Comparing the Best Franchises from Each Major US Sport

By Paul Grossinger

Football, Baseball, and Basketball all share one common trait: they have several well-run franchises that contend, year in and year out.

It’s incredibly tough to enjoy repeat success in American sports – just ask the Cincinnati Bengals. Yet, some teams always seem to be in contention; it’s almost like they have a permanent invitation to the dance.

In football, the Pittsburgh Steelers embody constant excellence. The New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Giants have also displayed remarkable consistency and winning power in the past decade but their success only began in the late 1990s. Pittsburgh has won two Super Bowls since 2006, was excellent in the 1990s under Bill Cowher (appearing in one Super Bowl) and the NFL’s dominant franchise in the 1970s – winning four Super Bowl titles behind the fearsome Iron Curtain defense. Only the 1980s stand as a lost decade for Pittsburgh; one mixed in with more than a half-dozen of football dominance.

In basketball, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers share the Steelers’ reputation for consistent excellence. Like the Patriots, Colts, Giants, and Ravens, the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs each enjoy strong reputations and have won ten titles between them in the past two decades but their excellence only began in the 1990s. The Boston Celtics dominated the 1950s and 1960s with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, contended in the 1970s with Dave Cowens, won three titles in the 1980s with Larry Bird, and have recently dominated the Eastern Conference over the past half-decade, including the 2008 NBA Title.

Their archrivals, the Lakers, won five titles in the 1950s under George Mikan, contended in the 1960s and early 1970s with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, dominated the 1980s with Magic Johnson and Kareem’s Showtime Lakers, and have won five titles since 2000 under Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. Can you sniff out the reason for rivalry and hatred between those two?

Comparing the Best Franchises from Each Major US Sport
New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker (83) carries the ball during the second half of the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The Patriots defeated the Jets 37-16.

Major League Baseball, of course, has the Chicago Cubs. Oh, I’m kidding – though a future writer may pen just that in 100 years, after Theo Epstein builds a World Series winner, breaks the curse, and earns a statue next to the pitcher’s mound. In the meantime, baseball must honor the New York Yankees, whose 27 titles virtually personify the term ‘winning’ in American sports. The Yankees dominated the 1920s and 1930s with Babe Ruth, the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra, the 1970s with Randy Jackson, and the last two decades with Derek Jeter and the eternal(ly injured) Alex Rodriguez.

In fifty years, which franchises will be recognized as the dominant faces of American sports excellence?

Well, at least we know it won’t be the Bengals.

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