Friday, August 20, 2010

The Philosophical case agaisnt the Pittsburgh Steelers

When discussions of Greatest American football franchises come up the Pittsburgh Steelers are usually thrown right to the top of the list. The belief that the Steelers are the greatest football Franchise in NFL history is common today and not generally shared by actual sports writers and critics. There is no consensus as to which Franchise is the Greatest. The Green Bay Packers seem to be the Team most often placed at the top of the heap, and after them usually the Dallas Cowboys. The reasons for this are simple: Lombardi and Landry are two of the most influential coaches of all time and in their respective teams created unshakeable dynasties. Also Green Bay has the most NFL Championships (11) and three Super Bowls. The Cowboys have appeared in the most Super Bowls (8) and are tied for second place with the most Super Bowl wins with the San Francisco 49ers (5). The Chicago Bears and New York Giants are also frequently cited above the Steelers. But more so than that is that the Cowboys and Packers have been consistently among the best, most competitive franchises throughout their entire histories.

But Steeler fanatics will retort that the Steelers still have the most Super Bowls, which makes them the Greatest Franchise in NFL history.

This claim is very problematic. It excludes any other criteria of greatness a franchise could possibly have. It is impossible for the Steelers to be considered the Greatest NFL franchise for one simple fact: for 37 years they may as well not have existed in the NFL at all. The Steelers were founded in 1933. The Dallas Cowboys were founded in 1960. Consistent competitiveness should be much higher criteria for Greatness, and it in fact is with most experts. There are other reasons one could mention for why the Steelers cannot be the greatest in NFL history but the real problem still remains that the original argument is flawed.

Let’s turn the typical Steeler case into a syllogism.

P1: The Franchise with the most Super Bowl Wins is the greatest in NFL history

P2: The Steelers have the won the Most Super Bowls

C: The Steelers are the greatest Franchise in NFL history

This argument seems obviously flawed because it is taking the Super Bowl era and imposing that over all of NFL history. The continued success of the Green Bay Packers over all of NFL history shows them to clearly be miles ahead of the Steelers. Also proportionally the Cowboys are way ahead of the Steelers, taking into account that they have been consistently competitive throughout their entire history with nothing coming close to a 37 year slump. In order to help the Steeler fan out lets change the argument a bit.

P1: The Franchise with the most Super Bowl Wins is the greatest in Super Bowl history

P2: The Steelers have won the Most Super Bowls

C: The Steelers are the greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history

This argument is not so obviously flawed. In Super Bowl History the Packers have only won half as many Super Bowls as the Steelers. The Bears have only won 1 and the Giants have also only won half as many as the Steelers. And the Cowboys have not won as many. If P1 is in fact true than the Packers, Bears (et al) years of success before Super Bowl History mean nothing and the Steelers 37 years of mediocrity also mean nothing.

But the argument still comes to a faulty conclusion, because premise 1 is false.

Premise 1 has to be considered false due to its implications. If P1 is in fact true than whatever team currently has the most Super Bowls is the greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history. This cannot possibly be true.
To demonstrate why this cannot be true let’s look at some potential candidates to take over for the Steelers.

The 49ers and Cowboys are in second place. If either one of them wins two more Super Bowls and the Steelers do not win anymore then either the 49ers or the Cowboys will in fact be the Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history.

Now let’s look at the Cowboys first. I am a Cowboy Fanatic. I already think that the Cowboys are in fact the Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl History. But if they in fact did win two more Super Bowls it would be undeniable to even Steelers Fan (especially since this is their logic, not mine). Even people who hate the Cowboys would have to admit that they are in fact the greatest.

This is not so for the 49ers. The 49ers have generally been a mediocre Team throughout their history. The 49ers were only a great franchise for 15 years. 15 years of the entire Super Bowl era is not enough to make you the greatest franchise in Super Bowl History. Even with 7 Super Bowls. The rest of those years of mediocrity will hold you back. It’s intuitively obvious. What else is intuitively obvious is that even if the 49ers won another Super Bowl they would not be equal with the Steelers for greatest Team in Super Bowl history. The Steelers would still be greater. They have had continual success over multiple decades and the 49ers have not.

Also the Minnesota Vikings are clearly a greater franchise than most Teams that actually have won Super Bowls, like the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams, or Kansas City Chiefs. The Vikings have been one of the toughest, strongest Franchises in Super Bowl History. Yet they choke continually in Super Bowls and the Playoffs. So Super Bowl wins cannot be the single determining factor for Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history, let alone NFL history. Sorry Steelers. You’re a great Franchise, just not number 1. The Super Bowl argument fails. There might be other ways to show that the Steelers are in fact the greatest in Super Bowl history but this is not it. And there is no way to show that they are the greatest in NFL history. That is simply not true.

Go Cowboys.

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