Sitting in my living room last night, feet extended on the chaise — chaaaaaise — with my MacBook perched atop my lap, I watched the Chicago Blackhawks complete the improbable feat of winning their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons. To say we were witnessing history is a bit clichéd and dramatized, but it’s true. For a team to win so many titles in a short period of time in a salary-cap era is very rare.
Three is a magic number, and not just in a weird Schoolhouse Rock sort of way. In professional sports, when a franchise wins its third championship in a short period of time — and that period of time isn’t clearly defined — the word “dynasty” enters into discussion. But what exactly is a dynasty?
By definition and throughout history, a dynasty is a ruling family, one which has control over its domain for a prolonged period of time. But typically, those dynasties are ones that do not lose control throughout their durations. I’m no history buff, but usually a governing body that loses control will not regain control at a later date. The Ming Dynasty of China ruled for 276 consecutive years. I’d hardly call Grover Cleveland — the only U.S. President to serve two nonconsecutive terms — a dynastic ruler. And even if former Florida governor Jeb Bush wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I would not refer to the past three decades as a Bush Dynasty in the history of American culture.
Sports dynasties are a bit different. A team need not win consecutive championships to be considered a dynasty, at least in my opinion. Feel free to disagree. If a team is a perennial championship contender and wins three titles in a small window, that certainly qualifies them for dynastic rule.
Who are the other recent sports dynasties? We’ll keep it in hockey for now. The Los Angeles Kings were 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions and have a chance to enter that conversation if they can win again in the next two years. In fact, the last four hockey champions in descending order are the Blackhawks, Kings, Blackhawks, Kings. The Detroit Red Wings won three titles from 1997 through 2002. Led by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers dominated in the 80s, winning five titles between 1984 and 1990. The Oilers Dynasty was preceded by the New York Islanders Dynasty, which won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 through 1983, and the Montreal Canadiens Dynasty which won four consecutive championships from 1976 through 1979. Prior to that, the league was fairly watered down with anywhere from the Original Six teams to 16 teams. It’s hard to be a dynasty with less competition.
In the NBA, the Miami Heat recently had a chance to be a dynasty but, let’s face it, LeBron James is not as good as Michael Jordan. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs added a fifth title to their dynastic reign over the last 15 years. The Los Angeles Lakers won three consecutive titles at the beginning of last decade and also five championships in eleven years. And, of course, the most powerful dynasty since the Lakers in the 80s and the Celtics in the 60s was the Jordan Dynasty of the 1990s, when His Airness won two separate three-peats and six titles in eight years.
In baseball, the San Francisco Giants have won three World Series in the last five years. The Boston Red Sox are a bit more of a stretch, having won three Series titles in a span of ten years — this coming after the Curse of the Bambino allegedly prevented them from winning a title in 86 years. And the New York Yankees won four championships in a five-year span from 1996 to 2000.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile… no chance at a dynasty.
In the NFL, dynasties are a little more difficult to come by, because it’s a league full of parity and the only sports league that gives legitimate hope to a team that is awful one season to be able to rebound in short order and be competitive again soon — unless you’re the Cleveland Browns.
The New England Patriots own the most recent dynasty in the NFL, winning three Super Bowls in a four-year span last decade. The Dallas Cowboys won three titles in a four-year span the decade before that. The San Francisco 49ers won three titles in the 1980s and the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls from 1975 through 1980.
So, where do the Blackhawks rank in the history of dynasties? Too difficult to even begin to slot them. They’re not as dominant as, say, the Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Cowboys, and Steelers of their eras. But given that they play in a salary cap era when it’s more difficult to sustain success, I’d say their accomplishments are more impressive than some of the recent baseball dynasties. And even though the Spurs have been so good for so long, I’d say three Stanley Cups in six seasons is more impressive than five NBA championships in 15 years (however, the Spurs did win three titles in five years from 2003 to 2007).
There may be no clear, indisputable king of all dynasties, but it makes for good sports chatter.
In the meantime, Hawks fans, savor the times we live in now because greatness doesn’t last forever, and it could be a long time before the Bears, Bulls, Cubs or White Sox reign atop their respective leagues.