnesota handily 34-9. They then got their lone road playoff win in their 18-year success run, 28-3 over the Bears in the NFC Championship game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. Super Bowl XXIII showed what they were about as they overcame a spotty performance of missed opportunities to edge the Bengals 20-16 on a Joe Montana 10-yard TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in Bill Walsh’s final game as head coach.
41. 1970 Baltimore Colts
Several players from that team themselves don’t look at their rings from their Super Bowl V victory over the Dallas Cowboys with much pride. Just watch the “America’s Game” episode about that team. Bill Curry, Mike Curtis and Bubba Smith all were embarrassed by their performance in that game, a 16-13, last-second victory marred by turnovers and penalties, known as the “Blunder Bowl”.
This team, an old NFL franchise, was one of three to join the 10 old American Football League teams to join the new American Football Conference. Their 11-2-1 record was the best in the AFC, but their offense hardly scared anybody. Their defense still could get the job done. They even had a first-year head coach – Don McCafferty, who replaced Don Shula, who went to Miami after an apparent falling out with owner Carroll Rosenbloom.
The Colts ousted the Bengals 17-0 in the divisional round, beat the Raiders 27-17 in the inaugural AFC Championship Game – both in Baltimore, before escaping past the Cowboys in the Orange Bowl.
In my next installment on this topic I will reveal who I ranked 31-40 out of all the Super Bowl winning teams.