The New England Patriots boast that their franchise has the most Super Bowl victories. And they do. But the Patriots do not possess the most consecutive titles.
Most folks would point to teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers for the most consecutive championships since each has won two in a row at different points in National Football League (NFL) history.
However, the NFL is not the entirety of professional football. To be factual, the NFL is not even the oldest American football entity.
The NFL was officially formed in 1920. The Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit began in 1890 as an amateur league, but became professional in 1892. Players weren’t paid much, and mostly through dividing up gate receipts. Most participating teams were athletic clubs whose members would suit up for a contest against another regional athletic club. An example would be the Pittsburgh Athletic Club vs. the Latrobe Athletic Association playing under the early conception of American football, which had quite different rules than today.
The Ohio League dates back to 1903 while the New York State League began in 1913. Both leagues were comprised of small to medium cities – just as the NFL began – and paid its players from that game’s gate.
In all, there have been 18 major outdoor American football leagues, including four that called themselves the “American Football League” (AFL) although each one was unrelated to the others. The only successful version of the the AFL was the final one from 1960-1969 which merged all 10 clubs into the fold of the NFL in 1970. This brought the NFL from 16 teams to 26 in one swoop of an ink pen.
In addition, there have been 25 minor outdoor leagues over the years that paid their players as well such as the Continental Football League from 1965-1969, the Stars Football League that played from 2011 to 2013, and the Dixie League from 1936-1947, to name a few.
On top of all those leagues, there have been 24 indoor professional leagues. The Arena Football League began this craze that began in 1987 with patented plans for play on a hockey rink and closed shop in 2019. Currently, there are five indoor professional football leagues in business: Indoor Football League (13 teams), Champions Indoor Football (7 teams), National Arena League (7 teams), American Arena League (14 teams) and the American West Football Conference (5 teams).
Although none of these leagues pay players the exorbitant amount the NFL does, all compensate their athletes with not only money, but usually with room and board, travel, full medical insurance, daily stipends, and moving costs. When the Arena League was in full swing, they paid their players $800 a game to the victor and $600 per game to the loser, plus housing, a daily meal stipend plus moving expenses.
And if a player is paid, then he is a professional athlete.
With so many professional American football leagues, there are numerous league champions. And championships won.
Who has won the most championships? That is another story, but for now, the question looms: who has won the most consecutive league championships? Here’s seven.
#5 – Three consecutive championships
Green Bay Packers: 1929 – 1931, Detroit Drive: 1988 – 1990, Arizona Rattlers: 2012 – 2014
The Packers are the only NFL club to win three championships is a row, and they did it twice. The first occurrence happened as the league turned 10 years old. But there were unusual circumstances surrounding their three-peat. In the early days of the NFL, it was up to each individual club to make their own schedules. So, some teams may play under 10 games during the season while others might schedule up to 18 contests. And the league champion was not awarded until the January owner’s meetings and then was voted on.
There weren’t any playoffs, so the league champion back then was simply the team which possessed the best win percentage (ties did not count in the standings nor affected the win percentage). In 1929 Green Bay, coached by Curly Lambeau, went 12-0-1 and therefore ended the season with a 1.000 win percentage just ahead of the New York Football Giants’ 13-1-1 record and their .929 win percentage.
In 1930, in the final game of the season, the Giants were just mere percentage points behind the Packers and defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers 13-0 in their final game. Green Bay tied the Portsmouth Spartans 6-6 on a blocked extra point attempt. Because ties do not count, the Packers won the league again with a .769 percentage against the Giants .765. Green Bay would also win the 1931 Championship with a league best 12-2-0 record (.857) making them the first NFL club to win three championships in a row.
The Detroit Drive were an original Arena Football League team. The club’s strength each year was their defense. In a league where scoring in excess of 60 points was common, the Drive allowed an average of only 25.8 points scored in their first championship season. That stayed the same all three title years; although in 1990 the offense was the league’s top scoring machine as it defeated the Dallas Texans 51-27 in the ArenaBowl. In an odd twist, three different head coaches were at the helm all three seasons.
Think an 18-game season is a bit much for the NFL? Well, in 2012 the Arena Football League was already playing 18 games. In its 25th year of existence, the Arena League was 17 teams strong among four divisions. The Arizona Rattlers won the number 2 seed coached by Kevin Guy behind the 15-3-0 Philadelphia Soul and boasted the league’s stingiest defense. The Rattlers reached the title game against the Soul and won 72-54. In 2013, the offense was the main attraction and averaged 67 points a game en route to a 15-3-0 record, the number 1 seed in the playoffs and then a 48-39 defeat of Philly in the title game. For the 2014 season, Arizona defeated the 17-1-0 Cleveland Gladiators in the ArenaBowl for their third straight title win.
#4 - Five consecutive championships
Edmonton Eskimos: 1978 – 1982
The Eskimos dominated the Canadian Football League (CFL) for a decade and captured five consecutive Grey Cups. Edmonton played for the 1977 Grey Cup and were defeated 41-6 by the Montreal Allouettes, then went on a tear and won five straight. The Eskimos won all five by an average score of 29-14 including a 48-10 shelling over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1980.
The first two Grey Cup championship squads scored 40 points or greater in 12 of their 32 game schedule which included a 56-16 beat down of Hamilton (1978) and a 52-20 defeat of Saskatchewan (1979).
The head coach all six years was Hugh Campbell who went 70-21-5 and took his club to six league title games, winning five.
During the five title seasons from 1978 to 1982, the Eskimos were the number one offense all five years, while the defense was the top ranked unit four of those five seasons. In 1981, the club went 14-1-1 and averaged scoring 36 points a game.
During this five-year span, Edmonton sported the league’s Defensive Player-of-the-Year four years: 1978-1979 Dave “Dr. Death” Fennell, 1981 Danny Kepley, and 1982 James “Quick” Parker.
Campbell left Edmonton to coach the Los Angeles Express of the USFL and then was named head coach of the Houston Oilers. The Eskies’ quarterback during those consecutive titles was Warren Moon who was CFL MVP twice. When Campbell became head coach of the Oilers, he signed Moon as his signalcaller.
Moon would go on to play in nine Pro Bowls, was NFL MVP in 1990, two-time NFL passing touchdowns leader, was inducted into the Oilers/Tennessee Titans Ring of Honor, Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2001, plus the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
#3 – Five consecutive championships
Cleveland Browns: 1946 - 1950
Head coach Paul Brown took on the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) full steam ahead when he was hired as the head coach while still in the Navy. He recruited players who were also doing military duty and paid them a monthly stipend until their time was up. The AAFC was an NFL rival league which signed away players and coaches from the established league.
Cleveland dominated the AAFC and won all four seasons of its existence. Whereas the Cleveland Rams played their home games at the 22,500 seat League Park, the Browns utilized Cleveland Municipal Stadium from Day 1 and its 81,000 capacity for football.
From midway during the 1947 season until the sixth game of the 1949 campaign, including two title game victories, Cleveland went an unprecedented 29-0-2. The 1948 Browns alone finished 14-0-0 and defeated the Buffalo Bills 49-7 in the title game.
When the Browns were merged into the NFL along with the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland won the NFL title in 1950, their first in the established league.
While as a member of the AAFC, then-NFL commissioner Elmer Layden had commented that the NFL’s worst team could defeat the AAFC’s best club at any time. After the Browns beat the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL Championship Game, new NFL commissioner Bert Bell called the Browns “the best team I have ever seen.”
Cleveland would play in the next five NFL title games, winning two. In all, the Browns appeared in 10 straight league championship games, a professional football record.
#2 - Five consecutive championships
Green Bay Packers: 1965 - 1967
Green Bay was one of the dominant NFL clubs in the 1960s when the Giants “loaned” their offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi to the Packers to become their head coach/GM for two seasons. When the Giants called back for Lombardi to step in as their new head coach, Lombardi submitted a letter of resignation to which the Packers President torn it up and said “no thank you.
Green Bay captured the 1965 NFL title by defeating the Browns 23-12. They repeated as NFL champions in 1966 by besting the Dallas Cowboys 34-27, but this year there was an added attraction. The NFL and the AFL had decided to end their wage war for players and merge into one league starting in 1970. Beginning this year, however, both leagues began a common pre-season, common college draft, and a World Championship Game that pitted league champions against each other.
The game was labeled the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” with the first installment held at the Coliseum in Los Angeles as a neutral site. The Packers, champions of the NFL, were set to play the Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the AFL to which Green Bay won 35-10. This made the Packers the “World Champions” and their third straight championship.
The 1967 season again was fruitful for Green Bay as they again faced the Cowboys once more in the NFL Championship Game. Labeled “The Ice Bowl”, the Packers defeated Dallas 21-17 on the game’s final play. The win provided four championships in a row and catapulted Green Bay into the second AFL-NFL Championship Game against the AFL champs, the Oakland Raiders. Again, the Packers mistreated the other league’s champion by a lopsided 33-14 victory and once again, Green Bay was designated as the World Champions of professional football. The win made five championships in succession.
A few years later, the World championship game was renamed the “Super Bowl” and the first two contests were re-designated as such.
#1 – Six consecutive championships
Kansas Koyotes: 2003 - 2008
With the invention of Arena Football, other indoor leagues began to sprout up all across the United States and Canada and play on modified hockey rinks. Games were quick and high-scoring with statistics through the roof.
The Kansas Koyotes, based in Topeka and owned by Nick Baumgartner, were established in 2003 as a member of the American Professional Football League (APFL), an entity that lasted until 2012. Indoor professional clubs are composed of players who might have been to NFL and CFL training camps, rookie camps, free agents that were cut at some point, and former practice squad players. Occasionally, a former NFL or CFL season roster member and even a starter may appear on an indoor football team’s roster.
And the money is quite different. In its heyday, athletes in the Arena League were paid a minimum of $31,000 and could make as much as $80,000. Housing is provided, although leagues placed two players per apartment and some even have “host homes” where players stayed with locals rent free.
From their inception in 2003, the Koyotes went undefeated in their first three seasons and also won the league’s championship each of those seasons. In 2006, Kansas suffered its first loss in the season opener against the Wichita Aviators 50-43. Wichita ended up the number one seed in the playoffs, but the league moved the championship game to Topeka because of an increased gate.
What occurred next was the stuff of legends. Wichita coaches, players and staff thought the move was unfair since they were the top seed. Then the Aviators GM demanded the game be played at their home arena to which the league refused. The end result was Wichita refused to play and the game was awarded a 2-0 forfeit to the Koyotes, their fourth league title.
Kansas only lost three games in the next two seasons and captured those championships for a record six straight league titles. In 2009 they again had the league’s best record, but lost in the APFL Bowl to the Iowa Blackhawks to end their streak.
The Koyotes have one more distinction. Two women have played men’s American professional football, and Kansas hired one of them. Abby Vestal, a female soccer star, was their kicker during the 2007 season.
Problems developed within the APFL with scheduling and game day no-shows, so the Koyotes relocated to the Champions Professional Indoor Football League in 2013, a much larger league and played two seasons.