The Stuff of Legends

Dynasty: A powerful family or group that maintains its position for a considerable time.-Merriam-Webster dictionary.

In this around-the-clock media age, certain words are tossed around so much that we tend to lose track of what they really mean. Dynasty is one of those words.

The Dynasty tag is now being applied to any team that wins a championship and has one other good season. In an effort to seem important and to hype the games so we think they are important, the talking heads at ESPN and other networks want you to believe that you are watching something special. Something on par with the great athletic achievement of days gone by. When confronted with actual facts and numbers, comparing the new dynasties with older established dynasties, they often try to frame their new definition of the word in the context of "in this era of, A. the salary cap, B. free agency, C. parity, D. more teams, this is considered a dynasty." That simply does not hold up.

Sports are always changing, whether it be integration, expansion, or rule changes. The way the game is played and managed is constantly evolving. That does not mean we have to change the definition of dynasty.

In fact, during my sports lifetime, which we will start at 1980, there have been dynasties. In fact, there are dynasties going on right now. For our purposes here, we will define a dynasty as: winning at least three championships and maintaining a level of excellence for at least ten years. Anything short of that is just a good run, in which there exists no shame.

To stop any arguments before they start, I am not going to include teams based on their entire record of existence, only on the ten-year dynasty definition. These teams, which we can call the Holy Roman Empires of their sports, include the Boston Celtics in the NBA, the University of Kentucky in college basketball, the New York Yankees of baseball, and Notre Dame in college football. They have been great for years and years, and whether they have had recent dynasties or not, are regarded as the pinnacles of their sport.

Let us begin in the NFL. Since 1980, there have been only two teams that meet the first part of our requirement for a dynasty, winning at least three championships. The San Francisco 49ers have won five and the Dallas Cowboys have won three. The San Francisco 49ers are a dynasty, and the Cowboys simply had a good run. Let me explain.

The 49ers, led by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, won their first Super Bowl in 1981 and their last in 1989. The 1994 Super Bowl win does not even factor in here to our dynasty argument. During this period, they missed the playoffs only once in 1982, so their ten-year period from 1981-1991 included four Super Bowl titles and only one time missing the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1992, '93, and '95 with their trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith. They then slowly deteriorated, due to personnel losses and injuries, to making early playoff exits, then missing the playoffs in 1997, 2000, and 2001, and also having losing records. So, starting with their first Super Bowl in 1992, they do not have the required 10 years of excellence. The St. Louis Rams are having a good run. The potential is there to have a dynasty-winning this past super bowl would have helped-but they are not there yet.

The NBA has had a couple of teams that measure up to dynasty status. The L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics of the 1980s were the ever-elusive, and always fun to watch, dueling dynasties. In between the two of them, they won eight NBA Finals. They also were able to maintain this high record of excellence for the required ten-year period. The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were also a dynasty. Led by Michael Jordan, one of the greatest of all time, the Bulls won 6 NBA Finals, and during the time Jordan left in 1994 and 1995, they still made the playoffs. Although their level of excellence falls dramatically after the 1998 season, due in no small part to the loss of Jordan and other key figures, the sheer number of championships, and the way they were the truly dominant team, puts them in dynasty territory. The L.A. Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, are attempting a possible dynasty run in the NBA playoffs as we speak. Stay tuned.

Baseball is easy. We are in the middle of the only dynasty run of the past 20 years right now. The New York Yankees have won the world series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. There seems little doubt that they will continue on their winning ways, and possibly add a few more titles. If you start their run with their playoff appearance in 1995, they have not met the requisite number of years yet, but the sheer volume of their titles makes it clear they are on the verge of being another Yankee dynasty. The Atlanta Braves had a shot, due to their many years of excellence, but their ability to win only one World Series means they simply have had a good run.

The setup of college sports makes it harder to form any sort of dynasty, due to the nature that your players, no matter how good, can play four years at the most. That is why college sports are peppered with good runs, but despite what Dick Vitale may tell you, few dynasties. Duke had a good run from 1990-94, making five Final Fours and winning two titles, but the mid-90s featured early exits from the tournament, not playing in the tournament, and a losing record. This dip in the mid-90s is the major factor in their not having a dynasty, despite winning a national title in 2001, which barely squeezed in the required three in a 10 period. They had a real shot at a dynasty, being the prohibitive favorite going into the NCAA tournaments in 1998, 1999, and 2000, but failed to win another national title. UK had a good run from 1995-1999, making three Final Fours, five regional finals, and claiming two titles. Michigan State also had a good run, from 1999-2001, with three Final Fours and one national title. No dynasties during the past 20 years, but plenty of good runs.

Why is there this need to label teams as dynasties so early in their possible runs? I think everyone wants so much to be part of something special, that even the slightest hint of greatness makes us excited, but we should not change the definition of a word just to fit our current view. History will record the true measure of a team's greatness, not Dan Patrick or Dick Vitale, so there should be no rush to judgment.

When your team is in the middle of something special, you will know. Until then, enjoy the good times and worry about the rest later.