Tim Benz: Can Steelers still be considered ‘best ever’ if Patriots win Super Bowl?
The present state of the Steelers is a mess. They’re a non-playoff team with a dysfunctional locker room, a defense that can’t get the job done consistently, a neutered coach and an owner in a state of denial over how bad things have gotten.
The future doesn’t look so good either. They’re probably going lose Le’Veon Bell and trade Antonio Brown. Ben Roethlisberger is 36 years old. They may need to replace a starter or two on the offensive line.
What Steelers fans usually fall back on is the past — the easy claim that their Black and Gold are the undisputed best franchise of the Super Bowl era.
Six Super Bowl championships, more than any other organization. What a warm, fuzzy blanket to wrap yourself in when times are bad.
That may be a little harder to do come Sunday night if the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams. Because then New England will have six Vince Lombardi trophies, too. And they will have done it in 11 Super Bowl trips, three more than the Steelers.
It’s hard to make a case against New England.
But let’s try. Because like I just said, Steelers fans can’t cling to anything else at this point.
Would the Patriots be the best franchise since the dawn of the Super Bowl?
Best era? Best run? Yes, because of what we just outlined in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick partnership. Obviously, that’s the case.
But the Brady-Belichick catalog exclusively defines the Patriots’ history of success. And it’s “only” 18 years long.
For the first 19 years of Super Bowl play, the Patriots failed to win a playoff game. After their 1985 club got to Super Bowl XX, New England seasons ended without a playoff victory in 13 of the next 15 campaigns before Brady went under center in 2001.
The worst such stretch for the Steelers was 1980-1993. Over that time, the Steelers also only enjoyed two seasons with playoff wins. But they qualified for the playoffs in six of those years and finished .500 or better in 10 of them.
Can the Patriots boast the best individual season in the Super Bowl era?
Well, you could argue on behalf of the 2007 Patriots since they won their first 18 games. But they don’t qualify since they didn’t actually win the Super Bowl.
If Pittsburgh can’t nominate the 1976 Steelers, New England can’t nominate the 2007 Pats.
I’d put the 14-2 Steelers of 1978 up against the 14-2 Patriots of 2004 — or whatever version of the Pats New Englanders want to nominate — any day.
But the 1985 Bears, 1984 Niners and 1972 Dolphins probably have to be thrown in this mix, too.
Best team in the Super Bowl era?
By all quantifiable attempts to define the New England run, it is the “The Brady-Belichick Pats.” It’s an 18-year run defined by one coach and one quarterback.
That’s different from “The Packers of the 60s,” “The Steelers of the 70s,” “The Niners of the 80s,” or the “Cowboys of the 90s.”
The connecting threads of those rosters are much greater than is the case for Patriots.
If you are advancing the cause of the Patriots as the best “team” of the Super Bowl era, who is the rest of the team?
Who is the starting running back? Corey Dillon, Antowain Smith, Danny Woodhead or James White? Who is the shutdown corner? Darrelle Revis or Ty Law? Who are the starting wide receivers among Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Troy Brown?
Over these 18 years, you could assemble a potentially unbeatable Pats roster.
However, if we are going to compare depth at each position over an 18-year span, can I pluck Rod Woodson and Greg Lloyd off the Super Bowl XXX team and put them on the Steelers roster to help build a Pittsburgh comp?
How about the Cowboys? Can they employ Charles Haley on one side of their pass rush and Ed “Too Tall” Jones on the other? Can Joe Montana have a split backfield of Ricky Watters and Roger Craig?
If New England beats Los Angeles, here’s what you have to grant any Patriots fan who may want to plant their flag come Monday morning: No organization has been this elite, for this many consecutive years since the AFC-NFC merger as their club has.
They own that claim. Also, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the best coach-quarterback combo since the Super Bowl began. Period.
So how can you do it Monday morning? How could you make the argument that the Steelers would still be the best organization in the Super Bowl era?
Basically, you obfuscate. You deflect. You parse words. You haggle over minutia. You split hairs.
Essentially, you do whatever Patriots fans do when the issue of Spygate comes up.