Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Are Panthers the best ever with a Super Bowl win?

Let's say the Carolina Panthers win Sunday's Super Bowl 50.

Let's say quarterback Cam Newton throws over and runs through the Broncos defense.

Let's say Carolina's defense kicks Denver quarterback Peyton Manning into retirement.

Let's say the Panthers dominate the Broncos on offense, defense and special teams, and turn the biggest sporting event of the year into the biggest snoozer with a blowout victory.

If Carolina crushes Denver, wouldn't we then have to consider whether the Panthers are the greatest NFL team of all time?

No one is going to say that. Just isn't going to happen.

Oh, the parts about Cam going crazy and Peyton being shut down and the Panthers rolling to a dominating victory certainly seem realistic, if not predictable.

But putting the Panthers alongside some of the NFL's best-ever teams? They just aren't getting that kind of respect.

And it's hard to understand why.

They have what might be the best offensive player in the game with Newton. They have what might be the best defensive player in the game with linebacker Luke Kuechly. They have what could be the coach of the year in Ron Rivera. And if they win Sunday, they will finish with a 18-1 record. That alone — 18-1 — suggests they should be put up there with all the NFL's greatest teams.

That's rare stuff. Know who else went 18-1?

The '85 Bears, always included in greatest-ever talk. The '84 49ers with Joe Montana always make the list.

The '72 Dolphins were a perfect 17-0, and that puts them in the conversation.

By going 18-1, the Panthers would finish with a better record that any of the great Steelers Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s and any of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots championship teams. (The 2007 Pats went 18-1 but did not win the Super Bowl.)

An 18-1 record would be better than that of other teams always thrown into the best-ever mix, such as the 1991 Redskins and the 1999 "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams and some of Vince Lombardi's Packers teams of the 1960s.

So why isn't anyone picking up a chisel and hammer to start carving the Panthers onto football's Mount Rushmore?

For starters, we tend to look at older teams more fondly than current ones.

In our memories, Montana never threw an interception, the Steel Curtain never allowed a touchdown, and the '85 Bears won every game 100-0. Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and Lombardi never made a bad decision. Jerry Rice never dropped a ball, and Kurt Warner threw like a thousand touchdown passes that one season.

We see the warts on the Panthers because we watch every play. The videotape in our minds of all the great teams of the past has the fumbles, interceptions and losses edited out. We've erased all the mistakes.

Plus, we have the benefit of looking back at the entire careers of the retired superstars from those classic teams. When we think of Montana, we don't take a snapshot of the 28-year-old quarterback who won the Super Bowl in January of 1985. We think of the Hall of Famer who won four Super Bowls.

Same with legendary figures such as Bears running back Walter Payton and Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and even Brady.

Players such as Newton and Kuechly, both in their mid 20s, are still too young to give us any type of real perspective. Until they prove they can keep up the standard they've set for the next decade, we aren't ready to put them in the same class as Hall of Famers, though the old-timers weren't Hall of Famers when they won their Super Bowls.

The Steelers of the 1970s had nine Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach. The Panthers have, well, none because they are all still playing. It's like comparing apples to oranges, or in this case, like mythical icons to real people.

There's more.

Some argue that the Panthers played a soft schedule. That's partly true. They came out of the so-so NFC South. Still, the Panthers beat the defending NFC champion Seahawks twice. And they beat the Packers. And the Cardinals. They beat Drew Brees twice. And possible rookie of the year Jameis Winston twice. They went 6-0 against quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls. The schedule wasn't that bad.

Besides, you know who else played a ridiculously soft schedule? The '72 Dolphins. Yet no one ever brings that up.

That great Bears team in 1985? No other team in its division finished over .500. Same thing with the '99 Rams. Yet none of those teams ever gets knocked for having a soft schedule.

Could it be that we're not ready to give the Panthers the benefit of the doubt because this could be their one and only championship? The Bears have only one. The Rams didn't repeat; they haven't won another.

Of course, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Panthers haven't won yet, and even if they do win, maybe we should let them enjoy this one instead of worrying about where it ranks all time.

Still, 18-1.

That's a heck of a team. Among the best ever.

Let's say that.

     
 
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