When the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens arrived in New Orleans on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVII, the week-long frenzy of hype, hysteria and hoopla officially kicked off in a city that knows about all three.
But what also arrived was a piece of history. The 49ers and Coach Jim Harbaugh come into the biggest sporting event in the world carrying a label that is subjective at best and definitely open to debate.
In the Super Bowl era–which spans 47 years–which has been the best NFL franchise?
In my mind, there are four other contenders (and the Patriots are not on the list, but more about that later). They are: the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.
The bottom line in football has always been about winning. When you reach the Super Bowl stage of the season, style points don’t count. Just ask the backers of the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings, two franchises whose combined Super Bowl record is 0-8.
You can also argue greatness over a short period of time. This is where the Patriots come in. Much has been made that the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since 2004, which counts as a major slump among the elite. But it is also hard to ignore the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins in four years from 2001-2004.
Still, with an overall 3-4 record in Super Bowls’, the Patriots are back in the pack.
In terms of winning, the best franchises have been the 49ers and Cowboys with 5 and the Steelers with 6 Super Bowl victories.
Here’s where it becomes subjective. The Steelers have won 6 times in their 8 trips to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have won five of their 8 Super Bowl appearances.
Then we come to the 49ers. Five Super Bowl appearances. Five wins. Case closed. 5-0 is 5-0 and that puts you on top of the leader board.
Winning in the NFL on a consistent basis takes a combination of skill, effort and luck. You have to be smart enough and talented enough to figure things out, work hard enough and be lucky enough to avoid an injury or a controversy that can affect you during the season.
It gets harder in the playoffs. The teams are better, the pressure is greater and then it caps with the Super Bowl. Not just everyone in the NFL is watching, but everyone (or almost everyone) seems to be watching. Of the 15 most watched television shows of all time, 8 have been Super Bowl games. This week’s game in New Orleans is expected to draw an audience of 100 million.
Which brings us back to the 49ers. What works against the 49ers argument is that their last Super Bowl appearance was in 1995, which means a break of 18 seasons. It’s hard to make a case for the “greatest” with that long of a gap.
What is also working against the 49ers was that in all of their Super Bowl victories, dating back to their first one in Pontiac, Michigan in a Joe Montana-led 26-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers have had veteran leadership at QB each time And in Super Bowls that means a lot.
Montana was a solid fourth year pro on his way to a Hall of Fame career when the won the first of his three Super Bowl MVP awards.
In their last Super Bowl appearance in 1995, the 49ers were guided by QB Steve Young, who was well into his Hall of Fame career when he led the 49ers to 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers.
Well, the starting QB for the 49ers is Colin Kaepernick, who will be playing in his 16th GAME in the NFL. Despite his recent success since taking over for Alex Smith at mid-season, Kaepernick is still an inexperienced QB, essentially still a rookie.
This Super Bowl will mark the first time that neither starting QB (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco) has ever been selected to the Pro Bowl at least once in their career before the game.
Having noted all of that, the playing field does look even in terms of experience and performance, which should give Kaepernick and the 49ers a boost.
And if it works out for the 49ers and Kaepernick, then the issue of the greatest Super Bowl era franchise will have been settled.
For at least another year.© Copyright 2013 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy