Monday, July 23, 2012

The Packers And The Steelers: Does More Equal Better?

I feel the need to begin this piece with a breaking announcement: the NFL existed before the Super Bowl. Long before.

I know, I's difficult to accept. I'm afraid it's true, though. In fact, sacks weren't always recorded, ties didn't count into a team's overall record and there was even a time when ESPN didn't have a take and opposing take on every single blessed thing that they then contradicted with their next take. Yes, we're talking THAT long ago.

The NFL in its infancy was just a very different league and game. In its budding years there were fewer teams, naturally. Though, while we're used to a structured format of teams and games played, for years there wasn't. There wasn't even a balanced schedule of games. Such an imbalanced head-to-head schedule would also see one team play as many as 17 games while another may only play one. On top of that, for the first 30 years the number of teams as well as the number of games per season fluctuated. There were as few as 8 to as many as 22 teams. At that point, 1951, the league finally put in place a regulated schedule between its American and National divisions.

As was stated earlier, ties weren't calculated into early schedules either, not until 1972 actually. This was of special interest when studying the "champion" each year. In 1935, the Detroit Lions won the NFL's West Conference with a 7-3-2 record. In that same conference were the Green Bay Packers who finished the season with an 8-4 record. Had this happened 1972 or later, there would have been need of an actual playoff system or there would have been tie-breakers in place to settle this. You see, both of those records are, by today's system, a .667 winning percentage. In 1935, though, with ties not being counted, the Lions won the conference with a .700 winning percentage. The Coffin Corner breaks this down even further here, as it relates to wins and championships, as well as draft positioning. - 

Another difference of the young NFL was the use of college football's rules. This came to an end after the 1932 season. This was because it was the first season that required a playoff game. The Portsmouth Spartans, who became the Detroit Lions two years later, and the Chicago Bears finished with "identical" records--6-1-4 and 6-1-6--requiring a playoff. Thus, the 1932 NFL playoff game is sometimes unofficially called the 1932 NFL Championship Game with the Bears winning 9-0. Thereafter, the NFL began to develop its own rules. The popularity of the playoff game also led the NFL to start holding annual playoff games, giving us the first true championship game in 1933.

Thus, we arrive at crux of the discussion: championships. And the team with the most NFL Championships is the Green Bay Packers. Sorry, fellow Steelers fans, but they got 13 of 'em. Including one against our beloved Steelers. However you want to label them, Titles, Rings or Championships, it all means the same thing: they were the champs. It's canonical. Deal with it.

I remember arguing this fact with a less-than-intelligent Steelers fan once. His response was, "They got most of their championships when there were eight teams and no championship game!" Well, I asked him if he would have counted those same titles for the Steelers had they won them? Of course he would have (though, he didn't respond after that). It's hypocritical and also disingenuous to say otherwise.

The thing to focus on at this point, though, is that the NFL existed before 1966, and that, despite its deficiencies, those championships count. Though I will cover the differences in eras, this isn't a comparison of the titles themselves. So, if you're the type of fan who never takes off the Black and Gold colored glasses, squawk and protest all you want about it. It won't change the truth. Pride, or being proud of your team, is one thing, idiocy, or even being obtuse, is quite another.

Thirteen is more than six no matter how bad you are at math. The Steelers aren't even second, but actually fourth behind the Bears and Giants. That being said, I'd agree with someone who wanted to argue that any "championship" awarded without it being played on the field is hollow. Even then, 10 is still greater than six.

Remember the title of the article, though. More doesn't always mean better, sometimes it's just more. The Packers have more titles, yes. Both franchises, though, are steeped in tradition and success, and the Steelers have done as much, if not more, in a much harder era than did the Packers.

To use a boxing illustration, Muhammad Ali, even among other heavyweight boxing champions, was a legend. He was lightening fast, had undeniable power and was incredibly light on his feet. He was so "pretty." Jack Johnson, though, sometimes called "the original Muhammad Ali", was an amazing fighter who took on all in front of him, shocking and angering the boxing world and defying white America at the turn of the 20th century. It's just that the sport, the level of athleticism and depth of competition had all advanced by the time Ali "shook up the world." All things considered, Ali really was just better. He was "The Greatest."

That being said, is there anyone who'd argue, with two-to-three times as many teams, that it's much harder to win titles post-merger than it was before there were playoffs or a championship game? I know that "you can only play who's in front of you", but having only 14 teams, much less and less specialized competition has to be considered.

Any Packers fan would be expected to argue at this point that they were winning championships before the Steelers even came into existence, and they'd basically be correct. As was discussed earlier, though, those first three were by record only and calculated without ties. So, while the Packers definitely have a rich tradition and history that reaches back to the infancy of the NFL, how more difficult it is to win championships in the post-merger era must weigh into that equation.

Simply put, more doesn't always mean better, sometimes it's just more. The Packers have more championships than any other team and no one can take those from them. Only four, though, came in the Super Bowl era and only two came since the merger.

Don't misunderstand me, I haven't forgotten 2010. How could I? So, yes, they lead the head-to-head 1-0 having earned one of those against us, but let's look at the whole post-merger picture when the level and amount of competition has been much greater. In short, the Steelers lead or are tied for the lead in all of the most important categories: total wins (429), total win percentage (.611), season wins (396), All-Pros (67), playoff wins (33), playoff berths (26), division titles (20), winning seasons (31), Super Bowl berths (8) and Super Bowl wins (6). The Packers in those categories? Nowhere close.

The Packers are a great franchise without question. The level of competition, though, of the Super Bowl/post-merger era is much more prodigious than that of the 1920s to the early 1960s. Level of competition always weighs more heavily on history's scales. I would agree with that. Give me Muhammad Ali over Jack Johnson any day.