Changing of the guard: A discussion of dynasties
One of the things I love most about sport in general, and the NFL in particular, are the narratives that drive players, coaches, franchises and the unquenchable dreams of us fans. This Sunday, when the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Phoenix stadium, the clear narrative to me is the clash between two franchises, one of whom represents an established dynasty, and one which is desperate to live up to its undeniable potential to assume the mantle.
The Patriots are the last great NFL dynasty, the most recent in an exclusive list of historically powerful teams that includes the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s, led of course by the legendary Vince Lombardi to 5 championship titles in 7 years; the ferociously dominating ‘Steel Curtain’ inspired Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s, who brutalized their way to 4 Super Bowl victories in 6 years; the 4 time Super Bowl winning San Francisco 49ers team of the 1980’s, who boasted arguably the greatest quarterback and wide receiver in history with the peerless Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, and ‘America’s Team’ of the 90’s, the Dallas Cowboys, who were crowned Super Bowl champions in 1992, 1993 and 1995.
New England, like the Dallas team of the 90’s, lifted the Lombardi 3 times in 4 years at the start of the decade, and this Sunday will be appearing in the Super Bowl for the 6th time in the last 14 years. Even when they have not actually been involved in the final game of the season, they have usually been only a whisker away, competing in 9 AFC Championship games since 2001. During that time they also became only the second team in NFL history (after the 1972 Miami Dolphins) to record a perfect regular season, though their upset loss to Eli Manning’s New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII ultimately ended their 2007/08 season in abject disaster.
On Sunday, Tom Brady has the chance to bring his phenomenal career full circle, lift the Lombardi for a record equalling 4th time, the first since 2004, setting a new record for the longest gap between Super Bowl victories for a starting QB, currently held by Roger Staubach, who led the Cowboys to victories in Super Bowls VI and XII. Brady will also be given the chance to put to bed some haunting ghosts, being that this will be the first time he and his team have played at the University of Phoenix Stadium since the disastrous Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants. The fairy-tale script is there, and only one thing stands in the way of the final chapter of the Brady/Belichick era being written just the way they would have dreamt it.
Seattle’s boisterous band of unashamedly self-aggrandising brothers will see this game as a glorious opportunity to begin the next great legacy in NFL history. A victory over the Patriots on Sunday will be seen as a chance to silence any doubters that remain even remotely unconvinced of their ability to remain atop the NFL for the foreseeable future. It will allow the narrative that they and their 12th man following are the heir apparent to New England’s throne, and that they are not just one-off champions like the Ravens, Packers and Saints of recent years.
Make no mistake, back to back Super Bowl victories, though hugely impressive, do not constitute a dynasty, and the Seahawks would still have a long road ahead of them to be considered among the truly imperious greats mentioned previously. However, there is little doubt that a win on Sunday would certainly allow the idea of a dynasty in the Pacific North West to be considered possible, or even probable by the masses.
All the pieces are there for Seattle to stamp their authority on the NFL and continue to be viewed as the team to beat for years to come. In Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, they have a strong owner with deep pockets, and in the ‘12th man’ they have a passionate fan-base widely acknowledged for their rapturous support; as long as their team keeps winning anyway… They have an excellent general manager, John Schneider, who has been a key factor in building the phenomenal roster that will take the field on Sunday night.
The Seahawks have made very astute free agent signings and drafted consistently well in recent years, especially in the later rounds, and Schneider must take a large amount of credit for supplying coach Pete Carroll with the tools necessary for him to succeed. Seattle have a franchise quarterback, something most other NFL teams cannot say with any real conviction, and have a generationally talented defence. They will, however, be faced with some tough decisions in the immediate future, most notably whether or not to retain the services of the uniquely talented lynchpin of their offence, the aptly named running back Marshawn Lynch.
Even before the 2014 season began, there was a feeling that this could be ‘Beast Mode’s last year plying his trade at CenturyLink field. After sitting out training camp, his contract was amended, but not extended, and at age 28, there was a feeling that he could very well be on the decline, and would cost too much against the cap next season to keep. No doubt due to his exceptional performances this season, things appear to have changed, and despite new contracts looming for quarterback Russell Wilson and talismanic cornerback Byron Maxwell, among others, I just cannot see Seattle letting Lynch walk if it is ultimately their decision.
If the office can work out a deal with Lynch, and still afford to pay their other core players what they deserve, then not only will they have done an outstanding job, they will have more or less locked down playoff football for the next few years. The bottom line is that if they can continue to perform off the field, the sky is the limit on it.
They just need a spark to set it all off, and forcing the incumbent king to relinquish control of their throne this Sunday night could very well be it. Super Bowl XLIX is not simply a football match to decide the best team of 2014/15, it is a catalyst for the dawning of a new era; a new dynasty.
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