This Might Surprise You: What Was the World Like Last Time Your Team Won a Title? Part 2

This is part 2 in a series.

Knowing how much I love history, my wife bought me a birthday card listing facts about the year I was born. I started wondering what was happening the last time certain teams won a championship. Let’s find out, and I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had researching.

We started with the NFC East and NFC North Divisions. We cover the rest of the NFC here. Not too many championship rings in this bunch, San Francisco 49ers not withstanding.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FLACONS – The Falcons franchise debuted in 1966, with first-overall draft pick Tommy Nobis from Texas leading the charge. The Falcons continue searching for their first championship nearly 50 years later. The team showed promise during the Steve Bartkowski and Alfred Jenkins years, but the Cowboys, Rams, and Vikings always proved better. Atlanta’s lone Super Bowl appearance was against the Broncos in Super Bowl 33 on January 31, 1999. The Falcons found an auspicious start as a Morten Andersen field goal hoisted them to an early 3-0 lead. By the fourth quarter, however, it was 31-6 in favor of the Broncos, ending as a 31-19 rout. Since the gun sounded ending the game, we’ve entered a new millennium. What was it like to party in 1999? Smart partiers invested in gold, a mere $279 an ounce. Gas cost $1.30 a gallon, and movie tickets averaged around $5. You might have spent that $5 seeing The Phantom Menace, Toy Story 2, or American Beauty.  

CAROLINA PANTHERS – The Panthers entered the NFL in 1995. Showing promise, coach Dom Capers had them in the NFC Championship the next year. John Fox coached the franchise to Super Bowl 38 a few years later, where they faced the Patriots on February 1, 2004. The teams combined for 37 points in the 4th quarter, including 17 in the final three minutes. Jake Delhomme hit Ricky Proehl for a 12-yard go-ahead touchdown with scarcely over a minute left, but Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal crowned the Patriots champions. Unfortunately, people seem to remember Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” more than one of the most exciting quarters in Super Bowl history. Not only did Panther fans experience a sad ending to the game, TV fans bid tearful goodbyes to the sitcom “Friends” that off-season. We also said goodbye to President Ronald Reagan, who passed away in June, 2004.

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The Friends cast facing their own wardrobe issues.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – The Saints, synonymous with losing for decades on end, beat the Indianapolis Colts for their only championship in Super Bowl 44. Drew Brees and company lifted the Lombardi Trophy on February 7, 2010. A lot of America celebrated with them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The first iPads were 10 days old at the time. There’s been an entire tablet revolution since the Saints won. Perhaps the first YouTube video Saints fans watched on their iPad was this:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – Like Saints fans, Buccaneers fans suffered tremendously. Tampa, however, had a few bright years in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Coach John McKay, quarterback Doug Williams, and defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. They hungered for a title, however, until Super Bowl 37 in January of 2003. The Buccaneer defense showcased 3 pick-sixes (2 by Dwight Smith, 1 by Derrick Brooks) in the 48-21 trouncing of the Raiders. 2003 might marked the first official year of the Homeland Security Department, the Do Not Call List, and of U.S. Marshalls flying undercover on flights. Gas prices rose significantly, nearing the $2/gallon mark. In much cooler news, Harley Davidson celebrated its 100th Anniversary, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became California’s governor. The Buccaneers, however, haven’t been back.

 NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS – The Cardinals won their last championship in 1947 — as the Chicago Cardinals. “You had to have been there” is an appropriate phrase for Cards fans because the game wasn’t on television. Only 44,000 Americans owned television sets when the Cards triumphed. Saints fans have merely waited through the iPad Revolution – Cards fans endured the entire Television Revolution as well. Not to mention the Inflation Revolution. Gas in 1947 cost 15 cents per gallon. A new car cost $1,500. The average house cost about $13,000. Still, it was likely tough to make ends meet on the 40 cents per hour minimum wage.

Charley Trippi recalls winning the 1947 NFL Championship just before Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals took on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 43. Unfortunately for Cards fans, the Super Bowl loss extended the title drought indefinitely.

ST. LOUIS RAMS – Speaking of Kurt Warner, he and his teammates sport the only St. Louis Rams championship rings. “The Greatest Show on Turf” featured Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Marshall Faulk. They defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl 34 on January 30, 2000, right after the Y2K panic instantly subsided. At least they won this millennium. What was the world like when the Rams won? Well, Clinton was still president. Gas averaged around $1.25 a gallon. A stamp cost 33 cents. And 51 million people gathered around the television to watch the first season-ending finale of “Survivor.” Maybe you remember the Los Angeles Rams? Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy Hirsch, and Tom Fears led them to their only league championship in 1951. At least their fans could watch on national television a scant 4 years after the Cardinals championship.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – When I think of the 49ers, I think of Super Bowl dominance featuring Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, John Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and so many other stars. Only Rice and Taylor remained out of those players when San Francisco won their last championship. The 49ers topped the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl 29 in January of 1995. Nearly 20 years ago. A lot happens in 20 years. There’s this whole Internet and email thing that’s taken off. . If you wanted to watch Steve Young, Ricky Watters and the rest of the 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday , you called your friends on a touch-tone phone. No email, no text, no cell phone calls 20 minutes before kickoff….and yet we all still threw killer Super Bowl parties.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – Well, we currently live in a world where the Seattle Seahawks stand atop of NFL’s landscape. The Seahawks face tough sledding to repeat, their early season dominance but a dwindling memory through their mid-season tumble.

SUMMARY

As we learned in an earlier blog post, history gives Seattle an advantage over many teams who don’t possess a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Russell Wilson joins Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger on the roster of previous Super Bowl winners on teams with winning records. Don’t be too surprised if one of those QBs topples teams with better records in this year’s playoffs.

This Might Surprise You: Steve Largent

Several players held the NFL’s all-time reception after 1970. Don Maynard, Charley Taylor, Charlie Joiner and Art Monk are among the names who claimed the title before Jerry Rice. Steve Largent is another receiver who held that distinction.

OLD SCHOOL THINKING

Largent played his entire career with the Seattle Seahawks. He told Seahawks.com he appreciated his accomplishments on the gridiron, “But the thing I’m most proud of from my career in Seattle was that I played my entire career in Seattle….It gave me a special connection with the city and the people and the team that you just don’t find very often with professional athletes today.”

IT ALMOST NEVER HAPPENED

Largent made his way to the Seahawks by happenstance. The Houston Oilers drafted Largent in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. He didn’t impress the Oilers, and found himself on a bus headed home to Oklahoma after four preseason games. He thought his football career was over.

Jerry Rhome, a Seahawk assistant coach, had coached Largent in college at Tulsa. Rhome convinced the team to give Largent a second chance. The expansion Seahawks traded an eighth-round pick in the 1977 draft for Largent’s rights. Largent made the Seahawks front office look like geniuses.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Don’t be too quick to praise the brilliance of Seattle’s front office. They followed up the Largent heist by trading their 1977 first-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys drafted Tony Dorsett with the second-overall selection. The Seahawks scored multiple draft picks in the deal, but drafted no one of NFL significance. The thought of Tony Dorsett and Steve Largent on the same offense is enticing. Might they have challenged for the AFC title with the Hall of Fame duo on offense?

A second double threat would have paired Earl Campbell with Largent, if the Oilers had held on to Steve. The Oilers had several playoff opportunities, and faced the Steelers in two straight AFC Championships. Perhaps Largent would have put the Oilers over the top, especially in the much closer second matchup.

Whether Largent would have pushed the Oilers further in those years or not, he certainly would have finished his Oiler career with Warren Moon. Although the Oilers didn’t become top contenders until after Largent’s retirement, Moon-to-Largent would have shaken a few AFC secondaries.

SUMMARY

Had the NFL expanded by adding the Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977 rather than 1976, the world outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma might never have heard of Steve Largent.

Largent retired the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns. Interestingly, he never once led the NFL in receptions or touchdowns in a single season. In fact, he never placed higher than third in receptions, a feat he accomplished only once. His next highest finish was sixth. Still, both fans and opponents highly respected Largent’s talents, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame made an inarguable decision to enshrine him. The Houston Oilers, however, weren’t nearly as wise.

Here are some amazing Steve Largent highlights via YouTube:

The Story of the NFL Draft and Recent Super Bowls

Last week we looked at the starting lineups of last year’s Super Bowl teams, wondering how much the draft led to the Seahawks’ and Broncos’ success. We found that while the draft was important, it appears to be equally important to find talent from other sources, likely because the draft is only seven rounds.

Now we take a look at Super Bowl teams (including the Seahawks and Broncos) from the past 5 Super Bowls, plus the first Giants/Patriots game after the 2008 season. Turns out last year’s teams were below the average number of starters to be drafted for the period, although the Seahawks were only slightly under (54.2%). Of the Broncos 22 starters only 10 were originally drafted by the franchise, a figure equaled by the 2011 Giants as the lowest in our survey. The 2010 Packers led all teams with 17 of their draftees in their Super Bowl lineup. Only the Seahawks and Packers won the Super Bowl with more of their draftees in their starting lineup than their opponent.

HOW TEAMS WERE BUILT

About 60% of Super Bowl starters from these 6 Super Bowls were starting for the team that originally drafted them (a total of 157 over 7 years). Although this era is commonly called the “Free Agency Era,” the number of veteran free agents bested the number of undrafted players only by a slim total of 7 players in those 6 games. The 2013 Broncos started 9 free agents, the highest total. No other team started more than 6. The 2011 Patriots started the most undrafted players (8), followed closely by the 2009 Colts with 7. The Colts were the only team we surveyed that didn’t start a veteran free agent on Super Bowl Sunday.  Here is a composite of how these 12 Super Bowl teams were built. Note that some players included in the “Veteran FA Signings” category are also in the “Total Undrafted Starters” category.

FIRST TWO ROUNDS AND THE REST OF THE NFL DRAFT

The first and second rounds dominated the makeup of Super Bowl starters playing for their original team. Those two rounds outscore all other rounds combined, 92-65. The 2008 Patriots and 2012 49ers tied for the most number of their first-round picks starting, with 7. The 2008 Giants had the lowest number, as only 2007 first-round pick Aaron Ross started for them in the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, however, started four of their first-round draft choices, as Kenny Phillips (2008), Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), and Hakeem Nicks (2009) joined Ross. All teams started at least one of their first- and second- round choices, but three teams (the 2011 Patriots, the 2009 Saints and the 2008 Giants) lacked a third. The fourth round surprising outscored the third overall, 16-15.

SUMMARY

I found these totals to be fairly consistent with last week’s percentages. The draft remains vital to championship-level NFL teams, but not as much as the hype surrounding the 2014 NFL Draft might lead one to believe. A strong dose of veteran free agents and undrafted players, possibly mixed with a trade and/or waiver pickup, work together as the recipe for success in today’s National Football League.

How Much Will the NFL Draft Help Your Team?

Like children going to bed at night on Christmas Eve are NFL fans in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft. Wishes of draftees dance in their heads. Mock drafts are read with excitement or worry depending on the prediction. Calendars get marked with plans days before the big event at Radio City Music Hall.

And like Christmas, some fans go to bed afterward elated about receiving the main object of their desire while others lay down disappointed, unable to have telepathically communicated to their team’s general manager whom they should have drafted to ensure divisional championships for years to come.

How important is draft day? Surely it’s quite important, but is it truly the watershed moment it’s built up to be? I started to ponder this question through fantasy football. I found that in seasons I reached the championship, several of my starters weren’t drafted. This year was no exception as Zac Stacy and Julian Edleman were two of my highest scorers late in the season. While there are historic NFL draft success stories – John Elway, Peyton Manning, the 1974 Steelers draft – I wondered how often the draft was the reason behind championship teams’ success. I decided to take a look at last year’s Super Bowl teams and how they were constructed.

The Seahawks

The Seahawks drafted many of their biggest stars of 2013, including Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman. Only Thomas was drafted in the first round, however, and he was the team’s second first round pick in 2010 after Russell Okung. Toss in draftees Kam Chancellor, Golden Tate and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, and first impressions point toward Seattle being built from the draft. Closer inspection shows that their Super Bowl starting lineup contained only 13 players (59%) drafted by the Seahawks, 6 on offense and 7 on defense. Four players (18%) of Seattle’s starting 22 weren’t drafted at all, including defensive line anchors Michael Bennett and Chris Clemons. In total, only 25 players of the 63 listed on the Seahawk roster found on http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sea/2013_roster.htm were drafted by the Seahawks, while 24 were undrafted free agents (38%), men overlooked on draft day by all 32 teams. Of the 46 players Seattle drafted from 2009-2013, only 25 were on the Super Bowl roster (47%). Of those 25, 15 were from the 2013 or 2012 drafts.

*NOTE: “Total Undrafted Starters” includes 2 players who were also “Veteran Free Agent Signings.”

 

The Broncos

The Broncos grabbed their biggest star, quarterback Peyton Manning, in free agency. Manning’s agent wasn’t alone in doing business with the Broncos. Nine of Denver’s Super Bowl starters were acquired as veteran free agent signings (41%). Only 10 of their 22 starters were drafted by the franchise. Of the 58 players listed on their roster at http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/den/2013_roster.htm , only 23 (about 40%) were players originally drafted by the Broncos. Nearly as many players (20) were originally drafted by another team and acquired via free agency, waivers or by trade. Contrasting with the Seahawks, that same roster included only 15 players who were undrafted, although three of them started on Super Bowl Sunday. The Broncos did draft some of their key players, including Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas. Von Miller, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2011, has been a tremendous force when active, but has missed significant time with both a league suspension and knee injury.

*NOTE: “Total Undrafted Starters” includes 2 players who were also “Veteran Free Agent Signings.”

Summary

While both teams picked up impactful players in the draft, it was necessary to supplement much of the starting lineup from other sources. The Seahawks trading for Marshawn Lynch and Denver’s free agent pickups of Manning and Wes Welker were essential moves on the road to the Super Bowl.

The seven-round draft stands as a crucial element to this fact. When the Steelers drafted their 1974 class which included Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster, the draft lasted seventeen rounds. When the Packers drafted players who would later dominate through the Lombardi-era dynasty in the mid-1950s, there were 30 rounds.

Today’s NFL requires a combination of drafting, smart free-agent signings, and finding overlooked undrafted players. The draft remains an important component to winning in the NFL, but the seven-round system limits its influence.