The Quest For the NFL 3-Peat

Will we ever see a 3-peat in the NFL again?

Photo: Bleacher Report

Photo: Bleacher Report

The 1967 NFL and AFL seasons concluded with a battle between the league’s best teams, the NFL’s  Green Bay Packers and the AFL’s  Oakland Raiders, in what would eventually be known as Super Bowl II. In it, the Packers dominated 33-14, and they won their 3rd consecutive championship. That has not been done since.

There are many factors for why, especially in the last 30 years. First, the salary cap makes it hard to keep a great team together for multiple years. Second, unlike other sports the NFL playoffs are single elimination and any given Sunday you could see teams that are better lose. Third, injuries are a constant and an entire team’s season can be derailed by 1 or a few key players being out. Finally, fatigue and ego can attribute to a team’s downfall as being the best team for 3 years would not only mean having the most mileage in the league but also having players and management become complacent and less motivated to win. With that, here are some examples:

Ex. 1 -1971-1973 Miami Dolphins
Being the oldest and one of the closest, they made it to 3 consecutive Super Bowls and won the last 2 back-to-back. However, in the 1st won they got thoroughly outplayed by the Dallas Cowboys 24-3.

Ex. 2 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (twice)
With 4 wins in 6 years, they did it winning 2 in a row twice, the first mostly through their defense, the 2nd with their offense, and they weren’t really close to getting there in between them. The closest year was probably 1976 where they lost the AFC Championship 24-7, despite having possibly the greatest defensive team ever, allowing just 9.9 PPG. Even with no salary cap and 10+ hall of farmers the Steeler dynasty couldn’t beat teams that put it all together for 1 year.

Ex. 3 1988-1990 San Francisco 49ers
In 1988 and 1989, they cruised to championships and in ‘89 they went 17-2. In 1990, they were 14-2 in the regular season again and were in the NFC Championship, where they faced off against the New York Giants with a backup QB. However, their brutal defense held the 8th best offense to 13 points, and a costly turnover late plus the injury of SF QB Joe Montana helped give NY the win. Montana would not start another game for the team and the team would not be contending for the next few seasons.

Ex. 4 Early 1990s Dallas Cowboys
They won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years between 1992-1995, but there is a clear reason as to why they weren’t more successful. After the 1993 season, their head coach of back-to-back super bowls in Jimmy Johnson lost his job after a power struggle with owner Jerry Jones, as he felt he had created the dynasty and thought anyone could coach this team to a championship. He signed Oklahoma Head Coach Barry Switzer and after an NFC Championship loss to the San Francisco 49ers (turns out the guy who replaced Joe Montana was hall of fame QB Steve Young) they came back and won the Super Bowl again. It is pretty likely that if Jones put his ego aside and kept Johnson as the coach they beat San Francisco and win 3 or 4 in a row, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Ex. 5 The New Millennium Patriots
6 Super Bowls in 17 seasons, which tied what any team has done in the entire Super Bowl Era. Between 2001-2004, they won 3 of 4, but they were closer to a 3-peat in their 2nd run where they won 3 of 5 Super Bowls from 2015-2019. In between, they had 2 really tough losses in 2016 and 2018. In the first, they faced off in the AFC Championship against Denver with a retirement-bound Peyton Manning. They lost in large part because of their kicker missing an extra point attempt early when he was 54/54 on the season, and then missing a 2 point attempt at the end of the game to tie it. 2018 was infamous as they lost to the Eagles, a team that hadn’t won a championship since 1960. The most notable moment was the Philly Special where their QB caught a touchdown and it led to a key incompletion when New England tried it. They only lost by 8 points and could have tied with a last-second Hail Mary attempt but it didn’t convert.

Between fatigue, injuries, power struggles, and just bad matchups a dynasty’s legacy can be heavily altered. Football is the biggest sport in America, and the unpredictability of it is a massive reason why. All of this proves how difficult it is to build and keep a great team, and why we watch any given Sunday to see what happens next.