To win three straight NFL Championships is one of the most unachievable achievements in league history. Although it has never been done in the Super Bowl era it has been done before. In 1967, Vince Lombardi drove his troops to success by constantly telling them that there had never been a team to win the NFL Championship three years in a row. The motivation worked to perfection as the Packers defied their age, aches and pains to win a third straight NFL Championship and second straight Super Bowl. While this was certainly effective, Lombardi's motivation wasn't entirely accurate. In its infancy, there were two teams that claimed the NFL Championship three years in a row, the Canton Bulldogs and the Green Bay Packers. While it was a different era and the NFL had yet to implement a championship game, it's worth noting all that these early teams achieved. These are their stories.
Even before the National Football League was founded, Canton, Ohio was the epicenter of all that professional football was in the early 20th century. Beginning in 1903 as a member of the newly minted Ohio League, the Bulldogs began to play in 1905 in impressive fashion, going 8-2 and losing to the Tigers in the championship game. They were even better the following year, going 10-1 and again losing to the Tigers.
But despite their success on the field, the Bulldogs (as well as the rest of the league) struggled at the gate. As a result, Canton didn't field a team from 1907 through 1910. In the years since their return, the Bulldogs still failed to win the championship, losing to the Shelby Blues in 1911 and the Akron Indians in 1914.
Their luck began to change in 1915 under the guidance of their new coach, Jim Thorpe. The Bulldogs finished the season 5-2, tied with both Massillon and Youngstown Partritians for the league title. The following year, they finished 9-0-1 and defeated the Tigers for their first outright league championship. They repeated the feat the next year, claiming the Ohio League's first and only three-peat.
Two years later, the National Football League was founded in Canton, Ohio. No longer would the Canton Bulldogs be just playing against teams in the Buckeye State. They would be challenging the rest of America for national supremacy. If the Bulldogs were to ever go for another three-peat, they would have to be great, not good.
After some years of reassembling, by 1922 the Canton Bulldogs were ready to claim their first NFL Championship. On October 1, the Bulldogs began their season by defeating the Louisville Brecks 38-0 in front of a crowd barely 3,000-strong in Lakeside Park.
Despite a couple of scoreless ties to the Dayton Triangles and the Toledo Maroons, the Canton Bulldogs finished the season undefeated and almost unscored upon. They gave up six points to the recently-renamed (and defending NFL champions) Chicago Bears, three points in their rematch with the Chicago Cardinals and six points to the Milwaukee Badgers in a 34-point drubbing. It was a different era and when it was all said and done, the Canton Bulldogs had given up a mere 15 points all season and claimed their first NFL championship.
Entering 1923, coach Guy Chamberlain knew that his Bulldogs would have to give their all every week because that's exactly what they would face. They began 1923 by shutting out the Hammond Pros (17-0), Louisville Brecks (37-0), Dayton Triangles (30-0), and the Chicago Bears (6-0). After beating the Bears, the Bulldogs entered what was, for them, a slump. Their defense gave up three points in three consecutive weeks. Despite never losing, this was considered a slump for them. Their defense took a tremendous amount of pride in shutting teams out and despite their 7-3 victories over the Akron Pros and the Cardinals as well as their 3-3 tie versus the Buffalo All-Americans, the Bulldogs knew that they needed to play better. Their goal was perfection and nothing else mattered.
They took their frustrations out on the Oorang Indians, winning 41-0. However, their season hit another snag the following week when they beat the Cleveland Indians 46-10. Giving up ten points was unthinkable and was considered sacrilege among the Bulldog players. Determined to end the year unscored upon, the Bulldogs defense bore down on the competition, beating the Toledo Maroons (28-0), the All-Americans (14-0) and the Columbus Tigers (10-0). As the only unbeaten team in the NFL, the Canton Bulldogs again claimed the league title.
Shortly after the season concluded, with another league championship in hand but always needing more money in their coffers, the Bulldogs moved to a larger market in Cleveland. From their very first game in Cleveland, the Bulldogs' great defense seemed lost, giving up two touchdowns in a 16-14 win over the Bears. They failed to rebound the next two weeks, tying the Frankfort Yellowjackets and again giving up two touchdowns in a 29-14 victory over Akron.
Embarrassed and ashamed, the Bulldogs sought to revert to their true defensive selves. They bullied the Rochester Jeffersons into a 59-point submission and pulverized the Dayton Triangles by 35 points the following week. But the offensive fireworks merely subdued the real story of those games; both had ended in a shutout and it appeared to all in the Bulldogs' locker room that their defense had its swagger back.
The euphoria of those two blowout shutouts was short-lived as Cleveland experienced something that they hadn't experienced in quite a while, a loss. It happened two weeks after they obliterated Dayton, however, the cracks in their foundation began to show the week after when they only beat Akron 20-7. The following week, the Bulldogs traveled to Frankfurt, Pennsylvania to face off against the Yellow Jackets, a team that would end the year 11-2-1. Cleveland lost 12-7, a low-scoring affair that they had been accustomed to winning.
The Cleveland Bulldogs were disheartened about the loss but knew that they still had a chance at their third straight league title. They won the last two games of the year to make history before moving back to Canton when the season was finished.
Curly Lambeau was getting impatient. After ten years in the NFL, his Green Bay Packers had failed to claim the league championship. In those days, the NFL belonged to teams from little towns such as Green Bay, Wisconsin and Canton, Ohio, but it was becoming known that it was soon going to belong solely to the big cities such as Chicago and New York City. Lambeau knew that the time for his Packers to win in such as small moment was closing. It would take a championship to keep his team in his hometown.
Led by halfback Johnny "Blood" McNally and tackle Cal Hubbard, the Packers looked like a winner. The NFL schedule was very different in those days, with the Packers hosting their first five games at City Stadium before going on the road for their remaining eight. The Packers began the year by shutting out the Dayton Triangles (9-0) and the Bears (23-0). When the Packers finished their homestand, they had given up a total of four points, with both sides of the ball looking every bit the championship contender they sought to be.
The world changed on October 24, 1929. That Thursday, the stock market crashed and the growing bubble of the Roaring '20s burst, ruining many fortunes. Three days later, the Packers traveled to Chicago to play against the lowly Cardinals. Despite Comiskey Park sporting 52,000 seats, only 8,000 showed up for the contest between two teams on opposite sides of the spectrum. Perhaps the small crowd had nothing to do with the beginning of the Great Depression. Perhaps it was due to the sport still being in its infancy, dwarfed in popularity by baseball and boxing.
Whatever the case may be, there was a pall over the minuscule crowd as the teams played for barely a livable wage. The players were struggling too as money was scarce in the NFL. They didn't know if the league was going to be there the next year, let alone the next day. Distracted, the Packers played an uninspired game, only crossing the end zone one and barely beating the Cardinals by a single point.
After that sleepwalking affair, the Packers allowed just 12 points the rest of the season, never losing a game and only stumbling in a 0-0 tie with the Yellow Jackets on Thanksgiving Day. When the last tackle was made on Wrigley Field and the clock wound down to zero of their shutout victory over the Bears, the Green Bay Packers were NFL champions for the first time in their history. Undefeated with just one tie, the Green Bay Packers were just getting warmed up.
Emboldened by their historic season, the Packers entered 1930 hungry for more. Just as they had done a year earlier, the Packers opened the season posting two shutouts. As the season progressed, their offense got hotter while their defense remained its dominant self. They were playing well together in the ultimate team game and looked unbeatable.
But looks can be deceiving. No matter how great a team may seem on paper, they are always susceptible to a bad day at the office and fall victim on any given Sunday. After winning ten straight games dating back to the previous season, the Packers lost to the Cardinals and Giants on consecutive weeks by identical 13-6 scores. Though the Packers rebounded by defeating the Yellow Jackets (25-7) and the Staten Island Stapletons (37-7), they couldn't keep the levee from cracking further. They ended the season with a loss to the Bears and a tie to the Portsmouth Spartans, finishing less as league champions and more as the league chumps.
Still, they did finish the season having claimed their second consecutive NFL championship and looked to 1931 with more than a hint of optimism in their eyes. Yearning for redemption, the Packers began their chase for a three-peat with nine straight victories to open 1931. The Windy City proved to be the thorn in their sides. After nine straight wins, they lost at Comiskey Park to the Cardinals in a 21-13 shootout. Four weeks later, they lost to the Bears at Wrigley Field in a 7-6 defensive slugfest to end the season. It was a truly unique way to finish a third straight championship season. But this was two years before the NFL implemented its first championship game, a contest that pitted the Bears against the Giants at Wrigley Field.
Vince Lombardi was right. Up until 1967, there had never been a team to win three straight NFL championships while the NFL Championship Game was in existence. It's unfair to compare one team from one era to another team from another era as each era brings its own unique structure. There may never be a team to win three straight Super Bowls, but if there is then their names will echo throughout history. At least until the era passes them by and another team wins four straight titles.