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The Parameters of a Sports Dynasty

New+England+Patriots%27+Tom+Brady+raises+the+Vince+Lombardi+Trophy+after+defeating+the+Atlanta+Falcons+in+overtime+at+the+NFL+Super+Bowl+51+football+game+Sunday%2C+Feb.+5%2C+2017%2C+in+Houston.+The+Patriots+defeated+the+Falcons+34-28.+
New England Patriots' Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28.

New England Patriots' Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28.

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

New England Patriots' Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28.

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It was a play that will live forever in the history books. Three minutes and fifty-eight seconds into the first overtime period in Super Bowl history, New England Patriots running back James White took an outside handoff and plunged across the goal line, capping off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history while simultaneously driving a spike through the heart of the Atlanta Falcons franchise.

As the confetti rained down in Houston, the sight of an epic Super Bowl LI, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walked to midfield stoically. After shaking hands with his opponent, the fifth he had vanquished in the Super Bowl during his career, he stared off into the distance, seemingly detached from all else going on around him. Perhaps it was the magnitude of the moment. Or perhaps, he was the first to truly understand what that victory meant – his New England Patriots are, undoubtedly, the greatest sports dynasty of this era.

While the rest of the nation beats on the topic of the Falcons’ epic collapse and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s questionable late-game play-calling, let’s take a step back and appreciate what the Patriots have done during the 21st century.

After an underwhelming debut season with coach Bill Belichick at the helm in 2000, the Patriots were an afterthought entering the 2001 season, expected to finish last in their division. That year, a little-known 6th-round draft pick by the name of Tom Brady stepped in for injured starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe and coolly led the team to their first Super Bowl championship, while dethroning heavily favored powerhouses in the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams along the way.

The Patriots have yet to have a losing season since. They won the Super Bowl in back-to-back years in 2003 and 2004, the first back-to-back winners since the ’98-’99 Denver Broncos. In 2007, Tom Brady set a record for that time by throwing 50 touchdowns in the regular season, leading the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 regular season. Since Brady’s first NFL start, the Patriots have reached seven Super Bowls (winning five of them), reached eleven conference championship games, and have been to the postseason every year (except for the 2007 season in which Brady did not play due to injury).

Unfortunately, the term “dynasty” gets thrown around in sports far too loosely. But if we are constructing a blueprint on what a sports dynasty is supposed to look like, it would look a lot like the 21st century New England Patriots – a franchise that, over an extended period of time, has redefined the nature of its sport through a sustained level of elite success.

By that measure, sports dynasties only come around once in a fleeting moment. In football, that list is arguably contained to the “Steel Curtain” Steelers of the ‘70s, the Bill Walsh 49ers of the ‘80s, and the “America’s Team” Cowboys of the ‘90s. Brady’s Patriots certainly have those franchises beat in terms of longevity, as they have dominated for the last sixteen years and appear poised to continue to do so.

Dynasties in other sports, while possessing minor nuanced differences, follow essentially the same pattern. In basketball, the list is comprised of the Bill Russell Celtics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Showtime Lakers of the ‘80s, Jordan’s Bulls of the ‘90s, Kobe’s Lakers of the 2000s, and the modern-day Spurs. The Golden State Warriors may have the makings of a dynasty, but they would need longevity to make a case. In baseball, the list shrinks to the Yankees of old, the Red Sox and Phillies teams of the 2000, and the modern San Francisco Giants.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike the New England Patriots, but, as a fan of sports, one of those reasons should not be because they win too much. After all, if the recent dynastic trends hold true, we may not witness a franchise redefine the sport to this extent for another decade or so.

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The Parameters of a Sports Dynasty