- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | The start of something despite the age of their quarterback and a nonproductive running game or merely a magical five weeks? That’s what the Arizona Cardinals face regardless of how they fare in Sunday night’s Super Bowl.

The birth of a mini-dynasty with a young quarterback, young coach and Master Lock defense or a troublesome bump in the road? That’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers face as they strive for their second championship in four years.

While the subject has been taboo for players, coaches, front-office types and ownership this week, that Arizona is the eighth different NFC representative in as many years and that Pittsburgh missed the playoffs after its last Super Bowl title exhibit how fleeting dominance in the NFL can be.

The Steelers are the more established of the two - this is their seventh Super Bowl appearance, second only to Dallas’ eight, but they’ve also experienced droughts and playoff disappointments.

“When I think about how successful they’ve drafted and how well they coach, that’s the kind of successful team we’d like to be,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “We’ve got some challenges ahead, but we set our goal on trying to keep this team together.”

Pittsburgh has faced the same issues for years. Drafting well means winning but also tough calls on whom to pay and whom to thank while wishing them good luck. Arizona will confront those obstacles this winter - Kurt Warner is a free agent, and Anquan Boldin wants a new contract.

Regardless of the teams’ personnel moves, history indicates one team - or neither - will return to the Super Bowl next year in Miami. Only once in Super Bowl history both teams returned for a rematch - Buffalo and Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Waiting a year or two will determine if Arizona was a one-year wonder and/or Pittsburgh was starting a stretch of excellence. Here are five teams that had staying power after winning their first Super Bowl appearance or winning in their first trip in several years along with five teams that lost in the Super Bowl and struggled in subsequent seasons.



That season: Pittsburgh defeated Minnesota 16-6.

What happened next: History. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in a six-year stretch, including two sets of back-to-back titles.

Why it worked: the draft. In 1974, the Steelers’ first four picks - Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster - made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four years before, they drafted Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount.

The offense and defense finished in the top six during each championship season. And the names didn’t change. Bradshaw and Franco Harris were the team’s leading passer and rusher eight consecutive years.

1981 49ERS

That season: San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 26-21.

What happened next: A decade of dominance. The 49ers - 2-14 in 1978 and 1979 - won four titles in 10 years, made the playoffs 16 of 18 years and the only losing season was 3-6 in 1982.

Why it worked: The West Coast offense architect (Bill Walsh), one of the best quarterbacks ever (Joe Montana), one of the best receivers ever (Jerry Rice) and Hall of Fame defenders (safety Ronnie Lott and lineman Fred Dean).

Walsh’s coaching tree might not ever stop branching out. After his first year, the 49ers never ranked worse than seventh in scoring.


That season: In a strike-shortened year (nine games), Washington defeated Miami 27-17.

What happened next: The Redskins dominated their competition in 1983, going 14-2 with a plus-43 in turnover margin. But they lost to the Raiders 38-9 in the Super Bowl. Starting in 1982, the Redskins won three Super Bowls in 10 years and made the playoffs eight times in 11 years.

Why it worked: Coaching staff/front-office harmony. During the balance of his first tour with the team, Joe Gibbs knew the deal - he was the coach and Bobby Beathard the general manager. Although he had a say in personnel, Beathard and his staff put together the roster.

The offensive line was always a strength, and the offense finished in the top 10 nine times in 12 years. Four running backs led the Redskins in rushing, and they won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.


That season: Dallas defeated Buffalo 52-17.

What happened next: The Cowboys repeated in 1993 (again defeating Buffalo) and after losing to San Francisco in the NFC title game, returned to the Super Bowl after the 1995 season to beat Pittsburgh and become the first team to win three titles in four years (New England would later match).

Why it worked: The Herschel Walker trade. During Jimmy Johnson’s first season (1-15 in 1989), he traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings - in perhaps the most lopsided trade in NFL history - in a deal that included three first- and second-round picks.

Pre-Walker trade, Johnson hit in 1989 with Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert. Post-Walker trade, he drafted Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards, Erik Williams, Robert Jones and Darren Woodson.


That season: As 14-point underdogs, New England defeated St. Louis 20-17.

What happened next: Following a nonplayoff season in 2002, the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowl titles. They lost with the chance to go 19-0 last year. Since 2001, the Patriots have reached the playoffs in six of eight years.

Why it worked: Great personnel decisions and one big piece of luck. Jets linebacker Mo Lewis hit Drew Bledsoe late in the second game of the 2001 season, giving Tom Brady his chance. All he did was quickly develop into one of the game’s best passers.

Brady and Bill Belichick have been the constants, further exhibiting how having the right trigger man is paramount to any success. With Brady in charge, the Patriots have had four different rushing leaders and six different receiving leaders. Having the quarterback in place allows a front office to put all of its focus on the other important positions.



That season: Cincinnati lost 20-16 in the final minute to San Francisco.

What happened next: Lots of losing. Since that season, the Bengals have made only two playoff appearances (one win) and had two winning seasons.

Why it didn’t last: Bad management. Ownership’s disastrous decision in 1992 to hire 33-year old Dave Shula as the team’s coach. David Klingler flamed out as the quarterback of the future to replace Boomer Esiason.

The Bengals’ 1988 team is a classic example of everything going right. The offense led the NFL in points, and rookie running back Ickey Woods scored 15 touchdowns; he scored 12 the rest of his short career.


That season: San Diego lost 49-26 to San Francisco.

What happened next: The Chargers went 9-7 in 1995, but a home playoff loss to Indianapolis triggered a decade of misery.

Why it didn’t last: Upheaval at quarterback and running back. After 1995, the Chargers went eight years until their next playoff berth. Kevin Gilbride wasn’t ready to be a head coach, Ryan Leaf is an all-time bust and the Chargers and offensive-minded coach Mike Riley couldn’t dial up enough points.

The Chargers are an example of how one decision (Leaf) can have a ripple effect. Stan Humphries had given them what he could, but San Diego made the right call on drafting Leaf. But starting him right away turned out to be a colossal mistake, something the franchise recovered from by drafting Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson.


That season: Atlanta lost 34-19 to Denver.

What happened next: The Falcons sank from 14-2 to 5-11 and eventually into position after the 2000 season to trade into the top spot and select quarterback Michael Vick.

Why it didn’t last: Injuries. In Week 2 of 1999, running back Jamal Anderson was lost with a knee injury. Two guys named Ken Oxendine and Byron Hanspard replaced Anderson, and that put too much pressure on aging quarterback Chris Chandler.

Atlanta is the rare team that has had several different falls in the last 15 years. It drafted Vick and reached the second round in his second year. Two years later, the NFC title game with a new coach. Four years later, the playoffs with a new coach.


That season: Oakland lost 48-21 to Tampa Bay.

What happened next: Chaos. Four coaches have been fired, and the Raiders haven’t won more than five games in a season since.

Why it didn’t last: Al Davis. His errors in hiring coaches (the return of Art Shell), meddling with hired coaches (Lane Kiffin), signing free agents (LaMont Jordan and Javon Walker) and making bad draft choices (JaMarcus Russell) have set the franchise back years.

The Raiders made the playoffs three straight years and went 33-15 from 2000 to 2002 and ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense each season. But the offense was aging, and the expected boost from the Moss trade never materialized.

2006 BEARS

That season: Chicago lost 29-17 to Indianapolis.

What happened next: The Bears have missed the playoffs the past two years, going 7-9 and 9-7.

Why it didn’t last: Quarterback play, a new defensive coordinator, the decision to trade Thomas Jones and the lack of a big-play receiver. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was dismissed after the Super Bowl despite two years in the top five. After this year, coach Lovie Smith stripped Bob Babich of his playcalling duties on defense.

The Bears had some good pieces in place, but it all goes back to the offense. Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton aren’t viable options, the decision to choose Cedric Benson over Jones was a big error and injuries turned a potentially dominant defense into an average outfit.

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