SEC 360: How does Alabama rank among the greatest dynasties in sports history?
At the close of every year, we are inundated with “Best of” lists. Top 10s, countdowns, rankings and a general review of feats, all of which put a neat bow on the past year.
Since this past year was the close of a decade, we were further inundated with “Best of the Decade” montages and lists, enough to make your head swim. Now if you are suffering from “Best of” fatigue or perhaps your condition has risen to the level of “Best-of-PTSD,” please allow me to serve up just one more list for you. I promise, it’ll be fun.
We just experienced the first College Football Playoff foursome that did not include Alabama, and we discovered that an Alabama-less playoff was indeed not like a Barney-Fife-less The Andy Griffith Show. In other words, it was still good without Alabama.
With the advent of an unthinkable, dreadful, 2-loss regular season in which the Crimson Tide was forced to go to, of all places, Orlando (the horror!) for a New Year’s Day bowl, to play, of all teams, 3-loss Michigan, it appears as though three philosophical positions have emerged. The first is that the Capital D Dynasty — I’m talking about the Crimson Tide under head coach Nick Saban — is dead. That no longer appears to be the case, and expect an angry Mac Jones to unleash general bedlam next season.
The second position is that of the hopeful optimistic. This is the person who thinks that Saban, a man who always preaches about overcoming adversity, will do just that: overcome adversity and rise to the top of the college football mountain once again. That at a time when the Clemson train seems unstoppable, when Ohio State is figuring out how to get better, when LSU is hotter than a $2 pistol, and when Lane Kiffin is not just back in your conference, he’s back in your division — and out for blood. And now, oh my goodness, Mike Leach.
The third position is that of a Dynasty truther. This is one who believes there is an outright conspiracy to bring Alabama down, spearheaded by the College Football Playoff committee, game referees, Gary Danielson, redheads, anyone who watches the show The Masked Singer, and owners of the SCOTTeVEST. Alabama’s ranking of No. 13 before the bowls was proof that the CFP committee simply didn’t like the Crimson Tide, and to some, suggesting the Dynasty is dead is considered a felony.
Regardless on which side of the fence you fall, there’s little question about whether or not Alabama’s remarkable run is, in fact, a dynasty. It’s as much a dynasty as Ming, Hapsburg, and the former award-winning TV show, Dynasty.
So for a moment, let’s appreciate what Bama has done:
- No team has won more games over a 13-year stretch than Alabama (157) from 2007-19.
- No other team has won 5 national titles over 9 years.
- Alabama’s string of 9 consecutive 11-win seasons is the longest in college football history.
- Since 2008, Alabama has lost only one game in October: at South Carolina in 2010.
- Since 2008, Alabama has lost only 2 games to an SEC East opponent (Florida, 2008 SEC Championship Game; South Carolina, 2010).
- Since Saban’s first year at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has not lost to Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State or Missouri.
- Before dropping to No. 9 after the loss to Auburn this year, Alabama had been ranked in the Associated Press top 5 for 68 consecutive weeks, a record.
- Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has been at the top of the AP poll for 91 total weeks.
Before we move to the listing phase of this essay, let’s add a guardrail or two so we won’t run off in a ditch. First, with no offense to Yale football, George Halas’ Chicago Bears of the 1940s, and University of Minnesota football — all teams with multiple titles — why don’t we stick to dynasties after, say, World War II?
Secondly, I don’t know enough to speak intelligently about pro or college hockey, pro or college soccer, swimming and diving, softball, volleyball, or men’s synchronized swimming. Color me a curmudgeon, but I’m fascinated mostly with the three greatest sports in the history of mankind: baseball, basketball and football.
Thirdly, in my opinion, a dynasty doesn’t necessarily have to include back-to-back championships, but can be cobbled together over several years, if not decades (see No. 11)
And let’s keep it to team sports, shall we? I don’t really feel like getting deep into the billiards history of Steve Miserak (Remember that commercial? “The Miz! The Master!”) or the poker panache of Stuey Ungar.
Lastly, let’s limit each team or franchise to one dynasty. For instance, the Los Angeles Lakers could, theoretically, have 3 teams on the list: the Jabbar-Worthy-Magic Lakers, the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, and the Minneapolis Lakers with George Mikan and polyester pants with belts. The same could be said for the Boston Celtics, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the New York Yankees, or any other storied program. So if you don’t see Bear Bryant’s or Larry Bird’s team on the list, simply let another dynasty represent the team in their stead.
Shall we commence?
Here are the Top 27 dynasties:
No. 27 USC football (2002-08)
Titles: 2 in 7 years – 2003, 2004
For a minute there in the mid-2000s, you wondered whether Troy might just take over the world. Two Heisman winners, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush; LenDale White; Mike Williams; head coach Pete Carroll; and to top that off you had celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell showing up at games. But then Texas (Vince Young) happened and Carroll left for the NFL and there was the Bush saga and it was all over before you knew it. The USC dynasty was like that really cool party you went to that time in college, but then the cops came and ruined it and everyone had to go home. Could have been better, but my, was it fun while it lasted.
No. 26: San Francisco Giants (2010-14)
Titles: 3 in 5 years – (2010, 2012, 2014)
This week there was a debate on MLB Network about the greatest franchise of the past decade, and I didn’t mind it. The Yankees won the most games, but had no World Series titles to show for it. The San Francisco Giants won 3 World Series championships, but several mediocre years toward the latter end of the decade made it a tough choice among commentators. Still, the Giants were the top team in baseball in the first few years of the decade, and for that reason, they come in at 26 on our list.
No. 25: LSU baseball (1991-2000)
Titles: 5 in 10 years – 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000
When you think about LSU baseball, the first person to spring to mind is legendary coach Skip Bertman. A Detroit native, Bertman came to LSU in 1984 and promptly began reversing the program’s fortunes. He led the Tigers to the program’s first College World Series appearance in 1986 and did it again the very next year. Just over a decade later, he had 5 national titles to his name, including the 1996 crown won on Warren Morris’ walk-off 2-run home run.
No. 24 USC baseball (1968-78)
Titles: 6 in 11 years – 1968, 1970-74, 1978
While the Trojans’ football team was getting press under head coaches John McKay and John Robinson, USC baseball was quietly stringing together a dynasty of its own under head coach Rod Dedeaux. The Trojans won 5 consecutive College World Series from 1970-74, bookended by championships in ’68 and ’78. Dedeaux, considered one of the greatest college baseball coaches of all time, was one of the original inductees to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
No. 23 Atlanta Braves (1991-2005)
Titles: 1 – 1995
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Say what you want to about the Atlanta Braves flopping in the playoffs like a snagged bream in a Southern pond, but no other franchise in MLB history has put together a playoff run like the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s. Spearheaded by a pitching rotation that included Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the Braves won 14 consecutive Division titles and the 1995 World Series.
No. 22 Florida State football (1993-99)
Titles: 2 in 7 years – 1993, 1999
The Seminoles make the list, not necessarily because of the number of national titles housed in the Tallahassee trophy case, but the number of years in a row — 14, to be exact— finishing in the top 5. That portfolio is strong to very strong. The lynchpin for said excellence is none other than Robert Clecker “Bobby” Bowden of Birmingham, Alabama.
No. 21 Tennessee women’s basketball (1986-1998)
Titles: 6 in 12 years – 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996-98
Before the UConn dynasty, Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Volunteers reigned over women’s college basketball. It all began in 1987 when Summitt and a guard from Flint, Michigan, Tonya Edwards, brought home the national title at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. Along the way, players like Chamique Holdsclaw, Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings, and Kara Lawson helped Summitt reach the summit. Sadly, the beloved coach passed away in 2016 from complications of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her legacy to women’s college basketball is unrivaled.
No. 20 Golden State Warriors (2014-18)
Titles: 3 in 4 years – 2015, 2017-18
Mired in the muck for most of the franchise’s existence, the Golden State Warriors became the hot team to play for after Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson joined the team some years ago. That triumvirate has provided a championship core, around which players like Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes have been able to thrive. Although the Warriors have lost in 2 recent NBA Finals, the 3 titles are the most brought home to Oakland since the terrific baseball A’s of the 1970s.
No. 19 Kentucky basketball (1948-58)
Titles: 4 in 11 years – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958
Why is basketball big in Kentucky? Principally because of Adolph Rupp and the midcentury success of the Wildcats’ basketball team. Alex Groza, Cliff Hagan, C.M. Newton, Ed Beck, and Vernon Hatton are just some of the legends that built Kentucky into a basketball empire.
No. 18 Notre Dame football (1966-77)
Titles: 3 in 12 years – 1966, 1973, 1977
Four 10-win seasons, 3 national titles, Rudy Ruettiger, Ara Parseghian and Joe Cool (Montana) made this one of the greatest eras in Notre Dame football. There’s just something about the mystique of the Irish football team of the 1970s that reeks of letterman jackets, plaid kilts, and frothy beer. Like an old Dan Fogelberg album, it just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
No. 17 San Antonio Spurs (1999-2014)
Titles: 5 in 16 years – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014
Perhaps because the San Antonio Spurs weren’t loud and flamboyant on their way to 5 NBA titles, they are the most underappreciated team on our list. Headed by Gregg Popovich, the Spurs stood almost toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Lakers in the decade following Y2K. The dynasty began with twin towers, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, and culminated with Duncan’s last years that featured a young Kawhi Leonard. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were massive assets for the dynasty as well.
No. 16 Dallas Cowboys (1993-96)
Titles: 3 in 4 years – 1993, 1994, 1996
Flashy football is at its finest in the state of Texas. “America’s Team” is one of the most recognizable — and lucrative — franchises in American sport, but the past 2 decades in franchise history have been a bit disappointing. There was a time, however, when owner Jerry Jones had the franchise rolling like a western wind through saloon doors. It probably didn’t hurt that he had players like Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin at his disposal.
No. 15 Oakland A’s (1972-74)
Titles: 3 in 3 years — 1972-1974
Talk about a motley crew, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s were a motley crew. Off-the-wall, mustachioed and crazy good, the A’s took 3 consecutive World Series titles for their deep-pocketed but frugal owner, Charlie Finley. Player-wise, there was Rollie Fingers with his handlebar mustache, there was Jim “Catfish” Hunter with his bushy sideburns and ‘stache, there was Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Vida Blue, Sal Bando, and Gene Tenace. And, of course, Reggie Jackson.
No. 14 Miami football (1983-1991)
Titles: 4 in 9 years – 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991
One phrase that summarizes the Miami football dynasty from 1981-1991 is simply “The U.” Former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden recently told me he doesn’t like the word “swagger.” Maybe that’s because that word best describes Bowden’s most heated rival, the Miami Hurricanes, who brought a swagger to the college football world that’s never before been seen.
Rest assured, it was brash. It was loud. It was intimidating. It was in your face. And it led to 4 national titles. What’s really impressive is that The U did it with 3 head coaches: Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson (Larry Coker eventually led Miami to the program’s 5th national title in 2001). That swagger has dissipated recently, but at one time, it could win ballgames almost by itself.
No. 13 Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2010)
Titles: 5 in 11 years — 2000, 2008-09, 2009-10
People tend to forget the broad-shouldered master of Zen, Phil Jackson, won 5 titles with the Lakers after he won 6 titles with the Bulls. (That’s 11 rings, people.) The Lakers’ first championship in the post-Magic era came in 2000 with starters Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, A.C. Green, Ron Harper and Glen Rice. Other major contributors to “The Lake Show” in those earlier years included Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry. After L.A. lost to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, O’Neal joined the Miami Heat. But the dynasty was not over. Bryant, along with the supporting cast of the aforementioned Fisher, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, led the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
No. 12 Boston Red Sox (2007-18)
Titles: 4 in 12 years – 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018
Down 3 games to 0 to the archrival Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, it took two 5-hour, extra-inning affairs at Fenway Park for the Red Sox to claw within 1 game of the Bronx Bombers, and 2 more wins at Yankee Stadium capture the American League pennant. Relentless is a word that encapsulates this particular Red Sox team, and since then the Saawks have a bit of an edge over the Yankees that previously did not exist. Three more titles have basically erased any “curse” Boston experienced.
No. 11: Duke basketball (1990-2001)
Titles: 3 in 11 years (1991-92, 2001)
At the time, one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history occurred in 1991 when Duke knocked off UNLV in the Final Four. The previous year, the Runnin’ Rebels had run Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski out of the building in the NCAA final, but Duke got its revenge with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. From there, Duke has gone on to win 4 more titles and in doing so established itself as the premier college basketball program in the country over the past 3 decades.
No. 10: Pittsburgh Steelers (1975-80)
Titles: 4 in 6 years — 1974-75, 1978-79
Who doesn’t love vegging out on a Saturday, watching old NFL films videos with the iconic voice of John Facenda hailing the mighty Pitts-burgh-Steel-uhs? From the Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception” to the gritty Terry Bradshaw to the Steel Curtain defense, the franchise of the Rooney family captured 4 Super Bowls in the 1970s and became America’s first dynasty in the post-Lombardi era.
No. 9 San Francisco 49ers (1982-89)
Titles: 4 in 9 years — 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989
It began with Dwight Clark’s improbable catch in the back of the end zone in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Nine years and 4 titles later, it ended with a loss to the New York Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. How about this for a roster: Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Steve Young, Tom Rathman and Brent Jones? The 49ers were the class of the NFL, and they defined the 1980s as much as the Packers defined the ’60s and the Steelers defined the ’70s.
No. 8 UConn Women’s basketball (1995-present)
Titles: 11 in 22 years – 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013-16
When you look at the number of titles the UConn women’s basketball team has won over the past 3 decades, you’re almost surprised it isn’t more. That’s because of their level of dominance under head coach Gino Auriemma. How about this for a statistic? UConn has reached 20 Final Fours since 1991 — 20! In addition, the team won 4 national titles in a row from 2013-16 and once enjoyed a 111-game winning streak. That’s what I call dominance.
No. 7 Alabama football (2009-present)
Titles: 5 in 11 years – 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017
Who’s the GOAT, Bear Bryant or Nick Saban? But more important for this list, which dynasty is greater, the one built by Bryant from 1961-79 (6 titles in 19 years) or the one built by Saban (5 in 11)? The more iconic is the Bryant dynasty, but the more impressive is the Saban one, primarily because it’s packed into a shorter time period and it’s much harder to accomplish today. This particular Alabama dynasty is better than Notre Dame of the 1970s, it’s better than Miami of the 1980s, it’s better than Florida State of the 1990s, and it’s better than Florida and USC of the 2000s. Saban has solidified the argument that Alabama is the greatest college football program of all time.
No. 6 New England Patriots (2001-present)
Titles: 6 in 19 years – 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016, 2018
It’s hard to fathom that, given the success of the New England Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick, an entire decade in which the Pats did not win the Super Bowl is sandwiched into the franchise’s 6 titles. But let’s not focus on what the team didn’t do. Let’s talk about the incredible run of Belichick and his cerebral quarterback, Tom Brady. Let’s talk about players like Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower. Let’s talk about that remarkable comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. And just the dynamic nature of Belichick and Brady, the greatest sporting duo of all time.
No. 5 Green Bay Packers (1961-67)
Titles: 5 in 8 years (3 NFL Championships – 1961, 1962, and 19565; 2 Super Bowls – 1967 and 1968)
Let’s face it: No NFL franchise is as iconic as the Green Bay Packers, and no NFL coach is as iconic as Vince Lombardi. If you want a slice of 1960s professional football, simply roll the film of a fedora-hatted Lombardi imploring, “What the hell’s goin’ on out he-ah?” But Lombardi was much more influential than the sound bytes and the memorable quotes, principally because his lessons transcended sport. As Jerry Kramer once said, “His concepts were relevant 4,000 years ago, and they’ll be relevant 4,000 years from now.”
No. 4 Chicago Bulls (1991-1997)
Titles: 6 in 8 years – 1991-93, 1996-98
Many a middle-aged man in America was glad he was old enough to appreciate the Jordan years of NBA basketball, and he will argue to the cows come home that LeBron couldn’t tote Jordan’s jock onto the floor of the United Center. Forasmuch success as the Bulls had, it seemed like forever until the team got over the hump, eventually dispatching the dreaded rival, the Detroit Pistons, in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. But when it did get over the hump, Chicago was dominant, winning 6 titles in 8 years. Soon, The Last Dance, the ESPN documentary on the Bulls’ dynasty is about to debut. And if you’re not fired up about that, please do everyone a favor and see a doctor.
No. 3 UCLA basketball (1964-75)
Titles: 10 in 12 years – 1964-65, 1967-73, 1975
If there is a dynasty on this list whose feat will probably never be replicated, it’s that of the UCLA Bruins basketball team from 1964-75. Why? It’s just so hard to win the NCAA Tournament, much less 10 titles in 12 years or 7 in a row, as John Wooden’s squad did between the years 1964-75. Granted, the field was much smaller then, never more than 25 teams until 1975, but still. It’s easy to think that this team was solely the product of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, but there were many more great players who filled the Wizard of Westwood’s roster: Walt Hazzard, Sidney Wicks, Gail Goodrich, Curtis Rowe, Henry Bibby and Dave Meyers, to name a few.
No. 2 Boston Celtics (1959-69)
Titles: 10 in 11 years — 1959-66, 1968, 1969
The Boston Celtics owned the 1960s. Winners of 8 consecutive titles from 1959-66 (and 2 more in ’68 and ’69), the Celtics were uber-rich with talent like Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and John Havlicek. How good was Bill Russell, and how important was he to the Celtics franchise? Well, he actually coached the team from ’66-69. The mastermind behind the whole operation was Red Auerbach, who loved to drink from a Blackstone stogie after an important win.
No. 1 New York Yankees (1947-62)
Titles: 10 titles in 16 years – 1947, 1949-53, 1956, 1958, 1961-62
It began with DiMaggio and ended with the M&M boys, Mantle and Maris. It’s really hard not to put the Yankees of the 1920s on this list, but 10 titles, including 5 in a row from 1949-53, make the 1947-62 Bombers the top dynasty in the history of sport.
Overall, it’s the franchise of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Casey Stengel, Derek Jeter and Joe Torre.
It’s the Pinstripe Empire, Ladies and Gentlemen. And it’s No. 1 on our list.