TAMPA — They embark on the season with an intact roster, a Canton-bound quarterback, solid depth and a winnable division. For the reigning Super Bowl champions, the conditions for a potentially historic voyage seem ideal.
But the odds are not.
The Bucs are attempting to pull off back-to-back world titles, something achieved by only eight teams in the Super Bowl’s 55 editions. No team has done it in nearly two full decades, for good reason. Not only must the stars perform, but the planets must align.
“So much of it is luck,” third-year coach Bruce Arians said. “You’ve got to stay healthy. If you start losing guys — starters — your chances go down. So you’ve got to have some luck.”
That said, a solid precedent exists. Here’s a look at the previous eight repeat Super Bowl champs (the Steelers have done it twice), with a breakdown of the whos and hows of their successful sequels. Some of those keys correlate to the 2021 Bucs.
Packers, 1966-67 seasons
1966 record: 12-2 regular season, 2-0 playoffs (def. Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl 1)
1967 record: 9-4-1 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl 2)
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Key nucleus: CB Herb Adderley, DE Willie Davis, RT Forrest Gregg, DT Henry Jordan, G Jerry Kramer, MLB Ray Nitschke, LB Dave Robinson, QB Bart Starr, S Willie Wood
How they did it: This was the twilight of the Lombardi-era Packers dynasty. Of the 11 Hall of Famers on the first Super Bowl squad, nine remained for the second. Starr had arguably his best season in 1966 (when he was named NFL MVP) and was MVP of both Super Bowls, while the defense held nearly one-third of its regular season foes (nine of 28) to fewer than 10 points in those two years.
Dolphins, 1972-73 seasons
1972 record: 14-0 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Washington 14-7 in Super Bowl 7)
1973 record: 12-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl 8)
Coach: Don Shula
Key nucleus: S Dick Anderson, LB Nick Buoniconti, FB Larry Csonka, DL Manny Fernandez, QB Bob Griese, RB Jim Kiick, OL Jim Langer, OG Larry Little, QB Earl Morrall, RB Mercury Morris, S Jake Scott, DE Bill Stanfill, WR Paul Warfield
How they did it: Had the 1972 Dolphins — still the only team to finish a season undefeated — existed two decades later, a number of the stars might have bolted for bigger paydays following that historic season. But they couldn’t. Free agency wouldn’t arrive for two more decades. So they remained together and won another title. These teams flourished via the run (the 1972 team had two 1,000-yard rushers), a stout “No-Name” defense (the 1973 unit held eight teams to nine or fewer points) and quarterback depth. When Griese broke an ankle early in the 1972 season, Morrall managed the ground-based offense astutely until Griese returned during the playoffs.
Steelers, 1974-75, 1978-79 seasons
1974 record: 10-3-1 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl 9)
1975 record: 12-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl 10)
1978 record: 14-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Cowboys 35-31 in Super Bowl 13)
1979 record: 12-4 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Rams 31-19 in Super Bowl 14)
Coach: Chuck Noll
Key nucleus: CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, DT “Mean” Joe Greene, LB Jack Ham, RB Franco Harris, LB Jack Lambert, S Donnie Shell, WR John Stallworth, WR Lynn Swann, C Mike Webster
How they did it: The patience that late Steelers owner Art Rooney afforded Noll, who methodically crafted his roster via the draft, doesn’t exist nowadays. Noll’s 1974 draft alone yielded four Hall of Famers (Lambert, Stallworth, Swann, Webster). While these teams featured a constellation of offensive stars, they were anchored by the iconic “Steel Curtain” defense. The 1976 team began 1-4 but won its last nine, with the defense posting five shutouts and allowing 3.1 points a game in that stretch (it lost the AFC title game to the Oakland Raiders). Not to be outdone, the 1978 unit allowed 12.2 points a game, fourth fewest in NFL history.
49ers, 1988-89 seasons
1988 record: 10-6 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl 23)
1989 record: 14-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl 24)
Coach: Bill Walsh (1988), George Seifert (1989)
Key nucleus: OT Harris Barton, RB Roger Craig, LB/DE Charles Haley, CB/S Ronnie Lott, OG Guy McIntyre, QB Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice, WR John Taylor, QB Steve Young
How they did it: Arguably no coaching transition has gone more smoothly than the one in San Francisco, where Seifert — Walsh’s defensive coordinator — kept this West Coast steamroller churning following his boss’ retirement. The cornerstone was Montana, who posted one of the best seasons by a quarterback in league history in 1989 (then-NFL record 112.4 passer rating).
Cowboys, 1992-93 seasons
1992 record: 13-3 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl 27)
1993 record: 12-4 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl 28)
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Key nucleus: QB Troy Aikman, S Thomas Everett, WR Michael Irvin, FB Daryl Johnston, DT Russell Maryland, OL Nate Newton, LB Ken Norton Jr., TE Jay Novacek, RB Emmitt Smith, C Mark Stepnoski, RT Erik Williams
How they did it: Brilliant drafting and horse trading. Johnson’s legendary trade of Herschel Walker to the Vikings in fall 1989 resulted in a boatload of draft picks that led to the acquisition of, among others, Smith and Maryland. Months earlier, Johnson and owner Jerry Jones selected Aikman with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The Cowboys won only one game in 1989, Johnson’s first season, but the foundation had been set for a dynasty.
Broncos, 1997-98 seasons
1997 record: 12-4 regular season, 4-0 playoffs (def. Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl 32)
1998 record: 14-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl 33)
Coach: Mike Shanahan
Key nucleus: DB Steve Atwater, RB Terrell Davis, PK Jason Elam, QB John Elway, OT Tony Jones, WR Ed McCaffrey, C Tom Nalen, LB Bill Romanowski, OG Mark Schlereth, TE Shannon Sharpe
How they did it: After three unsightly Super Bowl defeats, Elway went out in arguably the NFL’s greatest blaze of glory, with considerable help. Davis complemented his quarterback with 3,758 rushing yards over the two title seasons, including a 2,000-yard campaign in 1998. Defensively, the 1998 team held eight regular-season opponents to 16 or fewer points, and surrendered 25 total points in three playoff contests.
Patriots, 2003-04 seasons
2003 record: 14-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl 38)
2004 record: 14-2 regular season, 3-0 playoffs (def. Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl 39)
Coach: Bill Belichick
Key nucleus: QB Tom Brady, WR Deion Branch, WR Troy Brown, LB Tedy Bruschi, S Rodney Harrison, LB Larry Izzo, DT Richard Seymour, PK Adam Vinatieri
How they did it: While an assortment of shrewd roster moves — such as signing Harrison in free agency in 2003, acquiring tailback Corey Dillon in a trade in 2004 and drafting nose tackle Vince Wilford in 2004 — helped this dynasty bloom, the key cog was Brady. Though these two seasons were far from his statistical best, he nonetheless passed for 3,600 yards both years and guided New England to 21 consecutive wins (including playoffs) during this stretch.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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