Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
Repeat Champions in All Major College and Professional Sports Leagues
Now that the University of Georgia Bulldogs have won their second consecutive NCAA football championship, they’ve accomplished something that has been proven to be very difficult to achieve not just in college football but in all other sports; repeating as champions.
Repeat Champions in NCAA Football
Not since 2011 and 2012 has a collegiate team won the title in successive years, Alabama being the last to do it. How difficult is it? Since 1872 only 16 collegiate teams have repeated. That’s 150 years and only a little less than 11% of the championships have been teams that won for a second or in some cases third or more consecutive titles. The Bulldogs are bringing back most of their championship team in 2023 and will try to accomplish a “three-peat.” That feat has been done only by the University of Minnesota who won three straight from 1934 to 1936 but the Gophers also won back-to-back titles in 1940 and 1941.
What will probably never happen again is what Yale University accomplished from 1881 through 1884 when ironically enough the “Bulldogs” won the national title in each of those years. Yale was absolutely the dominant force in the late 1800s in college football winning the championship from 1876-77, 1881-1884, and then again in 1886, 1887, and 1888, but also again in 1891 and 1892.
The other teams to repeat not counting Georgia, Yale, Minnesota. and the Crimson Tide were Army (1944-45), California (1921 which shared the title with Cornell University and in 1922 were co-champions with Cornell and Princeton University so Cornell actually makes the repeaters count not 16 but 17), Harvard (1898-99), Nebraska (1994-95), Notre Dame (1946-47), Oklahoma (1955-56), Princeton (1872-73/1878-79), and USC (1931-32).
Repeat Champions in NCAA Basketball
When it comes to the other major college sport, men's basketball, that championship for the best team of the year began in 1939 when the University of Oregon won the national championship. Again like its football counterpart, winning a consecutive hoops title is difficult. Over 83 years of a national championship tournament, only eight teams have won back-to-back titles or in some cases more than twice. That’s a little less than 10% of the teams vying for a title that has won it more than once in a row.
The first team to do it was Oklahoma A&M who repeated in 1946 after winning the championship the year before. That team finished 31-2, was coached by Henry Iba, and the star of the team was Bob Kurland college basketball’s first player who had a height of over seven feet. In that first championship season, Kurland finished with 643 points scoring 58 in one game while playing Saint Luis University. Kurland also won the Helms Foundation College Basketball player of the year award.
The next to do it was the University of Kentucky who repeated in 1948-49 led by the legendary head coach Adolph Rupp. From that championship team, Alex Groza, Wallace Jones, Ralph Beard, and Cliff Barker all were drafted into the NBA.
A little more than five years later San Francisco University repeated as champion in 1955 and 1956. The “Dons” was their nickname and they might be one of the greatest college teams ever. The squad finished undefeated at 29-0. The head coach was Phil Woolpert in his sixth season at the helm but two men on that roster were outstanding players. There were Hall of Fame member Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. The year before the Dons lost just once in 30 games played.
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats won consecutive titles in 1961 and 1962. But in the 1963-64 season, one of the most dominant dynasties in any college sport began when the UCLA Bruins won the title in both the 1963-64 season and then the next year grabbing the title in 1965. The head coach was the greatest coach in college basketball history, the man with the most prized award in college basketball named after him, John Wooden, and the trophy with his name on it is presented to the best player in basketball for the year in college basketball.
After not winning the title in the 1965-66 season, the Bruins ran off a string of titles that will absolutely never be matched again. By winning the title in the 1976-67 season, UCLA would win every title from 1968 until 1973, miss it a year later, and then win the championship again in 1975. UCLA was not done winning another title in 1975 and in 1995 20 years later.
I'm sure more teams in college basketball will become repeat champions, and with the advancement of technology it's so much easier to follow live basketball scores so we can know if a repeat champion will happen before it actually does.
Repeat Champions of the National Football League
Now for the big boys. The National Football League. When the Super Bowl was first played in the 1966 season, the Green Bay Packers were coming off an NFL title and were facing the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers easily won making it two straight league titles. They would repeat the following year beating the Oakland Raiders thus achieving a “three-peat.” Winning back-to-back Super Bowls after that proved difficult.
In fact in 56 Super Bowls played, only six teams have won back-to-back titles. Those are the Green Bay Packers (1966-67), Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-75 and again in 1979-80), San Francisco 49ers (1988-89), Dallas Cowboys (1992-93) Denver Broncos (1997-98), and the New England Patriots (2003-04). If you count the teams that have repeated in the pre-Super Bowl era, then we are talking about 12 teams that have accomplished the feat.
Repeating champions in professional football began when the league was established in 1922. The Canton Bulldogs led by head coach Guy Chamberlain finished the season 10-0-2 and won the NFL title. To show how much athletes have changed since 1922, the heaviest man on the team was Pete Henry who stood 5’11” and weighed just 245 pounds. Canton would successfully defend their title a year later to become the first repeat champions.
Six years later, the Green Bay Packers would become league champions for the first time and then not only won the title a season later but pulled off a “three-peat” by winning the NFL championship every year from 1929-1931. The Chicago Bears would unseat the Pack in 1932 and then did it again a season later.
The Bears became the first team to win successive titles more than once by repeating as champions in 1941 after taking the title a season before. Now the “All-American Football Conference” came along in 1946 and the Cleveland Browns had one of the greatest quarterbacks ever calling the signals. Otto Graham was that QB and all he did for his entire career was win league titles. His Browns took the AAFC championship not just twice in a row, not three times, but four straight years from 1946 through 1949.
While Cleveland was winning those AAFC titles, over in the elder league, the Philadelphia Eagles brought home successive titles in 1948-49. The repeating champions trend continued in the early days of the National Football League as the Detroit Lions were next to pull off the feat doing it in 1952 and 1953. The Cleveland Browns were now a part of the NFL and in 1954 they won the title. They repeated one year later.
As the NFL inched closer to establishing the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Colts became a powerhouse team that won the league title in 1958 and 1959. Then it was the Packers again in 1961 and 1962 and they won the championship again in 1965 only to repeat as the first Super Bowl champs in history.
The Super Bowl was created when the old American Football League (AFL) merged with the National Football League in 1969. Before that big game was established the AFL was crowning their own champions and in 1960 and 1961 it was the Houston Oilers taking the crown. The Buffalo Bills matched the Oilers by winning two straight in 1964 and 1965. Then came the Super Bowl and we may never see another repeat champion given the parity that exists in the league today.
Repeat Champions in Major League Baseball
America’s national pastime is known as Major League Baseball. It’s the country’s oldest sport which began in 1871 with the formation of the National Association. There were nine teams in the league and the Philadelphia Athletics won the league title. The eight other teams in the league were the Boston Red Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, New York Mutuals, Washington Olympics, Troy Haymakers, Cleveland Forest Citys, Fort Wayne Kekiongas, and the Rockford Forest Citys.
The “Fall Classic” what we all know as the World Series was still over 20 years away when the National Association began playing. With such a small league there were repeating champions several times. Then there was the Negro Leagues which should count just as much as any other professional league and they had repeating champions as well. Perhaps the best-known teams from the Negro league were the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Those leagues produced some amazing players such as Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard.
For the purpose of this article, however, only teams since the World Series began in 1903 will have teams that have repeated as champions be noted. The very first World Series played was between the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates and the American League champs, the Boston Americans. Boston won that first Series and only one year has had no World Series played that being in 1994 due to a player’s strike.
A team that had one of the longest droughts in not winning a World Series was the Chicago Cubs but they were also the first team to repeat as champions winning the title in 1907 and repeating the next season. A few seasons later the Philadelphia Athletics won successive World Series in 1910 and 1911. Then another team who was the long sufferer of not winning a league title, the Boston Red Sox won two straight in 1915 and 1916.
One of the greatest baseball managers in history John McGraw led his New York Giants to a World Series title in 1921 by beating the cross-town Yankees and then in a rematch won again in 1922. But the fact that the men in pinstripes had reached the World Series was a foreshadowing of great things to come for the New York Yankees. The Yanks have won more World Series than any other team and are far ahead of the team that has won the second most. New York claims 27 titles all-time and the St. Louis Cardinals fall in line next with just 11.
The Athletics repeated as champions again in 1929 and 1930 and then the New York Yankees won their first World Series title in 1927 with what is known as the “Murderer’s Row” ball club. The ‘27 Yanks were a terrifying team that had in their starting lineup a cast of eight players of which five had a batting average over .300. Lou Gehrig had the highest average (.373) but this was the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and Gehrig added 47 more. Tony Lazzeri, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Earle Combs were also starters. On the mound, the Yanks dominated with pitching off the arms of Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Urban Shocker, and Bob Shawkey.
The 1927 Yankees won 110 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games in the World Series. The following year they swept the series again this time knocking off the St. Louis Cardinals while winning 101 regular season games. Many more World Series titles would follow up to the current day.
In 1936 it was the Yanks again not just winning the Major League Baseball title that season but again in 1937, 1938, and 1939. 10 years later the Yankees, perhaps the most dominant team in the history of any sport, won the 1949 World Series and then stayed champions in 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1953. They would win it again in 1956 but could not repeat the following year although it was the Yankees on top again in 1958.
A year after dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the games they won at the 1960 World Series but ended up losing in dramatic fashion in the seventh and deciding game of that series when Bill Mazeroski smacked a walk-off home run the Yankees would win the 1961 and 1962 World Series.
The colorful Oakland A’s of the 1970s were three-peat champions winning every season from 1972-1974. Charlie O’Finley was the owner and his teams had the bright jerseys as well as an attempt to use an orange baseball. In 1975 “The Big Red Machine” burst onto the scene with a lineup nearly as impressive as the 1927 Yankees. The Cincinnati Reds were that machine and their starting eight were Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey.
Pitching for the Reds were Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, Fred Noram, Don Gullet, Pat Darcy, and clay Kirby all starters. In one of the greatest World Series ever, the Reds won a dramatic title beating the Boston Red Sox in seven games. The next year they would beat the big bad Yankees in four straight games of the World Series. To their credit, the Yankees would redeem themselves in 1977 by winning that title and defending it successfully in 1978.
The Toronto Blue Jays became the first non-American team to win a World Series when they brought home the bacon in 1992 and they too were repeaters winning again the following season. Oh, those Yankees...champions again in 1998, 1999, and 2000. In the 2000 World Series they knocked off cross-city rivals the Mets in five games. There has not been a repeat World Series champion since.
For some teams, they are starving for a World Series title with the Cleveland Guardians (formerly the Indians) still waiting to win another with their current drought at 74 years. The Texas Rangers who used to be the Washington Senators have yet to win a title and have spent 62 years trying to do so.
Repeat Champions in the National Basketball Association
The youngest professional league among the major four (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) would be the National Basketball Association which began as the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1946. At that time the teams were: the Washington Capitols, Philadelphia Warriors, New York Knicks, Providence Steamrollers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Huskies, Chicago Stags, St. Louis Bombers, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons, and the Pittsburgh Ironmen.
Philadelphia won that first league title and then the league officially became the NBA in 1949. In 76 seasons that have been played, there has been a repeating champion only 12 times. The first team to win back-to-back BAA/NBA titles was the Minneapolis Lakers who won the title in 1948-49 and then again the next season. The Lakers did it again in 1952, 1953, and pulled off a three-peat by bringing home another championship in 1954. Three teams have dominated NBA titles: the Lakers, Boston Celtics, and more recently the Golden State Warriors.
In 1959 the Celtics went on a run that might never be matched again in the NBA let alone any other sport. The Celtics won the NBA championship in every season from 1959 until they were dethroned in 1967. Boston would not stay non-champions for long winning two more titles in 1968 and 1969. The Lakers were often victims of Boston’s championship finals run but in 1987 Los Angeles claimed the title and then repeated it the next year.
With Michael Jordan becoming the NBA’s greatest player ever in his era, he helped his Chicago Bulls win multiple championships, the first coming in 1991 that began a run of three straight titles. The Bulls did it again from 1996 through 1998. In between those years, the Houston Rockets won the title and were able to defend it a season later. Two years after the Bulls won their last title, it was the Lakers again winning three straight in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
In 2009 it was Los Angeles prevailing again and successfully defending their title in 2010. The NBA title moved south in 2012 when the Miami Heat brought home the trophy. The Heat would repeat. For now, the Golden State Warriors are the last team to win successive titles when they were NBA champions in 2017 and 2018.
Repeat Champions in the National Hockey League
We are down to our last of the four major sports leagues and talking hockey. Men on ice have been around a long time with the National Hockey League lacing up the skates for the first time in 1917. Like the NBA several teams have dominated championships and on the ice, it has been the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Montreal took their first title in 1924 and then defended the cup in 1925. In 1930 they won again and then another the next season. It wasn’t until 1936 that another team would repeat and that was the Detroit Red Wings who won two straight. It was in 1947 that the Toronto Maple Leafs strutted their stuff by pulling off their own “three-peat” taking the ‘47 cup and also in 1948 and 1949.
Detroit won the cup back again in 1954-55. Along came those pesky Canadians in 1956 as they went on a five-season run of winning the Stanley Cup. The Leafs returned to the finals in 1962 taking the cup back home to Toronto and made sure it stayed there by defending their title for the next two seasons. But not long after that, the Canadians added to their total by winning the NHL title again in 1965 and 1966.
Montreal’s domination of the league continued as they won in both 1968 and 1969. Not until the “Broad Street Bullies” of the Philadephia Flyers who were punishing opponents with their physical style did another NHL team win consecutive Stanley Cups. The Flyers won back-to-back cups in 1975 and 1975. The following season it was the Canadians yet again this time winning four straight beginning in 1976.
The New York Islanders matched the Canadians with four straight championships from 1980 through 1983. Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers were the next teams to be repeaters when they have crowned champions in 1987 and 1988. A few seasons later the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first-ever Stanley Cup and then defended it in 1992. There would not be a repeat champion until the Pens did it again in 2016 and 2017. The only remaining team winning consecutive Stanley Cups are the Tampa Bay Lightning who won two straight cups in 2021 and 2022.
Repeat Champions in NCAA Women's Basketball
Previously, NCAA men’s basketball was mentioned. What about the women? A national tournament for the ladies began in 1983 and USC win the inaugural tournament and then repeated in 1984. Over the course of those two seasons, the Trojan women won 60 games while losing just six. When you talk women’s college basketball two schools immediately come to mind. Connecticut and Tennessee. 13 years would pass until a team won consecutive titles again following USC’s short run and it was in fact the Volunteers from Tennessee who won in both 1996 and 1997 but pulled the three-peat by winning again in 1998.
Then we have the Huskies from Connecticut. That women’s team has won 11 national titles since 1983. That's 28% of the entire amount of titles won in women’s NCAA basketball. UConn won consecutive titles in 2002-04, 2009-10, and again in 2015-16.
There are three more sports to consider in repeating champions but both are individual competing and not team sports. Let’s start with boxing. What can be considered as a repeating champion here would be how many times a fighter defended his title. Joe Louis is the champion of successful title defenses something he did in record fashion, a total of 25 times. He leads by two over Dariusz Michalzewski and four more than both Joe Calzaghe and Sven Ottke did as well as Ricardo Lopez. The great Bernard Hopkins was successful in 20 straight defenses.
Repeat Champions in Mixed Martial Arts
In mixed martial arts, specifically the UFC, Demetrious Johnson tied for the most title defenses before he parted ways with Dana White a total of 11 defenses of his flyweight crown. Jon Jones also had 11 straight bouts of holding on to his light heavyweight belt. Anderson Silva is third with 10 followed by Georges St-Pierre's nine.
One last sport I’d like to talk about is the PGA or Professional Golfer’s Association. Speak of the PGA and most fans will spit out the name Tiger Woods. After all, Tiger is easily one of the greatest ever. He has been a magician on the links and has won every major tournament but catching up to the all-time leader in major wins who is Jack Nicklaus may be one record he might not achieve due to his ongoing health issues. Still, in the category of consecutive victories in tournaments played the man with the most is not Woods but Byron Nelson.
One of the greatest ever as well, Nelson in 1945 won 11 straight tournaments he played in. Tiger comes nest by winning seven straight between 2006-2007. Tiger’s greatness shines through in this list because of the top seven leaders in consecutive victories, Tiger Woods’ name appears three times. In 1999 and 2000, Tiger won another six straight, and five straight in 2007-08. The other golfers on the list are Ben Hogan (six straight In 1948 and four in 1953), and Byron Nelson again twice more (four in 1945-46 and again in 1953).
Those are some of the repeating champions in various sports and across the board of professional athletics, we wait to see who will join this exclusive club as a repeating champion and whether a team can surpass the three-peat mark.