|Thursday, July 11
Woulda, shoulda, coulda been a dynasty
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
And then, of course, there were the Buffalo Bills.
Or, as we in the Dynastic Model Chat Room like to say, "Next!"
But the plain truth is that Buffalo managed to creep right up to the edge of greatness without actually getting there -- and, in that, the Bills lead a very contemporary list of coulda-been dynasties.
A friend of ours recently delivered his anti-dynasty list, reporting straight B's: The Bills, the Braves, the Bears and the Blazers. Buffalo won the AFC four times and never got the Lombardi Trophy; Atlanta's baseball team was dominant for a decade, with but a single World Series championship to show. Chicago's Super Bowl winners had barely finished their music video when the thing began to tear at the seams, and Portland's NBA entry you know all about -- a spurt of excellent play in the early '90s under Rick Adelman that earned the Blazers some close seconds and no cigar.
It's not a bad list -- but let's not get too particular. Almost any fan of any sport can identify her or his own team, or individual (Martina Hingis, anyone?), as a candidate for the anti-dynasties.
There are times when coming up short is mostly a matter of circumstance. The Knicks had some very good teams during the Jordan era of the Chicago Bulls, and that's just the way it goes. The Bills went to the Super Bowl a couple of times against a Dallas team that was in its heyday under Jimmy Johnson and led by peak offensive performers like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and the pre-trial Michael Irvin.
And as the entire concept of dominance in sports becomes more fragile, with teams hindered by salary caps and splintered by free agency, what seems inevitable is that this exercise eventually will be reduced to pure hypothesis: What if (fill in the blank) had been able to stay together for five or six seasons? What then?
Not that mere longevity is a guarantee of anything. The Braves had the baseball market cornered in the '90s in terms of delivering great product and almost no hardware.
You find yourself looking back and wondering how the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz triumvirate possibly could wind up with only one Series championship. If anything, though, Atlanta's experience through that period -- beaten by the Blue Jays of Dave Winfield's vintage, running into the front end of what became the Yankees' juggernaut in 1996 -- underscores how rare it is to establish even a modicum of dominance in an elite pro sports league.
Coulda beens? You can take that list anywhere you want. I like the Hingis example in tennis because it illustrates the difficultly of maintaining enough killer instinct to truly reign in a sport. Hingis weathered injury, to be sure, but on several different levels she also simply lacked the hunger to continue being great. Watching Venus Williams' reaction to losing Wimbledon, even to her sister, was just as illuminating; essentially, Venus said, it's just a game. And thus does another potentially dominant athlete take a friendly pass.
Do these near-miss teams and individuals share a common element? Not a one -- aside, naturally, from the part about finishing second. It is seldom a matter of being inferior, or of lacking the championship gene, or anything of that nature. It is ludicrous, for example, to label the Bills as losers; they won four straight conference titles, which is almost impossible to do in any sport.
Still, there you are, staring at those four straight Super Bowl defeats and wondering how things might've gone differently had Buffalo won that first one out of the gate. You just don't get a shot at a sports dynasty every day, which makes the near-misses all the more excruciating. It's not about pity, but it could have been about history.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor of ESPN.com