The 1940-1946 Chicago Bears
George Halas, one of the founders of the National Football League, developed a lethal offensive attack based on the T formation and quarterback Sid Luckman. The modern T formation had been developed by Stanford University coach Clark Shaughnessy. The T was formed by three running backs and the quarterback, with the fullback directly behind the quarterback and a halfback on each side of the fullback. Halas drew up 350 different plays to run out of the formation, and Chicago dazzled fans with its complicated mix of running and passing plays. The team won championships in 1940, 1941, 1943, and 1946.
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The 1950-1955 Cleveland Browns
Rival teams snickered when the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL from a rival league in 1950, but the Browns silenced them by trouncing the defending NFL champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the Browns’ first NFL game. Legendary coach Paul Brown won the league’s Eastern Division for six straight seasons and won three NFL titles. The team was led by Otto Graham at quarterback and was notable for being the first NFL champion to feature African American players, including running back Marion Motley and defensive lineman Bill Willis.
The 1958-1959 Baltimore Colts
With Weeb Ewbank as coach and Johnny Unitas at quarterback, the Colts had two of the greatest minds in the history of the NFL. Baltimore’s victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 title game is generally regarded as the greatest game ever played. Seventeen future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were involved in the contest. It bolstered the league’s popularity at a critical time. The Colts won another title the following year.
The 1961-1967 Green Bay Packers
Vince Lombardi took over Green Bay after a season in which the team had won only one game. With a combination of tough discipline and high standards, he crafted a unit that won five NFL titles in seven seasons, including the first two Super Bowls. On offense Lombardi developed a devastating sweep in which two offensive linemen pulled and joined fullback Jim Taylor in forming a battering ram in front of halfback Paul Hornung. The defense was led by middle linebacker Ray Nitschke and included four other players elected to the Hall of Fame. Taylor, Hornung, Quarterback Bart Starr, and two other offensive players also are in the hall.
The Perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins
The only team to go undefeated in an NFL season has been Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins. The team’s “No-Name Defense” performed brilliantly with a group of players that were not well known to the average NFL fan except for linebacker Nick Buoniconti, a future Hall of Famer. On the offensive side, Miami bludgeoned opponents with a running attack that featured two 1000-yard rushers, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. The passing attack also was dangerous, featuring quarterback Bob Griese and receiver Paul Warfield, who along with offensive linemen Jim Langer and Larry Little, plus Csonka, are also in the Hall of Fame. Also in the Hall is head coach Shula, a strict disciplinarian who took a young franchise that was a perennial loser and took it two three straight Super Bowls from 1972 to 1974, two of which he won.
The 1974-1980 Pittsburgh Steelers
Coach Chuck Noll led his Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in six seasons. Keyed by a suffocating defense called the Steel Curtain, Pittsburgh turned smash-mouth football into an art form. Strong-armed quarterback Terry Bradshaw led an offense that also featured running back Franco Harris and center Mike Webster, perhaps the best in history at his position. On defense, linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, lineman “Mean” Joe Greene, and defensive back Mel Blount all made the Hall of Fame.
The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s
Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl wins puts him among the top few quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Bill Walsh, one of the game’s greatest offensive thinkers, was the head coach of Montana’s 49ers for three of the titles. An underrated defense was keyed by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. Montana’s favorite target in the last three of the four championship seasons, Jerry Rice, is considered by most experts to be the best wide receiver in the history of the NFL.
The 1985-1986 Chicago Bears
On their way to a win in the 1986 Super Bowl, the Bears lost just one game. Their defense was one of the best in history, giving up a total of only 10 points in three postseason games. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was considered one of the game’s great strategists, and head coach Mike Ditka put together a solid offense featuring one of the best American football players, Walter Payton, plus a charismatic quarterback, Jim McMahon.
The 2001-2005 New England Patriots
With three Super Bowl wins in four years, New England can hardly be denied a spot in this group of best American football teams. Their cunning coach, Bill Belichick, has consistently shown a tremendous feel for the pro game, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterback Tom Brady is at his best in pressure situations. Other top performers on these Patriots squads included defensive lineman Richard Seymour, cornerback Ty Law, and kicker Adam Vinatieri.