Gary Clark watches Art Monk's 2008 induction into the Hall of Fame. Clark and Monk each had more than 1,000 yards receiving for the Redskins in 1991. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

In an era with Super Bowl teams that have shoddy defenses, inconsistent ground attacks, and mediocre records, it’s easy to forget that decades ago, many Super Bowl teams not only had outstanding individual units but were balanced in every area.  In fact, five of the greatest Super Bowl teams of all time played in the 20 years from 1972 to 1991.

The somewhat subjective rankings are:

  1. 1991 Washington Redskins
  2. 1985 Chicago Bears
  3. 1972 Miami Dolphins
  4. 1989 San Francisco 49ers
  5. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers

Twenty years ago, the greatest team of the Super Bowl era, the 1991 Washington Redskins, dominated the league from start to finish. The 1985 Chicago Bears had the most stifling defense, while the 1989 San Francisco 49ers possessed an unstoppable offense.  The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers were balanced on both sides of the ball as were the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins, but the Redskins faced a tougher schedule than all of them.

The Redskins of 20 years ago aren’t usually regarded as the best team of the Super Bowl era, and part of that is because of the quarterback, Mark Rypien. Though Rypien had a mostly pedestrian career, he did have a truly great season in 1991, and the numbers prove that. Rypien, an excellent deep passer, threw for 28 touchdowns, second in the NFL.

Rypien was second in passer rating, and he threw 14 TDs of 25 yards or more, most in the NFL. Rypien led the NFL in yards per pass completion, ahead of Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, and Warren Moon. Plus, Rypien’s 28 TDs were nearly twice as many as Bears quarterback Jim McMahon’s greatest single-season output of 15.

Washington had a strong running attack with Earnest Byner, Ricky Ervins, and Gerald Riggs combining for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.  Byner was the workhorse, Ervins provided elusiveness, and Riggs served as the short yardage back. Incredibly, the posse, Hall of Famer Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders, combined for more than 3,000 yards receiving.

Most impressively, the 1991 version of the Hogs allowed Rypien to be sacked only nine times all season.  The feat is even more remarkable because Rypien was anything but a mobile quarterback. The Hogs’ only Hall of Famer, left guard Russ Grimm, was a backup to Raleigh McKenzie that season. The two best linemen on the team were tackles Jim Lachey and Joe Jacoby. Brian Mitchell ran back two punts for touchdowns to lead Washington’s excellent special teams, and kicker Chip Lohmiller made the Pro Bowl.

The 1991 Redskins led the league in points and were second in points allowed. Washington sacked quarterbacks 50 times, dominating both lines of scrimmage. Defensive end Charles Mann, linebackers Wilber Marshall and Andre Collins, and Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green led a Redskins defense that held opponents to 14 points a game and shut out three opponents.

Of the five teams listed here, the 17-2 Redskins had the greatest point differential, outscoring opponents during the regular season by an average margin of victory of 16.3 points, slightly higher than that of the 1985 Bears (16.1). Washington also had the toughest schedule of the five teams, with an opponents’ winning percentage of .529.

The Redskins swept the 1990 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  They split with the Dallas Cowboys, who went on to win the Super Bowls after the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Washington also defeated Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles, who possessed one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history.

At 11-0 the Redskins slipped up against Dallas by three points. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones credits that win with giving the Cowboys the confidence to begin their Super Bowl run. The Redskins’ other loss was to Philadelphia in the final game of the year when the Redskins pulled their starters.

The Redskins beat the Atlanta Falcons 56-17 during the regular season and 24-7 in the first round of the playoffs when Deion Sanders returned from injury. The Redskins defeated the second best team in the NFC, the Detroit Lions, 45-0 during the regular season and 41-10 in the NFC Championship game, holding Barry Sanders to 44 yards rushing. The Lions were 13-3 when they didn’t face the Redskins.

In the Super Bowl, Washington dominated Buffalo, 37-24, but it wasn’t that close. Washington led 24-0 in the third quarter. It was the Bills’ second of four consecutive Super Bowls, and Buffalo featured Hall of Famers Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, and Bruce Smith.  The Redskins held Thomas, the NFL MVP, to 13 yards on 10 carries. The Redskins never trailed in any of their playoff games.

To read the rest of my article on Bleacher Report, click here.