File this under “Things I do while the two oldest children are playing nicely and Liz has the two little ones at the doctor.” Today I browsed over to whatifsports.com and decided to do something a little insane; namely, try to figure out who the greatest pro football team of the Super Bowl era was.
I took the 44 Super Bowl champions and split them into four 11-team divisions. The winners of Super Bowls I-XI were one, XII-XXII another, XXIII-XXXIII a third, and XXXIV-XLIV the fourth. Each team played a double round-robin, with each team getting a home game against a division opponent. I did this by plugging them into simulated matchups on the web site, so an objective source picked all of the winners. Then, the top three finishers in each division made it to the playoffs. Division winners got an automatic top four seed in the playoffs and a first round bye. The eight second and third place finishers faced off in the first round. Finally, the two last teams met. What happened? Who’s the greatest team? Read on and find out…First, this is how the “regular season” panned out…
Division 1: I-XI
1. 1973 Miami Dolphins (15-5)
2. 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (14-6)
2. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (14-6)
4. 1972 Miami Dolphins (12-8)
5. 1976 Oakland Raiders (11-9)
6. 1971 Dallas Cowboys (10-10)
6. 1968 New York Jets (10-10)
6. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-10)
9. 1966 Green Bay Packers (8-12)
10. 1970 Baltimore Colts (4-16)
11. 1967 Green Bay Packers (3-17)
Thoughts: The simulator didn’t think much of Vince Lombardi’s Packers, did it? To be sure, the ’67 team was the last of those championship teams and went 9-4-1 in the regular season, then had the blessing of having the ball last in the Ice Bowl against Dallas… I was glad to see the ’73 Dolphins fare better than the ’72 team. I’m of the opinion they were better, even if they lost twice. The second of those back-to-back champions played a much harder schedule, and the first half of their Super Bowl victory over the Vikings remains the most impressive display of dominating football I’ve ever seen… I’m also glad to see the ’69 Chiefs “make the playoffs,” because I feel they are one of the five most underrated teams of all time.
Division 2: XII-XXII
1. 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers (16-4)
2. 1984 San Francisco 49ers (15-5)
3. 1985 Chicago Bears (14-6)
4. 1977 Dallas Cowboys (11-9)
5. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-10)
5. 1986 New York Giants (10-10)
7. 1987 Washington Redskins (9-11)
8. 1980 Oakland Raiders (8-12)
9. 1983 Los Angeles Raiders (6-14)
9. 1981 San Francisco 49ers (6-14)
11. 1982 Washington Redskins (5-15)
Thoughts: I did not expect one of my favorite teams ever, the ’82 Skins, to rank near the top, but was disappointed to see them in the gutter. In real life, they went 8-1 in a strike-shortened year en route to the title… I’ve always considered the ’78 Steelers the best team ever. They went 14-2 and beat the defending-champion Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Their defense hadn’t allowed a TD in the first quarter all year until the Super Bowl. I was surprised they were only fifth here… As usual the ’85 Bears are overrated, even by a simulator. There is just no way you can convince me their offense would be successful enough against championship teams to win regularly.
Division 3: XXIII-XXXIII
1. 1996 Green Bay Packers (16-4)
2. 1998 Denver Broncos (15-5)
3. 1992 Dallas Cowboys (13-7)
4. 1993 Dallas Cowboys (12-8)
5. 1988 San Francisco 49ers (10-9-1)
6. 1991 Washington Redskins (9-10-1)
7. 1989 San Francisco 49ers (9-11)
8. 1994 San Francisco 49ers (7-13)
8. 1995 Dallas Cowboys (7-13)
8. 1997 Denver Broncos (7-13)
11. 1990 New York Giants (4-16)
Thoughts: I was very surprised at the top two teams in this group. I thought for sure one of the 49ers or Cowboys teams would be favored by the sims. Frankly, the best team in this group in my opinion is the 1991 Washington Redskins. They were absolutely dominant, losing only two games by a combined five points (one of those games was the final week of the season when they sat everyone in the second half at Philly). That team ranks, in my eyes, as one of the top three or four teams ever… There’s no way the ’89 49ers should be below the ’88 49ers. The ’88 team went 10-6 and had to win on the road in the playoffs, then was fortunate to beat the Bengals, a relatively weak AFC Champion. The ’89 49ers went 14-2 and were dominant all year long.
Division 4: XXXIV-XLIV
1. 1999 St. Louis Rams (16-4)
2. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-5)
3. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-7)
4. 2003 New England Patriots (12-8)
5. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-9)
5. 2004 New England Patriots (11-9)
7. 2009 New Orleans Saints (10-10)
8. 2000 Baltimore Ravens (9-11)
9. 2007 New York Giants (7-13)
10. 2001 New England Patriots (6-14)
11. 2006 Indianapolis Colts (0-20)
Thoughts: This is where you realize that no simulator can really simulate real life. I don’t care if their run defense was like swiss cheese, the ’06 Colts were quarterbacked by a guy named Peyton Manning. Would they win this division? No. But they would pick up some wins against this group. 0-20? I was shocked by that result… I was also surprised none of the Patriots teams made the playoffs, but really surprised at how Tampa performed… I don’t think the Ravens could’ve got nine wins in real life in this group. I have doubts about the Giants getting seven as well.
Playoff Teams (seed in parentheses): 1. ’79 Steelers, 2. ’96 Packers, 3. ’99 Rams, 4. ’73 Dolphins, 5. ’98 Broncos, 6. ’02 Bucs, 7. ’84 49ers, 8. ’75 Steelers, 9. ’85 Bears, 10. ’69 Chiefs, 11. ’08 Steelers, 12. ’92 Cowboys.
(9) 1985 Chicago Bears 24 at (8) 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers 7
Walter Payton rushed for two touchdowns and caught another to power the Bears to a 24-7 win at Three Rivers Stadium. Terry Bradshaw’s three interceptions, two by the Bears’ Gary Fencik, doomed the Steelers’ chances.
(12) 1992 Dallas Cowboys 24 at (5) 1998 Denver Broncos 13
The Cowboys “big three” got plenty of help from their teammates as Dallas hushed the crowd at Mile High Stadium. Kelvin Martin hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman to open the scoring. Emmitt Smith and Tommie Agee each rushed for first half touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 21-6 halftime lead, allowing their defense to clamp down on John Elway and Terrell Davis in the second half.
(11) 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 at (6) 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16
Jeff Reed’s 38-yard field goal with 47 seconds to go capped a nine-point comeback in the last five minutes for the Steelers, who overcame two interceptions from Ben Roethlisberger. Willie Parker opened the scoring with a 14-yard run and Roethlisberger scored on an 11-yard scramble with 4:44 to go.
(10) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs 27 at (7) 1984 San Francisco 49ers 13
The Kansas City defense clamped down on Joe Montana, holding the Niners to 99 yards passing en route to an upset victory that made it a sweep for the road teams in the first round. Robert Holmes scored two touchdowns for the Chiefs, including a 47-yard run in the fourth quarter that killed any hope San Francisco had remaining.
(9) 1985 Chicago Bears 22 at (1) 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers 13
A fumble recovery in the end zone gave the Bears a 17-13 lead in the third quarter and they added a touchdown and a safety in the fourth to get their second straight win at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers scored first on a Rocky Bleier touchdown but never really got any offensive flow going after that, settling for two field goals the rest of the game.
(12) 1992 Dallas Cowboys 26 at (4) 1973 Miami Dolphins 0
In the 1970s the Orange Bowl was the site of three Dallas losses in Super Bowls, but Jimmy Johnson didn’t get the memo that his team was supposed to lose there, as they thoroughly dominated the Dolphins, 26-0. Lin Elliott’s four first half field goals were accompanied by a Troy Aikman (16-24-214) to Jay Novacek touchdown pass of 67 yards. The Dallas defense held Bob Griese to only eight completions in 25 attempts and intercepted him once. Griese’s replacement, Earl Morrall, fared no better, going 1-for-4.
(11) 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 10 at (3) 1999 St. Louis Rams 16
Dre’ Bly and Todd Lyght each intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Az-zahir Hakim in the second quarter to give the Rams a victory, making them the first home team to prevail in the playoffs. Warner was able to spread the ball around to his receivers and Jeff Wilkins added three field goals.
(10) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs 28 at (2) 1996 Green Bay Packers 13
Robert Holmes’s 5-yard touchdown on the opening drive had Packers fans restless. Jim Kearney’s interception of Brett Favre on the ensuing possession had them concerned. Otis Taylor’s 7-yard touchdown catch from Len Dawson right after that had them full on worried, and with good reason. The Chiefs shocked the Packers 28-13 at Lambeau Field. The Chiefs rushed for 211 yards, 100 from Mike Garrett. Dawson threw for 258 yards, 126 to Frank Pitts, 72 of which came on a fourth quarter touchdown that sealed the deal.
(12) 1992 Dallas Cowboys 33 at (9) 1985 Chicago Bears 7
Kelvin Martin caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman on Dallas’s first possession, then returned Chicago’s ensuing punt 68 yards for a touchdown. Dallas was ahead 14-0 less than six minutes into the game and they never looked back. Chicago got as close as 17-7 when Jim McMahon hit Matt Suhey for a 47-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but two Lin Elliott field goals gave the Cowboys a 23-7 halftime lead, and they added ten points in the second half to quiet Soldier Field. The Bears lost three fumbles, ending chances to come back.
(10) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs 12 at (3) St. Louis Rams 10
Jan Stenerud’s fourth field goal of the game, a 55-yarder with 34 seconds remaining, gave the Chiefs a 12-10 victory over the Rams in the Trans World Dome. Jeff Wilkins had hit a 34-yard field goal with 9:36 to go to give the Rams a lead. Mike Garrett and Robert Holmes each rushed for 52 yards, helping the Chiefs overcome five sacks by the Rams defense.
Championship Game (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum)
(12) 1992 Dallas Cowboys 23 vs. (10) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs 26
The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs scored ten points in the final 1:08 to beat the 1992 Dallas Cowboys and be crowned the greatest team of the Super Bowl era. Jan Stenerud’s 42-yard field goal as time expired gave Coach Hank Stram’s team an unexpected triumph as the team for all time.
Dallas got on the board late in the first quarter when Emmitt Smith, who rushed 21 times for 131 yards, scored on a 5-yard run, but Warren McVea answered for the Chiefs on their ensuing possession with a 10-yard run. The teams traded field goals and the half ended 10-10.
The Cowboys asserted control in the third quarter when Curvin Richards scored on a 2-yard run. Kansas City responded with a 36-yard field goal by Stenerud, but Lin Elliott’s 45-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter made it 20-13 in Dallas’s favor. Stenerud’s third field goal of the night cut the lead to four with 12:28 to go. Dallas seemed to be in control when Elliott kicked a 47-yard field goal with 4:07 remaining, which set the stage for the memorable ending.
Len Dawson, who had thrown two interceptions earlier in the game, capped off a nine play, 74-yard drive that went 2:59 with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Otis Taylor, a spectacular grab in which Taylor got both feet barely down before falling out of bounds in the back right corner of the end zone. Stenerud’s extra point made it a tie game.
The Cowboys got the ball back at the 20 and drove to the Kansas City 46 with 18 seconds to go. Troy Aikman’s attempted pass to Michael Irvin was deflected by the rushing Bobby Bell, who caught it out of the air and returned it to the Dallas 25 with four seconds to go. Stenerud hit a 42-yard field goal with no time remaining to win the game.
Postscript: So, were the ’69 Chiefs really the greatest team of the Super Bowl era? Probably not, but they were closer to the top then you might think. Hank Stram was ahead of his time as a coach. Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier are Hall of Famers who led a great defense… The ’92 Cowboys are legitimately one of the top seven or eight teams of all time as well. Even though I can’t stand the franchise, their place in the finals is justified. When all is said and done discussions like this are meaningless, but fun. What do you think was the best team in the Super Bowl era?