Sports fans love dynasties. And hate them, too.
That a team could be so dominant for a long period as the New England Patriots have been should be admirable. Their detractors point to scandals such as “Spygate” and the deflated footballs saga. Their supporters focus on Tom Brady’s brilliance and a resilience that all great teams share.
Regardless, the facts are the Patriots are in their ninth Super Bowl since 2001 and have won five.
Here’s a look at what makes for a dynasty in the major U.S. team sports:
SPORT: Pro Football
KEY PLAYERS: Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Troy Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Devin McCourty, Tedy Bruschi, Vince Wilfork, Deion Branch, Mike Vrabel.
FRONT OFFICE: Owner Robert Kraft gave coach Bill Belichick nearly complete control over the team’s football operations when he hired him in 2000, basically also making him the team’s general manager.
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: It all starts with Belichick and Brady and goes from there — year after year after year. The cast on the field has changed several times, of course, except for Brady. The five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP has been the constant in an unprecedented string of success in the league, playing at an elite, record-breaking level even into his 40s. Belichick has also been masterful at restocking and reshuffling his roster and still having a perennial contender. The Patriots, who have won 10 straight AFC East titles and 15 out of 16, even have two “mini-dynasties” within this 18-year span. They won three championships in four years from 2002-05 and are now looking for their third in five years — a stretch that includes three straight appearances in the Super Bowl.
SHINING MOMENT: Little did the sports world know at the time, but New England’s first Super Bowl win to cap the 2001 season was just the beginning of what has become the most impressive stretch of consistent winning in NFL history. A victory this year over the Rams — fittingly, also the Patriots’ opponent in that first one — would tie Pittsburgh for the most Lombardi Trophy wins in the league with six. Nine of New England’s NFL-record 11 Super Bowl appearances have also come during this 18-season span.
SPORT: Women’s Basketball
KEY PLAYERS: Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart
FRONT OFFICE: Coach Geno Auriemma
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: Auriemma built the team into the best in the sport, having won 11 national championships in the past 23 years, including four straight with Stewart. Even more impressive, in the past decade the Huskies have gone 388-15, with six of their titles. It’s easy to say he’s had the best players in the sport, but he’s also developed them into some of the best in the world. The coach has built a culture of winning where one loss is seen as a bad year. How impressive have they been? They haven’t lost consecutive games in more than 25 years. That’s right: UConn has not had a losing streak since 1993.
SHINING MOMENT: Lobo led UConn to its first national championship in 1995 and the first of six undefeated seasons. During this 23-year run, UConn has had a 111-game winning streak and a 90-game winning streak — the top two all-time in men’s and women’s college basketball.
SPORT: College Football
FRONT OFFICE: Coach Nick Saban
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: Alabama was a storied program long before Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa after venturing into the NFL. Since his arrival, the Crimson Tide has won five national titles over the past decade and played for two more. Alabama has gone 139-15 over the past 11 seasons using his famed “Process” built with his unwavering focus and intensity. It’s widely regarded as the best run in major college football history. Saban has consistently brought in the nation’s top recruiting classes, replenishing the roster annually after his biggest stars move on to the NFL, often as underclassmen. Alabama’s only two Heisman Trophy winners, tailbacks Mark Ingram and Henry, have come during his reign. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the runner-up last season.
SHINING MOMENT: Alabama won the 2009 national title, the first under Saban, with what remains his only undefeated season as a head coach. It was a vintage performance for the Tide, with an overpowering defense and a running game led by Ingram and Trent Richardson, both eventual first-round draft picks.
TEAM: New York Yankees
KEY PLAYERS: Derek Jeter, newly elected Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez.
FRONT OFFICE: GM Brian Cashman followed the George Steinbrenner model of spending big to make championship teams even better; Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre kept the egos in check in the clubhouse.
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: Restored the mantle of the Bronx Bombers, putting together runs that rivaled the days of the Babe, Joe D, the Mick and Reggie. They never gave away an at-bat, never beat themselves. Roger Clemens and David Cone boosted strong rotations, games were over once “Enter Sandman” greeted Rivera. The whole team seemed to play even better once the calendar flipped to October — the backhanded flip by Jeter in the playoffs, who else does that?
SHINING MOMENT: Won a record 14 straight World Series games from 1996-2000 en route to four titles in five seasons. Went an incredible 125-50 overall in 1998. Came within two outs of another crown in 2001, losing Game 7 at Arizona.
TEAM: New York Islanders
KEY PLAYERS: Hall of Famers Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies
FRONT OFFICE: GM Bill Torrey made brilliant draft choices and trades; coach Al Arbour went on to win 781 games. Both also are Hall of Famers.
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: Versatility and camaraderie as much as talent. The Islanders had the big-time gunner in Bossy, their greatest player; the staunch and super-aggressive goalie in Smith; the creative playmaker in Trottier; the hard-hitting overseer and passing genius on defense with Potvin; and the banger who would score key goals in Gillies. Thanks to Arbour, a solid defenseman as a player, they also had a dedication to protecting their own end — sharpshooter Bossy even became a strong penalty killer. And they were deep, with such clutch performers as Butch Goring, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom, Bob Bourne and two of the Sutter brothers (Duane and Brent) on second and third lines.
SHINING MOMENT: The Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups, 1980-83, and played for a fifth in ’84, losing to an Edmonton team they swept in the previous year’s final. Their 19 consecutive postseason series victories is an NHL record that might never be challenged.
SPORT: Pro Basketball
KEY PLAYERS: Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman; Horace Grant and Toni Kukoc.
FRONT OFFICE: GM Jerry Krause was the architect who wasn’t beloved by the players within the organization or perhaps appreciated enough outside of it. He was not enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame until a few months after his death in 2017. Coach Phil Jackson relied on the triangle offense and his calm demeanor to win an NBA-record 11 championships as a coach, following his six in Chicago with five more with the Lakers.
WHAT MADE THEM GREAT: The ultra-demanding Jordan is one of the leading scorers and greatest players in NBA history, and the Bulls won three straight titles from 1991-93 and 1996-98 when they had him for full seasons. That run of titles was interrupted only when he retired for 1½ years and played minor league baseball. He was also a dominant defensive guard, and when he, Pippen and Rodman were on the floor, the Bulls could simply shut down teams, with seven-time rebounding champion Rodman often chasing down the missed shots they forced.
SHINING MOMENT: Stung by a loss in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals shortly after a rusty Jordan returned from his first retirement, the Bulls came back with a vengeance the next season. They won their first 37 home games and 72 overall, the latter a record that stood until Golden State surpassed it in 2016. Unlike the Warriors, the Bulls capped their season with a championship, beating Seattle in the 1996 NBA Finals to kick off their second three-peat.