When one thinks of the iconic sports teams of the 20th century, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadians and Boston Celtics immediately come to mind, along with NFL dynasties such as the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. Which teams will sports historians be talking about 100 years from now? Here’s how the picture looks as of now.
The 21st century Yankees have made the playoffs in 13 of 17 seasons and won no less than 84 games in a single year. This includes World Series Championship victories over the New York Mets in 2000 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. The Yankees also suffered tough 7 game series losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and Florida Marlins in 2003. The Yankees of the 21st century have been represented by their typical cadre of stars such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano and numerous others, while Joe Torre and Joe Girardi have provided stability in the Manager’s role.
The Chicago Black Hawks lead the NHL with 3 Stanley Cup Championships in the 21st century. They won their 3 titles over a 6 year period, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, the Boston Bruins in 2013, and finally the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015. They won each series in 6 games. Perhaps the most memorable moment for this burgeoning dynasty occurred against the Bruins in 2013 they scored 2 goals in the final 1:16 of game 6 to secure the Stanley Cup Championship. In spite of their three World Championships, the Black Hawks overall winning percentage of 50.1% during the 21st century doesn’t exactly spell dominance. This is why the Black Hawks don’t rank higher on this list.
The San Francisco Giants are tied with the Boston Red Sox with an MLB best 3 World Championships in the 21st century. Overall, they’ve made 4 appearances in the Fall Classic with the lone loss occurring when they were bested by the Anaheim Angels in 7 games in 2002. Ironically, they didn’t start winning championships until after their signature superstar, Barry Bonds, retired. Starting in 2010 the Giants won three World Series Championships in five years which in modern times represents a dynasty. First they defeated the Texas Rangers in 5 games to win the 2010 World Series. Two years later, in 2012, the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in 4 straight. Finally, in 2014, they outlasted the Kansas City Royals, winning in 7 games.
After 86 years of frustration and futility, the Red Sox finally reversed the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to vanquish the hated New York Yankees in 7 games and going on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. They’ve won 2 World Series Championships since, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and defeating the Cardinals again in 6 games in 2013, giving them a total of 3 for the century to date. The 21st century Red Sox have made the playoffs 8 times and appeared in the ALCS 5 times. They have 14 winning seasons in 17 years. “Big Papi” David Ortiz has been the face of the franchise over this period and other star players have included pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Jon Lester, along with mercurial Left Fielder Manny Ramirez.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, are one of four teams to win multiple Super Bowls in the 21st century. They defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL and followed up three years later with a come from behind 28-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Two years later, they appeared in the Super Bowl again, losing to the Green Bay Packers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. In addition to 2 Super Bowl Championship victories and 3 appearances, the Steelers of the 21st century have made the playoffs 11 times and appeared in 6 AFC Conference Championship games. They’ve also won an impressive 64.5% of their regular season games. The 21st century Steelers have featured a hard hitting defense led by the likes of James Harrison, Levon Kirkland, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, while future hall of fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has powered the offense.
The Heat have won 3 NBA titles and appeared in 5 finals series since the start of the 21st century. Led by Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, they captured their first NBA Championship with a 4-2 series victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals. In 2010, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team to, along with Wade, form one of the most dynamic threesomes in NBA history. Four straight NBA finals appearances ensued with the Heat winning back to back titles in 2012 and 2013, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 and San Antonio Spurs 4-3, respectively. The Heat have made the playoffs 13 times in this century and have a regular season winning percentage of 56.2%, a number which is solid but not spectacular. Since LeBron left in 2014 the Heat haven’t accomplished much of note but they still deserve a prominent place on this list.
The Cardinals are one of baseball’s signature franchises and their success has continued into the 21st century. They’ve had 16 winning seasons and appeared in the NLCS 9 times. Only one team this century has made the “final four” of its sport more times than the Cardinals. The Cardinals have advanced to 4 World Series, winning two of them. Their two World Series wins came against the Detroit Tigers, who they defeated in 5 games in 2006, and Texas Rangers, who they bested in 7 games in 2011. The Cardinals two World Series losses both came to the Boston Red Sox who swept them in 4 games in 2004 and beat them again in 6 games in 2013. Among the Cardinals’ stars during this time include 3-time MVP Albert Pujols. Tony La Russa and Mike Matheny have provided stability at the Manager’s position. True, the Giants and Red Sox have more rings. However, the Cardinals have won with greater consistently and belong higher on the list in my view.
The Lakers have continued to be NBA’s most glamourous franchise during the 21st century. They started the century with a World Championship three-peat. In 2000, they defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games. Led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, they followed up by decimating the Philadelphia 76ers in 5 games in 2001 and the New Jersey Nets, who they swept in four games in 2002. Two years later, they advanced to the finals again but lost in convincing fashion to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games. The Lakers returned to the finals in 2008. By this time, it was now truly Kobe’s team. However, they lost to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. The Lakers answered with back to back titles over the next two years, defeating the Orlando Magic in five the following year and then gaining revenge with a victory over the Celtics in a classic 7 game series in 2010. The Lakers are tied with the New England Patriots for most world titles in a major sport (5) and most championship appearances (7).
The San Antonio Spurs are one of two major sports franchises that represent the epitome of excellence in the 21st century. They’ve won 4 NBA championships and appeared in 5 NBA finals. Led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the Spurs captured 3 NBA championships in five years between 2003 and 2007. First they bested the New Jersey Nets in 6 games in 2003. Two years later, they defeated the Detroit Pistons in 7 games and then in 2007 they swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 4 games. In 2013, they faced LeBron in the finals again who by this time was playing with the Miami Heat, losing in a hard fought 7 game series. The Spurs gained revenge the following year in a rematch, whipping them in 5 games. Yes, the Lakers have won more championships but the Spurs have been far more consistent. They’ve won 50 or more regular season games each year and 71% overall, compared to the Lakers 57%. Thus, they earn the #2 spot on this list.
With 5 Super Bowl victories and 7 Super Bowl appearances, the Patriots are indisputably the preeminent sports franchise of the 21st century.
In 2001 coach Bill Belichick and a non-descript backup quarterback named Tom Brady, led the Patriots on an improbable Super Bowl run culminating with a shocking upset over the high powered St. Louis Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Pats followed up with back to back championship seasons in 2003 and 2004, defeating the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII and Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, in Super Bowl XXXIX. In 2007, the Patriots decimated the rest of the NFL winning all 16 of their regular season games. However, one game away from a perfect season, they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the New York Giants, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.
Four years later, they lost again to the Giants, 21-17, in Super Bowl 46, 21-17. After a 10 year drought, the Patriots finally won their 4th Super Bowl, defeating the defending champion Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX. This past year they captured #5 coming back from a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28. In addition to their Super Bowl victories, they’ve appeared in an amazing 11 AFC Conference Championship Games and won 73.9% of their regular season games. With 2 World Championships in 3 year span, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots show no signs of slowing down.