Past Performance

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It’s time once again for men the size of wooly rhinos to face off in the annual blood sacrifice of our national religion. And, as the betting lines are straightened out, perhaps it might be a good idea to look at what racing handicappers call “past performance.”

It isn’t a perfect weapon, but how a horse or jockey has done in the past is one good indication of how things might go in the future. And the Super Bowl has a long history now to draw from, and if there’s one thing that can be said, it is that a team that was part of the original NFL has a better chance of winning than a later expansion team or a team from the original AFL.

Those of you old enough to remember the very first Super Bowl — then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game — probably remember a certain swagger to the Green Bay Packers. They dispatched American Football League teams easily the first two years: Kansas City in 1967 (35-10) and Oakland in ’68 (33-14).

And the attitude of any NFL fan going into the third year, when Joe Namath and the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7, was that the upstart AFL just wasn’t up to snuff. It couldn’t hold its own against the “big boys” of the real professional football league, the NFL.

Now it’s 47 years down the road and, strangely enough, the cumulative results of the contest has shown those old fans were right. Teams from the original NFL have trounced the newer teams soundly. The numbers are hard to dispute.

We’re counting just the NFL franchises that were in existence before the first Super Bowl took place. That includes the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers of the Eastern Conference, and the Colts, Packers, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings of the Western Conference.

Several teams switched cities. Three — Steelers, Colts and Browns — joined the old AFL teams in the new AFC when the leagues merged for the 1970 season.

None of that matters.

Over the game’s 46-year history, teams from the original NFL have won the big game more than twice as often as the upstarts. That’s 31 wins for original NFL teams, 15 for all the others.

Furthermore, because of conference switching, the Super Bowl has pitted two original teams against each other in 10 of those games. How many times have the AFL and expansion teams faced each other? Three.

There are 10 teams with five or more appearances, then three more tied at four appearances. Of those 13 teams, eight are original NFL teams. Of those, only the Vikings have a losing record.

Of the old AFL teams with four or more Super Bowl appearances, only the Raiders have a winning record.

Of the 10 teams with only a single Super Bowl appearance, only one comes from the core group of original teams — the Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals.

This year, the outlook is clouded: San Francisco is an original NFL team, but the Ravens are from an original NFL city. So, in a way, no matter who wins, we’ll leave the old AFL cities out in the cold again and once more, let’s ring in a cheer for Bronko Nagurski, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi.

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