A team is tied to its city and a city to its team. It is a symbiotic relationship. Fans don’t embrace their hometown team so much as embody them, claim them as their own, and wear their colors with pride. And a team represents their home with admiration, they represent the identity of their corner of the country. It is not Green Bay and the Packers but the Green Bay Packers. A town built around its football team, a team owned by the inhabitants of the town, the two are eternally linked and together create Title Town. But Green Bay is only one of 32 examples. As autumn brings the NFL season, we see how much a city and a team really mean to each other. Every team in the National Football League has a city that stands behind them with pride. Yet only one of these fandoms will be able to call themselves champions this year.
Each team and fanbase has one goal: to win a championship. It is safe to say that not all 32 teams have an equal opportunity to raise the Lombardi trophy, but within the group of favorites to win it all, a championship has been a long time coming. Let’s say there are eight real contenders vying for a Super Bowl win this year, and using Ceasars sports book’s odds rankings as our metric, those elite eight are Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Buffalo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Cleveland.
Of all the teams listed only Buffalo and Cleveland stand without a Super Bowl championship, and both have the most heartbreaking history in pursuit of one. Buffalo owns the record for longest streak without a playoff appearance, while also holding the record for most consecutive Super Bowl appearances with four -- but never coming away from one with a victory. Cleveland, on the other hand, is a historically disenfranchised group. Decades of losing have plagued the midwestern town before their team was moved to Baltimore,rebranded and went on to win the Super Bowl in 2000. The void was filled with an expansion team that continued the tradition of losing. Those narratives seem to be in the rearview, however, as both franchises seemed to have steadied the course with impressive young quarterbacks, modern offenses, and top tier defenses. They are both complete teams who have a real opportunity to stand atop the league as champions, and the fans know it. Cleveland and Buffalo are two of the most dedicated fan bases in the NFL. Both groups routinely come out in droves to support their teams no matter the hardships. No fanbases would savor the moment of glory more than these groups. The cities of Buffalo or Cleveland may burn down in the aftermath, and everyone involved would look at it as a worthy sacrifice.
While the other teams vying for a Lombardi may not have been waiting as long as Cleveland and Buffalo, their journeys to this point are no less artutious. Green Bay, home of the first two championships who were led by the trophies namesake, have been flirting with victory ever since their 2010 trip to glory. But since then it’s been nothing but the disappointment of being a step away. Baltimore won it all in 2012 with Joe Flacco, but that was a very different team then we see today. Currently, they are at the forefront of analytics and advanced stats while simultaneously being the most run heavy team in the NFL. They are led by dual threat Lamar Jackson, and have been true contenders since he entered the league despite not having gotten past a Divisional round yet. Los Angeles and San Francisco have suffered from similar fates, where both teams entered the last several seasons as contenders, revolutionizing the NFL offense with their respective offensive minded head coaches. But both teams got to the Super Bowl,fell short, and haven’t been back since. This year both teams enter the season with changes at the quarterback position and high expectations.
Last, but certainly not least, there are the returning conference champions: the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams have seen recent success, Kansas City more so than Tampa Bay, but victory is ephemeral and one championship is never fully satisfying. Both fan bases have seen their fair share of difficulties. Tampa Bay began their time in the NFL in creamsicle uniforms and putting up the worst record in the league year after year until they found success in 2003, though they fell back to mediocrity until just recently. Kansas City on the other hand had the inverse. They found success early winning the AFL championship in 1966 before losing in the first Super Bowl to the Packers and then going on to win the Super Bowl itself in 1969 over the Minnesota Vikings. From then until the Patrick Mahomes era the story of Kansas City was marred by mediocrity.
Kansas City boasts one of the most vivacious and dedicated fanbases in the league, which has only grown more proud with their rise to the top of the football world. Decades of defeat have only loudened the roars of victory. Tampa Bay is, relatively speaking, one of the newer franchises in the league, but still draws crowds and is lauded by an impressively vocal fanbase. How many are coming out of the woodwork thanks to the arrival of Tom Brady? Who’s to say, winning is infectious and as long at Tom-pa Bay exists, the Bucs will only add to their fleet of fanatics.
As the NFL season kicks off we look to the teams to accomplish the impossible and for the fans to show them the love and admiration they deserve. No man is an island and no team is without it devotees. Only one franchise can lay claim to the Lombardi trophy, but it is undeniable to say that all 32 cities in the NFL yearn for their taste of glory.