Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Football history

I noticed a subtitle on an article about the upcoming Super Bowl that had me shaking my head.  It said "Steelers have chance to increase NFL record for championships".  While it is no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowl championships (6) than any other team, I continue to be amazed at how little knowledge people have of the history of pro football, the championship games in particular.

Being from northeast Ohio and being a Browns fan, some people will try to dismiss this as "hating" on the Steelers.  While I will never be confused with a Steelers fan and enjoy watching them lose, I'm also not blind: the Steelers have been one of the most successful franchises, particularly recently, while the Browns have been abysmal for the past few decades.  No, this isn't "hating" on the Steelers as much as it is making sure people know the full history of pro football, or at least more than the "Super Bowl era".

The first important item to understand is that the National Football league has been around since 1920.  The Super Bowl, on the other hand, was only developed in 1967 and was originally known as the "AFL-NFL Championship Game" until the third game, which was renamed the "Super Bowl" numbered at Super Bowl III.  Originally it matched the champions of the two major professional football leagues--the National Football League and the American Football League--until 1970 when the two leagues merged into the present NFL that is split between the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC).  The NFL has been crowning champions since it was formed and since the merger, the Super Bowl champion is simply the NFL champion. The former AFL is basically the current AFC with the additions of the Browns, Colts, and Steelers from the pre-1970 NFL.  For whatever reason, it seems the media and many casual fans either ignore or place less value on NFL championships won before the Super Bowl.  Why I don't know.  On Wikipedia, the only NFL or AFL championships not counted as a "title" are the ones won while the two leagues basically functioned as the present-day conferences.  So, while the Minnesota Vikings won the NFL championship game in 1970, they lost the Super Bowl.  Their NFL championship that year is the same as winning the NFC championship today; same for the Baltimore Colts in 1969.

This comes up quite frequently here being a Browns fan dealing with Steeler fans.  Because the Browns have been abysmal since their return in 1999 and the Steelers have won 2 Super Bowls in the same time frame, we definitely have a good number of Steeler fans in this area.  Many are actual transplants from western Pennsylvania and the remainder are the "fair-weather" variety that are huge fans when the team is winning but claim no allegiance when the team is losing.  Every team has them, of course, but we see quite a few Steelers ones here.  Many Steelers fans (fair-weather or "legit") will exclaim the 6 titles to "Cleveland's zero".  While the Browns have never won (nor have they ever been to the Super Bowl), they actually don't have "zero" titles.  The Browns have 8 total professional football titles: 4 were won in the All-America Football Conference, a pro league that existed for 4 seasons that the Browns completely dominated, while the other 4 were won in the NFL between 1950 and 1964.  The AAFC disbanded after the 1949 season and three teams were absorbed into the NFL (Cleveland, the San Francisco 49ers, and a previous version of the Baltimore Colts).  The Browns are the only team to ever win an NFL title in their first year of league play (outside of the original teams back in 1920!), winning the NFL Championship in 1950.

The same is true for the Steelers' upcoming Super Bowl opponent, the Green Bay Packers.  Green Bay is known as "Title Town", but the Packers have won only 3 Super Bowls.  They have 12 total championships, however, winning the NFL title 9 times before the Super Bowl (the Packers won the first two Super Bowls).

So yes, the Steelers own the record for most Super Bowl championships.  They do not, however, own the record for the most league championships, which is what the Super Bowl is: a league championship.   As far as League Championships go, Green Bay is first with 12 total (9 pre-Super Bowl titles and 3 Super Bowls), Chicago is 2nd with 9 (8 pre-Super Bowl NFL titltes and 1 Super Bowl), then the Browns with 8 (4 AAFC titles and 4 pre-Super Bowl NFL titles), followed by the New York Giants with 7 (4 pre-Super Bowl NFL titles and 3 Super Bowls) and then the Steelers with 6 (6 Super Bowls).  There is some debate about the Browns and their AAFC records since the AAFC was not merged with the NFL in the way the AFL was.  For instance, many are familiar with the 1972 Miami Dolphins winning the Super Bowl and being undefeated.  The Browns were actually the first pro football team to go through a season undefeated and win their league championship game, which happened in 1948.  That is not counted by NFL records, however, just as a tidbit of history.  Regardless, the AAFC was definitely a professional football league.  Was it at the same level as the NFL at the time?  Probably not, but the Browns showed when they entered the NFL in 1950 that their dominance of the AAFC wasn't just the result of playing in an interior league.  And as a technicality, Cleveland itself (not just the Browns) actually has 9 pro football championships since the Cleveland Rams (now the St. Louis Rams) won the NFL title in 1945 (they moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and then to St. Louis in 1995).

Another quick tidbit that Steeler fans seem to ignore (I'm of the belief they're just ignorant of it) is that prior to 1972, the Steelers were the doormat of the NFL.  Founded in 1933, the Steelers didn't make the playoffs until 1947 and didn't win their first playoff game until 1972 (which was their 2nd all-time playoff appearance).  The early years of the Browns-Steelers rivalry was incredibly one-sided (much like it is now the other way) as the Steelers were still decades away from prominence.  Of course from their 2nd playoff appearance in 1972, they went on to win 4 Super Bowls in 6 years and become the consistent successful franchise we know today.   

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