I am here to complain about the abuse of the English language when it comes to the subject of successful sports organizations.
It seems that every time someone wins a title or two the talk begins about whether or not said organization can be the next “dynasty,” the latest being the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of two Super Bowls in four years.
One of the definitions of “dynasty” is “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.” The Ming dynasty in China (1368-1644), that’s a dynasty. The Romanovs in Russia (1613-1917), that’s a dynasty. The Habsburgs in Austria and other places (1282-1918), now that’s a dynasty.
And in our little world of North American sport there have been only two true “dynasties.” The first was the New York Yankees from 1921 through 1964, with 29 American League pennants and 20 World Series victories. The second was the Montreal Canadiens from 1944 through 1993, with 20 Stanley Cup titles in 49 years.
What about our beloved Celtics, you ask? Wait. We’ll get to that, although you may not like where it leads.
In addition to sheer longevity, the key to being a dynasty is that the same people who launched it were long gone by the time it ended. There has to have been a transfer of power within that organization. When the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, the owners were Colonel Jacob Ruppert and — how cool is this? — Colonel Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston. When the 1964 Yankees won the last pennant during that stretch, there was a transition from owners Dan Topping and Del Webb to CBS.
The Yankees won those pennants and World Series with five managers: Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel, and Ralph Houk. The marquee names in uniform ranged from Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle.
The Bronx Bombers won pennants in five decades. They had one stretch of four consecutive World Series championships (1936-39) and one of five (1949-53). All the names and faces had changed several times over, but all America knew was that the Yankees always seemed to be in the World Series.
There was a similar feeling north of the border regarding “Les Habitants,” the Montreal Canadiens. They won championships in six consecutive decades under seven coaches: Dick irvin, Toe Blake, Claude Ruel, Al MacNeil, Scotty Bowman, Jean Perron, and Jacques Demers. They had one stretch of four Stanley Cup titles in five years (1965, ‘66, ‘68, ‘69), one of five straight (1956-60), and another of four straight (1976-79).
Think of those glorious names in Canadiens uniforms. Begin, of course, with Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Don’t forget little brother Henri, a.k.a. the “Pocket Rocket,” owner of a record 11 Stanley Cup rings. Then we had the likes of Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson. Guy Lafleur, and Dickie Moore. In goal, they had the legendary Jacques Plante, who introduced the mask, and Ken Dryden, who (in our minds) singlehandedly beat the high-flying Bruins in 1971. And those wonderful French names, such as Jacques Laperriere, Yvon Lambert, Guy Lapointe, and my absolute favorite, Rejean Houle. Oh, if you want to get a longtime diehard Bruins going, just mention the name of the nefarious enforcer John Ferguson.
You probably are wondering where the Patriots fit into all this. It’s certainly true that nine Super Bowl appearances with six titles from 2001-18 is a hell of a run. But the fact is that the two most important components were King Bill and General Tom, and they were directly involved in all of them. It’s been the same owner, too. You can call it the Patriots reign if you like, but there’s a long way to go and new people in power before the Patriots can claim to be a dynasty.
OK, the Celtics. Their great claim to fame is, of course, winning 11 championships in 13 years, and not winning a 12th because a certain No. 6 was injured (Sorry, St. Louis). Their overall run continued with five more championships, concluding with their best team ever in 1985-86. That gives them 16 championships in 30 years. My main problem in calling them a dynasty is that Emperor Arnold I was there at the beginning and he was there at the end, still highly influential. Yes, there was turnover in ownership, but there was never a true transfer of power. You are free to nitpick.
Now the bad news: If you’re going to make a case for the Celtics, you’ve also got to make a case for the — brace yourself — Lakers, and that does include their original home in Minneapolis, where they won five titles in six years from 1949-54. The Lakers arrived in Los Angeles months after losing the 1959 Finals to the Celtics. They also arrived with Elgin Baylor already in uniform. Hey, just consider the nickname. Don’t tell me you think “lakes” when you think of LA. They are certainly tied to Minneapolis.
After a decade of frustration, which included losing six Finals to the Celtics, the Lakers won their first LA title in 1972. The current Lakers tally is 17 franchise championships in two cities and 14 losing trips to the Finals. The titles run from 1949 to 2020, with 32 appearances in the Finals in those 71 years, which in sports terms qualifies as a “considerable time.” They must receive their due.
I did say you weren’t going to like it.
Bob Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.