What the New England Patriots are doing and continuing to do is unprecedented not only in football but in sports: We truly are witnessing, all things considered, the greatest run in professional sports history.
This shouldn’t happen. Nine Super Bowl appearances in 17 years shouldn’t even be considered in today’s NFL. Yet, here we are, watching in awe as the Patriots are heading back to yet another Super Bowl in search of their sixth Lombardi Trophy after an overtime classic against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Here’s just a small sampling of the history and records set by way of the Patriots’ dramatic walk-off win at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship Game.
— The Patriots are going to their 11th Super Bowl, an NFL record. The next closest franchises are Dallas, Pittsburgh and Denver with eight apiece. Or put another way: The Patriots have reached as many Super Bowls as San Francisco and Green Bay combined.
— They’re joining Miami and Buffalo as the third team to reach at least three straight Super Bowls
— They have tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time playoff wins
— The Patriots just set an NFL record with playoff wins in a decade with 15 playoff wins in the 2010s. They broke their own record of 14 wins in the 2000s.
— Bill Belichick is about to coach his 12th Super Bowl, his ninth as a head coach. He has as many head coaching appearances as Tom Landry and Chuck Knoll combined.
— Tom Brady is playing in his ninth Super Bowl, continuing to distance himself from Mike Lodish, the previous record-holder with six. And Lodish is about to fall into a tie for second place with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
— Brady and Belichick will try for their sixth title together which would break a mark they currently share with Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr.
— With a win in the Super Bowl, Brady would pass Adam Vinatieri as the winningest player in football history.
— The list of Patriots postseason achievements, from which these nuggets were pulled, is an absurd 11 pages long.
Landry. Knoll. Lombardi. Starr. They are the names of all-time greats, icons, luminaries. Those names are intertwined with the history of the sport, and those names illicit thoughts of greatness to the point they’re almost mythical. And when it’s all said and done — whenever that actually might be — Brady and Belichick will be alongside them, perhaps even surpassing them.
You can’t just compare this Patriots run to other football dynasties, though. It’s fair to wonder how they stack up against the Yankees of the early- to mid-20th century or the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and ’60s. Or the Montreal Canadiens’ multiple runs or the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders of the 1980s.
Dynasties all of them, but their successes all came at times when dominance within their sport was easier to sustain. The modern-day NFL is built in such a way where long-term success is not supposed to be commonplace. Since the Patriots and Los Angeles (then-St. Louis) Rams last met in the Super Bowl, the Rams have had four different head coaches, six different quarterbacks and an entirely different city to call home.
That might be hard to believe right now. Perhaps we’re all taking this whole thing for granted, and who could blame us? It has quite literally become the norm. But it’s anything but normal.
It really doesn’t even matter if the Patriots win the Super Bowl. This run is the greatest in sports history and won’t be matched in this sport or any other as long as any of us are alive.