The New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the ninth time in the last 31 years, chasing their fifth championship next weekend in Houston.
No coach or player in the current NFL could have a more palpable been-here-before feeling than Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. All four of their Super Bowl victories have come since the 2001 season with that venerable coach-quarterback pair, with this their seventh appearance together.
Then there are the Atlanta Falcons, still seeking their first Vince Lombardi Trophy after 51 years.
Though this pairing of teams with such disparate title-game histories is striking, it’s not exactly uncommon. Here’s a look back at some of the other memorable championship matchups involving trophy-case inequity in major sports:
YANKEES PROWESS: Less than two months after the terrorist attacks knocked down the World Trade Center towers, the New York Yankees had the country behind them for once during the 2001 World Series as emotional renditions of “God Bless America” stirred fans and players alike. Having won four of the previous five World Series, bringing their all-time total to 26 of what’s now 27 titles, the Yankees faced a Diamondbacks team in its mere fourth season of existence, let alone lacking a championship. Arizona’s purple and teal uniforms clashed with the navy pinstripes donned by the Yankees for decades. The games in Phoenix were played under a retractable roof in an airplane-hangar-like ballpark with a swimming pool behind center field instead of the hallowed monuments looming there at Yankee Stadium.
The Diamondbacks proved they belonged between the lines, though, with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling comprising a dominant duo of starting pitchers that kept Yankees stars Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams quiet at the plate. In a Game 7 for the ages, Luis Gonzalez drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning with a single off often-unhittable closer Mariano Rivera.
SO CLOSE: Duke, every bit the villain the Yankees have usually been, had no such national support in the 2010 NCAA basketball championship game. Not only were coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils approaching their fourth of five titles, but they were playing lovable underdog Butler.
The Final Four that year was in Indianapolis, too, just a few miles away from where the Bulldogs play. Though Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse has a rich history, the Bulldogs don’t have the cachet Duke carries. One of the all-time upsets nearly happened when Gordon Hayward’s heave from half court hit the backboard and the front rim before bouncing out at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils a 61-59 victory.
STEELY RESOLVE: No team has won more Super Bowls than the Pittsburgh Steelers with six titles in the 50-year history of the event. Few franchises have been around for so long with so little accolade as the Arizona Cardinals, who date back to St. Louis and Chicago.
The Cardinals nearly pulled off a championship stunner following a 2008 season during which their 9-7 record was good enough to win a weak division. The Steelers led 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter in Tampa, Florida, before a pair of touchdown passes from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald sandwiched around a safety put the Cardinals in front. But Ben Roethlisberger deftly drove the Steelers for the go-ahead score on a throw to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left. The 16-point rally by the Cardinals would’ve been the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
FOREVER YOUNG: Sometimes the result on the field mirrors the imbalance in historical success. The San Francisco 49ers became the first team to win a fifth Super Bowl, when they blew out the San Diego Chargers 49-26 to close the 1994-95 season in superior fashion.
Steve Young threw six touchdown passes, still a Super Bowl record. He found Jerry Rice for a 44-yard score just three plays into the game against a Chargers team making its only Super Bowl appearance.
WORTH MENTIONING: Pittsburgh Penguins beat San Jose Sharks in 2016 Stanley Cup finals. North Carolina beats Illinois in 2005 NCAA basketball championship game. Los Angeles Lakers beat Indiana Pacers in 2000 NBA finals. St. Louis Cardinals beat Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 World Series.