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Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Updated: August 16, 12:36 PM ET
Readers: Greatest NFL team

From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 listed its choices for the 10 greatest NFL teams of all time, but, we knew there would be debate and as usual, we wanted your take. We received more than 5,000 letters on the dispute, here's how you ranked them.

Walter Payton
Walter Payton led the Bears to the Super Bowl but, sadly, didn't score in the big game.
Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the greatest team ever to grace the gridiron.

1. 1985 Bears (966 letters)
The right team, in the right place, at the right time. Before 1985, NFL ratings were on a four-year downward track, and then -- it happened. By the end of the season the ratings were at record highs and everyone, including my pastor in California, was talking about "Da Bears."

Against Minnesota, Jim McMahon, an emergency quarterback, led the Bears, down 17, through two plays and to two touchdowns. (Does anyone remember the block Payton made on the blitz? Best block ever by a back.) The Bears were still down but Minnesota gave up in their own building.

On to San Francisco -- Perry's first touchdown. The fun starts.

Green Bay -- Perry scoring. Everyone believing.

Washington -- Marshall's unbelievable interception and touchdown.

Dallas -- Supposed to be a test. They blew them out.

Miami -- Helped build the story.

Jets -- Payton's touchdown on the screen. The Jets' jocks are still hanging in the rafters.

Rams -- Singletary stops Dickerson ... again and again.

Super Bowl -- Moons over New Orleans, Dent and Hampton. The greatest game ever by two defensive linemen.

The fact they did it only once makes it so much better. The sequel would never have been as good. The shuffle was part of a charity record for legendary Chicago D.J. Larry Lujack. It raised more money than any other event for Chicago charities before or after. Then you've got Ditka and Ryan and the rest.

Top it all off with the greatest person to ever play any game, any time, Mr. Walter Payton. The '85 Bears were more than the greatest team ever, they were the greatest NFL experience ever. And I am a Packers fan.
Lynn Reinbolt
Searcy, Ark.


We used to live in Chicago and bought a refrigerator in 1986. With the fridge came a videotape highlighting the '85 Bears season from beginning to end. I had to have watched that video 100 times. With the exception of that damn Miami game, the Monsters of the Midway were unbeatable. Their success was no fluke and wasn't the result of some pansy-ass schedule.

On offense you've got Jim McMahon who can either hand it off to No. 34 who is gonna get yards or pass to a number of guys including Willie Gault, who had crazy speed.

But the offense was negligible compared to the awesome defense commanded by Buddy Ryan. Dent, Hampton, Singletary (the rock in the middle), McMichael, Perry, Gary Fencik, Wilbur Marshall. When these guys weren't knocking QBs senseless, they were grabbing interceptions or picking up fumbles and showing the offense what scoring was all about. Add all that up and then throw in Ditka at the helm and you've got the best team ever.

The only bad thing about that team was the owner. McKaskey, that son of a ... Da 1985 Bears, still the best!
Mark Pettyjohn
Cleveland


As overheard from a table at Ditka's restaurant:

"Who would win in a game of the 1972 Dolphins versus a midget squad of 1985 Bears coached by mini-Ditka?"
(going around the Superfans table):
"Mini Bears 35 - Miami 17."
"Mini Bears 28, Miami zip."
"How big is da midget Fridge?"
"Midget Bears 21, Dolphins 3."
Matt Saunders
Boston


2. 1972 Dolphins (832 letters)
I can't stand their mascot, colors or location, but the basic fact remains -- they were undefeated. I don't care if they faced an "easy schedule" or not, they beat 17 teams. It matters not whether they were underdogs or not in any game, or all of their games, I think we've seen in modern football that it takes an exceptional team to go undefeated.

Three straight years of the Rams overpotent offense (and explosive defense this past year) and you still think this feat is easy? The best teams are not necessarily composed of the best players, because Payton was a far better running back than Kiick or Csonka, and Elway or Favre (or Montana or Young or Starr or ...) were far more prepared for defenses than Griese was. Regardless of who played on the team, or who the team played, the Dolphins circa 1972 are the best team ever.

And if anyone at ESPN, ESPN the Mag, or ESPN.com thinks otherwise, I'd have to question if they ever played an entire season of football, at any level.
Aaron Kuntz
Cleveland

Why? Seven Hall of Fame Players, plus Don Shula in his most intimidating prime. A Super Bowl appearance the year before, and a Super Bowl win the following year.

As far as not dominating in the playoffs, does margin of victory really matter? Miami played Pittsburgh on the road in January in the AFC championship game. That Steelers team was pretty damn good. The Bears beat the 1985 Rams (who?) at home in their championship game. Not quite the same competition. Also, the '85 Pats were a wild-card team. Miami's opponents, winning percentage may have been low, but that could partially be due to the fact that the Dolphins hung 14 losses on their collective records.

As far as who would beat who, you could argue that any number of teams in your list from 6-10 would beat any of the teams in your list 1-5.

Lastly, the Bears lost and the Dolphins didn't. Sure, you can blame their one loss on the fact that McMahon didn't start that game due to injury -- Griese missed almost the entire season because of injury. The Bears won with style, true ... and the Dolphins were kind of bland, but you guys wouldn't be swayed by that would you?
Jon Keller
Weston, Fla.

Terry Bradshaw
Before he became a phone company pitchman, Terry Bradshaw threw long distance for the legendary Steelers.
3. 1978-79 Steelers (740 letters)
More typical anti-Pittsburgh type crap from a national media source. Dudes -- the '78 or '79 Steelers are widely regarded as the best ever. You have them at seventh. That is a joke ... a travesty ... a crime.

They would be favored against any of those teams you list above them. When one of them has nine Hall of Famers and counting, then come talk to me, OK?

The '91 Redskins ... ha ha ha ... '99 Rams ... hilarious ... and the '72 Dolphins are the most overrated team of all time. Geez. I am surprised you didn't get Simmons to make the 2001 Pats the best of all-time.
Mo Morrison
Pittsburgh

When I first looked at your list of "Greatest NFL teams of all time," I was shocked to find only one Steelers team on the list -- and they were only ranked seventh! You should have called that the "Greatest single year teams of all time" and even on that the Steelers deserve no less than third place.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were the greatest NFL team of all time! Your own network crowned them the Millennium Bowl champions.

I could mention the nine Hall of Famers, and that list does not even include Chuck Noll or Art Rooney.

I could mention the fact they won fourSuper Bowls in six years -- a feat duplicated by no other team, ever. I could mention offensive and defensive statistics, the intimidation factor, incredible fans, and those great home uniforms.

I could mention that the same core of players were part of every team in that era. But, what really counts is the level of competition they played against, among whom the 70s Steelers have no equal.

In a decade of AFC dominance with the Raiders and Dolphins, the Steelers were head and shoulders above the rest. They played the Cowboys, a team with multiple Hall of Famers including their coach, twice in the Super Bowl -- and beat them. The only other teams meriting consideration for No.1 on this list are the 1980s Niners teams, and the Cowboys from the early '90s (a team you completely left off). These teams and the Steelers all have one thing in common -- long-term success that includes multiple Super Bowl titles playing over tough competition.

The '72 Dolphins, simply because of their undefeated season, deserve consideration also. The '99 Rams, '96 Packers, '85 Bears, and '91 Redskins won only one Super Bowl each and have appeared in no more than two in their era.

Plus, just take a look at the competition these teams played in winning their Super Bowl. Not only would the Steelers dominate these teams, but the teams that the Steelers beat namely, the Cowboys) would dominate!

Your inclusion of the '91 Redskins -- a one-year wonder -- while excluding the Cowboys from the early '90s is truly remarkable. One other point about the Steelers ... you should have picked the '78 team, also loaded with Hall of Famers, they tallied a 14-2 record in the regular season, and defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys.
Bret A Longman
Chicago

Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman has won more Super Bowls than any quarterback but Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
4. 1992-93 Cowboys (717 letters)
Just wanted to ask if you guys remember the Dallas Cowboys of the early to mid-'90s. After all, they were one of the best teams of all time.

I am not saying they should be first on this list, but at least top three. With a dominating defense plus Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin (one of the greatest trios of all time, and way better than the stinking Rams of 1999, even though I love Kurt Warner) how could they not be considered one of the best teams of all time?

They were the absolute best when playoff time came. They dominated the decade ... and three out of four Super Bowls isn't too bad.
Matt Halsell
Lubbock, Texas

I am a Cowboys fan and thus biased; however, even an objective fan would have to put the '92, '93 Cowboys near the top of this list.

Of course, this would be because of the triplets (two being HOF'ers for sure and the other would be for his on-field accomplishments). They had an excellent tight end, one of best OL's in history, aggressive, deep defense -- but all this is common knowledge.

Let's also talk about having played in arguably the toughest division (NFC East) that the NFL has ever seen. The Giants and 'Skins had won the prior two Super Bowls and the Eagles team was simply devastating on defense. Throw in annual tilts with an up-and-coming Packers team, in which the Cowboys always won, and with the 49ers that had Jerry Rice and Steve Young. Not only did they defeat that team both years in the championship (one at Candlestick), they also would go on to plant arguably the best team never to win a Super Bowl. You had a veteran Bills team with numerous HOF'ers or candidates, that had been to the prior two Super Bowls, and then had 52 points (almost 59) dropped on them.

This all done in an era that I believe probably produced the highest overall level of football the game has seen. This was before the cap and free agency, where teams could build up chemistry with players that were faster, stronger and bigger than ever before. Players were coached by Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Marv Levy, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren and George Seifert (three of whom coached teams on your list).

Any objective fan of the NFL cannot leave this team off your list.
Jason
Columbus, Ohio

Now, I am not going to say that this team is the greatest team in history, but I fail to see the logic in omitting the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, 1992-95 to be exact. Not only was this team the only team to ever win three Super Bowls in four years (a feat that will probably never be duplicated) but it beat teams like Brett Favre's Packers (which made your list).

Furthermore, to say that the '85 Chicago Bears are the greatest team in the history is a joke. They barely made the playoffs the next year and didn't even come close to repeating as champions -- you call that "great"?! Next time you come up with a poll, put a little more thought into it.
Duke Bradley
Baton Rouge, La.

5. 1989 49ers (329 letters)
Joe Montana
Joe Montana's Niners demolished Denver 55-10 in the 1990 Super Bowl.
With arguably the best quarterback of all time in Joe Montana, unquestionably the best wide receiver of all time in Jerry Rice, one of the best all-around backs ever in Roger Craig, an unsung defense that included greats such as Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley and the perfect scheme with Bill Walsh's system run to perfection by George Seifert, there's not a team on your Top 10 list that they couldn't have beaten. In fact, I can't believe they didn't crack the Top five.

To have the 1991 Redskins ahead of them is questionable, to say the least.
Benny Adamo
San Francisco

I grew up in San Fran during the 1980s and I can tell you the reason we Bay Area kids have such a glow about us is we had the best childhood imaginable!

Joe Montana was like a "humble-dad-who-could-kick-your-dad's-ass-any-day" to us all. The players not only had amazing chemistry on the field, they were also five-star guys off it.

Craig? Why doesn't anyone run with their knees bashing defensive face masks anymore? Ronnie Lott? Punishing hits, sure. But he was so damn cool, Denzel Washington couldn't even play him.

Rice? Grace, character, speed and hands. What a freaking team!
Rory Carroll
Portland

6. 1962 Packers (262 letters)
Easily the '62 Pack. Rarely has a team had such backfield strength -- Bart Starr (compare Y.A. Tittle), Jim Taylor (second only to Jim Brown in that era) and Paul Hornung (run, pass and kick), fronted by such a dominant, and mobile (especially for that era), guard-to-guard combo with sure-handed wings of Boyd Dowler and Max McGee. A defense, including deep backs, too often overlooked because the offense quite rightly so is very well recognized. A very talented, and uncommonly unified, unit with Ray Nitschke (close rival to Butkus) at its heart and as its soul.

Also to note -- this was not a time when squads were large and most everybody was a specialist, rather, one in which the depth of talent was in part a function of its range and versatility (e.g., Hornung was also one of Starr's backups). Finally, there was the truly immeasurable Lombardi factor!
David Rice
Mass.

Ranking the '85 Bears as No. 1 is a grave injustice to the Green Bay Packers, who were one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history throughout the 1960s. I'm sure that Steeler and 49er fans have similar feelings. Yes, the Bears had a great season. ONCE! Only in '85.

Packers: 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966. They call Green Bay "Title Town," and they call it the Lombardi Trophy for a reason. No, I am not a Chicago native. Can you tell? Tell the Bears to come back when they get a few more rings. It's about time they started pulling their own weight in the league. They are, after all, one of the original two -- and we know who the other is. Go Pack!
Jordan Keller
Chicago

This was a toss up between the '62 and '96 teams. However, the '62 team won on sheer determination and togetherness, whereas the 1996 Packers won because they had the raw talent to win. And besides, what true blue football fan (one born before the covered domes) wouldn't want to see another "ice bowl"?
Mary Erickson
Spring Lake, Mich.


7. 1976 Raiders (178 letters)
This team finished 13-1 in regular season and 16-1 to win the Super Bowl. This team dominated the decade of the '70s, playing the Steelers in three consecutive AFC championship games. In '76, the Raiders beat the Steelers in preseason, regular season and in the AFC championship game. The Raiders only loss that year came from New England which was avenged by the playoffs.

The veteran Vikings team was playing in it's fourth Super Bowl and was completely dominated by the Raiders. No consideration of this team is little more than a joke.

The team boasts Hall of Famers Willie Brown, Shell, Upshaw, Casper, Hendricks and the greatest NFL line of all-time according to NFL Films.

Stabler (whose numbers are equal or better than HOFs Namath and Bradshaw) -- along with Tatum, Cliff Branch and Ray Guy -- could and should be future HOFers.

This team won more games than any team throughout the 70s. Their achievements in the decade included ending the Dolphin win streak in '73, ending the Dolphin reign of Super Bowls in '74, five straight AFC championship games from '73-'77. Don't forget those significant wins during the '76 season, including the Steelers twice, New England (division champ), Bengals (playoff team 10-4), Chiefs, Broncos twice and the Vikings.
Pietro S. Ingrande
San Diego

With a regular season record of 13-1 and in an era of "super-teams" such as the Steelers, Cowboys, Rams, Dolphins and Vikings, the Raiders clearly stood out as one of the greatest teams of all time. This team was led by a roster full of stars and coached by Madden! This merits a spot on the list!

Remember that this same team (pretty much in tact, man-for-man) would probably have won the Super Bowl the following year, had it not been for a horrible nonfumble call against the Broncos the next year.
Gary Smith
San Diego

8. 1986 Giants (172 letters)
One team you left off was the 1986 Giants. I am not a Giants fan, but I believe this is one of the most forgotten, underrated teams of all-time. They went 14-2, demolished the 49ers in the playoffs (49-3!) then dismantled the Broncos in the Super Bowl 39-20.

I think this team is overlooked because they had the misfortune of playing one year behind the Bears going 15-1, but they are still one of the best three or four teams I've ever seen. I was happy to see you include the '91 Redskins, another team that I've always felt has been overlooked, but I wouldn't have put the '99 Rams as high as you did.
Mike Casey
Rhode Island

How could you leave this team off your list? Besides ending a 30-year championship drought in New York, the 1986 Giants could beat any team on your list. They had a devastating defense led by LT, Harry Carson, Carl Banks and Gary Reasons at linebacker. Leonard Marshall, George Martin, and Jim Burt helped to form an amazing front seven.

The potent offense was led by Joe Morris running for 1,500 tough yards behind the "suburbanites" offensive line and an unstoppable Mark Bavaro receiving passes for over 1,000 yards out of the tight end spot.

Then there was Phil Simms. There was nobody Giants fans would rather have line up in a big spot than Phil Simms in 1986. Not only did he have the best Super Bowl ever, he also led the Giants to numerous big comeback wins (including the "fourth and 17" pass to beat the Vikings in Minnesota and the Monday night comeback from a 17-0 halftime deficit over the 49ers highlighted by Mark Bavaro dragging the 49er defense down the field).

Plus, don't you consider playoff dominance? After crushing the 49ers 49-3, the Giants shut out a tough Redskins team 17-0 in the conference championship game. Then for their 12th consecutive win of the season the Giants on Phil Simms perfect day finished off the Broncos 39-20. This team had everything -- defense, running, passing, clutch performance and playoff dominance.
Doug Kay
Stamford, Conn.


9. 1998 Broncos (161 letters)
One fact that is often overlooked is that this team should have been winning their third straight Super Bowl (I know: coulda, woulda, shoulda). If they were not amazingly, incredulously and unbelievably upset by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and their one-man, one-day show (Mark Brunell), they most likely would have been making history by winning Super Bowl XXXIII in convincing fashion over the Atlanta Falcons.

I am positive that Mark Brunell and the Jags played the game of their lives and still barely eked out a victory, 30-27. It was possibly the greatest upset in NFL playoff history (I remember looking around my house for something inexpensive to break). It is noteworthy to mention that the Broncos crushed the Jaguars 42-17 in the wild-card game the next year, before pulling out three grandiose victories at Kansas City, at Pittsburgh, and in Super Bowl XXXII over a superb Green Bay team.

My apologies for the digression ... now back to the matter at hand. The 1998 Broncos were well on their way to making another extremely significant mark in history after a 13-0 start. Unfortunately, as the famous saying goes, poop happens, and they lost an inexplicably ugly game to the lowly Giants (if it weren't ugly, do you really think the Kent Graham-led Giants would have had a chance). If this shocking lightning didn't strike, the Broncos would have probably made history and finished 19-0. Some of you doubters and critics may remember that the Broncos lost their next game against the Dolphins, but that game meant nothing, and they went on to crush the Fins 38-3 in their opening playoff game.

Some of the great contributors on this greatest team are John Elway (heart and intangibles), Terrell Davis (2,006 yards and 21 TDs), Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, a great team defense, and Jason Elam (NFL record-tying 63-yard FG).
Benjamin Chen
San Diego

The '98 Broncos might not be the greatest team in history, they at least should be mentioned in the top 10. Especially considering some of the teams that were listed, like the '91 Redskins, '99 Rams and '96 Packers. The '98 Broncos were as good or better than any of these teams (consider that they beat essentially the same Packers team in Super Bowl XXXII).

John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Steve Atwater all should be HOF bound. Even though the defense was not considered dominating, they certainly held their own (see Dolphins playoff game below). Davis rushed for 2,008 yards and was league MVP. The offense scored more than 500 points; their final record was 14-2; dominated the Jimmy Johnson-Dan Marino led Dolphins in the playoffs; beat Bill Parcells' Jets in the title game; dominated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII; Jason Elam kicked a 63-yard field goal to tie the league record. It was a dream season.

They did all of this after having won the Super Bowl the previous season, playing with a giant bull's-eye on their backs, something that many of the teams you listed did not have to deal with (the Packers team you listed could not accomplish this). But I guess this is just par for the course. The Broncos never get any respect from the national press for past accomplishments. This helps to explain why there are no Broncs in the Hall.
Mark Bruner
Denver


10. 1990 Bills (125 letters)
"Wide right" is perhaps the only thing keeping the 1990 Buffalo Bills off your list. This team featured perhaps as many as seven Hall of Fame players and came within two feet of ending the NFC's Super Bowl winning streak. No one had a solution for the K-Gun offense, special teams were superb and the defense was on it's way to becoming one of the best around.

Maybe not the best team ever -- certainly the best team never to win the Super Bowl.
Chuck Hayes
Buffalo