As the festivities and celebrations finally settle down in Seattle, you're suddenly find yourself in a difficult scenario - how do you step off cloud nine without face-planting onto reality? The Seahawks may be NFL champions - and will continue to be enshrined as championships forever. But alas, seasons come and go, and sooner or later the Seahawks will be tasked with defending their title instead of clamoring for one.
History, however, tells us they are unlikely to be successful. Here's a record of the fallout that Super Bowl winners experienced, following the 2002 re-alignment:
2001 winner: New England Patriots
2002 record: 9-7, 2nd in AFC East (did not qualify for playoffs)
2002 winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2003 record: 7-9, 3rd in NFC South (did not qualify for playoffs)
2003 and 2004 winner: New England Patriots
2004 record: 14-2, 1st in AFC East (Super Bowl XXXIX champions)
2005 record: 10-6, 1st in AFC East (Lost to DEN in divisional round)
2005 winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
2006 record: 8-8, 3rd in AFC North (did not qualify for playoffs)
2006 winner: Indianapolis Colts
2007 record: 13-3, 1st in AFC South (Lost to SD in divisional round)
2007 winner: New York Giants
2008 record: 12-4, 1st in NFC East (Lost to PHI in divisional round)
2008 winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
2009 record: 9-7, 3rd in AFC North (did not qualify for playoffs)
2009 winner: New Orleans Saints
2010 record: 11-5, 2nd in NFC South (Lost to 7-9 SEA in divisional round LOL)
2010 winner: Green Bay Packers
2011 record: 15-1, 1st in NFC North (Lost to NYG in divisional round)
2011 winner: New York Giants
2012 record: 9-7, 2nd in NFC East (did not qualify for playoffs)
2012 winner: Baltimore Ravens
2013 record: 8-8, 3rd in AFC North (did not qualify for playoffs)
As you can see, in the past eleven years, ten Super Bowl champions failed to return to the big game. Six of them didn't even make it to the playoffs - three of those teams finished .500 or worse. There's a reason the NFL is considered one of the more "fair" professional sports leagues - with an imposed salary cap, shorter career cycles and consistent opportunities for innovation, the achievement of long-term and continued success is rare.
In fact, one can argue that winner the Super Bowl might even hamper your team in the future. Potential free agents are more costly to retain now that they are given a ring. Picking last at the draft will limit your selections. Rival franchises and opponents are raring to entice whatever parts you're willing to give up in order to replicate the path to success. And finally, there's complacency in general. After all, weaknesses and glaring holes are much more negligible now that they are covered up with a championship banner.
No doubt that all of those ten teams from above faced a sequence of these problems in one way or another, and the trends are surprisingly clear once we analyzed the common pitfalls to failure. The 2003 Buccanners and the 2012 Ravens all faced significant changes in terms of their rosters and starting lineups. The 2005 Patriots lost their offensive and defensive coordinators to head coaching jobs. The 2007 Colts, 2010 Saints and 2011 Packers all rode on their record setting quarterbacks to their championships and were subsequently crushed in the playoffs next year when they failed to improve and fix their weaknesses on defense. The 2006 and 2009 Steelers played a majority of their respective seasons without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, at the same time many of their key players on their championship teams simply got old.
The Seahawks have the advantage of not meeting these problems just yet, but many of the same concerns still linger. Sixteen players, including six current starters, are entering free agency. Not all of those guys, who paid major dividends last year and contributed in bringing the Lombardi Trophy home, won't be back by September. And we still haven't taken into account the cap casualties needed to keep Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas for the long run.
One team, however, did manage to break the mold: the New England Patriots. In my opinion, they are as close as you can get to a modern NFL dynasty. In addition to winning three championships between 2001-2004, New England also played in the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowls. In the two seasons they failed to qualify for the playoffs they still managed a winning record.
This type of excellence is a perfect exemplar of what it means to win forever - and Carroll must've been influenced by "The Patriot Way" during the brief tenure he was there as a head coach. As you can see below:
"The Patriot Way, I think it's just that simply no one player or group of players is bigger than the team or the organization. I was a prime example – maybe Example A of that. I just signed a big, big contract with the Patriots [for a then-record $103 million in 2001] and looked like I was going to finish my career there. All of a sudden I got hurt, and this Brady kid stepped in and next thing you know, I was off to Buffalo." ~ Drew Bledsoe, Quarterback
"It's about trying to collect a lot of good people. Having everybody in the organization on the same page, doing things in the community. I think people in America today, it's not just about money. They want to be connected to something they feel is special and when they get up every day, they look forward to coming to work. We try to create an environment here that does that. "We're not always successful, but we give it our best shot." ~ Robert Kraft, Patriots Owner
Like the Seahawks, the Patriots were faced with the scenario of being forced to restructure the contracts or release a majority of their best players in order to sustain the future. New England released All-Pro safety Lawyer Milloy, All-Pro cornerback Ty Law and starting right tackle Damian Woody by training camp of 2005. All three players, however, were also past or around the age 30, and subsequently left the league pretty soon afterwards. I expect the Seahawks to do the same with Zach Miller, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant.
There are also more similarities between the Seahawks and Patriots then you'd think - especially before Tom Brady became a one-man show and nearly carried his team to a perfect season. Tedy Bruschi was drafted as a defensive end and ended up playing linebacker. Troy Brown, instrumental to the passing game, was an eighth round pick. A top notch secondary. Solidifying the ground game with 1100+ yard rushers. High turnover ratios. Favoring trading back in the draft and keeping stock of picks. A misunderstood head coach. A starting quarterback destined to prove that he's more than what his draft selection was.
Finally, from a fan's perspective. As people around my university keep reminding me, the sports culture around Boston was not as successful and arrogant as it was today. Long before people actually make fun of massholes they were meddled in mediocrity, missed opportunities and embarrassment. As one classmate remarked, having all four professional sports teams fail to make the playoffs in 2000 was the last straw (Do you really expect me to empathize with you on that ?!)
But the 2001 Patriots kicked the decade off with a championship, the curse of Bambino was lifted, the Stanley Cup came back home and the "Big Three" was revitalized for a brief moment. What's to say that Seattle can't follow in the same path, with their city, their teams, and their fans?
Of course, the Seahawks don't exactly have the luxury of a playing the AFC East for the considerable future, and again, the problems and concerns still linger. But the Seahawks have made history before, so what's stopping them from doing so again?