When the Pittsburgh Steelers lost last week to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round game, they ensured that one of two realities would come to pass: either they would welcome in a new member of an exclusive fraternity, or they would give way to a new, unique plateau in terms of NFL success as defined by reaching the championship game—namely, the Super Bowl.
Either the Broncos would join the Steelers, the Cowboys, and the Patriots as the only teams to reach the Super Bowl a record eight times, or the New England Patriots—who had already beaten the Chiefs—would become the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl nine times, supplanting the Steelers in this measure of postseason success.
As we learned on Sunday, of course, it would be the former, and we have now seen the past two years introduce two members to the fraternity that since 2010 had only consisted of the Steelers and Cowboys, with the Patriots reaching their eighth Super Bowl last season, and now the Broncos reaching their eighth this season.
Of course, the Steelers and Cowboys have squared off in the Super Bowl three times just by themselves, including two Pittsburgh victories during their Steel Curtain dynasty in the mid- to late-70s, and a 1995 loss at the tail end of the Cowboys’ own dynasty.
It is interesting to consider that nearly half of all Super Bowls played since the game’s inception 50 years ago has included as its AFC representative either the Steelers, the Patriots, or, after this season’s rendition, the Broncos. The three teams will have combined to make 24 Super Bowl appearances in 50 games—especially considering that none of the first eight included any of those three teams.
Therefore, 57 percent of the 42 most recent Super Bowls, including this upcoming Super Bowl, have been represented by either the Steelers, Patriots, or Broncos. And, incredibly, 11 of the 15 most recent Super Bowls have featured at least one of those three teams, including six appearances from the Patriots, three from the Steelers, and now two from the Broncos.
The Patriots are the team from this group to win the Super Bowl with the most recency, of course, having emerged victorious just last season, claiming their fourth Super Bowl trophy. The Steelers’ most recent Super Bowl victory came in 2008, but their most recent appearance was in 2010. They have the most Super Bowl trophies of any team with six.
The Broncos were in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, during which they suffered the third-largest loss in Super Bowl history, losing 43-8. In spite of the fact that they have appeared in seven prior Super Bowls, they have won only two. Their five Super Bowl losses are already the most in NFL history.
But, while it may sting worst of all to suffer your final loss of the season in the season’s final game, it should not be lost that to just reach the game is an immense accomplishment, albeit one that is best appreciated in hindsight. The Steelers may currently have three times as many Super Bowl trophies as Denver, but only they and the Patriots and Cowboys know what it’s like to reach the championship game so many times.