For most of Super Bowl 51, it looked like we were finally going to witness the New England Patriots getting blown out in a playoff game. Instead, we watched the most unbelievable NFL comeback of all time, as the Patriots prevailed 34-28 against the Falcons in overtime after trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter for their fifth Super Bowl championship, all five with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
In the past 15 years, Brady and Belichick have won the AFC seven times and dominated their division with 11 12-win seasons. The fact that they have now added "Greatest Comeback" to their resume will only help solidify their case as the most memorable and significant American dynasty of our lifetimes. The competition is much more difficult in sports today than it was a century ago, and it's especially hard to repeat as champions in the NFL thanks to the salary cap, injuries, non-guaranteed contracts and scheduling.
It's difficult to compare dynasties across different eras and sports, but these are some of the most dominant players, coaches and teams who won at least five championships during their heyday. Where does New England fit into this list?
10. Bernie Bierman's Minnesota Golden Gophers, 1934-41
All due respect to Bear Bryant, who has the most national titles with six, but his championships were spread out over 19 seasons and only his 1979 national title was unanimous. Nick Saban has won five national titles, but only four have come with Alabama. Given all the competition today as compared to the 1930s, is Alabama a more impressive dynasty than Minnesota? Yes, probably. But why not give a shoutout to the Golden Gophers? Minnesota won five championships in eight years, going 39-1 during those national title seasons. (It also went 4-0-4 in '33.)
9. Joe McCarthy's New York Yankees, 1932-43
McCarthy's place in baseball history may be a little overshadowed by the Bronx Bombers he was managing -- he spanned the careers of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio -- but his seven World Series championships are tied for the most ever by a manager with Casey Stengel. Following the sudden death of manager Miller Huggins in 1929, the Yankees finished in third place in 1930 under Bob Shawkey, who held the job for one season. In his place, they hired McCarthy and won the World Series in just his second year with Ruth, Gehrig and an incredible seven other Hall of Famers. They won the World Series six more times between 1936-43, never going to a Game 7 in any of their championship seasons, though they did lose the Series in five games in 1942.
8. Casey Stengel's New York Yankees, 1949-60
Yankees fans enjoyed 15 championships from 1932-58 (they also won a ring in the two-season Bucky Harris era), though Stengel's name may have had more lasting power than McCarthy's because he won the Series in each of his first five seasons. Those are the years that Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford emerged, as well. But after losing the 1960 World Series to the Pirates in seven games, Stengel was immediately fired, just two years after his most recent championship. To be fair to McCarthy, Stengel walked a much tighter line to his rings, winning three of his championships in seven games, but all three of his World Series losses were also in seven games.
Also of note for this era, Berra won 10 World Series rings from 1946-65, the most by any player. (And for those wondering why we left the late-'90s Yankees off the list, it was close. Joe Torre and Derek Jeter went to six World Series together and won four titles in all, missing our "five championship" cut off, even if Jeter also managed to grab a fifth ring later in his career, with Joe Girardi as manager in 2009.)
7. Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers, 1983-88
When the World Hockey Association was absorbed by the NHL, the Oilers had an ace-in-the-hole with Gretzky, the 19-year-old phenom they signed before the NHL had a chance to because of age-restrictions they had at the time. He won the MVP award in each of his first eight seasons in the NHL, and he led Edmonton to four Stanley Cups in five years before being traded to Los Angeles. The Oilers won another title in 1990 without him. He's the greatest of all-time because he just is, but dominating with titles over a short period of time is what really gives athletes like Gretzky, Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and DiMaggio an extra dose of legendary status.
6. Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-88
The NBA really feels like cheating because dynasties are so much more common. With each team only putting five guys in the game at a time, it's not hard for the team with the best players in the sport to have a huge advantage. Johnson may not have been the best in the NBA, or even the best on his own team (Abdul-Jabbar), but he captured the country's attention as a rookie in 1979 and won five rings with Kareem in a nine-year span. Like Kobe and Shaq, Johnson and Kareem needed each other equally, but one player usually stands out as being more memorable. Johnson's ongoing rivalry with Larry Bird helped significantly.
5. Brady and Belichick's New England Patriots, 2001-2017
We know that this may seem "low" given all that the Brady-Belichick pairing has accomplished since the turn of this century, but this is still the greatest dynasty in NFL history. Five championships in 16 seasons in the NFL might actually be more impressive than Michael Jordan's six rings in eight years (more on that in a moment), considering that New England has come down to the wire in almost all of its seven Super Bowls in the Brady and Belichick era. Even the Patriots' win over the Eagles had some drama in the final minute. Of course, they also went a long stretch without winning any titles. Just imagine what we'd be saying if it weren't for Eli Manning, David Tyree and Mario Manningham.
4. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, 1990-98
The only times that Jordan didn't lead the NBA in scoring from 1986-87 to 1997-98 were the year he retired to play baseball, and the 17-game season that followed when he returned. Things clicked so perfectly for Jordan, Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen in the '90s that championships became foregone conclusions as long as Jordan was active and healthy. Not a single one of Jordan's Finals appearances went to seven games. That's dominance. Certainly an argument to flip them with the Pats, if you prefer. You can yell at us in the comments.
3. John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, 1963-75
UCLA was irrelevant nationally until Wooden was hired away from Indiana State in 1948. The Bruins went 22-7 in his first season, and they were relevant though not great for the next 15 or so years before the dynasty began with a 30-0 record and national championship in 1964. They repeated the next season, and after going just 18-8 in 1966, they went on a run of seven championships in a row. It's an incredible feat in any regard, but especially at the college level where the best players are always graduating. That included three in a row with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor), who also won five NBA championships with the Lakers. Since Wooden retired as a champion in 1975, UCLA has won the national title just once.
2. Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau's Montreal Canadiens, 1955-73
It's hard to even say that the Canadiens' dynasty can stick with any one or two players and/or coaches, but in the interest of trying to do that, let's look at the Richard-Beliveau era in which they won 11 Stanley Cup Finals in 18 years. Of course, they also won four more from 1975-78 and several more before Richard and Beliveau's first championship. All told, Montreal has 25 championships. From 1922-98, the Canadiens missed the playoffs only six times. Absolutely remarkable.
1. Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, 1956-65
Red Auerbach won his first NBA championship in the 1956-57 season with a 22-year-old rookie Bill Russell, but they failed to repeat the following year. Then Auerbach and Russell won eight in a row, with Bob Cousy along for the ride for six of those, before Auerbach retired and Russell took over as player-coach, winning two more titles. All told, Russell won 11 NBA championships. Robert Horry is the only player who has more than six NBA championships who didn't play for those '50s and '60s Celtics.
So, what do you think -- are the Pats still just the second best dynasty in their own region? It's up for debate.