There is an old saying… if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The NFL is the most lucrative, most popular, most widely-followed, most successful sports entity in history. Since 1971, the “Super Bowl” (formerly AFL-NFL Championship) pits the winner of the AFC vs. the winner of the NFC in the culmination of the NFL postseason. Before the landmark 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL, the two leagues met in an AFL-NFL World Championship Game. By 1969, the term ”Super Bowl” was coined and the moniker Super Bowl III was used at the time of the game. The NFC leads in Super Bowl wins with 23, while the AFC has won 21. Eighteen different franchises (including teams that relocated to another city) have won the Super Bowl. The NFL and AFL each won two World Championships. Ergo 25-23 NFL/NFC advantage over AFL/AFC.
Now that we have endured 45 years of Super Bowls and both the AFL-NFL rivalry and merger are as forgotten as previous rival leagues and mergers (All-American Football League, World League of American Football, United States Football League, United Football League, to name a few), perhaps it is time to re-work the system? Critics for years pointed out that this monumental entertainment spectacle was disappointing due to AFC-NFC mismatches. Who can forget Super Bowl XX following the 1985 season when the Chicago Bears blew out the New England Patriots 46-10? What about the less memorable Super Bowl XXXVII when Tampa Bay conquered Oakland 48-21? The 1990s saw Super Bowl XXVIII when Dallas finally put an end to Buffalo’s seemingly annual effort by drubbing the Bills 30-13 – just one year after the Cowboys destroyed the Bills 52-17.
The Team of the 1980s was clearly the San Francisco 49ers who tallied three Super Bowl trophies, besting the Cincinnati Bengals twice (XXIII & XVI) and ending the decade in Super Bowl XXIII by demolishing the Denver Broncos 55-10 (largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history). Truly though the Era of the Great Super Bowls was the 1970s. The Super Bowl was still in the process of balancing between media event and football game. The powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl championships in IX, X, XIII & XIV) took the trophy four times, flanked by Dallas (won VI & XII, lost V, X, XIII), Minnesota (lost IV, VIII, IX, XI) and the Oakland Raiders (won XI and then again following 1980 season in XV – becoming the first wildcard team to ever win a Super Bowl). Dallas of course dominatedthe early 1990s with wins over Buffalo (XXVII & XXVIII) and Pittsburgh (XXX) and since then, the New England Patriots (won XXXVI over St. Louis, XXXVIII over Carolina and XXXIX over Philadelphia but lost to NY Giants following their perfect season in Super Bowl XLII) have been closest to a dynasty with three victories over four seasons (2001-2004).
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won the most Super Bowls with six championships (record 6-1), while both the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have five wins each (Cowboys 5-3; 49ers a perfect 5-0). Dallas has had the most Super Bowl appearances, playing in eight, with Pittsburgh set to match that record at Super Bowl XLV in early February 2011. The Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, and Minnesota Vikings each have lost a record four Super Bowls. Buffalo and Minnesota are both 0–4 in the Super Bowl. Mind you, Denver lost four (XXII, XXI, XXII & XXIV) before winning back to back (XXXII & XXXIII) to end the 1990s and John Elway’s career.
In the past 10 years, “dynasty” has disappeared from the lexicon. 14 different teams have participated in Super Bowls between 2001-2010 but five of those contests have been won by the New England Patriots (3-1) or Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0, plus upcoming Super Bowl XLV). We’ve seen teams like Carolina, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Oakland and Arizona make a “one and done” losing appearance, while teams like Indianapolis (1-1), New York Giants (1-1), Baltimore (1-0), New Orleans (1-0) and Tampa Bay (1-0) have fared better.
All of this tells us quite clearly that in 45 years, the NFL and the Super Bowl have worked themselves into a system of league recidivism, positive talent flow and relative parity. “Superteams” don’t really exist and even if they do, the volume of player turnover prevents “teams of the decade” to look the same and the end o f their run as in the beginning (see New England Patriots). Free agency, salary cap, collective bargaining agreements, revenue sharing, television deals and player longevity are all factors in the evolution of the NFL. Conversely, these factors have
contributed to more competitive Super Bowls, lack of a real AFC-NFC rivalry and significantly reduced dichotomy between NFC and AFC teams. Gone is the “AFL Style of Play” or the bitter hatred that used to exist between the former rival leagues. No more is Joe Namath proclaiming a moral victory for the upstart AFL over the stodgy and mightily established NFL. Now it may finally be the time to dispense with the conference polarization along blurred lines of demarcation and to finally ensure that this game pits the two marquee NFL franchises in an annual battle for the ages. It may also be time to dispense with the damn Roman Numerals!
In 2002 the NFL initiated a voluntary realignment, splitting each conference into four divisions which were more closely associated with their geography. Arizona was taken out of the NFC East and joined Seattle (who migrated from the AFC West) in the NFC West. Expansion Houston was placed with Indianapolis (formerly AFC East Baltimore) Colts and 1995 expansion Jacksonville in the AFC South. The new Cleveland Browns (replacing the old Cleveland Browns who migrated to Baltimore to become the Ravens, more than a decade after the Colts absconded for Indianapolis) would be joined by Pittsburgh, Baltimore and cross-state Cincinnati Bengals. New Orleans and Atlanta would leave the NFC “West” to form the NFC South with Tampa and Carolina. The only holdover was the Dallas Cowboys who remained in the NFC East to continue their rivalry with Philadelphia, Washington and NY Giants. Commendable, truly commendable in an age where revenue seems to dictate everything, this was the right step.
The NEXT step is to take all 32 NFL teams, realign them into geographic regions (making possibly Eastern and Western Conferences rather than AFC & NFC) and find a way to make the schedule geography-friendly. West Coast teams should not be punished having to traverse the continent week after week. Why not make the regular season schedule as regional as possible, making cross country trips exotic events? Why not ensure that if we must have 8 different divisions, we ensure getting the 8 best teams into the playoffs? No 7-9 Seattle Seahawks because they “won” the most abysmal division in sports (in a season finale “playoff” win over St. Louis). No wildcard teams. With eight four team divisions, do we really think a second-place team is being underserved? Do we really think that is more important than keeping out 7-9 “division champions”?
Let us make for absolute certain that the Super Bowl maintains its status as the ultimate marquee matchup. Tear down outdated conference delineation to have 8 geographically unchallenged divisions (more on this breakdown in separate article). Take the best 8 NFL teams (all division winners) and retain the bye weeks. One week on playoffs with lower playoff teams, second week of playoffs with winners vs. bye teams then take a week’s hiatus and play the best two NFL franchises in the true Super Bowl every single year.
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org