Let’s start very simply, with a handcrafted definition of a word that I use for just about every sport to determine sustained greatness.That word is dynasty.
I believe that the best teams and players are those who reach the top levels and defeat the top competition, and get knocked down, and get back up again.
A dynasty is established by a player or sport who leads their group, team/league through to the highest level of competition, through playoffs, up the title game/series, for a period of at least 3 consecutive years. Should that period be interrupted for 2 years, the dynasty continues, until he/she/they cannot reach the top level a 3rd year. The dynasty can still continue, tho, if our subject reclaims the top level from another, and only one other to have at least 2 consecutive years at the top. Again, top meaning league/conference title, up to the overall league championship (World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup), or, for an individual sport that doesn’t have eliminations, winning outright.
A few examples: The Yankees won 8 titles between 1996 and 2003, establishing a dynasty only interrupted by the Indians and Angels, one year each. For the dynasty to continue, the Yankees would have had to win the league by 2006, or, if one other team won (leading to a dynasty) instead in the ‘gap’, and the Yankees reclaimed from there, the streak would continue. Boston would win in 2004, White Sox in 2005, and the Tigers in 2006, and the Yankees didn’t get back until 2009. Boston came close to producing a dynasty, having won in ’04 and ’07 but not winning by 2010. As of this typing, since Boston is fresh as the World Series champion, they have 3 years now to win at least a 2nd league title. Also eligible: The Tigers, who have 2 years (they won in 2011), and the Rangers, who have only 2014 to keep things going and actually make a true dynasty (they won in 2010 and 2011).
Going back in time since the playoff era, here are all the dynasties in the American League:
Minnesota comes close, winning in 1987 and 1991, interrupted by the Athletics in the interim years, but could not win another title by 1995 (skipping the 1994 strike year). Ditto the Indians, winning in 1995 and 1997, interrupted only by those Yankees. After 2003, Cleveland would have had to bookend that streak with a title but they have not been back since.
Currently, two NL teams are eligilble to build a dynasty: The Giants (winners in 2010 and 2012, and therefore have until 2015), and the Cardinals (2011, 2013, eligibile until 2016).
No dynasties in the playoff era met each other in the playoffs, but of course did meet in the regular season. That would be, as we can guess, Walter Alston’s Dodgers and Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine, from 1974 to 1976. The Dodgers won the season series 12-6, and in runs, 79 to 57. The margin was different in 1975, as they won just 18 against the Reds, losing in the run department, 69 to 64. Cincy would be the thorn in the Dodgers side in 1976, as they would win 13 of 18, and outscore LA 77-57. Couldn’t you just imagine what those contests in 1975 were like? And, that 3-year period, 1974 to 1976 gave us 3 dynasty teams at once. Maybe baseball was never better than that time. A long way down to the upstarts and parity that baseball has given us since.
Dynasties did collide in the World Series, as you can imagine, in these years:
1970 (Orioles over Reds)
1972 (A’s over Reds)
1974 (A’s over Dodgers)
1976 (Reds over Yankees)
1977, 1978 (Yankees over Dodgers)
1981 (Dodgers over Yankees)
1996, 1999 (Yankees over Braves)
1988 was the first year 2 teams not of dynasty type met in the Series. The Dodgers had a singular year, and still won (courtesy of Kirk Gibson), while Oakland would get back to the series in 1990). Since 2004, no one’s quite dominated, as described above.
Let’s go further back in time to see what dynasties were made before the playoff era.
NY Yankees 1921-1943
NY Yankees 1947-1964
And the NL:
Chicago White Stockings 1880-1886
Boston Beaneaters 1891-1898
Baltimore Orioles 1894-1896
Brooklyn (Bridegrooms-Superbas) 1890-1900
Pittsburgh Pirates (1901-1909)
NY Giants (1904-1913)
Chicago Cubs (1906-1910)
NY Giants (1921-1924)
St. Louis (1926-1934)
NY Giants (1933-1937)
St. Louis (1942-1946)
NY Giants (1951-1954)
St. Louis (1964-1968)
The clashes of titans in the World Series occurred in these years. With less teams and more familiar foes, there was a lot of repeats:
1907, 1908: Cubs/Detroit
1921, 1922: Giants/Yankees
1926: St. Louis/Yankees
1931: St. Louis/Phila
NFL football dynasties in the Super Bowl era:
Baltimore Colts (1961-1970)
Cleveland Browns (1963-1968)
Oakland Raiders (1967-1969)
Miami Dolphins (1971-1973)
Denver Broncos (1986-1989)
Indianapolis Colts (2006-2009)
So there was a period of 5 years, 1963 to 1967 that included 4 contending teams between 2 leagues, then 1975-76 involving 3 teams, and 2006-09 involving 3 more in the same conference.
Note that I include teams from the AFL that participated in the AFL championship as well.
Football dynasties have clashed in the Super Bowl in these years, Roman numerically speaking:
I (1966 season): Packers over Chiefs
VIII (1973): Dolphins over Vikings
IX(1975): Steelers over Vikings
X (1976): Steelers over Cowboys
XIII(1978) : Steelers over Cowboys
XXVII (1992): Cowboys over Bills
XXVIII (1993): Cowboys over Bills. These two also had met in the 1993 regular season, week 2. Buffalo would go 2-0 with a late 13-10 victory in Big D.
As for the current season, the Packers, Giants and Niners are all eligible to further the cause of a dynasty out of the NFC, while, outside of the Patriots and Steelers, last year’s champs, the Ravens have a fresh 2 year grace period)
Counting Stanley Cup finals-participants from 1967-68 to the present (the first big expansion of the league):
St. Louis (1968-1970)
NY Islanders (1980-1984)
NJ Devils (2000-2003)
Stanley Cup finals between dynasties:
1968-9: Montreal/St. Louis
1970: Boston/St. Louis
1983: NY Islanders/Edmonton
1984: Edmonton/NY Islanders
Philly, Boston, Montreal were running dynasties at once from 1974 to 1976. Was hockey any better than this period?
Teams currently eligible to build a dynasty with at least a Stanley Cup finals appearance this season are Chicago & Boston (both through the 2015 season)
Admittedly, info on this is not absolute as realignment took place a number of times over the years, plus I have not secured a firm list that includes only matching division/conference champions.
Minneapolis Lakers (1949-1954)
Syracuse Nationals (1950-1955)
St. Louis Hawks (1957-1961)
Boston Celtics (1958-1969)
Minn./LA Lakers (1959-1973)
NY Knicks (1970-1973)
Washington Bullets (1975-1979)
LA Lakers (1980-1991)
San Antonio (1999-2007)
LA Lakers (2000-2004)
LA Lakers (2008-2010)
NBA Finals that included a pair of dynasties:
1958: St. Louis/Boston
1960-1: Boston/St. Louis
1962-3, 1965-6, 1968-69: Boston/LA
1970: NY Knicks/LA
1972: LA/NY Knicks
1973: NY Knicks/LA
1980, 1982: LA/Philly
1985, 1987: LA/Boston
There were 3 rivalries ongoing in 1959-1561, and in 1981-1983. Imagine the vitriol between the Sixers and Celtics. Actually, do more than imagine:
Now we’ll swing over to NASCAR, focusing on the Sprint Cup and its own predecessors:
Ned Jarrett (1961-65)
Richard Petty (1964-67)
David Pearson (1966-69)
Richard Petty (1971-79)
Cale Yarborough (1976-78)
Darrell Waltrip (1981-1985)
Dale Earnhardt, Sr (1986-94)
Jeff Gordon (1995-2001)
Tony Stewart (2002-present)
Jimmie Johnson (2006-present)
Brad Keselowski still can put a dynasty together by 2015, Tony Stewart until 2014. “Smoke” ‘s dynasty is intact for this reason: He won in 2002, left the maximum 2-year gap, won in 2005, and even though Kes did win in 2012, Tony’s streak is intact unless he fails to regain the title in 2014. Then we can say it ended in 2011.
The Stewart/Johnson battle is the first battle of dynasties since Petty/Yarborough, which put the sport on the national map and beyond, 1976-1978.
www.racing-reference.com says that Stewart and Johnson have raced in the same 420 races. In that span, Johnson managed the better positioning, wins, top 5s and 10.
Here are the 3 races where either of them finished 1-2 to each other with the closest finishes:
2013 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona
2006 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega
2009 Coke Zero
And as for Petty/Yarborough, they dueled for 520 races, from 1959 to 1988. And the stats are quite even:
Petty had 274 better finishes to Cale’s 246, and had more top 5’s (255-243), top 10s (324-300), and better finishing position (11.4-12.3). Cale outpoints the King in actual wins, though: 82 to 75.
The closest finish between them in a 1-2 finish was in 1976, the Music City USA 420, in Nashville:
IndyCar (since 1996):
Dario Franchitti (2007-2011)
F1 (since 1950):
Juan Manuel Fangio (1951-57)
Jackie Stewart (1969-73)
Alain Prost (1985-89)
Ayrton Senna (1988-1991)
Michael Schumacher (2000-04)
Sebastian Vettel (2010-present)
Interesting that the Prost/Senna duel were the only dynasties that ever clashed here. How did they do in the head-to-head? Glad you asked: They were part of 141 races together, with Prost getting the better of Senna 71 to 70. Prost also ranks ahead on all the other categories. In 1988, either driver finished 1-2 to each other 10 times; in 1989, 4 such races.
For tennis I’m focusing on the men’s singles Tour championship, currently stylized as the ATP World Tour finals.
Ilie Nastase (1971-1975)
Ivan Lendl (1981-1987)
Pete Sampras (1991-1999)
Boris Becker (1992-1995)
Roger Federer (2003-present)
Novak Djokovic (2008-present)
1994 and 2012 were the only times two players currently in a dynasty met in the finals of the ATP championship match
As for the ladies, here’s the WTA Championship dynasties:
Chris Evert (1972-1977)
Martina Navratilova (1978-1986)
Steffi Graf (1987-1996)
Monica Seles (1990-1992)
Serena Williams (2008-present)
Graf/Seles never competed in the WTA Final but they’ve locked horns 6 times in Grand Slam finals: Seles won twice at the French, once at the Australian. Graf was the victor in their lone matchup at Wimbledon, and two wins at the US Open.
Here’s how the 1992 French Open turned out between them