Most NFL scholars hold that the "modern era" began in 1960. Happily, this coincides with the advent of the Dallas Cowboys (a smart person would argue that it's precisely the Cowboys presence that carried the NFL, kicking and screaming, from its version of the dark ages). Since that time, the top five most successful franchises, in terms of their regular season records are as follows:
*Miami became a franchise in 1966, so they have fewer games played than the other teams on the list.
As you can see, the top two franchises are the Cowboys and Dolphins - the two teams that face off in Miami on Sunday. Both teams have enjoyed several periods of sustained success: the 90s Cowboys won ten or more games from 1991-96; the Dolphins won nine or more from 1997-2003. But by far the most successful period for each team was from the late 60s to the early 80s - in other words, the coaching tenures of Tom Landry and Don Shula.
As had been well documented on these pages, Landry was the Cowboys' head coach (and held so many other titles) for 29 seasons, during which he compiled a 250-162-6 record, with 20 consecutive winning seasons - 16 with ten or more wins - and a impressive .607 winning percentage, all despite going 18-46-4 in his first five years at the helm of an expansion team. In his 26 years as Miami's head coach, Shula was 257-133-2, for a fat .659 winning percentage. In a touch more than a quarter century, he had only two losing seasons and won ten or more games 20 times (with a whopping eleven of them coming when Mimi played a 14-game schedule).
Shula and Landry met head-to-head on six occasions, with the Dolphins winning four of those contests. Of course, the first of these was by far the most important: Super Bowl VI, which the Cowboys won handily, 24-3. Landry's only other win versus Shula was in a game that I consider one of the ten best Cowboys' regular season games of all time: a 28-27 Danny White-led comeback in 1981.
It would appear that the scheduling powers that be recognize that these two teams represent NFL royalty (cue Lorde); they have faced off on the primest of regular season prime time - the afternoon slot on Thanksgiving - on five occasions, including 1993's famous "Leon Lett in the snow" game and a thrilling 20-19 Tony Romo-led comeback in 2011.
So, as you watch today, know that you are watching the NFL equivalent of a clash between the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons. And, as if the Return of Romo wasn't enough to get you excited, know that a Cowboys victory extends their lead over the Dolphins as the NFL's winningest modern-era franchise.