Hackett: With Patriots on verge of sixth title, it's time to assess their place in all of sports history

Jim Hackett
January 31, 2019 - 3:41 pm

The New England Patriots have earned the right to be favored in Super Bowl LIII and both the fan base and the pundits who cover them are rightfully confident. Following brilliant performances in both the divisional round and in a difficult road environment in the AFC Championship, the Patriots turned many heads while feelings of their dominant and dynastic play quickly returned. No disrespect to their talented foe the Los Angeles Rams, who I am sure will put up a good fight, but I'm feeling good about the Patriots chances on Sunday.

Super Bowl Sunday represents a second chance at a sixth Super Bowl Championship for the franchise and the mere thought of it gives Steelers fans a full body rash. If the Patriots win on Sunday, I can just hear "Christian from Foxboro" crank calling Tim Benz in Pittsburgh on Monday and saying "Hey Timmy, how's your rash?" Benz has long used the "six rings" close when trying to silence Steelers naysayers and it has proven effective. However, that trump card will lose a little juice should the Patriots earn their sixth Super Bowl Championship on Sunday night. If that's the case, it will be the Patriots who will become the new ace of spades in NFL history and simultaneously, become part of a bigger historical conversation.

Sorry Pittsburgh, tie goes to New England, not all legacies are created equal.

If you're a fan of the Steelers variety, steam is likely coming out of your ears right now. Know this, I'm not taking anything away from the Steelers accomplishments, past dominance nor the significance of their storied history. Not at all. It's simply the fact that what the Patriots have accomplished in this modern era is more impressive and if you add that title tying sixth crown to New England's resume, then your beloved Steelers drop down a notch in the annals of history. It's just the truth and there are plenty of facts to support it.

Consider the following:

-- Sunday will mark the Patriots' 11th Super Bowl appearance vs. eight for the Steelers. Edge Patriots.

-- The Patriots and Steelers are 16-16 head to head. Dead even. However, in the postseason, the Patriots have won four out of five meetings. Edge Patriots.

-- The Steelers have amassed six titles spread over two decades, thirty years apart. The Patriots have won five in 15 years and are appearing in their ninth in 17 years. As dominant as the Steelers were in the 70's, what the Patriots have accomplished in this modern era of free agency is far more impressive. Moreover, none of the other 31 NFL teams competing against them (including the Steelers) have been able to come close to that level of success within this same era. Edge Patriots.

Need more? During New England's run, the Steelers have been one of the league's more consistent annual contenders, making the playoffs 12 times. However, since 2001 Pittsburgh's record vs. New England stands at a pathetic 4-11. Edge Patriots. Again.

Long story short, the NFL representative for its greatest historical franchise is your New England Patriots.

So if we look at the greatest of the great in American sports, there are really three American franchises now to compare: the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics and yes the New England Patriots. To include all four major American sports we will have to award a visa to our neighbors on the northern border and enter the bleu, blanc et rouge (yes the Montreal Canadiens and their 24 Stanley Cup Championships) into the equation. Here's how they compare:

New York Yankees

  • 27 World Series championships.
  • Founded in 1901, they've won 23 percent of all championships.
  • During their greatest and most prolonged period of dominance from 1923-1962, they won 20 World Series titles in 39 years. That's a 51 percent clip.
  • The Cardinals are second with 11 titles.
  • 40 Pennants
  • 18 Division titles
  • 7 Wild Card berths
  • 51 Hall of Famers.

That was painful. Beating these guys is going to be a tough putt...

Boston Celtics

  • 17 NBA Championships
  • Founded in 1946, they've won 24 percent of all NBA titles.
  • During their greatest and most prolonged period of dominance from 1957-1969 the Celtics won 11 of 13 championships (and lost the other 2). A clip of 85 percent!
  • The Lakers have closed the gap, with 16 titles, for second place.
  • 21 conference titles
  • 22 division titles
  • 34 Hall of Famers from across the organization. 

Montreal Canadiens

  • 24 Stanley Cups
  • Founded in 1909, they've won 22 percent of all Stanley Cups.
  • The Canadiens won championships in every decade from 1915 -1993 so their dominance spans nearly a full century.
  • The Maple Leafs are second with 13 Stanley Cups.
  • 8 conference championships
  • 24 division titles
  • 64 Hall of Famers

This is elite company indeed. In fairness to the Patriots, Steelers and Packers before them, the NFL is only celebrating its 53rd Super Bowl championship vs. franchises like the Yankees and Canadiens who have been playing since the turn of the previous century.

If the Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl on Sunday, they will have won one third of the titles since beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. When you factor in the era, that percentage is staggering. Put it this way, during that same period in their respective leagues, the Yankees, Celtics and Canadiens have combined for just two championships, one for the Yankees (2009) and one for the Celtics (2008).

Though the overarching historical numbers cannot match that of the Yankees, Canadiens or Celtics, a win on Sunday most certainly gets them on that elite mountaintop as the rightful representative for the NFL. Should the Patriots earn that sixth ring on Sunday night, I suspect it won't end there. Then the pages of history will continue to turn in their favor. Regardless, if they win I'll enjoy it fully, especially knowing that Steelers fans everywhere will be breaking out in hives.