New England Patriots third year straight Super Bowl

Only three times in the history of the NFL has a team made an appearance in the Super Bowl three seasons in a row, and here we take a closer look at each of the times it’s happened, first for the Miami Dolphins in the 70’s, then for the Buffalo Bills in the 90’s, and right now for the New England Patriots.

Getting to the Super Bowl is the most difficult feat to accomplish in the NFL, with some teams – like the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars – having never even made an appearance.

In the entire fifty-three NFL seasons that the Super Bowl has been played, only three times has the same football franchise made it to the Big Game three years in a row.

The Miami Dolphins did it from 1971 to 1973, the Buffalo Bills from 1990 to 1993 and the New England Patriots have done it from 2016 to 2018.

Why is that such a rare feat to accomplish?

For many reasons, one of the main ones being the way the NFL has set up their salary cap system, which makes it extremely difficult to build up a so-called ‘super-team’ made up of high-priced superstars.

But even if you could do that, an NFL super-team wouldn’t have the same effect on the league as, say, an NBA super-team, since, with the exception of the quarterback, the nature of the game of football minimizes the impact each of the team’s eleven on-field players has overall.

Yet somehow, the Dolphins, the Bills and the Patriots all figured out how to beat the system three seasons in a row with Super Bowl appearances.

What makes those three NFL teams so special?

Tough to say specifically, but it’s safe to say it has a lot to do with a special combination of players, coaching staff and front office.

Below, we briefly examine those three factors for each of the three-season Super Bowl runs of the Dolphins, Bills and Patriots.

One thing is clear: each of these franchises has and will produce multiple Hall-of-Famers, some whose names we’ve heard repeatedly and others who have remained virtually anonymous to this day.

Three teams who’ve made it to the Super Bowl three straight years:

Miami Dolphins, 1971 to 1973

Super Bowl Appearances:

1971 – Super Bowl VI, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 3-24

1972 – Super Bowl VII, defeated the Washington Redskins, 14-7

1973 – Super Bowl VIII, defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7

Regular Season, Postseason records:

1971 – 10-3-1, 2-1

1972 – 14-0, 3-0

1973 – 12-2, 3-0

Head coach: Don Shula

Quarterback(s): Bob Griese / Earl Morrall

Owner: Joe Robbie

General Manager: Unlisted

Hall of Famers from those three Dolphins teams: head coach Don Shula, offensive lineman Jim Langer, fullback Larry Csonka, wide receiver Paul Warfield, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, player personnel director Bobby Beathard.

Notes:

After losing in the Super Bowl in 1971, head coach Don Shula “stressed in the locker room…that we wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. Our goal was not to go to the Super Bowl but to win it.”

In Week 5 of the 1972 season, star quarterback Bob Griese broke his leg, so veteran backup Earl Morrall stepped up and continued the Dolphins’ win streak until Griese could play again.

The 1972 Dolphins team was the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl with a perfect season, going 14-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in the postseason.

’72 Dolphins Urban legend:

There is an urban legend that every season since 1972, as soon as the very last undefeated NFL team is beaten, all the surviving members of that undefeated Dolphins team crack open a bottle of champagne and share a toast.

Buffalo Bills, 1990 to 1993

Super Bowl Appearances:

1990 – Super Bowl XXV, lost to the New York Giants, 19-20

1991 – Super Bowl XXVI, lost to the Washington Redskins, 24-37

1992 – Super Bowl XXVII, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 17-52

1993 – Super Bowl XXVIII, lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 13-30

Regular Season, Postseason records:

1990 – 13-3, 2-1

1991 – 13-3, 2-1

1992 – 11-5, 3-1

1993 – 12-4, 2-1

Head coach: Marv Levy

Quarterback: Jim Kelly

Owner: Ralph Wilson

General Manager(s): Bill Polian, John Butler

Hall of Famers from those four Bills teams: head coach Marv Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, wide receivers James Lofton and Andre Reed, defensive end Bruce Smith and general manager Bill Polian.

Notes:

Is it better to have never gone to the Super Bowl than to have lost in it four times in a row like the Buffalo Bills have?

That’s the question that haunts the Bills ever since their string of four Big Game losses in the early 90’s.

Levy is the winningest coach in Bills’ history, however, recording a regular season record of 112-70 and a playoff record of 11-8 in eleven total seasons.

One more go of it for Levy

In 2006, owner Ralph Wilson hired Levy, at the age of 80, to be the General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations for the Buffalo Bills, and to eliminate any speculation, Wilson was very clear that Levy, “will never be the coach.”

New England Patriots, 2016 to 2018

Super Bowl Appearances:

1990 – Super Bowl LI, defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28

1991 – Super Bowl LII, lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 33-41

1992 – Super Bowl LIII, vs. the Los Angeles Rams, favored by 2.5 with an over/under of 56.5

Regular Season, Postseason records:

1990 – 14-2, 3-0

1991 – 13-3, 2-1

1992 – 11-5, 2-0 (so far…)

Head coach: Bill Belichick

Quarterback: Tom Brady

Owner: Robert Kraft

General Manager: Bill Belichick

Certain Hall of Famers from those Patriots teams: head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady

Longer shot Hall of Fame Players from those Patriots teams: tight end Rob Gronkowski, slot receiver Julian Edelman, rookie running back Sony Michel, owner Robert Kraft

Notes:

The New England Patriots have been to the Super Bowl eleven times (the most of all NFL teams).

There have been two additional times where the Patriots could have played in the Big Game three seasons in a row – had they gone to the Super Bowl in 2002 and 2015.

As it stands, they’ve been in four of the last five Super Bowls, and nine of the last eighteen.

One for the thumb?

With five championships to their name (and all the Lombardi Trophies and Super Bowl Rings that come with that), and a sixth one possibly on the way, these New England Patriots are positioning themselves to battle the Pittsburgh ‘One for the Thumb’ Steelers to be the most successful football franchise in NFL history.

Final analysis:

It obviously takes quite a bit of Hall-of-Fame caliber talent to get to the Super Bowl three seasons in a row, but it also requires the ability to make the most out of all those mid-level players on the roster, to get each of them to play at a Hall-of-Fame level.

That’s part of the genius of Shula, Levy and Belichick – to be able to consistently pull the most out of their players, especially the ones that other teams have for various reasons passed on.

Who knows when it will happen again?

Who’s next?

Once the Belichick/Brady run is complete, which team will be the next to make three-in-a-row Super Bowl appearances?

The Sean McVay/Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams?

The Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs?

If you love long shots, you might think it’ll be the Freddy Kitchens/Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns.

While we're on the subject, we'd also like to invite you to read our article about all the known future Super Bowl locations.

While you’re hating the 2018-19 New England Patriots…

Regardless of which team we’re talking about, even one Super Bowl appearance is a major lifetime achievement, but to do it three times in a row is purely magical.

And whether you love or hate the Belichick/Brady Patriots, maybe you can at least respect the fact that they’ve just done something magical that only two other teams in the history of the league have been able to do before.

It’ll be years before we see their kind of NFL magic again.

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