Midsummer Sundays are a good time to reflect rather than rant. Let's reflect on what, in pro sports (or elsewhere), constitutes a dynasty. Sometimes it's easy to tell. Sometimes it's debatable. One thing is sure... if you win 3 in a row, you have a valid dynasty --- even if it's a short one.
We haven't heard the expression "3-peat" for a bit now, at least since it became obvious the Miami Heat were going to be the latest to fail in reaching that pinnacle. These days, with free agency giving teams musical rosters, dynasties should be hard to come by anyway.
Or are they? Not too many years ago, the Patriots had a shot at the elusive goal. Around the same time frame, Shaq's Lakers did it. And barely before that, Joe Torre's Yankees got there. Just before that, Jordan's Bulls did it. Twice.
Yet in recent years we've seen how elusive the prize can be in all levels of sports. The past decade saw Carroll's Trojans and Meyer's Tide within a baby step of the elusive achievement, with everyone assuming a foregone conclusion, only to be dumped at the 11th hour. Most thought the same about the Heat before this year's NBA finals.
How does that stack up with more remote history? Let's just take a look at the books, sport by sport.
Baseball has been with us for a while. In the 1800s, the National League vied with a few other leagues, the most notable of which was the American Association. Teams like the Chicago White Stockings, the Boston Beaneaters and the Baltimore Orioles did the trick in the NL. The St. Louis Browns did it in the short-lived AA.
Starting with the modern era, i.e. 1903 and onwards, the last two decades of the Dead Ball Era were dominated by a variety of teams. The Red Sox won six titles in that 17-year span (including the 1904 by-default title when John McGraw of the Giants ill-advlsedly snubbed Boston's challenge for the unofficial postseason series), but they never won 3 in a row. Boston itself at one point won 3 in a row, but one of the winners was the Braves.
Tinker, Evers and Chance's Cubs are the stuff of legend, but even they didn't win 3, losing the first of their 3 consecutive series appearances to the crosstown White Sox, the Hitless Wonders. Connie Mack's mighty Athletics came close, but no cigar.
Then came the Live Ball Era, mostly courtesy of one Babe Ruth (the ball wasn't changed in 1920). Amazingly the Ruth Yankees of the 1920s, the most legendary team in history, never won 3 in a row. Their absolute nemesis, Connie Mack's A's of Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and many more greats, the team that crushed the Ruth/Gehrig Yanks three years running, only won the classic twice.
It would take the money-laden Yankees until 1936 to begin their first run. McCarthy's Yanks won not just 3 but 4 in a row. Following World War II, Casey Stengel's team would win five straight. It is telling that they won 102 games in 1954, more than in any of the prior five seasons, and finished 9 games behind the 111-43 Indians. That's what it took to dethrone them.
Even the Yanks wouldn't do it again until Joe Torre arrived. But the incredible Athletics, freshly bounced from Philly to Kansas City to Oakland, stunned the baseball world with a roster of unknown names seemingly taken from comic books with 3 in a row in the early 70s. And that, folks, was it for the old 3-peat until Joe Torre's team became the last to do it.
Somehow the NBA has had a run of dynasties, none of course so overwhelming as Boston's but still some impressive runs. The Spurs are clearly a dynasty, though a 'spread' one. But as the league took shape in the late 40s, a team came out of Minneapolis called, sensibly, the Lakers, and with the league's first superstar roster led by center George Mikan, they proceeded to win five years out of six, including (of course) 3 in a row.
They hit the end of their run just as the game changed with the advent of the 24-second clock. One man realized what this meant, and put together a team of racehorses. Red Auerbach's Celtics featured, at least at the start, a HOF player at every starting spot, and they ran the fast break well enough to fly by the rest of the league an incredible 11 times in 13 seasons, that run containing an equally incredible 8 titles in a row.
With their demise the 3-peat became history for a while. No one in the 70s did it. Bird's Celtics and Johnson's Lakers of the 80s never did it. Jordan's Bulls, though, did it twice as they dominated the 90s, followed rapidly by Shaq's Lakers. The Kobe Lakers had a shot but were beaten the first time around by their old nemesis from Boston. And the Heat failed, Lebron left, and nobody expects another run from Miami, at least not in the near future.
Lord Stanley's Cup has a confusing early history. From the end of the 19th Century up until the onset of World War I (which drew in many Canadians) a few HCs (Health club? Hockey club?) had some dominant runs, but sometimes 'won' the cup several times in a year as challenges from multiple leagues were in effect. Even up until 1926, the NHL managed to win most of the Cups but played another league champion to get it. In fact, the Victoria Cougars of the WHCL became the last non-NHL entry to win the Cup as late as 1925!
Following that period, the NHL champion was given the Cup. In the first of these modern series, the Ottawa Senators (in an earlier incarnation) defeated the Boston Bruins 2-0-2. One wonders why the last game was played. But no one --- not Montreal, not Boston, not Detroit --- would win 3 in a row until the Little Major's Toronto Maple Leafs took the last 3 series of the 1940s.
By 1956, in an era that saw a number of dynastic runs in sports, Toe Blake's Canadiens asserted themselves and would begin a run of dominance that brought home 5 Cups in a row. But they wouldn't do it again, thwarted primarily by Punch Imlach's largely forgotten Toronto Maple Leafs, who won in 1962, 1963 and 1964. They even broke up Montreal's next run at 5 in a row by beating the Habs again in 1967.
But the rest of the way? For a long time there was a 3-peat drought, with a couple of notable exceptions. Orr's Bruins didn't do it. Shero's Flyers didn't do it. Even Gretzky's Oilers and Lemieux' Penguins didn't do it. But the rebuilt Canadiens won 4 straight in the late 70s, only to be stunningly supplanted by Al Arbour's incredible upstarts from Long Island, who would win it for the next 4 years.
Since then? Nobody's done it.
Maybe the most interesting thing about the NFL is who didn't win 3 in a row. Montana's Niners? Nope. Luckman's Bears? Nah. Brown's Browns? Sure, but only in the AAFC. Unitas' Colts? Nope. Surely Bradshaw's Steelers. No again. The Perfect Fins? Went to 3 in a row but won 2. Aikman's Cowboys? Uh-uh. Brady's Patriots? Nix.
Ok, so who did?
The early years of the NFL are a bit 'different', as in all sports. There was only 1 division, and whoever won the 'pennant' won the title. In this early Roaring 20s time, two teams actually did it. Sort of. The Canton Bulldogs won 3 years in a row --- except they were the Cleveland Bulldogs the final year. Later that decade, Curly Lambeau's Packers did it.
It wouldn't happen again until Vince Lombardi's Packers won their last 3 titles. The last two overlapped the Super Bowl era. Fortunately, they won both times so no asterisks are necessary.
Meanwhile, in the 10-year span of the independent AFL, only one franchise, the Chiefs (nee Texans), won 3 titles, period. They were not consecutive. Only Houston and Buffalo won consecutive titles.
And into the Super Bowl age we go. It's the criterion we use today. Lotsa repeaters. Green Bay. Miami. Pittsburgh. San Francisco. Dallas. Denver. New England.
Absolutely zero 3-peaters. None. Squat. It's been nearly 50 years.
This generally means only one of two things: football or basketball. A quick look at the annals tells you that football is an impossible mishmash for most of its near-150 year history. Recently things have been in order a bit more, but nary a 3-peater. The closest arguable (though unofficial) achiever, at least in an era that featured more contenders than Yale and Princeton, may be Army (well-stocked during WWII), which lost not a game from 1944 through 1946 while going a cumulative 27-0-1.
Basketball is different, and there have been conclusive champions for a long time. Astonishingly, there is only one 3-peater and that's John Wooden's UCLA, who won 7 in a row from 1967 to 1973.
What conclusion do we draw from all of this? Nothing. Who needs conclusions? Some teams that never won 3 in a row can be argued to have been better than some that did. It's nothing more than a fascinating trip through sports history and the teams that achieved (and didn't achieve) a most difficult feat --- winning three in a row.