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Rich Kimball Rich Kimball
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The Sports Edge – Heroes of the Dark Ages

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Things change quickly these days. High schoolers can recall a time when there was no such thing as Snapchat. Gen-X types may remember a distant past before cellphones or at least have memories of the days when they were the size of a shoebox. 

However, you really know you have some wear on your tires if you’re like me and can say you know what it was like when there was no Super Bowl.

It’s true, I’m that old. It’s also true that there existed a time when Roman numerals were limited to the Olympics, the construction of public buildings and movie credits.

To be honest, my recollections of those ancient days are a bit spotty. I became a true fan of the NFL sometime around that first game, which wasn’t even called the Super Bowl but the rather clunky AFL-NFL World Championship Game. There are fuzzy black-and-white television memories of a young Gale Sayers and an aging Y.A. Tittle, though, and I have read that there was a time when it was less acceptable for people to crawl into work hungover on a late January or early February Monday morning.

While Tom Brady and the boys are trying to make history in this 51st Super Bowl, I thought it would be fun to look back at the era before the title game became a national obsession.

The Green Bay Packers might qualify as the first dynasty in pro football history. Not only did they win the first official championship in 1929, but they also repeated in 1930 and 1931 under coach Curly Lambeau. After a brief dry spell, the Pack wrapped up three more titles between 1936 and 1944.

George Halas’s Chicago Bears dominated the league in the early 1940s, winning the whole thing in ’40, ’41, and ’43. The 1940 championship game is the gold standard for establishing superiority, as they beat Washington 73-0. Halas spanned the era from genesis to modern football like no one else; he coached the Decatur Staleys in the premiere season of 1920, moved with them to Chicago and remained head coach through 1967 (save for a break of a single year in the 1950s).

The team that was perhaps the most dominant of the pre-Super Bowl era might surprise you. They didn’t begin their life in the NFL but rather in the rival All-America Football Conference in 1946. The Cleveland Browns won the championship all four years of the AAFC, moved to the NFL in 1950 and won then; they won in 1954 and 1955 as well. With Paul Brown as head coach, they played in the NFL title game their first six years in the league. Quarterback Otto Graham, between the NFL and AAFC, was in the championship game all 10 years of his pro career, winning seven of them. With Graham at the helm, the Browns were 114-20-4 in the regular season.

What Tom Brady and the Patriots have done is certainly historic and puts them in the conversation for greatest of all time, but that road was paved - and the bar set high - by a team from Cleveland that began their own history in a completely different league.


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