'The Last Dance': Five NFL dynasties that are deserving of their own documentary
The Bulls' documentary could lead the way for one of these iconic teams
The recently-completed "The Last Dance" documentary chronicling Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' sixth and final NBA championship captivated a sports-starving audience during an odd time in our world's history. ESPN's 10-part series drew in record numbers of viewers that re-lived the astonishing feats of Jordan, coach Phil Jackson, teammates Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman and the rest of the Bulls, whose achievements remain unmatched by the NBA dynasties that have followed in their footsteps.
The success of "The Last Dance" may inspire a documentary on one of the NFL's greatest dynasties. While there have been several documentaries made on past Super Bowl champions, there has yet to be a documentary on an NFL dynasty that is as thorough as the one that was recently completed about Jordan's Bulls. If a 10-part series documenting the exploits of a past NFL dynasty is ultimately made, there are several dynasties worthy of consideration.
Here's a look at five NFL dynasties that deserve their own 10-part series. When making this list, we considered each dynasty's impact on the NFL, the individuals that made up those teams, and the entertainment level of the storylines/narratives that helped tell the story of those dynasties.
1. The 1990s Dallas Cowboys
The '90s Cowboys have everything you'd want in a full-length documentary. They had tremendous star power, led by quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin. They have a remarkable "rags to riches" story that starts with a hungover Jerry Jones making the decision to buy the franchise in 1989. Jones, a central character in any documentary involving the '90s Cowboys, made several highly controversial coaching decisions during that time period: the firing of NFL icon Tom Landry and replacing him with Jimmy Johnson, then deciding to part with Johnson following the team's second consecutive Super Bowl win five years later.
Along the way, the '90s Cowboys elevated the franchise's status as "America's Team," becoming the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. To win those championships, Johnson pulled off one of the most dramatic trades in league history, sending All-Pro running back Herschel Walker to the Vikings in exchange for several players and a bounty of future draft picks. Johnson would parlay those picks into several players that would help Dallas go from 1-15 in 1989 to Super Bowl champions three years later.
The Cowboys had a slew of heated battles during that time that included their playoff matchups with the 49ers, the team they faced in the NFC Championship each season from 1992-94. Johnson's infamous guarantee before the '93 NFC title game (the Cowboys won that game, 38-21) would likely get considerable airtime during the documentary.
Controversy was a constant around this dynasty. Barry Switzer, the successful college coach who replaced Johnson as Dallas' coach in 1994, was constantly under the microscope. Things hit a frenzied pitch in Dallas after the release of Skip Bayless' 1996 book that detailed some of the dysfunction that existed within the locker room during Switzer's tenure with the Cowboys. Specifically, the book exposed Aikman's deep-rooted issues with Switzer's laid back coaching style and the outrageous partying that was taking place when the Cowboys weren't on the practice field.
At the center of this chaos was Jones, who added to the circus nature surrounding his team when he signed former 49ers cornerback Deion Sanders to a lucrative contract in 1995. While most of his moves paid off in the short term (including the signing of Sanders, who helped Dallas in the Super Bowl shortly after he signed with the team), Jones ultimately played a role in the fall of "America's Team", as Dallas has yet to make it back to an NFC title game since winning their last Super Bowl in January of 1996.
And while the fall has been dramatic, no one can argue that the heights of Jones' success in Dallas were considerably high. It would make for a thrilling documentary, one that could possibly rival the one recently made on Jordan's Bulls.
2. The modern-day New England Patriots
It's hard to imagine a documentary on the most polarizing and successful NFL team of the 21st century not turning in record numbers. While Patriots fans would surely tune into re-live their six Super Bowl victories, fans of opposing teams would also likely watch to see how the documentary covers "Spygate" and "Deflategate," two controversies that have left a black eye on the Patriots' championship run. The documentary would likely the infamous "Tuck Rule" game that helped jumpstart New England's dynasty.
A documentary covering the modern-day Patriots could also focus on Tom Brady's rise from backup quarterback to NFL "GOAT" and Bill Belichick's similar rise from fired Browns coach to arguably the greatest coach in league history. The documentary would likely devote time on the complicated relationship that existed between Brady, Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and how those relationships impacted Belichick's decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco and Brady's decision to leave the team this offseason.
New England's documentary would include some legendary moments. It would cover the perfect 2007 regular season (that would include some jaw-dropping footage of Brady's numerous touchdown passes that season to Randy Moss), the gut-wrenching losses to Eli Manning's Giants, Brady's epic battles with Peyton Manning, Adam Vinatieri's clutch Super Bowl kicks, Malcolm Butler's Super Bowl-saving pick, the history-making comeback against the Falcons, Belichick's decision to bench Butler against the Eagles, the thrilling win over Patrick Mahomes in the '18 AFC title game, and how Brady's time in New England came to an unceremonious end. It would also likely spend time detailing the crazy happenings of Rob Gronkowski, one of the most colorful personalities in the NFL.
3. The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers
The '70s Steelers were loaded with star power, as 10 players from that era are currently enshrined in Canton, Ohio. The Steelers also have one of the biggest fan bases in professional sports, so it's easy to envision that a documentary on their most legendary team would bring in large numbers.
The Steelers of that era were dominant, becoming the only team in history to win four Super Bowls in a six-year span. Pittsburgh's defense, a legendary unit that was led by two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Joe Greene, was nicknamed the "Steel Curtain" after unleashing an overpowering pass rush that opposing offenses were seldom able to contain. To win their championships, the '70s Steelers had to overcome some of the greatest teams in history -- a list of teams and coaches that includes Tom Landry's Cowboys and John Madden's Raiders. Pittsburgh's two Super Bowls against Dallas and their five playoff battles against the Raiders (that includes Franco Harris' infamous Immaculate Reception in the '72 playoffs) would make for a compelling documentary.
The '70s Steelers also possessed a cast of characters, none bigger than quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw's complicated relationship with Pittsburgh and head coach Chuck Noll would add to the context of the documentary, along with helping explaining how Noll (and former team president Dan Rooney) were able to turn the Steelers from a perennial loser into NFL royalty.
4. The late '70s, early '80s Raiders
You can't have a list of should-be NFL documentaries and not include the Raiders of the late '70s and early '80s. During this time, the Raiders employed some of the most colorful personalities in NFL history, a group of players that includes quarterback Kenny "The Snake" Stabler, Ted Hendricks, Willie Brown, Jake "The Assassin" Tatum, Dave "The Ghost" Casper, George Atkinson, Skip "Dr. Death" Thomas, Gene Upshaw, Howie Long, Lyle Alzado, Matt Millen, John Matuszak, Todd Christensen, and Lester Hayes. The Raiders of that era included other great players that include Marcus Allen, Art Shell, Cliff Branch and Mike Haynes.
In the '70s, the Raiders were led by John Madden, one of the biggest and most influential figures in NFL history. After coming up short in numerous championship games, Madden's Raiders finally broke through in 1976, as the Raiders lost just one game that season en route to victories over the defending champion Steelers and Vikings to secure the first world championship in franchise history.
Along the way, the Raiders were fined more than any NFL team while solidifying their image as one of the nastiest teams in the league.
In 1980, the Raiders made NFL history by becoming the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl. One of the central storylines of that championship run was quarterback Jim Plunkett, a former No. 1 pick who was considered a bust before leading the Raiders to victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XV. Three years later, Plunkett was part one the Raiders' 38-9 upset win over the defending champion Redskins in one of the most shocking outcomes in Super Bowl history. The coach during the Raiders' last two Super Bowl wins was Tom Flores, a former Raiders quarterback who became the first minority coach to win the Super Bowl.
At the center of the Raiders during that time was owner Al Davis, one of the most influential and controversial figures in professional sports history. Davis, who famously waged war with commissioner Pete Rozelle over his desire to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, would be the main fixture in this documentary. Along with his feud with Rozelle, Davis' bizarre feud with Allen -- which led to Allen spending years of his prime on the bench as he was replaced by two-sport star Bo Jackson -- would also be a key topic of conversation during the documentary. Davis was one of the most colorful owners in NFL history.
5. The 1980s San Francisco 49ers
The '80s 49ers have a near-perfect blend of interesting characters, star power, team accomplishment, and storylines to keep fans interested over a 10-part series. While the 49ers were considered NFL royalty by the end of the '80s, San Francisco's dynasty was mostly made up of previously unknowns who were motivated to prove their many doubters wrong.
Before guiding the 49ers to three titles while becoming the face of the West Coast offense, Bill Walsh was a former Bengals assistant who was spurned by mentor Paul Brown after Brown passed on hiring Walsh as Cincinnati's head coach in 1976. In a classic redemption story, Walsh beat Brown's Bengals to win his first and last Super Bowls as the 49ers' head coach. Similar to Jordan in "The Last Dance," Walsh walked away as a champion after his team defeated the Bengals in one of the most tightly contested Super Bowls of all time.
Joe Montana, who many doubted would ever amount to much as an NFL quarterback, proved his doubters wrong by becoming the first player in history to win Super Bowl MVP three times. Montana's second MVP award might have been the sweetest, as he out-dueled league MVP Dan Marino during the 49ers' dominant win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. A year later, Montana teamed up with Jerry Rice, who arrived in San Francisco after playing at Mississippi Valley State, a Division 1-AA program. Like Jordan and Pippen, Montana and Rice devastated the opposition while helping the 49ers close the decade with back-to-back titles.
San Francisco's climb to the top included its share of pitfalls. The team suffered devastating postseason losses to the Giants (twice), Redskins and Vikings, with the loss to Minnesota in the '87 playoffs nearly leading to a major overhaul of the team. There was also the infamous quarterback controversy between Montana and Steve Young, a controversy that wouldn't be settled until Montana suffered a career-threatening injury at the end of the 1990 season.
The 49ers also had a slew of characters that included Charles Haley, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, Ronnie Lott (who once cut off a piece of a finger in order to stay on the field), Roger Craig, and former team owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., one of the most colorful figures in league history. You also can't talk about the 49ers without talking about Dwight Clark, who kicked off the dynasty by making "The Catch" against the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC title game. Clark, who passed away in 2018 after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, would likely be a key figure in any documentary involving the 49ers.
Honorable mention: The 1960s Packers
A 10-part documentary should be made on the last team in NFL history to win three straight league titles. The '60s Packers, the first team to win the Super Bowl, also possessed arguably the greatest coach in NFL history in Vince Lombardi, whose peerless drive to win helped create a team whose overall IQ was just as impressive as their physical attributes. Lombardi was also ahead of his team as it related to race relations, as he is considered the first coach to select African American players in the first round of the draft.
The '60s Packers also helped raise the popularity of the NFL at a time when baseball was still considered to be America's main past time. But with Lombardi and future Hall of Fame players Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg, Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood and Ray Nitschke, the Packers helped propel the NFL to the massive success that it is today. Specifically, the Packers' epic battles with the Cowboys in the '66 and '67 NFL title games helped turn professional football into America's most popular sport.
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