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The fall of a sports dynasty isn’t all that dramatic

To view the demise of the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s through my Generation X lens is to picture something theatrical and dramatic.

One day, the Packers defeated the Raiders in Super Bowl II, the next day, Vince Lombardi stepped down as head coach. Not long after that, the stands at Lambeau Field collapsed like the Berlin Wall, ushering in an era of mediocre-to-dreadful football that began immediately in 1968. But while Green Bay did finish 6-7-1 one season after winning its fifth NFL Championship of the decade (aka the Ice Bowl) and second-straight Super Bowl, Lombardi stayed on that year as general manager. The Packers even finished 8-6 in 1969 and won their division three seasons after that. Sadly, that’s as good as it would get for many years. The Packers spent the next several seasons being irrelevant, but I’ll bet their fans were still waiting for that third Super Bowl season to happen any day. Heck, Bart Starr, their slingin’ savior from the ’60s, was the head coach by the mid ’70s. He was going to whip those mediocre men into shape and teach them the true Packer Way!

Never happened.

Same thing with my Steelers of the 1980s. Their fall from a Super ’70s dynasty was more a slow drip than a broken dam. That ’70s magic briefly bled into the 1980s when Franco Harris scored the game-clinching touchdown in the final moments of the Super Bowl XIV victory over the Los Angeles Rams–it would be the organization’s record fourth Lombardi Trophy in just six seasons. But by 1984, fans were arguing about the possibility of Rich Erenberg taking the starting running back job away from Walter Abercrombie.

To be fair, Frank Pollard was Pittsburgh’s best running back of the decade, tallying 3,989 yards in nine seasons. Still, that was a far-cry from Franco’s Italian Army of the 1970s.

But we didn’t transition from Franco to Frank overnight.  It was a slow-moving slide.

It’s been seven years since the Penguins last won a Stanley Cup–it was their second-straight and third of the Crosby, Malkin and Letang era–and I think they and their fans have finally come to the realization that there will be no more from the core three. Sure, the core is still hanging around. Sidney Crosby remains one of the better players in the NHL, even as he approaches his 37th birthday. Kris Letang is still a pretty decent defenseman. Evegeni Malkin seems like the one of the three who is washed up, but he’s not going anywhere. The other two apparently want him to stay. The team owners want the core three to remain intact, as do the fans. The Penguins core is a reminder of the past, which isn’t so distant, even if it is–Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff series since 2018 and hasn’t even been to the postseason the past two years.

As someone who spent two decades under the oppressive regime of the New England Patriots, I always dreamed of the day when their dynasty would collapse. I pictured most NFL fans dancing in the streets and Patriots faithful turning to Samuel Adams to cope with the pain.

None of that happened. Tom Brady went to Tampa Bay and won one more Super Bowl, while New England kind of just stopped winning titles. Next, the Patriots stopped winning most of their games. Sure, Pittsburgh still can’t defeat the Patriots, but I no longer look at them as a threat to my fandom.

Now that Bill Belichick is gone, what’s left to fear?

Fact is, there hadn’t been much of anything to fear from the Patriots for quite a while. The main reason the Steelers couldn’t defeat New England the past two years had to do with a lack of talent and not some Patriots mystique.

You see, the Steelers second Super Bowl era of the 2000s ended in 2011. We refused to accept it right away. The formation of the Killer B’s didn’t help with regard to holding onto the past. Ben Roethlisberger actually reached his prime as a quarterback by 2014 or so. Antonio Brown morphed into the best receiver in the NFL around the same time. Le’Veon Bell was one of the best running backs in the league. Unfortunately, it takes more than a few players to make a championship team. The Steelers of the mid-2010s were certainly prettier than the Steelers of the early-to-mid-80’s, but it was just as over for the modern post-dynasty teams as it was for the squads that Chuck Noll trotted out during the Reagan years.

Post-dynasty years are kinda like when you start losing your hair. At first, people are like, “Oh, you’re crazy!” Soon, they say, “Hey, you’re still hanging in there. Just keep it short.” Eventually, they say, “You’ve fought it long enough. It’s time to just shave it all off.”

Like hair, a dynasty might be hard to let go of, but the fall isn’t as dramatic as you think.


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