by Rob Joyce

Seemingly every year people question whether the Patriots have lost it, whether by way of an early-season humbling or some sort of off-field drama. Alas, for seven straight years New England has been in the AFC title game, and now they are playing in their eighth Super Bowl since 2001, looking for a sixth Lombardi Trophy.

The two constants in all of this, of course, is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The last handful of years has all but cemented both as the greatest of all-time at their jobs (quarterback and head coach), and there isn’t really an overly legitimate argument for anyone else. On a broader scale, the Brady-Belichick duo ranks among the best player-coach duos in all of sports history. Here’s the company they join:

5) Mickey Mantle & Casey Stengel:

mickey mantle Best Player Coach Duos in Sports History

(Photo credit: PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Baseball is obviously harder to win because of a single player and manager. And though the Yankees of the 1950s had plenty of great players – end-of-career Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Roger Maris, to name a few – Mantle was always the star in the Stengel years. From 1951 (Mantle’s rookie year) to 1960 (Stengel’s final year in New York) the Yankees won five World Series and went to three others. The only ones who can really match that are the Core Four and Joe Torre, who appeared in six World Series and won four.

4) Otto Graham & Paul Brown:

[watch video up top]

The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was established in 1946 with eight teams, before the league folded in 1949 and the Browns, 49ers and Bills were accepted into the NFL. Between that ’46 season and Graham’s retirement in 1955, a decade span, Cleveland appeared in all ten AAFC or NFL championship games, winning seven times. Just once (1952) did they win fewer than nine games in a 12-game season.

3) Michael Jordan & Phil Jackson:

michael jordan Best Player Coach Duos in Sports History

(Photo credit: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

Had it not been for Jordan’s baseball hiatus they might be higher on the list. Their tenure as player and coach ran from 1989 through 1998. In those seven full seasons (excluding the partial 1994-95 campaign) the Bulls went to a half-dozen Finals, going six-for-six, with a pair of three-peats. In the regular season they had five years of 60-or-more wins, including their 72-10 record in 1995-96.

2) Tom Brady & Bill Belichick:

tom brady Best Player Coach Duos in Sports History

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Eight Super Bowl appearances in the last 17 years, five (and, soon, perhaps six) championships, 12 AFC title game appearances, 15 AFC East titles. Pick a number… they’re all mind-boggling in an era where everything is stacked against dynasties, from salary caps to the pure violent nature of the game causing turnover. It’s something that, while much of America is tired of seeing, should be appreciated while it lasts – which, despite what has been reported, may not end until 2020 or 2021.

1) Bill Russell & Red Auerbach:

bill russell Best Player Coach Duos in Sports History

(Photo credit: STUART CAHILL/AFP/Getty Images)

Russell’s rookie year in Boston was the 1956-57 season, with Auerbach as his coach through the end of the 1965-66 year. In those ten years the Celtics won nine championships – including eight straight from 1959-66 – and the one year they didn’t win (1958), they lost in the Finals to St. Louis.

But the alliance didn’t stop there. After the ’66 title Auerbach stepped away from his coaching duties, naming Russell a player-coach while he remained the team’s general manager. Boston won two more titles in the three years before Russell hung it up for good, bringing their total to 11 championships together in 13 years.

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