Super Bowls in the Aughts: NFC Stands for Democracy, AFC for Tradition

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FACT: Over the past 10 years, the NFC has sent 10 different teams to the Super Bowl. The AFC has sent just four.

As it turns out, if you're an AFC team with a quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning, you probably didn't go to the Super Bowl in the last decade. Sorry.

Here's a list of the past 10 Super Bowl matchups:

2002 - St. Louis Rams (NFC) vs. New England Patriots (AFC)
2003 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC) vs. Oakland Raiders (AFC)
2004 - Carolina Panthers (NFC) vs. New England Patriots (AFC)
2005 - Philadelphia Eagles (NFC) vs. New England Patriots (AFC)
2006 - Seattle Seahawks (NFC) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC)
2007- Chicago Bears (NFC) vs. Indianapolis Colts (AFC)
2008 - New York Giants (NFC) vs. New England Patriots (AFC)
2009 - Arizona Cardinals (NFC) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC)
2010 - New Orleans Saints (NFC) vs. Indianapolis Colts (AFC)
2011 - Green Bay Packers (NFC) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC)

This can only mean one thing: Where the AFC stands for continuity and tradition, the NFC stands for democracy.


Much of this has to do with the continued dominance of the New England Patriots, which have lent a distinctly thoroughbred, patrician flavor to the AFC in recent years. Rag-tag underdogs they are not. This year's AFC champion, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are a working-class team that carries a more blue-collar historicity. They have the most Super Bowl wins of any NFL franchise, and for generations they've been run by the Rooney family, which has upheld the same tradition for decades.

The NFC, meanwhile, has sent to the Super Bowl such woebegone, abysmal franchises as Tampa Bay, Arizona, Carolina, and the recently resurgent New Orleans. It's a veritable land of opportunity. If Don King promoted football, he wouldn't say "Only in America!" He'd say, "Only in the NFC!"

While this year's NFC champions, the Green Bay Packers, have a rich tradition of their own, including five Super Bowl appearances, they're the new face in today's game. They haven't played in a Super Bowl since losing to the Denver Broncos in 1998.

This NFC/AFC discrepancy in the aughts speaks to a common conundrum: Do you root for history, tradition, and greatness in the making, or for the underdog and the upset?

It's perhaps the central question for any fan. The NFL's two conferences have, for the past ten years, fallen on completely opposite sides.

So, if you're having trouble deciding whom to root for in today's Super Bowl--if you are, say, annoyed by foam cheeseheads but also skeptical of Ben Roethlisberger's self-affirmed transformation from dirtbag to standup guy--consider basing your decision on these recent trends and rooting for the league, not the team.

If you're into democracy, equal opportunity, and everyone getting a shot, then the NFC is for you. Go Pack. If you like history, tradition, and the accrual of multiple rings, the AFC's your conference. Break out your Terrible Towel.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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