After running through the Teams of the Decade this morning, it’s time to rank the Franchises/Programs of the Decade—those that have consistently churned out competitive and championship-winning teams. My criteria included things like regular-season record, number of playoff appearances, conference titles, and championships into the equation, alongside less quantifiable measures such as historical imprint and landmark players.
(all information prior to Week 16 of 2009 NFL season)
WORST: Detroit Lions (0 playoff appearances, 0-16 season, 42-116 record)
5. New York Giants (1 title, 2 conference championships, 6 playoff appearances, 6-5 playoff record, 88-70 regular season)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (1 conference championship, 8 playoff appearances, 10-7 playoff record, 102-55-1 regular season)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2 titles, 2 conference championships, 6 playoff appearances, 10-4 playoff record, 101-56-1 regular season)
2. Indianapolis Colts (1 title, 1 conference championship, 9 playoff appearances, 7-7 playoff record, 115-43 regular season)
1. New England Patriots (3 titles, 4 conference championships, 7 playoff appearances, 14-3 playoff record, 111-47 regular season)
This might be the easiest choice on the board. While the Colts have set the bar high with the most regular-season wins ever in a decade with their 115 (and counting), the Patriots’ 14-3 postseason record tops the Niners of the ‘80s (13-4) and the Steelers of the ‘70s (14-4).* They won three Super Bowls, lost a classic fourth one as an 18-0 team, and gave us one of the league’s best quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady and coaches in Bill Belichick. The Patriots were part of no fewer than five of the 10 best games of the decade, and as I’ve said throughout this month, the story of the Aughts (especially in football) is the story of the New England Patriots.
*Of course, New England’s playoff record will change next month. Provided they don’t lose their opening game, the Patriots will finish the Aughts with the most postseason wins in a decade in NFL history.
WORST: Memphis Grizzlies (3 playoff appearances, 0-12 playoff record, only team to play entire decade without winning playoff series)
5. Dallas Mavericks (1 conference title, 9 series victories, 9 playoff appearances)
4. Miami Heat (1 title, 1 conference title, 8 series victories, 7 playoff appearances)
3. Detroit Pistons (1 title, 2 conference titles, 16 series victories, 9 playoff appearances)
2. San Antonio Spurs (3 titles, 3 conference titles, 19 series victories, 10 playoff appearances)
1. Los Angeles Lakers (4 titles, 6 conference titles, 23 series victories, 9 playoff appearances)
Sucks to be the Spurs, doesn’t it? You make the playoffs every year, win 19 series en route to three titles, and you still aren’t the best in your own conference. The Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brian trophy just under half the time in the Aughts, fueled first by a Shaq/Kobe dynasty that rivaled some of the greatest teams in NBA history and later by a revitalized Kobe taking his game to a new level. Only two upset losses in the Finals to the Pistons and Celtics prevented LA from matching the Bulls’ six titles in the ‘90s.
WORST: Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates (0 winning seasons for two proud franchises)
5. Philadelphia Phillies (1 World Series, 2 pennants, 5 series victories, 3 playoff appearances)
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1 World Series, 1 pennant, 5 series victories, 6 playoff appearances)
3. St. Louis Cardinals (1 World Series, 2 pennants, 8 series victories, 7 playoff appearances)
2. New York Yankees (2 World Series, 4 pennants, 11 series victories, 9 playoff appearances)
1. Boston Red Sox (2 World Series, 2 pennants, 8 series victories, 6 playoff appearances)
Probably the most controversial call because, by any mathematical standards, the Yankees had a better decade than their northeast rivals: They made the playoffs more, they won more series, they won more pennants, they won the same number of World Series. But, when we think back on the Aughts, we will think back to the Boston Red Sox overcoming that 3-0 series deficit and finally toppling the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the “curse.” A second title three seasons later and a roster that included luminaries such as Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Josh Beckett only cemented Boston’s hold as the defining franchise of the Aughts.
HONORABLE MENTION: Gonzaga Bulldogs (4 Sweet 16s, 10 Tourney appearances)
5. Kansas Jayhawks (1 title, 3 Final Fours, 7 Sweet 16s, 3 1-seeds, 10 Tourney appearances)
4. Florida Gators (2 titles, 3 Final Fours, 3 Sweet 16s, 1 1-seed, 8 Tourney appearances)
3. Duke Blue Devils (1 title, 2 Final Fours, 8 Sweet 16s, 6 1-seeds, 10 Tourney appearances)
2. Michigan State Spartans (1 title, 4 Final Fours, 5 Sweet 16s, 2 1-seeds, 9 Tourney appearances)
1. North Carolina Tar Heels (2 titles, 4 Final Fours, 5 Sweet 16s, 4 1-seeds, 8 Tourney appearances)
It hurts, I know, but the Tar Heels clinched the Program of the Decade with their second title in five seasons in 2009. Even after a rough start to the Aughts that saw an 8-seed (who went to the Final Four, mind you), a second-round upset loss to Penn State, and two straight years at home in March, the hiring of Roy Williams returned UNC to its usual pedestal. Even after the bulk of their 2005 title team left for the NBA, the Tar Heels quickly reloaded and earned a 3-seed in the following year behind a freshman named Tyler Hansbrough, who would go on to become the school and the ACC’s all-time leading scorer.
HONORABLE MENTION: Boise State Broncos (2 BCS appearances)
5. Texas Longhorns (1 title, 2 conference titles, 4 BCS appearances)
4. LSU Tigers (1.5 titles, 3 conference titles, 4 BCS appearances)
3. Oklahoma Sooners (1 title, 6 conference titles, 7 BCS appearances, 2 Heisman winners)
2. Florida Gators (2 titles, 3 conference titles, 5 BCS appearances, 1 Heisman winner)
1. USC Trojans (1.5 titles, 6 conference titles, 7 BCS appearances, 3 Heisman winners)
From 2002 right up until this college football season, the Trojans have been a bona fide top-5 team constantly in the national championship picture. USC boasted three Heisman trophy winners in Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush—the latter two propelling a 34-game winning streak that resulted in a split national title in 2003 (when the top-ranked Trojans were kept out of the BCS championship), an undisputed title in 2004, and either a fourth-down conversion on offense or stop on defense away from a second (or third) straight championship in 2005. That epic loss to Texas was the only BCS bowl game USC lost in the Aughts.