Seventeen NFL teams have gone to consecutive Super Bowls since the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first AFL-NFL championship game.
But only two of those 17 advanced to a third consecutive Super Bowl. The New England Patriots have a chance this season to achieve one of the few milestones that has eluded them in the Bill Belichick era – a third consecutive AFC championship, a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
The only two teams to play in three consecutive Super Bowls had Hall of Fame coaches and quarterbacks. The first was the Miami Dolphins of Don Shula, who won AFC titles in 1971, 1972 and 1973 with Bob Griese at quarterback. The Dolphins lost to Dallas in their first Super Bowl appearance but bounced back to defeat both Washington and Minnesota.
The second team was the Buffalo Bills of Marv Levy, who won AFC titles in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 with Jim Kelly at quarterback. But the Bills lost all four of those Super Bowls to the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins and then the Dallas Cowboys twice.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls twice in the 1970s. But despite a Hall of Fame coach (Chuck Noll) and a Hall of Fame quarterback (Terry Bradshaw), the Steelers couldn’t make it back to a third Super Bowl either time. But Pittsburgh wasn’t the only loaded team that came up short of a third Super Bowl appearance.
The Tom Landry Cowboys, Bud Grant Vikings, Joe Gibbs Redskins, Dan Reeves Broncos, Mike Holmgren Packers and Mike Shanahan Broncos all whiffed on chances to reach three consecutive Super Bowls. Even Belichick missed on a third one after winning back-to-back Super Bowls against the Carolina Panthers in 2003 and Philadelphia Eagles in 2004.
Now the Patriots are in a position to stalk history again. But stalking history has become a specialty of Belichick. He has won five NFL titles, as many as Vince Lombardi. Only George Halas and Curley Lambeau won more with six apiece. Belichick has taken his teams to an NFL-record 39 playoff games and won a record 28 of them.
The NFL system was crafted to promote parity. The good teams aren’t supposed to stay good for long and the bad teams aren’t supposed to stay bad for long. But the Patriots have exploded that concept.
Despite annually drafting low and playing stacked first-place schedules, New England has won nine consecutive AFC East titles, 14 of the last 15 East crowns and 15 of the last 17. Belichick has taken the Patriots to an NFL-record 12 conference championship games in his 18 seasons as their head coach.
The salary cap was implemented in 1994. With a ceiling on spending, teams were no longer able to stockpile players and extend their dominance like the 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers and 1980s 49ers could. We watched in the 1990s as the salary cap dismantled potential dynasties at Dallas and San Francisco.
But even the salary cap hasn’t been able to handcuff Belichick. As long as he has enough money under the cap to pay his quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots will be in the AFC mix for Super Bowls.
In the pre-Super Bowl era, Vince Lombardi took his Packers to three consecutive NFL championship games in the 1960s. Paul Brown took his Cleveland Browns to six consecutive NFL title games in the 1950s. But it’s a short list and Belichick now has his chance at inclusion.
Don’t bet against him.