A Super Bowl matchup that many, including SI’s Peter King, predicted before the beginning of the season will take place in less than two weeks.
The red hot Green Bay Packers, fresh off five straight wins against pretty intense competition, will play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who, as they seem to do every other year, boast the NFL’s number one ranked scoring defense.
Considering the successful histories of the two teams, it’s time to ask the ultimate question:
Is the winner of the Super Bowl the most successful team in pro football history?
Below I will compare the histories of the two teams.
This isn’t a player vs player comparison. I will not be comparing Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw or Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger.
It’s not a coaching comparison either. Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi will not be analyzed in this article. Neither will Chuck Noll or Mike Tomlin.
It’s strictly comparing the teams, their ability to remain competitive throughout the years, and of course, the amount of championships won.
The Case for the Green Bay Packers:
The Green Bay Packers were created in 1921.
Since then, they have played 90 seasons. They’ve had just 27 losing seasons.
They’ve had 63 seasons of .500 or better, including 55 winning seasons.
They have won an NFL record 12 championships: 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1996.
They are the only team to win three consecutive championships, and they’ve done it twice.
They won the first two Super Bowls, a 35-10 blowout against the Kansas City Chiefs and a 33-14 blowout over the Oakland Raiders. This concluded one of the better dynasties in professional sports history, as the Packers won five championships from 1961 to 1967.
Their 664 victories are the second most ever and their .559 winning percentage is the fourth best ever.
The Case for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The Pittsburgh Steelers were created in 1933.
Since 1972, the Steelers haven’t gone more than five seasons without a postseason win.
In the 1970s, they turned in arguably the most dominant decade by any team in NFL history, winning four Super Bowl titles and advancing to two conference championship games.
Their defense was easily the most dominant in league history, as players like Mean Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount anchored a powerful squad that was known as the Steel Curtain.
In the Super Bowl era, they’ve qualified for the postseason 25 times. They’ve played in 15 conference championship games, winning eight times.
They were the first team to win three, four, five, and six Super Bowls, and with a victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, they’ll be the first to reach seven.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been way better than the Green Bay Packers during the Super Bowl era. There’s no denying that.
History has been on the side of the Pittsburgh Steelers ever since running back Franco Harris pulled in the Immaculate Reception on December 23, 1972.
They have won six of seven Super Bowls. They are appearing in their eighth in two weeks and win or lose, they will still hold the record with six victories.
They won four Super Bowl titles in a dominant six-year reign by competing against almost as many teams as there are today (26 in 1974, 28 in 1979).
They’ve appeared in the postseason 25 times in the last 39 seasons, advancing to 15 conference championship games. That’s one conference championship game every 2.6 seasons.
And they’ve (quietly) put together a current run that may result in the sixth dynasty of the Super Bowl era.
But they also endured a 40-season streak in which they finished with just seven winning seasons.
From 1933 to 1972, their best season was 1947, when they won 8 of 12 games to qualify for their lone postseason appearance (a 21-0 shutout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles).
For a very long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans suffered through countless losing seasons. Success was not a word that described the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ existence and that cannot just be ignored.
The Green Bay Packers have never suffered through a streak of losing seasons.
They’ve qualified for the postseason 26 times, the same number of times as the Steelers.
They’ve earned three-peats twice, are the proud owners of arguably the most dominant dynasty in NFL history (five championships in seven seasons), and hold a significantly higher all-time winning percentage than the Pittsburgh Steelers (.559 to .520).
They’ve also appeared in consecutive Super Bowls twice, winning three of them, and they could make that four for five in a few weeks.
However, they did spent 29 seasons during the Super Bowl era without winning the big game. They weren’t even particularly competitive, qualifying for the postseason just twice (1972, 1982) between the Bart Starr era and the Brett Favre era, a span of 25 seasons.
The Packers also won three of their championships without ever having to play in a championship game (the team with the highest record was automatically granted the NFL championship).
They won the next three in a league consisting of just 10 teams. Even their dynasty, which includes five more championships, came in a league with 14 to 16 teams.
Those last five championships are the equivalent of just advancing to the Super Bowl in today’s game.
And those six championships that they won in 10-team leagues? That’s barely more than just advancing to the conference championship game in today’s game.
By those standards, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles would have won five championships in an eight-year span.
The most important qualification in determining the most successful team in league history is not championships.
It’s the ability of the team to remain competitive year in and year out. If a team is always competitive, championships will fall into place, as it did for the Packers in 1996 and possibly 2010.
I’m not saying championships are not important. They obviously are.
But it’s not the final factor.
Historically, I would rank the Dolphins over the Redskins even though the Redskins have won one more Super Bowl (3 to 2). The Saints and Buccaneers would rank below the Eagles, even though the Saints and Buccaneers actually have won a Super Bowl.
Factoring everything in, the Packers are the more successful franchise as of right now.
Their success over a long period of time is phenomenal, and they never had a losing stretch like the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
However, the Steelers’ dominance in the Super Bowl era cannot be ignored and with a win in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers’ last 40 years may be more than enough to make up for their first 40 years.
The Packers (28-16 postseason record) have won 63.6 percent of their postseason games. The Steelers (33-19 postseason record) have won 63.5 percent of their postseason games.
Comparing these two teams is close enough that I can safely say yes, the winner of Super Bowl XLV is the team with the more successful history.
The Real Greatest Team Ever:
Oh, I hate to admit this. I hate it so much.
But neither the Steelers nor the Packers is the most successful franchise in NFL history. I would rank the winner of Super Bowl XLV as second, and the loser third.
But number one?
That’s the Dallas Cowboys. Easily.
Five Super Bowl championships, tied for the second most ever. Eight Super Bowl appearances, tied with the Steelers for the most ever.
16 conference championship appearances, the most ever. 30 postseason appearances, tied with the Giants for the most ever. 33 postseason victories, tied with the Steelers for the most ever.
Oh, and they’ve been around for just 51 years, since 1960.
Their success and dominance is unmatched by any team in NFL history.
The Dallas Cowboys, despite their well publicized postseason failures over the last 15 seasons, are the most successful franchise in NFL history.
The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers are second and third. Or third and second.
That order will be determined shortly.