Monday evening, the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide and #2 Clemson Tigers will meet up in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Santa Clara, California. The matchup brings together two undefeated teams — ones that were almost-inarguably the two best teams in college football all season.
Thanks to the additional game brought on by the playoff, we’re guaranteed to see the first 15-0 team in top-level college football in over 100 years. We could be seeing Alabama’s Nick Saban win his seventh national championship, which would leave him alone atop the career standings, breaking a tie with the legendary Bear Bryant.
Or we could see Clemson’s Dabo Swinney win his second title in three years, moving him into a rare echelon — with the retirement of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Swinney would join Saban as the only multiple-title winners among active head coaches.
So why, does it seem, is no one excited about this game?
Well, it’s a matter of repetition. This will be the fourth straight year in which these two teams have faced off in the playoff, with title-game matchups in 2015 and 2016, and a semifinal meeting last year. If you’re not specifically a fan of these teams - or, as is likely, you actively root against one or both of them - then it can be a tough thing to bear. But it’s not unprecedented in the world of sports.
Let’s take a quick look at other four-peat matchups in history.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, NBA FINALS
An obvious choice, as the fourth occurrence of this matchup was just six months ago. Cleveland’s one-man army of LeBron James faced off against the futuristic Warriors shooting duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson twice, winning a memorable comeback in 2016 that spurred Golden State to add noted internet enthusiast Kevin Durant to their lineup.
The first one was a solid, entertaining matchup between two fresh-on-the-scene teams. The second was an all-time classic in the history of sports.
The third and fourth were nearly-unwatchable death marches and I’m not just saying that because I’m a fan of the losing team. (Though, it’s a factor.)
BUFFALO BILLS VS. THE NFC EAST
Here’s another example of unfortunately diminishing returns. The Bills’ first trip to the Super Bowl was an incredibly memorable game from start (Whitney Houston’s legendary performance of the Star-Spangled Banner, on the eve of the Gulf War) to finish (Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood’s miss of a potential game-winning field goal, partial inspiration for the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective).
Their second trip featured a comfortable win by Washington.
Their third and fourth trips, against Jimmy Johnson’s upstart Dallas Cowboys dynasty, were such thorough defeats that I believe they single-handedly started the notion that you should watch the Super Bowl “for the ads”, one that persists even today, despite a recent history of competitive games.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS WINNING THE STANLEY CUP
A bit of a cheat here, since they faced different opponents, but the Isles’ run of four titles from 1981-1984 is the most recent example of a team winning four in a row in major American sports, so it bears mentioning.
I know almost nothing about hockey, so I’ll leave it at that.
NEW YORK YANKEES VS. BROOKLYN DODGERS
In a long stretch of top-heavy baseball in the 1940s and ‘50s, this stands out. The same two teams, separated by only a subway ride, met up in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956, with the Yankees winning three of four. I’m told the 1955 win by Brooklyn was big for their long-suffering fans, and even bigger for old-guy sportswriters would would spent the next 60+ years waxing rhapsodic about it.
CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. DETROIT LIONS
At just about the same time that New York City was dominating pro baseball, pro football made its home in the Rust Belt, with these teams meeting up in 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1957 for the NFL’s pre-Super Bowl championship.
Given that neither team has appeared in a Super Bowl, I will insist that the NFL-AFL merger was a conspiracy to stop the dominance of these two teams. The Browns and Lions were just too good for people to handle.
PITT IN THE BBVA COMPASS BOWL
“Wait, that only happened three times”, you say.
Well, let’s check the notes:
In 2011, Pitt beat Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
In 2012, Pitt lost to SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
In 2013, Pitt lost to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
In 2015, the name “BBVA Compass Bowl” was mysteriously retired.
My theory? The BBVA Compass Bowl still exists, but the government is covering it up. By my calculations, there may have been at least four and possible as many as twelve BBVA Compass Bowls. They’re right there, hiding in plain sight, disguised as regular games.
Open your eyes, people. That’s a BBVA Compass Bowl.