Wednesday, July 10, 2002
The greatest reigns of sports' dynasties
By Brandon Bickerstaff
New York Yankees
How they ruled: The Yankees won four consecutive World Series titles from 1936-39 and won two more in 1941 and 1943, establishing them among the earliest major league baseball dynasties. Iron man Lou Gherig headlined an all-star cast of players through the first half of the Yankees dynasty before succumbing to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in 1941. The Yankees also boasted Joe DiMaggio, whose 1941 season featured a 56-game hitting streak. The Yankees faced adversity from all sides during their reign as baseball's kings, including World War II, Gehrig's death and the death of team president Jake Ruppert.
How they ruled: The Cleveland Browns' inaugural 1946 season in the All-American Football Conference ended with the first of four consecutive championships in the league before joining the National Football League in 1950. The Browns picked up in the NFL where they left off in the AAFC, capturing the championship in their first season. The Browns reached the title game in each of the following three seasons before winning the title again in 1954 and 1955. Led by a cast of legends, including coach Paul Brown, quarterback Otto Graham and kicker Lou Groza, the Browns' stranglehold on professional football in its early years helped solidify their place in pro football history.
How they ruled: Regarded as the NBA's first dynasty, the Lakers established their dominance before entering the league, winning championships in both the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America before the two leagues merged to become the NBA. Behind 6-foot-10 center George Mikan, the Lakers ruled professional basketball in its early years, claiming five world championships in six years and becoming the first team in NBA history to win three consecutive titles from 1951-54.
How they ruled: The Canadiens have been professional hockey's most dominant team over the past century, winning 24 Stanley Cup titles since 1916. The Canadiens established themselves as a bona fide professional hockey dynasty, winning six titles in eight consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals beginning in 1956. The "Flying Frenchmen" boasted 10 future Hall of Famers, led by scoring sensation Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau and Jacques Plante rounded out an All-Star cast that boasted one of the stingiest defenses in the league, balanced with a potent scoring attack.
How they ruled: With 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, Coach Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics were "The Franchise" in the NBA's early days. Hall-of-Fame big man Bill Russell patrolled the boards and swatted anything daring to enter the lane, while Bob Cousy ran the Celtics' fast break with near perfection. Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and Frank Ramsey rounded out the talented cast that ruled the NBA for most of two decades.
Green Bay Packers
How they ruled: The Packers have the distinction of being the NFL's first Super Bowl champions in 1966, but the team's dynasty of the 1960s far outdates the classic showdown. The Packers won back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962, then won three consecutive titles, including the first two Super Bowls, from 1965-67. Coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, the Packers lived by the mantra, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
How they ruled: Eight consecutive playoff appearances, six consecutive AFC Central Division titles and four Super Bowl victories earned Coach Chuck Noll's Steelers the title "Team of the '70s." Even with an offense featuring quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris and wide receiver Lynn Swann, it was Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" defense, led by Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene and linebacker Jack Ham, that garnered much of the credit for the team's success. The Steelers took back-to-back Super Bowl titles following the 1974 and 1975 seasons and again after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
Los Angeles Lakers
How they ruled: After leaving Minneapolis for sunny Southern California in 1960, the Lakers returned to NBA dominance thanks mostly to their flashy run-and-gun style affectionately known as "Showtime." With a cast of players that included Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, the Lakers were a force in the 1980s, winning five titles in eight trips to the Finals in the decade. The Lakers also saw the emergence of a young former Lakers assistant coach and backup guard named Pat Riley, who took over as head coach and guided the team to its repeated success.
San Francisco 49ers
How they ruled: Like many great sports dynasties, the 49ers inexplicably found ways to win, as was displayed in the 1981 NFC Championship game, when quarterback Joe Montana, in the face of three Dallas Cowboys defenders, found Dwight Clark in the end zone with 51 seconds remaining, lifting the 49ers to a 28-27 victory en route to their first of a record five Super Bowl titles. The 49ers won four Super Bowls during the '80s, replacing the Pittsburgh Steelers as the new "Team of the Decade." Besides Montana, the 49ers also boasted one of the greatest wide receivers ever in Jerry Rice, along with receiver John Taylor. Running back Roger Craig helped complement Montana's passing and solidified the backfield. The defense was led by hard-hitting, Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott.
How they ruled: The Bulls took their place as the "Team of the '90s" thanks to Michael Jordan, one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball. Jordan had help from a strong supporting cast, including Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson during the first half of the team's reign (1991-93), and Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr in the second run of titles (1996-98). Between the two three-peats, Coach Phil Jackson kept the Bulls a contender while Jordan pursued a professional baseball career during an abbreviated retirement.