So the new Bovada Super Bowl odds came out the other day, and if my math is correct, we’re still only 95 days past the playing of last season’s ultimate game, and almost eight full months shy of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
But even in early May, it’s a reminder that perhaps a great team will form between now and next Feb. 3, making its mark and leaving a championship legacy all its own. After all, this is 2018, and the NFL is on an undeniable hot streak of sorts when it comes to historic teams winning it all in seasons ending in 8.
Will the league’s 2018 champion take its place among them? The following roll call is an impressive one and offers a lofty standard for the NFL’s next Lombardi winner to live up to.
Can the Eagles go back-to-back, becoming the first team to manage that since the 2003-04 Patriots? Can New England bounce back after last year’s Super Bowl upset loss to claim a third ring in a five-season span? Or could a new power rise and make history of its own, with playoff contenders Minnesota, Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tennessee seeking their first Super Bowl win in franchise existence, with past champions such Green Bay, New Orleans and Pittsburgh equally hopeful of adding to their hardware collection.
Any team would be fortunate to be mentioned in the same company as these six illustrious clubs, whose enduring place in the history of the game has been secured:
60 years ago, the 1958 Baltimore Colts
Coached by Weeb Ewbank and quarterbacked by the inimitable Johnny Unitas, the ’58 Colts won their championship in epic fashion, defeating the New York Giants 23-17 in the NFL’s first sudden-death overtime game in league postseason history. Played in venerable Yankee Stadium and immortalized as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,’’ it was the league’s first championship game to be nationally televised and came to be known as the day the NFL came of age.
The Colts’ win - secured on Alan Ameche’s nondescript one-yard touchdown plunge after 8:15 of overtime - gave us the first instance of a quarterback executing the 2:00 drill, when Unitas and Baltimore receiver Raymond Berry (12 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown) sliced and diced the Giants defense on a game-tying field goal drive late in regulation. But most importantly, the drama created that day in the Bronx captivated the TV audience on NBC, and sent the league on a trajectory of popularity no one could have ever predicted. From that day forward, the NFL would never again be seen as a second-rate entity, with pro football soon enough dominating the nation’s attention span.
* What you might not know about the 1958 Colts: The Colts and Giants both finished the regular season at 9-3 that year, finishing atop the NFL’s two conferences. But New York had needed to win a one-game Eastern Conference playoff the week before, besting visiting Cleveland (also 9-3) by a 10-0 score at a frigid Yankee Stadium. How much the rare week off helped Baltimore in the NFL championship game is a question without an answer.
50 years ago, the 1968 New York Jets
Coached by the same Weeb Ewbank who led the Colts to consecutive NFL titles in 1958-59, the AFL’s underdog Jets struck the first and defining blow in making the Super Bowl the monstrous event it is today, with world-wide reach and must-see billing. By doing the unthinkable, upsetting the 17-point favored NFL champion Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III in Miami’s Orange Bowl, the plucky and talented Jets became the darlings of professional football and proved the mettle and parity of the nine-year-old American Football League.
Elevated to mythic status in the win was New York’s brash and bold fourth-year quarterback, Joe Namath, who in the days leading up to the game confidently guaranteed the victory that stunned the football world. Pre-game predictions would never be the same, and Namath’s success forged a new era in which the celebrity superstar quarterback would dominate, infusing the game with star appeal and and a pop-culture entertainment value it had never before achieved.
* What you might not know about the 1968 Jets: Two teams in the 10-team AFL had better records than the Jets, who won the Eastern Division crown at 11-3. In the Western Division, both Oakland and Kansas City finished 12-2, with the Raiders drubbing the Chiefs in their one-game playoff. Despite being 13-2 entering the AFL title game, Oakland still had to travel to New York’s Shea Stadium, where the Jets prevailed 27-23.
40 years ago, the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
In the first season of the NFL’s new 16-game regular-season schedule, the Steelers earned their third title in a five-year span, becoming the first three-time Super Bowl champion in league history and snapping a tie with two-time winners Green Bay, Miami and Dallas. Pittsburgh finished 14-2 in the regular season, the franchise’s best record in any of its record six Super Bowl-winning campaigns. In the playoffs, the Steelers destroyed Denver and Houston, its two AFC opponents, by a combined score of 77-15, then added 35 more points in its Super Bowl win over Dallas, with the 35-31 shootout in Miami’s Orange Bowl considered the most entertaining game in the then-13-year history of the Super Bowl.
* What you might not know about the 1978 Steelers: Not only did Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw win the league’s MVP award that season, the Steelers had a whopping 10 players named to the Pro Bowl, with four first-team All-Pro selections. Pittsburgh’s only two losses came by a combined 10 points, dropping a seven-point home game to Houston in Week 8 and a three-point road game at the L.A. Rams in Week 11.
30 years ago, the 1988 San Francisco 49ers
While the 49ers’ other three Super Bowl-winning teams in the ‘80s went a dominating 13-3, 15-1 and 14-2, respectively in 1981, 1984 and 1989, San Francisco’s 1988 club cobbled together just a 10-6 mark, winning the NFC West by virtue of tiebreakers over both the Rams and Saints (both of whom were 10-6). San Francisco was just 6-5 entering Week 12, but then the 49ers got hot, winning four straight in the regular-season and steamrolling the out-manned Vikings and Bears by a combined 62-12 in the playoffs.
San Francisco’s so-so .625 winning percentage in the regular season was the lowest by any Super Bowl champion in the game’s history, at least until the 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers (both 10-6) tied it, and then the 2011 Giants (9-7, .563) bested it. But in the final game of his Hall of Fame 10-year tenure coaching San Francisco, Bill Walsh did his finest work, coaxing a 20-16 last-minute comeback win out of the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII against Cincinnati. That dramatic victory in Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium gave San Francisco’s its third Super Bowl ring in an eight-season span, and cemented Walsh and 49ers quarterback Joe Montana as two of the NFL’s greatest big-game artists.
* What you might not know about the 1988 49ers: **San Francisco went just 4-4 at home that season, its worst record and only non-winning mark at Candlestick Park in the 15-season span of 1984-98.
20 years ago, The 1998 Denver Broncos
In the final season of John Elway’s stellar 16-year NFL career, No. 7 went out on top, winning a second consecutive Super Bowl ring after starting his career 0-3 in the NFL’s biggest game. The Broncos went a franchise-best 14-2 in 1998 - still their high-water mark - and won the AFC West by a gaudy six games over Oakland and Seattle (both 8-8). They dispatched Miami and the Jets in the AFC playoffs, winning 38-3 over the Dolphins and 23-10 against the Jets, then hung up a 34-19 rout of the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium.
Denver was a machine on offense that season, scoring an AFC-best 501 points in the regular season and winning its first 13 games, the best getaway by any team since the famed perfect-season Dolphins of 1972. Running back Terrell Davis ran for 2,008 yards in 1998, becoming just the fourth back to crack that 2,000 plateau.
* What you might not know about the 1998 Broncos: Denver became the fifth franchise to win consecutive Super Bowls, joining Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The only disappointment that season was perhaps ours, for not getting to see a Super Bowl matchup of Minnesota and Denver, with the high-powered 15-1 Vikings falling upset to visiting Atlanta in overtime in the NFC title game, after breaking the NFL team-scoring mark with 556 points that season.
10 years ago, the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers
After their dynasty and dominance of the 1970s, the Steelers needed 26 long years to earn their “One for the Thumb,’’ a fifth Super Bowl ring. But after the 2005 club finally got that job done, Pittsburgh required just three more years to earn a sixth Super Bowl crown, which still stands alone among all NFL franchises (sorry, Patriots and 49ers fans). Defense was again the byword in Pittsburgh, with the Steelers building a 12-4 regular-season record on the strength of limiting foes to a league-low 223 points. Pittsburgh’s D also paced the NFL in yards allowed, first downs allowed, yards per play and held 14 consecutive opponents to 300 yards or less - tying a mark set by the 1973 Rams.
Not only did linebacker James Harrison become the first un-drafted player to ever claim the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year honor, he provided the most memorable play of a wildly entertaining and action-packed Super Bowl, intercepting a Kurt Warner pass and returning it 100 positively epic yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. The Steelers led 17-7 at that point, but the Arizona Cardinals scored three straight times in the fourth quarter to grab a 23-20 lead with under three minutes remaining. Pittsburgh proved itself with a gut-check 78-yard scoring drive, scoring with 35 seconds remaining to survive 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
* What you might not know about the 2008 Steelers: It was, of course, receiver Santonio Holmes whose balletic, toe-tapping 6-yard game-winning touchdown catch in the back right corner of the end zone secured the Super Bowl win over Arizona. Holmes was named Super Bowl MVP for his nine-catch, 131-yard, one-touchdown performance, and that figures. He was the sixth receiver to win the game’s MVP honor, with half of that contingent being Steelers (joining Lynn Swann and Hines Ward).