Parity well-done, so repeating rare

Back-to-back: Most Super Bowl champions fall the next season. But a few have defied history, and the Ravens say they can be another.

September 09, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

What the Ravens face this season cannot be weighed, measured or quantified. Where they are going cannot be traced on a road atlas. It is not necessarily a round trip.

What the Ravens face this season is history, and history says it is very difficult to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

In the last decade, the Denver Broncos did it, but the Green Bay Packers didn't. The Dallas Cowboys pulled it off, but the St. Louis Rams couldn't.

How tough is it to repeat in the NFL? Six different teams have won the past seven Super Bowls.

"In my opinion, there are no more dynasties in the making," said Ravens owner Art Modell, whose teams have won two NFL championships - and one Super Bowl - in 40 years. "I don't think anybody can sustain themselves for 10 years."

In the era of the salary cap and free agency, dynasties are out; parity is in. Or so it seems.

But in truth, it has never been easy to repeat as Super Bowl champion. In 35 years, there have been only seven repeaters - an average of one every five years.

More telling, however, is this statistic: Of the previous 34 Super Bowl champs, nine didn't even make it back to the playoffs the following year. And six of those nine had losing records the next season.

Since the advent of free agency in 1993, Super Bowl champs have had to fight not only complacency but the bottom-line fiscal report. They have to fend off a myriad of distractions and free-agent defections.

In the end, perhaps the biggest enemy of a Super Bowl champion is the team itself.

"No. 1, I think it is only natural to get a little bit complacent - where you feel good about yourself and you lose a little bit of that edge," said Mike Shanahan, who coached the Broncos to back-to-back titles in 1997-98. "I would say that would be the main reason [repeating is hard to do]."

Retired Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf built an NFC power that reached the Super Bowl in in 1996 and 1997. The Packers won the first but lost on the return trip - to Denver. Yet Wolf, who now lives in Annapolis, believes the second season wasn't any more difficult than the first.

"We went back, and once we got back, we had an approach that was a little different than it should have been," he said. "I think each and every one of us, if there is one thing we could do over again, it would be to change the approach.

"I think we came in there a little too lax against Denver. We believed that we were very good."

But not good enough to maintain their edge.

"The biggest problem you have is, the players have not attained a certain status, and guys probably subconsciously don't think they have to work quite as hard as previously," he said. "They believe some of their press clippings. No matter how good you are, that's tough to beat.

"You have all that notoriety. ... I don't care who you are, sooner or later you believe you're as good as everybody says you are."

Will the Ravens be any different? Neither Modell nor Ozzie Newsome, the team's senior vice president of football operations, has seen evidence of a drop-off in work ethic.

"I have not detected any overconfidence," Newsome said. "I have detected confidence, but not overconfidence, because the players still have worked as well as they worked before."

Said Modell: "We seem to be re-dedicated to the proposition we want to repeat. They've tasted it. They've gotten the feel of the community for going-on eight months. So our perspective is good. We're not getting carried away with our self-importance. No egos have gotten carried away."

Wolf pointed to another critical factor in the failure of champions to repeat - the league's weighted schedule, which favors weaker teams. A fifth-place schedule, for instance, has fewer winning teams and fewer playoff teams than a second-place schedule. Some teams have achieved a rapid rise in that format.

"The schedule benefits the poorer teams," Wolf said. "In the NFC, we've had Atlanta, St. Louis and New York in the Super Bowl the last three years."

Each had a losing record the year before going to the Super Bowl. All three benefited from the softer schedule.

Indeed, parity is in full blossom. In the last four years, 21 different teams have won the 24 division titles. Amazingly, four teams made the quantum leap from last place in their division to first - New Orleans last year, Indianapolis and St. Louis in 1999, and the New York Giants in 1997.

That oddity isn't likely to recur once the league goes to a balanced schedule next year with common opponents within each division, thanks to the arrival of a 32nd team, the Houston Texans.

Last season, the Ravens were coming off an 8-8 campaign and went 12-4 to earn a wild-card playoff berth.

This summer, they've had major injuries to running back Jamal Lewis and right tackle Leon Searcy but otherwise have escaped the off-season unharmed. A six-part HBO series proved insightful but not damaging.

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