As a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan I cannot remember a more thrilling time than the Super Bowl wins of the mid-1990s, and I believe the team that won the Super Bowl in January of 1993 may be the best ever. But as hard as this is to admit, the NFL legacy of the 2000s New England Patriots is much more impressive than that of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. In many ways the two teams were very similar, but there are some key factors that make New England’s run more remarkable.
Both of these teams won three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span, a feat no other team has accomplished. Dallas won Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX, while New England won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVII, and XXXIX. Both had outstanding young quarterbacks; one (Troy Aikman) is in the Hall of Fame, and the other (Tom Brady) will be after he retires. Both had “genius” head coaches in Jimmy Johnson and Bill Belichick (Barry Switzer was the coach of the Cowboys’ 3rd 1990s Championship, but it was still Johnson’s team). And both squads had dominant defensive units that were responsible for much of their success.
In spite of these similarities, however, the differences were much greater. New England was a huge underdog in their first Super Bowl win, with no one expecting them to beat the defending champion St. Louis Rams. New England also faced considerably tougher opponents than did Dallas; all three of the Patriots’ wins were three-point victories, while Dallas won by 35, 17, and 10 points, respectively. And while Dallas had the best running back of his generation in Emmitt Smith as well as Aikman and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, New England relied almost exclusively on quarterback Tom Brady for its offensive production.
Another point in the Patriots favor is that they made this amazing run in an era of parity in the NFL. The league sought to level the field to such a degree that anyone could win the Super Bowl in any given year, as opposed to years past when a few teams dominated. This is born out by the fact that between Super Bowl I and Super Bowl XXX, twenty of the thirty games (66%) were won by only five teams (Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Washington, and Oakland). During the last twelve contests, only Denver and New England have won more than once.
But the single most important difference between these teams, and the thing that makes New England’s Super Bowl run in the 2000s more impressive than maybe any other “dynasty” in sports history, is the fact that they achieved it in the era of free agency and the salary cap. Dallas was able, for the most part, to keep the core of its team together for a six or seven-year period, which is unheard of today. New England was forced to replace key positions almost every year, yet still competed at a championship level.
In the end, my loyalty remains with the Cowboys, even as they have fallen on hard times. But the Patriots accomplished something this decade that is simply amazing, whether you like them or not.