A pair of Super Bowl winning teams that launched dynasties in San Francisco and New England highlighted the list of the NFL’s greatest teams, Nos. 31-100.
The NFL revealed results Friday night of balloting conducted by The Associated Press in conjunction with the league’s celebration of its 100th season. The top 30 in voting by a nationwide panel of 59 football historians and media who regularly cover the NFL will be announced next Friday night.
Coming in at No. 31 was the 1981 San Francisco 49ers led by coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana. The Niners won the NFC championship game against Dallas on Montana’s late pass that Dwight Clark jumped high to corral in a play forever known simply as “The Catch.”
San Francisco beat Cincinnati in the Super Bowl two weeks later for the first of five championships in a 14-year stretch that was one of the most successful by any franchise ever.
That run of excellence was surpassed two decades later when the New England Patriots launched a dynasty of their own behind quarterback Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
The Patriots won a surprise title in 2001 after the untested Brady took over from the injured Drew Bledsoe early in the season. New England needed a favorable ruling and dramatic kick by Adam Vinatieri to win the “Tuck Rule” game against Oakland, won at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game and slowed down the dynamic Rams offense for the franchise’s first title. That team ranked 51st.
New England has added five more under Brady and Belichick, including one last season in the NFL’s greatest stretch of dominance.
The list also includes the first Super Bowl titles for a couple of other star quarterbacks.
Peyton Manning’s 2006 Indianapolis Colts ranked 37th after mounting a memorable comeback to beat Brady and the Patriots in the AFC championship game and then knocked off Chicago in the Super Bowl. Manning won again in 2015 with Denver, a team that ranked 58th.
John Elway’s 1997 Denver Broncos team that won the first of back-to-back championships after losing in his first three trips to the title game ranked 49th for knocking off Brett Favre and defending-champion Green Bay.
The list also included two teams best remembered for missed kicks that prevented them from being ranked much higher. The 1990 Buffalo Bills team that lost the first of four straight Super Bowls on Scott Norwood’s missed 47-yard field goal against the Giants came in at No. 35.
The 1998 Vikings ranked 38th after going 15-1 in the regular season behind a big-play offense led by rookie Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Randall Cunningham. Minnesota lost the NFC title game to Atlanta when Gary Anderson missed his first field goal try of the season with a chance to seal the victory. The Falcons rallied to tie the game late in regulation and won it 30-27 in overtime.
Another notable entrant that fell short of a championship was the 1968 Baltimore Colts, who dominated the NFL but fell to Joe Namath and the New York Jets in the Super Bowl that gave the AFL its first win in the title game.
The list includes two teams that beat Brady’s Patriots in the title game, including the 2007 New York Giants, who came in at No. 53 after spoiling New England’s bid for a perfect season.
The 2017 Eagles were ranked 36th for delivering Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl title with a 41-33 victory.
Among the notable entrants in the pre-Super Bowl era were the 1929 Packers, who were ranked 40th after going 12-0-1 under coach Curly Lambeau in Green Bay’s first championship season.
The 1964 Browns ranked one spot lower for winning the last title for Cleveland behind Jim Brown.